'Maybe I went too deep yesterday' – Dunbar's momentum stalls at Giro d'Italia
The Tre Cime di Lavaredo is a paradoxical kind of place. The most beautiful mountainscape of the Giro d’Italia is also the crucible for its most intense moments of suffering. That was the case when the race first came this way in 1968 and the story repeated itself just as fiercely on the Giro’s seventh visit to the sacred mountain on Friday.
Eddie Dunbar (Jayco AlUla) has confirmed his aptitude as a Grand Tour contender with his assured displays on this Giro, his first three-week race as a team leader. His momentum finally stalled a little, however, on those dizzyingly steep final 3km of Tre Cime di Lavaredo, where the gradient stiffens to double digits and thinning air exaggerates the impact of every effort.
The Irishman lost contact with the maglia rosa group with a shade over 2km to go, and from there, his climb was an exercise in damage limitation. Dunbar would lose over a minute to Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers), dropping a place to fifth overall, 4:53 down.
"I just suffered. It's been a long three weeks," Dunbar said after being helped into a jacket beyond the finish line. "I just suffered up that last climb. There's not much more to say really.
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"It wasn't my best day, by any means. My legs weren't my best compared to the last days. As I said, we're after three hard weeks and the altitude maybe got to me a bit as well. But no excuses, I didn't have the legs today, simple as."
Dunbar hadn't raced a Grand Tour since he made his Giro debut four years ago in the colours of Ineos, where he was deployed in support of Pavel Sivakov rather than as a leader. Before this race, he was heartened by how well he had dealt with the final week in 2019, and his performances in recent days had seemed to justify that confidence.
At Monte Bondone on Tuesday, Dunbar moved up to fourth overall after he matched Roglic all the way to the summit. At Val di Zoldo on Thursday, he lasted the pace with Thomas, Roglic and João Almeida better than anyone else before relenting slightly in the final kilometre. At Tre Cime di Lavaredo on Friday, it seemed those efforts might have exacted a toll.
"It was always going to be difficult. Maybe I went a bit too deep yesterday and paid for it today, but it's all learning," said Dunbar.
The Dolomite tappone took in some 5,400m of total climbing, distributed across five mountain passes. The Campolongo, Valparola and Giau came and went without undue incident, but the intensity began to ratchet upwards on the penultimate ascent of the Tre Croci. The maglia rosa group was whittled down to its bare bones on the lower slopes of Tre Cime di Lavaredo ahead of that evocative, vertiginous finale.
"It was just a strange day, it was just the two last climbs that were pretty fast. Before that, Ineos controlled it pretty well," Dunbar said. "It was a tough day, but I'm not looking for excuses. I just didn't have the legs, you know."
On crossing the line, Dunbar was initially under the impression that he had slipped considerably in the overall standings, but the Corkman did enough to hold onto a place in the top five, 17 seconds clear of Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ).
For better or for worse, the suffering of this Giro didn't end at Tre Cime di Lavaredo. Dunbar will look to hold that position – or perhaps even leapfrog Damiano Caruso, 42 seconds ahead in 4th – in Saturday's mountain time trial to Monte Lussari. "I'll just go all in tomorrow and see where I end up," Dunbar said.