The dream lasted three days, but it logically ended on Tuesday. Following the second rest day, Bruno Armirail was forced to give the pink jersey up to Geraint Thomas on a monstrous stage 16 to Monte Bondone. Yet, the French rider honoured the maglia rosa until the very end and put on a great fight. He was only dropped when the GC fight started, and he joined the summit just over four minutes after the winner Joao Almeida. Thibaut Pinot took the sixteenth place of the day. In the general classification, Bruno Armirail now sits in seventh place while his climber teammate is 13th.
The profile said it all about Tuesday’s stage. It was indeed a terrifying stage which the Giro riders were about to tackle in the aftermath of a welcomed second rest day. As an opener for the third week, stage 16 included 203 kilometres but most importantly 5,500 meters of elevation gain. The bunch was expected in Monte Bondone (23 km at 6.5%) in late afternoon, after four other climbs and without many flat metres in the last 150 kilometres of racing. Bruno Armirail started this special day with the maglia rosa on his shoulders but with clear ideas about what was coming. The rider from Bagnères-de-Bigorre expected to lose his jersey on this day where the GC fight was supposed to take another step. Therefore, the team didn’t plan to control the race 100%. “Fortunately, we had sixty kilometres of flat before reaching the bottom of the first climb, and the breakaway went before the difficult part of the race”, said Sébastien Joly. “Just before that, there was a split in the peloton following a crash. Bruno was caught behind, but the guys did well, waited for him and bridged across. Then, since there were two Ineos Grenadiers in the breakaway, Jumbo-Visma started pulling and we collaborated with them to respect the jersey in the first part of the race. Jake even went a little further than expected and that allowed us to stay well positioned all the time”.
“I really made the most of it”, Bruno Armirail
In the front, a big twenty-man group enjoyed a maximum lead of about five minutes. Among them, Aurélien Paret-Peintre was the biggest threat to the pink jersey, being ranked just over four minutes down overall. However, the pace went up significantly in the bunch in the penultimate climb to Serrada. Rudy Molard, Thibaut Pinot and Bruno Armirail were still up there with around forty men. The leading riders eventually started the final climb with just a three-minute gap, and the pace did not weaken among the maglia rosa group, quite the contrary. Jumbo-Visma then UAE Team Emirates gave a proper push, and only twenty men were remaining halfway up the Monte Bondone. After a slightly flatter part, the war of attrition continued, and Bruno Armirailwas forced to let the group slip away after a few kilometres of suffering. “It was a very, very hard day,” he said. “The guys did a tremendous job again. I hung on as much as I could, but with ten kilometres to go, I could not follow anymore. I’m still happy, because when I dropped, there were less than twenty guys left, and not just any guys. It’s nice to have such feelings. I then gave everything until the line. It’s the pink jersey, I had to go all the way and not regret anything. I spent three days and two extraordinary stages. This jersey will certainly change part of my career. I really made the most of it.”
A few moments later, the GC contenders started their own fight, but Thibaut Pinot was unable to join it on Tuesday. Distanced about nine kilometres from the summit, the Frenchman crossed the line in sixteenth position, 3’27 behind Joao Almeida, winner in front of the new pink jersey Geraint Thomas. “I tried to do my best, but it wasn’t going well at all for me today”, confirmed Thibaut. “It was a bad day, and I did what I could with the legs I had today. I’m very disappointed, but there are still two nice mountain stages to come”. As for the former pink jersey, he fought to the end and placed 19th on the day, 4’24 behind the Portuguese winner. “It all came down to the legs, and it was the first time on this Giro that the big guys showed their cards”, added Sébastien. “Bruno held on really well, and this is the first time we’ve seen him at such a level. He limited his losses and he battled until the end out of respect for the jersey”. At the end of stage 16, the French time trial champion remained in the Giro’s top-10, in seventh position at 3’22 behind Thomas. His teammate from Melisey is in thirteenth place, now 6’48 down. “The Giro is not over, there are still some great stages this week, but we will first need to recover because today’s stage was very, very hard”, concluded Bruno.