Geraint Thomas back in pink and upbeat after distancing Roglic
Geraint Thomas is back in the maglia rosa and has gained 30 seconds on Primož Roglič but is expecting two more mountain showdowns in the terrible final days of the 2023 Giro d'Italia before Saturday's time trial to Monte Lussari crowns the final overall winner.
The Welshman knows the Giro d'Italia is far from over. Indeed it has only just begun.
Thomas is in pink but the Corsa Rosa remains a three-way race with Joao Almeida and Primož Roglič. They have been locked in a Grand Tour stalemate all race, all three too close to risk audacious attacks. Slowly but surely the cracks are merging after two weeks of racing, the differences are finally visible and the time gaps are opening.
It is what everyone has been waiting for, including Thomas.
"It was nice to open it up and see where we all stand," The Welshman said post-stage, his fresh and clean maglia rosa covered by Ineos Grenadiers rain cape to keep him warm.
Giro d'Italia stage 16 GC standings: Geraint Thomas back in race lead
Geraint Thomas and Ineos dealt blow as Pavel Sivakov abandons Giro d'Italia
Giro d'Italia: Almeida outduels Thomas on stage 16 atop Monte Bondone
"We want to race and we want to attack too, and light up the race. But it's about doing it at the right moment and not wasting energy. This was a good showdown and there will certainly be another two on the mountaintop finishes."
Thomas insisted he does not race by watching his power metre. He jumped across to Almedia based on his racing instinct.
Roglic could not reply and had to hang onto Sepp Kuss' back wheel to limit his losses. The Slovenian's level, at least on stage 16, was suddenly revealed and Thomas and Almeida were clearly superior.
"I kind of got the sense that he wasn't 100% and with the pace Kuss was riding," Thomas explained.
"I felt I could accelerate so I thought I'd jump across to João and see if they reacted or if they kept riding that pace. Fortunately, he worked well with me towards the top and we tried to gain some time on Primož, which was good.
"There was no real time to talk, but I think we both understood the situation. With Primož behind, we were both keen to maximise that and we both worked really well together."
Thomas has never won a stage at the Giro d'Italia but couldn't match Almeida when the finish line neared.
"It would have been nice to win the stage but I'm getting a bit old now so I lack that bit of kick," he joked.
Almeida took the stage winner's ten-second time bonus, with Thomas taking six seconds. Roglič made a final effort to limit his losses and finished third, at 25 seconds to take the four-second bonus.
In the Giro d'Italia overall standings, Thomas is in pink, with Almeida second overall at 18 seconds and Roglic down to third at 29 seconds. With Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious) a distant fourth overall at 2:50, this year's Giro d'Italia is a three-way race that can flip and change in so many ways between now and the final parade stage in Rome on Sunday.
"It's better than being 18 seconds behind but it's not a lot," Thomas suggested with realism.
"I just see everything as a bonus. We got the jersey, that's great for the team morale and we're super motivated.
There are only three more days for the team to defend and then it's down to the TT. We're in a great position but a lot can happen, especially if the weather turns bad again, which I think it will, so we'll keep trying to do the basics and go day by day."
Ineos Grenadiers lost Pavel Sivakov during stage 16, leaving Thomas with just four teammates. He has already lost Filippo Ganna to COVID-19 and Tao Geoghegan Hart in his terrible crash. Ben Swift and road captain Salvatore Puccio remain for the flat roads and early climbs, with Thymen Arensman and Laurens De Plus the only mountain domestiques.
"It's not ideal losing Pavel, who was riding super strong, but it seems to be the story of the race so far with crashes and sickness and things," Thomas admitted.
"Fortunately we're all riding well, there's a great vibe in the team, we all get on really well, it's a really good group here. We just need to continue riding well for four more days.
"Hopefully tomorrow is a straightforward day, a sprint day. Then we have two big, big days left in the mountains. I think they are more than capable of defending well but a lot can still happen. The Giro has only just got going."