McNulty, Healy and Frigo produce a classic day of Giro d'Italia racing
In the absence of a GC battle in the Bergamo hills on stage 15 of the Giro d'Italia, the breakaway trio of Brandon McNulty, Ben Healy and Marco Frigo put on a show, racing for the stage victory as if they were contesting Il Lombardia, the Monument from which much of the day's route was borrowed.
There was no sign of Grand Tour fatigue among the strongest men of the break, and none of them held back, swapping attacks, chases and solo pursuits back on in the final 40km after being in the 17-rider break that formed at the start of the stage.
All three arguably deserved victory and all three were cheered as winners by the cycling-made Bergamasco tifosi, but only McNulty would climb onto the podium at the end of the 195km stage.
Ben Healy, a revelation of the spring, produced another aggressive ride after an aggressive spring but this time was only the bridesmaid. He crossed to the other two on the Roncola Alto climb and then tried his own attacks, his head leaning to the side more and more with every moment of effort.
Last week, the Irishman won stage 8 to Fossombrone with a 50km solo attack from the break. This time McNulty and Marco Frigo closed down his attacks, with the American just slightly faster in the downhill sprint to Bergamo Basso.
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Frigo – no relation to ex-pro Dario – was the national hero, flying the flag for Italy and again showing off Israel-Premier Tech's superb next-gen of riders.
He was dropped several times by his more experienced rivals but never gave in and closed them down even on the descent to the finish. He bravely launched his sprint early but was passed with the finish line in sight.
This year's Most Aggressive Rider daily prize at the Giro d'Italia is decided by a Twitter vote. Incredibly, Frigo was not amongst the four contenders listed by the official Giro d'Italia account but he won the popular vote in the comments.
All three riders were the winners of the day in their own way, in any case.
McNulty celebrated victory on a rare day of freedom in this year's Giro d'Italia. UAE Team Emirates are targeting overall victory with João Almeida and the American will be working for him from Tuesday. The Bergamo stage was his last chance of personal glory and he took it.
"It's huge to win. It was a big goal of the season for me and it's a special win after how hard and miserable this Giro has been," McNulty said. "I got sick after the time trial and was on antibiotics for a few days but in the end I had a good day today.
"It was a really good battle with Ben, he's super strong. He hit me hard on the cimb but I managed to claw back on top and downhill. I knew I had a shot in the sprint wheel and sprinted as hard as I could."
Healy's head dropped after he was beaten in the sprint but he sportingly searched out McNulty to congratulate him after the conclusion of one of the most entertaining battles of the Giro so far.
"I'm both proud with how we raced but sad I didn't get it. It was a nice race and hopefully a good show for the people," Healy said, with few regrets on his race strategy.
"I dropped him on the steepest parts but then on the shallower bit, he crawled back to me. He was pretty strong, even on the final climb to Bergamo. I wanted to lead out the downhill sprint but that maybe backfired with Frigo coming back on. But I gave it a good go."
Frigo is a neo-pro with the Israel-Premier Tech team but has been a revelation of the Giro d'Italia along with teammates Derek Gee, Sebastian Berwick and Matthew Riccitello.
He was distanced time and time again by McNulty and Healy in the final 40km of the stage but refused to give up, battling back from 40 seconds down after the Roncola Alta and coming back again inside the final kilometre.
"You can never give up in cycling," he said wisely, after recovering from his effort and his disappointment. "You can't ease up, you have to always believe you can close a gap. The others were stronger on the climb but I kept fighting. I knew I had a chance to get back on the descent.
"I could see the victory when I launched my sprint but then it slipped away from one last time. I can't be sad, I'm happy, I went close. There are more stages to come. We will try again soon!"
Click below to relive the final kilometre of the breakaway battle on stage 15.
Two-man challenge, three-man challenge, two-man challenge. A breath-taking last kilometre crowns the King of Bergamo🔻.Sfida a due, sfida a tre, sfida a due. Un ultimo chilometro al cardipalma incorona il Re di Bergamo🔻@Expo2030Roma #Giro #GirodItalia pic.twitter.com/ZsKqCxTmJbMay 21, 2023