Five things we learned from stage eight of the Giro d'Italia
Ben Healy won stage eight of the 2023 Giro d'Italia, but that was only a small part of the story. Beyond the headline results, here are five key takeaways from the latest stage at the Giro d'Italia.
1. Coronavirus might not be a global health emergency anymore, but it hasn't gone away
Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) did not take the start of start eight due to a positive test for Covid-19, which was accompanied by "mild, flu-like symptoms."
Riding in his home Grand Tour, Ganna would have taken the start of Sunday's stage nine time-trial as one of the favourites for the stage win. What's more, his Ineos Grenadiers team will have been counting on his strength and presence in the peloton to guide their GC hopes – Geraint Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart – through some of the tougher stages to come.
Three years after it caused full-scale havoc to the racing schedule and peloton (not to mention its bigger impacts on people's lives and families, of course), coronavirus is still having an effect on professional cycle racing.
2. Rapid start made it difficult for the break to get established
Someone attacked, someone else countered, they got 10 seconds... then the peloton brought them back. That happened a few times.
All the while the average speed went up and up, until finally a breakaway was allowed to get clear and settle into a rhythm.
The gap hovered around 4:25 for quite a while before it went out again and it became clear that the stage winner would come from this group.
3. Ben Healy's Spring Classics campaign was an indication of quality not a fluke
Ben Healy (EF Education-EasyPost) was very active in the Ardennes Classics, with second place finishes in Brabantse Pijl and the Amstel Gold Race, then fourth in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He has carried that form into his Grand Tour debut and showed his strength on stage eight.
With around 50km to go, Healy rode away from his breakaway companions on a climb that looked a lot like something out of one of those aforementioned one day races.
As his effort stayed consistently strong, harmony in the group behind evaporated, so his advantage went beyond 1:45 and over 5 minutes to the GC group.
4. Ineos are Ganna miss Filippo but they're still one of the strongest teams
Ganna's DNS on stage eight will have been a blow to Ineos Grenadiers in terms of ability on the road and also in terms of overall team morale.
However, his remaining teammates didn't let it hold them back, with Ben Swift leading the team on the flat and Pavel Sivakov taking up the pace setting on the slopes.
The latter came to the fore once an attempt by Jumbo-Visma to split the group seemed to have fizzled out and Soudal Quick-Step's presence in the GC group was much diminished, showing that Ineos can still match or even better the top teams.
Geraint Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart then got towed much of the way to the finish line by Primoz Roglic to gain time on others in the GC.
5. Remco Evenepoel shows some weakness
When he wins the stage nine time-trial and makes up any losses from stage eight, this probably won't look like much. But here we are soon after the end of stage eight and Remco Evenepoel has lost time (although not loads) to Primoz Roglic, Geraint Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart.
It was Roglic who made the move that distanced Evenepoel, then the Ineos pairing rode across to him. If that happens a few more times on some of the remaining road stages, then Evenepoel's status as favourite starts to slip.
Or he just rides into an unassailable lead on the TT. We'll see.