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Derek Gee’s Giro d’Italia

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Derek Gee’s Giro d’Italia

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The Giro d’Italia ended on Sunday in Rome after 21 stages and over 3,300 kilometers covered, and among its many problems it brought out some uncommon personal and sporting stories. Like the victory of 38-year-old Mark Cavendish in the last stage of his last Giro d’Italia, and a pink jersey disputed up to the last meters of the decisive stage and assigned, after more than 85 hours of racing, with a gap of 14 seconds between the top two in the standings: Slovenian Primoz Roglic and Welshman Geraint Thomas.

Roglic also won the Giro in the same way he lost a Tour de France in 2020, and he did it not far from where in 2007 He had won a competition of the Junior World Ski Jumping Championship, at the end of a climb in which one of his former teammates at the time it helped himprompting him to restart after a chain jump.

The sporting and personal story of this Giro, which was impossible to predict just three weeks ago, is however another one and has as its protagonist the twenty-five-year-old Canadian Derek Gee, whose surname is pronounced with a soft “g” (which is why there are days headlines or tweets that speak of “Gee-ro d’Italia”).

Before the start of the Giro di Gee nobody spoke, not even the insiders. His main peculiarity was that he was the only Canadian rider among the 174 at the start; to the rest of him he was expected to do an ordinary wingman job for the captains of his team, Israel-Premier Tech. In the classification of professional cyclists made by the International Cycling Union, Gee was more than 600th position. For him, the Giro was the first three-week stage race, the third of which with tens of thousands of meters of elevation gain up and down the Alps: just reaching the end would have been a good result.

At the end of the race Gee won nothing, but he came close to winning a lot, and certainly managed to get noticed. Thanks to his numerous escapes, he finished fourth twice and second four times, and also finished second in various rankings other than the general one, awarded with the pink jersey.

Gee finished second in the points standings, second in the best climber and second in the flying finishes (or intermediate sprints). Despite his seven breakaways in as many stages (breakaways often reaching the finish line, but always won by others) and despite almost one third of Giro d’Italia passed to pedal in front of the main group, Gee also finished second in the points classification of those who were most in the breakaway. In the general standings he finished twenty-second. Numerology and second places stop only in front of the fact that he has been chosen as a runner more combative of the Giro.

Until the beginning of May Gee was unknown to most, but he didn’t come out of nowhere. Growing up in Osgoode, a small town in the Canadian province of Ontario, he is the son of a cyclist, which is why he already started doing road races at the age of nine, and then moved, from thirteen, to track cycling, where over the years he obtained better and better results, first at youth and national level, then also internationally. In 2021 he took part in the Tokyo Olympics in the team pursuit (the specialty of Filippo Ganna and Jonathan Milan) and in the madison (the pairs competition in which we shake hands).

Gee Alle Olympics (Tim De Waele/Getty Images)

Even after the Olympics, Gee continued to devote himself a lot to track: at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, less than a year ago, he was also among the protagonists of a serious and at the same time photogenic fall.

(AP Photo/Ian Walton)

In recent months, however, Gee has passed from the track to the road: it is not unusual for certain riders to alternate between one or more cycling disciplines, or that after having accumulated some experience on the track they go towards the road, as the Italian Jonathan is doing among others Milan, winner of the team gold in the Olympic pursuit and winner of this Giro, ahead of Gee, of the cyclamen jersey for the points classification.

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Gee really got into the road in 2022, when he rode with the Israel Cycling Academy, something of a nursery team to his current squad. Even in the absence of victories (nor of second places), Gee has asserted himself enough to deserve promotion to the “first team” this year. The way cycling has been going in recent years, Gee made this leap rather late: in fact, he made his debut in the Giro at an older age than that which allows him to compete for the white jersey of best young rider (in which, however, he would not have finished second). .

At the beginning of the year he said, in a video shot by his team, that he wanted to take advantage of 2023 to understand «what a runner to become», on which routes and in which type of races you can do better. 2022 had been for him, he said, “the year of the great learning curve”, in which to first learn the complicated group dynamics of road cycling. To help him discover «weaknesses and strengths» the team had chosen for him a very varied, but still high-level, race calendar: with a start to the season between Australia and the United Arab Emirates, to then take part in major races of a day like the Strade Bianche, the Milan-San Remo and, in April, the Paris-Roubaix.

Up until April, Gee’s season wasn’t doing very well. At the Strade Bianche, which as the name suggests has long unpaved stretches, he had arrived out of time, almost half an hour behind the winner; at the Milano-Sanremo he had arrived a few minutes after the leaders and at the Paris-Roubaix, the race on cobblestones, he had managed to enter the day’s breakaway, but at the finish line he had finished 135th. And that day he stood out above all for his unfortunate puncture.

The Giro was the first race after Paris-Roubaix. His first week in Italy was, at least from the outside, relatively quiet, then things changed. In the eighth stage, with a rather undulating profile, he was in the breakaway for almost 200 kilometers and then finished second; in the tenth, Apennine, he finished second after 185 kilometers in the break. After that he attempted a breakaway other times, almost always in undulating stages and almost always guessing it, until his breakaway in the most awaited stage of the Giro, that of the Dolomite passes, with arrival at the Tre Cime di Lavaredo.

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There too, in a high mountain stage that arrived after thousands of kilometers travelled, when even very experienced riders find themselves with little energy, Gee finished second, despite a less climber-like physique than many opponents.

Gee at the Giro (Jasper Jacobs/Belgian via ZUMA Press)

It’s thanks to all these breakaways, finishers, intermediates and mountains he’s crossed first that Gee has finished second in so many rankings. In addition to this, Gee has been appreciated for the consistency of his performances, for his ability to read the racing moments and his flexibility: he went fast uphill, but also showed excellent qualities on the plains and in the time trial stages . He finally tried to pull away from the group in the last flat kilometers of the last stage, which finished in the sprint in the center of Rome.

In addition to his approach, stubbornness and placings, Gee (who at the beginning of the Giro had declared that his goal would have been «only to survive») also stood out for his great availability towards journalists, many of whom during the three weeks of the race in some ways discovered and deepened his character, often recounting his passion for ornithology, born when he was looking for a “low energy pastime”. As he said he said, “I know it makes me look old, but I’m a birdwatcher.”

Even in the pages of Canadian websites and newspapers — which generally don’t have the spotlight on the Giro d’Italia — Gee has been the protagonist of several articles, often dedicated to his “new second place”, among those on the results of the national team Canadian hockey player, who just as he was finishing the Giro won the World Cup again.

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After initially taking his first second places in the Giro well (“better to finish second than spend the day in the peloton”), the third and fourth times Gee understandably looked more and more disappointed. As he himself admitted, however, this Giro has undoubtedly changed his career, because now, from the next races in which he participates, it will be anything but unknown and unexpected. In some ways, however, it still remains to be understood what kind of runner he will or can become.

– Read also: The great story of the first Giro d’Italia

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