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Redemption Cycle: The 2022 Giro d’Italia was a story of second chances

Will Strickson
1 Jun 2022

Almost every stage of the year’s first Grand Tour saw riders complete unlikely comebacks and revenge rides

‘You mustn’t confuse a single failure with a final defeat,’ says the main character in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night.

Second chances are easier to come by in cycling than most sports, the big races repeat every year and Grand Tours have 21 stages to reverse the fortunes of the last.

However the 2022 Giro d’Italia was unmatched in the way practically every day threw up another story of riders who have come so close to getting their second chance – often in scarily similar situations – and taking it with both legs.

I found myself reaching for the word ‘redemption’ on a daily basis to describe the events we’d witnessed, and the classically biblical term is certainly the most fitting I can find to describe the race.

In what many have dismissed as one of the least exciting three week races in recent years, the Corsa Rosa featured a wealth of inspirational tales of courage and persistence. These are their stories. *Dun dun*.

Arnaud Démare

Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

While Mathieu van der Poel winning his first ever Giro stage, Simon Yates winning a time-trial, Mark Cavendish winning at his first Giro in nine years and a breakaway win on Mount Etna are all great stories, we meet our first hero on Stage 5 from Catania to Messina.

A bunch sprint. Cav out of contention after a tough climb early on in the day. It’s anyone's game. It would’ve been a story if any riders that finished in the top ten won but it was Nono himself, Arnaud Démare, making his return to the big leagues after a rough 2021.

Démare looked like the best sprinter in the world at the 2020 Giro, taking four stages and the maglia ciclamino. However his 2021 was really not good, his only wins coming in minor races against weaker opposition.

Because of that, many had written him off before this year’s Giro began but the big Frenchman had a point to prove and prove it he did.

Stage 5, Stage 6, Stage 13 and another ciclamino show Arnaud is back in a big way.

Thomas De Gendt

Photo: Fabio Ferrari - Pool/Getty Images

The eighth stage of the Giro took riders on a hilly sightseeing kermesse of Napoli and a big break took it on.

With four missed opportunities for Caleb Ewan to win a stage and the threat of relegation looming over Lotto Soudal, the Belgian squad got three riders in the front group.

Ten years after his first Giro win as a 25-year-old for Vacansoleil, the oft-styled breakaway king Thomas De Gendt sprinted to victory.

De Gendt’s career has changed a lot since that famous victory on the Stelvio on the penultimate stage of a Giro he would finish third overall.

He’d relieve himself of the pressure that comes with GC racing in favour of stage wins before turning his hand to largely working for his team’s sprint leadout.

And that journey wasn’t without immense personal difficulty, as he explained to Cyclist just days ago.

But when the frites were down and his team needed UCI points, De Gendt provided de goods once more and, along with Arnaud De Lie’s wins in lower tier races, it looks like Lotto Soudal could yet be in the WorldTour come 2023.

Simon Yates

Oh Simon. I find a piece of my soul crushed every time he faces Giro disaster. Thankfully that’s just a metaphor because if not I would literally be dead.

The more successful Yates twin has had victories – he won the Vuelta a España in 2018 and he’s won loads of stages and shorter stage races – but Italy must have put some kind of curse on him because it always goes wrong.

He started as one of the top favourites, as usual, and began on hot form, impressively winning the Stage 2 TT in Budapest. He looked set to at least spend another long period in the maglia rosa.

Disaster. A bad crash and a hot day saw him lose over 11 minues of Stage 9 up Blockhaus and the dream was over again.

But our Simon is a fighter. He doesn’t drop out as soon as his overall hopes are gone, he charges on to deliver something for his team – notably also in relegation peril.

Stage 14, a ‘medium’ mountain stage to Torino, GC contenders striking left and right, Yates characteristically sitting on the back of the group. Who knows how he’s feeling or what he’s thinking. He gets dropped, crawls his way back to an escaped four leaders, all of whom still with something to play for overall.

He saw his chance. He took his chance. He salvaged his Giro and maybe, just maybe, he’ll have his legs for the Tour.

Giulio Ciccone

Italy has had its fair share of Grand Tour challengers, but who’s next up? No more Fabio Aru, no more Vincenzo Nibali, Domenico Pozzovivo has his own story of redemption, which we’ll get to, but he’s 39 years old.

Giulio Ciccone was the natural successor. He’s had plenty of Grand Tour success with stage wins and a KOM jersey at the 2019 Giro and was the padawan to Nibali during Lo Squalo’s time at Trek-Segafredo.

Ciccone started the 2021 Giro looking like he was coming of age. He was Egan Bernal’s closest challenger for a long stretch until crashes led to struggles that put an end to his race on Stage 18, placed tenth overall. He couldn’t refind that form in that year’s Vuelta, hovering around the lower end of the top ten before another early finish.

Although tipped to at least do something in the maglia rosa contest, the now 27-year-old didn't seem to try and was barely appearing in the race at all for the first two weeks. Had the Ides of May taken Giulio down for good?

Stage 15 arrived with a hard profile and a strong breakaway. Cicco was out for blood and nobody was getting in his way.

He’d measured his efforts to perfection, using the second climb of the day to claw back the premature escapees practically alone and attacking at the base of the final ascent. He couldn't be matched.

Almost three years to the stage since his last Giro victory, here he was again, glorious. Sunglasses and doubts tossed.

Jan Hirt

I know, after seeing that alien burst through his chest you didn’t see that one coming. Ah no, sorry, I’ve done this before, that was John Hurt.

Jan Hirt’s part in this one, like any good ensemble story e.g. Love Actually, is linked to Ciccone’s.

At 31, Hirt hasn’t seen much success. His only pro win before 2022 was the Tour of Austria six years ago, stepping up earlier on this season winning the Tour of Oman.

However, on Stage 16 of the 2019 Giro, which included an ascent of the Passo del Mortirolo, Hirt was outsprinted on the line by a young man in the maglia azzurra who celebrated by tossing his glasses into the crowd. Ciccone.

After that defeat, he wouldn't even top ten in a race apart from the 2.1 Razka Tour in his native Czechia, until Oman this year.

And he hadn’t cracked the top ten on a Giro stage when, funnily enough, Stage 16 came around, which, also funnily enough, included an ascent of the Passo del Mortirolo.

Fortunately, Ciccone got his win the stage prior, so the day’s breakaway eventually came down to Hirt and Thymen Arensman.

This time, entering the finale of Stage 16 of the Giro with one other rider having climbed the Mortirolo, Hirt would not be beaten, putting seven seconds into Arensman. History turned on its head and Intermarché’s man would battle on to a previously unthinkable sixth overall.

Santiago Buitrago

Santiago Buitrago is just 22 years old, he’d never won a pro race and never been to a Grand Tour in his previous two professional seasons, but his Giro had its own arc.

The Colombian had clearly been given the gift of freedom by his Bahrain Victorious leaders, finding himself in several breakaways along the way.

Fifth on Stage 12, it wasn’t hard enough to showcase his climbing talent.

Second on Stage 15, despite a remarkable fight, Ciccone was too strong, Buitrago was devastated.

Stage 17, Ponte di Legno to Lavarone, he’s in the breakaway with some of this year’s usual suspects, Van der Poel, Hirt, Gijs Leemreize, Koen Bouwman, Mauri Vansevenant, Hugh Carthy.

Buitrago crashes hard on an early descent and looks like his stage is over.

Nevertheless, on he battles and catches breakaway survivor after breakaway survivor with the GC contenders sweeping up behind. But they’re not catching Santiago. No one was.

Eventually Buitrago came home 35 seconds ahead of Leemreize to take his first professionnal win at the Giro d’Italia, with elation, relief and cartharsis etched on his young face. This is just the start for him.

Domenico Pozzovivo, Hugh Carthy and João Almeida

Redemption doesn’t have to mean victory, though. And that’s what our final three heroes represent, three different kinds of suffering and battling back, and arcs yet to conclude.

Domenico Pozzovivo is 39 years old. Two years ago he had to have 16 surgeries following a training accident. He had to change his cycling technique as a result. He didn’t have a contract to begin the 2022 season. He finished eighth overall. A hero, an inspiration, a fighter.

Hugh Carthy finished third at the 2020 Vuelta, winning a monumental stage up the hardest climb in world cycling the Alto de l’Angliru. In 2021 he was there or thereabouts in the Giro but never actually threatened, just ploughing on to an eighth overall finish. He’d pull out of the Vuelta unwell after just six stages.

It didn’t start well for Preston’s prophet and he was never threatening the GC contenders. But day after day, the EF Education-EasyPost man would get in the break, suffer, not quite have enough, but claw back a few seconds.

In the end the closest he’d come to a stage is fourth, but ninth overall and an impressive climb up the Passo Fedaia on the penultimate day, outperforming all GC men apart from our winner, Carthy might have ridden into form. Welcome back Hugh, we've missed you.

João Almeida was a constant symbol of redemption in this Giro. We all laughed at his yoyoing but the young man’s strength to keep plugging away when dropped, when your teammates are nowhere to be seen, when you’ve got to do it all yourself, when the pressure of leading the team of the greatest cyclist in the world is on your shoulders.

Almeida dropped out of the Giro following a positive Covid test placed fourth on GC. Like always, he will be back.

Jai Hindley

Finally, Jai Hindley is the overarching redemption arc that defines all others, a story as cyclical as the sport itself and a fairytale ending that Pixar would barely dare to dream up.

Hindley was an unknown going into the 2020 Giro d’Italia. The Australian was a domestique working for Wilco Kelderman at Sunweb when he found himself high on the overall standings and seemingly stronger than his German teammate.

In what at the time seemed to be a very weird Covid-year Grand Tour, he was one of the two strongest riders in the race and found himself plunged into the maglia rosa but exactly level on time with his Ineos Grenadiers rival Tao Geoghegan Hart with just the final time-trial to go.

Heartbreak. A brave second overall but it wasn’t enough, he had to suffer what must have felt like rock bottom wearing the jersey for just that lonely day.

After that, 2021 was no good. He barely performed in any races for Team DSM, his best seventh at the Tour de Pologne.

Here again, Hindley was. At a new team in Bora-Hansgrohe and back at the Giro d’Italia, seemingly working for teammate Wilco Kelderman, who had the team leader’s number 61.

As before he didn’t start off particularly strongly but it wasn’t bad. Hovering around 15th after the first week.

Blockhaus came, Kelderman had ‘disc brake’ issues and ended up almost 11 minutes down, Hindley was in the front group.

When the main attack came Jai looked to go with the front three but pulled back to sit on with João Almeida and the second group. It looked like he wasn’t as strong as Richard Carapaz, Mikel Landa and Romain Bardet.

The front slowed, Almeida pushed and the bunch regrouped. Hindley outsprinted Carapaz and Bardet to a famous victory, doubts over his legs remained but he was clearly now his team’s leader.

But Hindley didn’t put a foot wrong the rest of the Giro, following every attack, digging himself but never going into the red.

Stage 20, the big one, Carapaz three seconds ahead of Hindley on GC.

Bora played it perfectly with control of the bunch and a man in the break. Ineos wound up the pace to attack on the final climb up the Passo Fedaia and Hindley was comfortable.

When all the domestiques were burned Carapaz didn’t really threaten much of an attack and Hindley put the pressure on, ditching all competitors apart from Ecuadorian, who he dragged up to his teammate Lennard Kämna.

Kämna promptly put the hammer down and it was too much. Ineos’s man was done and Hindley was off, all out attack to the top.

So there we were again. Young Jai Hindley, one of the two strongest riders in the race, in the maglia rosa for just one day, the final time-trial, looking to hold off an Ineos Grenadiers rival.

But this time there was no doubt. The win was his, comprehensively, redemption was his.

The Giro d’Italia 2022 is the story of Jai Hindley.

All photos by Chris Auld unless stated otherwise

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