Nico Denz will forever have warm and sunny memories of this wet and foul 2023 Giro d’Italia.
He won’t really remember the constant rain almost every stage, the freezing temperatures, the slick, wet roads, the crashes and Covid cases. Over time all that will disappear from his recollections.
Nope, Denz will smile, he’ll lean back in his chair, and tell you what a wonderful Giro it was. Beautiful, rewarding and filled with joy. For the German rider, there will always be a golden glow to this Italian grand tour.
And what not? First, he’d taken a huge victory in stage 12 into Rivoli. That was a fabulous and surprising result that paid back ten years working for the team. It was the kind of highpoint that makes you feel like yes, I’ve had a successful career. I can tell my friends — I’m a grand tour winner.
Ohh, but thing got even more glorious a few days later on stage 14. He was part of a large-sized break that gradually splintered into two highly motivated groups. Both knew that Ineos Grenadiers and the maglia rosa Geraint Thomas had decided to give up the jersey to an obscure Frenchman who was a year behind on GC. No, actually, it somewhere around 18 minutes, but the Brit squad was soft pedaling through the rain with no intention to close any gap whatsoever.
So there was Denz and Giro d’Italia revelation Derek Gee(Israel-Premier Tech), who’d already banked two surprising 2nd places, plus a number of skilled riders that knew the breakaway wins again and maybe, just fantastically, it could be their day.
In the front with a ten second advantage with a kilometer to go were Stefano Oldani (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Toms Skujins (Trek-Segafredo) and Davide Ballerini (Soudal-QuickStep). At this point it appeared the Denz chase group didn’t have the will, energy or cohesion to close down those ten seconds.
But a little cat and mouse up front and a final huge effort from the irrepressible Derek Gee brought the chasers within a few wheel lengths with 500 meters to go. But in a fraction of second, that slim chance would vanish. It was now or never but who’s gonna burn that match?
Enter Nico Denz, bad-ass dreamer.
Having already scored his life-changing Giro win just a few days ago, Denz was riding a wave of don’t-give-a-fuck confidence. He didn’t need fourth, he was going for another win. So he closed that final little gap himself no matter the cost, then took a breath or two to recover. When Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost) went hard up the right, Denz hit the gas again. Derek Gee reacted a fraction late but went to full power quickly and starting closing fast on the German.
The photo finish is in black and white but Denz will remember it in vivid, bold and bright colors. He edged the Canadian by half a wheel, winning a second, incomprehensible stage and exploding in absolute joy once again. Nobody does unrestrained happiness like Denz.
Someday, Denz will tell his grandkids the stories of his magical ride in the 2023 Giro d’Italia. They’ll look at the photos and videos and ask him about the rain and gray, miserable conditions. A look of incomprehension will pass over his face. He will smile. No, every day was sunny, warm and absolutely perfect.