The Lithuanian champion surprised everyone including himself on the Giro this Saturday. In a short yet very hilly stage 14 around Turin and the famous Basilica of Superga, the 36-year-old rider first got noticed by getting into the – brief – day’s breakaway. He then impressed quite a bit as he held on in the maglia rosa group for some time, before finishing just outside the top-20 (22nd) in a furious race dominated by the race’s climbers.
“I was feeling great, and I don’t know why”, Ignatas Konovalovas
On paper, stage 14 of the 2022 Giro certainly included “only” 3000 meters of elevation gain. However, these were gathered over just a hundred kilometres through a winding and relentless route near Turin. The day’s profile also suited the attackers, who saw it as a great opportunity to play for victory. Therefore, the fight proved to be tough for about thirty kilometres before hitting the first categorized climb. The Groupama-FDJ cycling team then appeared at the front. “We knew it was going to be a fast stage”, introduced Benoît Vaugrenard. “We wanted to have Attila in front, as he was motivated for the stage. He tried, but in the end, Kono managed to feel the right move, and he was going very strong today”. While his colleagues from the lead-out train already established the gruppetto at the back, the Lithuanian rider took a few lengths ahead of the main peloton. “I was feeling great today, and I don’t know why”, he said later, before trying to justify it: “It must be the wine and the pizza from last night! It was not planned for me to go in the break, but the fight was long and in the first climb, I started to move up. I wanted to take Attila with me, but I lost him and found myself in front. The favorite teams were in control, but I thought: why not try? It wasn’t even an attack, I just paced up, and then I found myself with eleven riders in the front”.
“Kono” even crossed the summit in second position, behind the blue jersey wearer, before pushing on the descent to create the “right” move. “We thought that 10-15 guys could go and fight for victory”, added Benoît. “We thought the hardest part was done when the gap was over 2’30. But eventually, Bora-hansgrohe started a whole new race behind, and from there, the race went into pieces. The circuit suited a long-range attack, and they made the most of it”. After about thirty kilometres at the head of the race, the rider from Groupama-FDJ then saw a small maglia rose group come across, just before the first ascent of the Superga climb (5 km at 8%). “The peloton pushed hard, and it’s a shame”, he said. “I don’t know how far I could have gone but I had really good legs.” As a proof of this statement, he was the last rider from the initial breakaway to let the GC group go, about two kilometres from the top of Superga. He then maintained his effort in some other chasing groups, and he crossed the line about sixty kilometres further in twenty-second position. “After being dropped from the pink jersey group, I stayed with Guillaume Martin to go even further,” he said. “Then Alejandro Valverde came back, and I took the wheel again to go as close as possible to the finish. I just took it a bit easier in the last fifteen kilometres, because to be 18th or 40th doesn’t change much for me”.
“A great Kono”, Benoît Vaugrenard
In a stage that created huge differences and saw Juan Pedro Lopez give up his pink jersey for more than four minutes, Ignatas Konovalovas had a great day instead. “It was good to be in front,” he said. “That being said, I know I can climb when everything is alright and I’m not too tired. Usually, I’m just not willing to put myself in the red zone to take 30th instead of 70th, if I don’t have a leader for the general classification”. On the GC, precisely, he gained twenty-two places on Saturday. “I made a gap to my teammates in the overall!“, he smiled. “Kono had a very good race”, greeted Benoît Vaugrenard. “Despite his age, he is still doing well on hyper intensive stages like today. It was a great Kono. He enjoyed it. It was obviously hard, but it’s always easier when you suffer in front rather than behind. Today, everyone struggled. It was a high intensity stage, arguably one of the toughest in the Giro.” Arnaud Démare and his cyclamen jersey got to the finish approximately forty minutes after the winner Simon Yates, together with his teammates. “We quickly found ourselves in the gruppetto, and that lasted for 100 kilometres”, he said. “We had some margin for the time limits today, but it was still really hard”. On Sunday, a big mountain stage featuring 4000 meters of elevation gain awaits the riders towards Cogne.