Tom Dumoulin, Primož Roglič or Simon Yates? Start making the case for each rider and it can get convincing but there are questions to be answered in the coming weeks too. Dumoulin’s been quiet this season, Roglič is red hot but hasn’t shown he can cope with the pressure and Simon Yates, well he could lose time to them in the three TT stages? Then there’s Miguel Angel Lopez looking to continue Astana’s run this season, Vincenzo Nibali can spring a surprise, Mikel Landa and Richard Carapaz make a lively tandem and Team Ineos bring several strong riders suddenly given new opportunities. Best of all it’s all uncertain, your guess is as good as the next which makes for mouthwatering anticipation.
Before reviewing the candidates, a quick look at the course again. It’s possible to lead the race from start to finish as a rider capable of winning in Bologna could consolidate their lead in Sanmarino and then defend until Verona, but that would be a rare feat. The point is that the two opening time trials are where those good against the clock need to build a margin but the “fight for pink”, to borrow the Giro’s awkward phrase, could be secondary contest for much of the first two weeks given the flatter stages. Once the Alpine stages come it’s time for the climbers to try and take back time day after day and the final time trial in Verona is short at 17km.
Tom Dumoulin took a look at the course and decided to go back. Three time trials, fewer summit finishes, the route almost looks like it was designed for him who returns after finishing second last year and winning overall in 2017 but look closer and it’s not so easy, the time trials all contain climbs and he’ll probably take fewer seconds per kilometre on rivals over these courses. The form is unknown with some lacklustre performances so far this season but that was the case last year too and he showed up in Jerusalem to win the opening stage but still, the form is a question and he’s been public about feeling off the pace recently. Still one bad day on the road to Liège in grim conditions shouldn’t inform us too much especially as he looks very lean. By now he’s got plenty of experience and knows how to pace his climbing and on a good day the very best climbers can’t drop him. Sunweb have a team and arguably a season built around the Giro and Sam Oomen, still 23, will be big help in the mountains.
Primož Roglič is the hot pick. He’s just won the Tour de Romandie, taking three stages with a sprint win, a summit finish and the final TT. Excellent in the time trials, tenacious on the climbs and he can sprint for time bonuses too, all this explains why he’s won every stage race he’s ridden this year and why he’ll like the Giro with its time trials and time bonuses too. So far so good but if he’s ripe today what chance he’ll be rotten come the end of May? He says no, declaring he wasn’t even in his best shape in Romandie. Still the Giro is a step up, he’s only ridden three grand tours and placed fourth in the Tour de France last summer so a podium in Verona would mark progress. Piecing it together for three weeks is the challenge and the untested area is defence, to win the Giro his obvious route is to start with the opening time trial and consolidate his lead over the pure climbers in the big San Marino TT but this can make for a tiring start if he’s in the maglia rosa from Saturday, can he hold onto it and cope with the pressures? Even without the jersey he’ll be expected keep high on GC and not lose time. His Jumbo-Visma team will miss Robert Gesink but includes Antwan Tolhoek, Laurens de Plus and Sepp Kuss for mountain support and they’ll be invaluable but seem unlikely to dominate the tactics.
The story goes that Simon Yates returns with lessons learned. The started with the Giro with flamboyant display where he took stage wins and time bonuses galore in a frantic bid to build up a margin over superior time triallists like Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin, only to crack on the final mountain stages. Then he returned and won the Vuelta in a more economical style proving he learned the lessons and can apply them to win the Giro he lost. Only that’s a story in two sentences and the reality is more complex. For starters the Vuelta is a collection of shorter climbs evenly spread across three weeks while the Giro barely climbs a mountain for two weeks, before over-compensating in the final, draining Alpine week. For Yates this means needing to take time on others and with little recovery periods in between and this should spice up the final week. He won the time trial stage of Paris-Nice, perhaps the win was an anomaly thanks to changing weather conditions and but all the same he’s closed the gap to his rivals. Mitchelton-Scott are all in for Yates, Esteban Chaves returns as a luxury helper but is still one to watch, after all he has been on the podium in the Giro and Vuelta before.
Home hopes rest on Vincenzo Nibali and he’s probably the only Italian cyclist at the moment who is a “household name” in Italy, sometimes to read La Gazzetta Dello Sport’s cycling coverage is to read Nibali’s diary. Is anyone expecting him to win? Maybe not and that’s his opening, it’s hard to imagine him out-climbing the field, let alone winning the time trials but he can be tenacious and regular and suddenly on a wet descent he can take back time and force others into mistakes. He’s often a catalyst for action, his attacks may not always work but they enliven the race and a surge in the final week and a shot at the podium would keep his popularity up. He’s said to be leaving Bahrain-Merida but they bring a team in his full service where Domenico Pozzovivo can ride shotgun and aim for a top-10 place overall too – he was fifth last year but some eight minutes down – but he’s been out of action since a hard crash in the Flèche Wallonne.
Miguel Angel Lopez is Astana’s leader. Third in the Vuelta and third in the Giro last year, he can finish on the podium here too but the problem is climbing onto the top step, or rather time trialling to it, because among the GC contenders he’s consistently poor against the clock. Apart from an anomalous second place in the 2016 Tour de Suisse’s Davos time trial, he’s usually losing significant amounts of time to his GC rivals in these stages and with three in this Giro, he’s got his work cut out. This ought to make the final week spicy and he was dominant in the Volta a Catalunya, leaving the likes of Adam Yates, Nairo Quintana and Egan Bernal gasping for air. Astana bring an aggressive team who’ll ride to make life as hard as possible for rivals, while Ion Izagirre who may have his own ambitions for a high finish too.
No more talk of tridents but Movistar bring two climbers as co-leaders. Mikel Landa had an early season injury but is now back to good form and climbing well. As ever though he’s irresistible on the climbs, but hampered in the time trials and there might not be enough summit finishes here, several times the hard climb is chased by a descent and then a valley drag to the finish, an anti-Landa scenario. Richard Carapaz was fourth last year in his first go and the 25 year old has had few results since until winning the Vuelta Asturias last weekend. A punchy rider he’ll still lose time in the time trials and it’ll be interesting to see how the tandem combines.
Team Ineos show up without Egan Bernal and rather than wondering what would have been, let’s ask what they do now? Normally this is a team with a clear hierarchy and a simple tactic of asphyxiating rivals in the mountains, now we’ve got eight riders in search of stage wins; four of them are still Under-23 and five are eligible for the white jersey. Ivan Sosa can probably climb as fast as Bernal, he’s just coming up short in the time trials for now so isn’t as famous. Both Pavel Sivakov and Tao Geoghegan Hart are possible GC contenders in future years and enjoyed a razzia at the recent Tour of the Alps but putting together for three weeks is something new but it’ll be good to watch.
Ilnur Zakarin isn’t the talk of the town but he’s still one of a select few who has finished on the podium of a grand tour who starts the Giro. Back in 2016 he was riding high at fifth overall and then race leader Steven Kruijswijk crashed into a bank of snow and lost the race but on the same day Zakarin also fell and quit the race, an illustration that he can hang with the best again. He returned in 2017 and finished fifth, and last year just cracked the top-10 in the Tour de France. By now you’ve got the picture, the Stork of Tartarstan is consistent but low profile. Katusha-Alpecin would love a stage win but a high overall place would hand them some much needed UCI ranking points.
Bauke Mollema gets points for being tenacious and on his good days he can climb with the very best but as ever it’s piecing it together for three weeks that’s the challenge, he’s prone to an off day but the likeable rider is probably coming into the Giro under the rad; Trek-Segafredo team mate Giulio Ciccone has won a stage before and is a lively rider who might have his eye on the mountains competition.
Rafał Majka who leads Bora-Hansgrohe, a good climber capable of stage wins but unlikely to trouble the podium. Similarly Davide Formolo has been showing great form too but still looks a long way off stitching together a podium bid so both could aim for stage wins and the mountains competition and work off each other.
Bob Jungels has won the white jersey twice in the Giro already but he’s a big rider, capable of soloing away on a windy day to win Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and this means he’s likely to lose time on the mountain stages rather than grab time bonuses. A top-10 place is possible thanks to consistency.
|Primož Roglič, Simon Yates|
|Miguel Angel Lopez, Mikel Landa, Vincenzo Nibali|
|Richard Carapaz, Ilnur Zakarin|
|Pozzovivo, Sosa, Mollema, Sivakov, Chaves, Geoghegan Hart, Formolo, Majka|