'The revelation of the Giro d'Italia' – Another near miss for Derek Gee
Derek Gee keeps getting closer, and that only makes it harder to take. The Canadian has done more than anyone to enliven the Giro d'Italia over the past week, but for now, he continues to be rewarded with near misses and plaudits rather than stage victory and bouquets.
By now, it feels almost inevitable that "numero 135, Derek Gee" will feature in the roll call whenever race radio crackles into life to announce a breakaway, and that was the case once again on the road to Cassano Magnago on stage 14.
At the finish, however, the Israel-Premier Tech rider again had to settle for a maddening second place – his third of the Giro – after he was pipped to the line by Nico Denz (Bora-Hansgrohe).
When Gee won the sprint for second behind Ben Healy in Fossombrone a week ago, it felt almost like a victory for the Grand Tour debutant, while a narrower second place behind Magnus Cort in Viareggio three days was a confirmation rather than a missed opportunity. The narrow margin of defeat to Denz here, however, made this latest runner's-up spot a little harder to process.
Giro d'Italia: Denz triumphs from break on stage 14 as Armirail takes race lead
'This one hurt a little more' – Derek Gee goes even closer at Giro d’Italia
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"It's a mix of emotions for sure," Gee told Cyclingnews. "If you told me going in that I'd be in this position with these legs, I probably wouldn't have believed you, but right now it hurts. It hurts a lot.
"I mean… Nico really deserved that stage, but I wanted it so bad. He was so strong, but it was so close in the end. To get closer every time, but still finish second is frustrating."
In years past, Gianni Savio's Androni team used to be the perennial aggressors of the Giro, proudly racking up kilometre after kilometre in the early break. In their absence, Israel-Premier Tech have taken up that mantle, though the team – and Gee in particular – have made a habit of driving those breaks deep into the race.
Simon Clarke, for instance, was only caught in the finishing straight in Naples, while Sebastian Berwick took third in Rivoli. On Saturday, the team had three men in the sizeable break that formed ahead of the Simplonpass, with Gee and Clarke joined by Stevie Williams.
When that unwieldy move broke up in the final hour of racing, it was Williams and Clarke who worked to bring Gee back into contention, and he would make it across to the front group in the final kilometre in the company of Denz and Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-First). At the end of another grisly, rain-soaked afternoon, Gee came close to overhauling Denz in the sprint, but the finish line arrived just a beat too soon.
"We thought the race was over when they had almost a minute, but Stevie rode amazingly with Movistar to bring it back and give me an opportunity to jump across," Gee said. "Simon Clarke was amazing too. He knows the roads, he told me when to go and what to do. It's just disappointing not to finish it off."
The 25-year-old is in his first full season at this level having concentrated on his track career ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, and he is part of a youthful but seemingly fearless Israel-Premier Tech line-up at this Giro. The team's management here also includes a debutant in Sam Bewley, in his first Grand Tour as a directeur sportif.
"I'm loving it in my first Grand Tour as a director, but I feel a little bit sick that we were so close again," Bewley told Cyclingnews. "It seems to be the story of the Giro for us. Derek is having an unbelievable Giro, and I don't think anyone expected it, maybe not even us. But we haven't missed a beat, we've just missed a win."
As well as his hat-trick of second places, Gee was on the offensive on Friday's abridged stage to Crans Montana, joining the break that forged clear after a breathless opening on the Croix de Coeur. Although he couldn't quite live with Einer Rubio, Thibaut Pinot et al on the final climb, he still had the strength to take fourth on the category 1 haul to the stage. His range extends far beyond his obvious gifts as a rouleur.
"I think he is the revelation of this Giro," Bewley said. "He's been on the podium three times, including on a really hard stage last weekend. Then he was in the break on a mountain stage yesterday and he was fourth. He can do everything. He's the revelation of this Giro – we're just lucky we have him wrapped up in a long-term contract."
In the here and now, of course, there are still seven stages of this Giro left. Once Saturday's disappointment is digested, Gee will go again. "One more week," he smiled. "I hear it gets harder too."