Giro d'Italia analysis: Jhonatan Narváez a symbol of Ineos Grenadiers' attacking spirit

Ecuadorian national champion may have come up just short on stage 9 into Naples, but the stage 1 winner is a fine example of the team's gusto

Clock13:30, Monday 13th May 2024
Jhonatan Narváez has been in the form of his life at the Giro d'Italia, regularly on the move and rewarded with victory on the opening day

© Getty Images

Jhonatan Narváez has been in the form of his life at the Giro d'Italia, regularly on the move and rewarded with victory on the opening day

This year's Giro d'Italia has had some chastening moments for Ineos Grenadiers. Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) has got the better of their team leader Geraint Thomas on two occasions, riding clear of the Welshman on the climb to Santuario di Oropa and putting him on the ropes, if not the canvas, in Friday's individual time trial.

But as Jhonatan Narváez showed us yesterday, the British team are not just here for the general classification. Narvàez has been on the attack in three of the race's nine stages. His free role in the Giro is indicative of the spirit in which the team is racing between Turin and Rome. Not content with focusing solely on the general classification, Ineos Grenadiers are also here to chase stage wins and leave their mark on Italy.

After his latest attack, Narváez was hunted down by Pogačar in the final few hundred metres of stage 9. He was delivered heartbreak when the peloton caught up just one and a half seconds before he crossed the line in Naples.

It was the latest in a series of near misses for the team through the opening week, but Narváez's attitude on Sunday afternoon on the streets of Via Caracciolo was an indication of the team's 'leave it all on the road' attitude that has so far coloured this Giro d'Italia.

"This is cycling, that is why it is fun to do something different in the final section, sometimes you get a nice result and sometimes not. But the important thing is to enjoy our time here in the Giro and keep trying," the 27-year-old told GCN and Eurosport just moments after crossing the line.

Remarkably, the Ecuadorian national champion was in no way despondent or defeated. On the contrary, Narváez was full of life, a spirit no doubt helped by his victory on stage 1 that handed the puncheur and his team with the first maglia rosa of the race.

"In the first stage we already did a great time and today I got very close. It was a disappointment, but this is part of cycling," he said.

"The moment I got into it was the last chance to get away. It wasn't too early. I was fine, but that's the beauty of cycling. Sometimes you get good results, sometimes bad, it teaches you to fight. Most importantly, I showed that the preparation was good to get that far."

'Vedi Napoli e poi muori' is the common phrase around these parts: 'See Naples and then die.' Made famous by the German playwright Johann Wolfgang von Goethe on his Italian Journey in the 18th century, the words are an ode to the city's grandeur – once you see this place, you are free to pass into the next life.

In this light, Narváez's do-or-die attack on the final real climb on the outskirts of Naples was rather fitting. Bursting free of the peloton with a little over 7km to ride, Narváez was the ultimate baroudeur, insistent on causing difficulty to the sprint hopefuls.

He rode down the tricky and often dangerous final descent into the Bay of Naples alone, at times appearing destined to claim his second victory in a little over a week. But under the steam of Lidl-Trek and a surprise lead-out from the maglia rosa Pogačar, the Ecuadorian was engulfed by the peloton less than 20m from the line.

Read more: Pink jersey, lead-out man: Tadej Pogačar gives back at Giro d'Italia

In front of an exhausted Narváez, Olav Kooij of Visma-Lease a Bike celebrated his first Grand Tour stage victory. Nonetheless, Narváez is far from done at this Giro.

As is often the case with the British team at this race, there seems to be a feeling of freedom and enjoyment within the Ineos Grenadiers ranks. They are a group of riders here with the ambition to win the overall through Thomas, but along the way, each man is afforded his own opportunity and so far in this Giro d'Italia, it is an opportunity that many have reached out to grasp.

Read more: Filippo Ganna insists late move was not planned, but Ineos Grenadiers continue to attack Giro d'Italia

Words to race by: 'We had a crack at it and on we go tomorrow'

Perhaps the most striking attack made by an Ineos Grenadiers rider so far in this Giro was not Narváez's stage-winning tact pursuit of Pogačar's wheels on the opening day in Turin, but Filippo Ganna's surprise move on the Capo Mele in advance of an expected bunch sprint in Andora.

The Italian went on the offensive at the base of the climb and rode alone for a while before eventually being caught inside the final kilometre. Although it is fair to say that Ganna bore a frustrated figure at the team bus that afternoon, his team's lead sports director Zak Dempster was sanguine in the face of defeat.

"There was a bike race today in Andora, we had a crack at it and on we go tomorrow," he told GCN.

Often the most relaxed sports director in the paddock both before and after each stage, the Australian has set the tone. The Ineos Grenadiers team are not allowing themselves to get weighed down by the pressure that race leader Pogačar has continuously piled on them.

Read more: 'Giro d'Italia is UAE Team Emirates' race to lose' say Ineos Grenadiers after Pogačar demolition

The Slovenian's biggest demolition was played out in the time trial to Perugia on Friday, his margin to Thomas a whopping two minutes by the end of the stage. Despite admitting that the Giro was now UAE Team Emirates to lose, Dempster deflected any pressure that his leader may have otherwise felt.

"I think we’re not the first team to be slapped around by Pogačar and we certainly won’t be the last," he told GCN and a small group of media after the stage.

For all that the team believes in Thomas' chances of securing a podium finish by the end of the race, Ineos Grenadiers have allowed his teammates the chance to seek their own fortune and take a break from domestique duties.

Narváez played his card to perfection on stage 1, Thymen Arensman gained a much-needed confidence boost from his active role in the finale of the stage 8 summit finish to Prati di Tivo, whilst Magnus Sheffield and Narváez were both members of the breakaway that day.

Read more: ‘The team kept believing in me, it paid off, I’m back’ says resurgent Thymen Arensman

Thomas himself has benefitted from the team's trust in letting their riders react to the situation on the road. As Mikkel Honoré (EF Education-EasyPost) and Pogačar went on the attack in the closing kilometres of stage 3, the Welshman latched onto the race leader's wheel and reaffirmed his credentials.

Ineos Grenadiers may have only won one stage of this year's Giro and sit 2:58 behind the race lead of Pogačar on the first rest day, but their opportunistic and spontaneous spirit has seen their riders on the offensive on five of the first nine stages.

Through Dempster and Narváez, the team's attitude is clear, and with that, more success should fall their way over the coming two weeks.

"The best thing is to do something different from most riders sometimes, more how the fans would like there to be a race," Narváez noted. "The main thing is to enjoy and keep trying."

For everything you need to know about the 2024 Giro d'Italia, from the history of the race to this year's route and start list, be sure to check out our dedicated race hub.

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