Giro d’Italia Preview

The Giro starts this Saturday. The start has switched from Hungary to Sicily, the date from May to October but arguably the biggest effect is on the startlist, as the Tour de France siphoned off several riders who had been targeting this race. Here’s a look at the contenders for the race and if you want more route details, the rules and more, see all month.

Italy is a soft drug peddled in predictable packages, such as hills in the sunset, olive groves, lemon trees, white wine, and raven-haired girls. Italia, on the other hand, is a maze. It’s alluring, but complicated…

That’s journalist Beppe Severigni writing about his country and with the race displaced from May to October this feels firmly like the Giro d’Italia more than a tour of Italy, complete with falling leaves, out-of-season seaside towns, cracked roads, and damp mountain passes that suggest pulling over for dumplings, rather than pulling out a PB.

Route reminder: three time trials totalling 64.7kmm and six summit finishes of varying difficulty. These are the set-piece moments but there are many other stages with steep walls near the finish or sharp uphill ramps to the line where gaps can be created and further widened with 10-6-4 second time bonuses on the finish line.

Geraint Thomas made lemonade out of his non-selection for the Tour de France with second place in Tirreno-Adriatico and if the final time trial was 20km instead of 10km he might have won overall. It wasn’t and he didn’t, but he gets three time trials in the Giro now and should normally beat all the riders named below on these days and can match them in the mountains. The question is whether he can hold things together and avoid misfortune. “Ineos bring a strong team” gets trotted out for each grand tour preview but this time it’s different as they’re all in for Thomas, there’s no obvious co-leader and this in turn suits Thomas who’s often taken one for the team when leadership questions arose. Tao Geoghegan Hart could place in the top-10 by riding in support.

Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) won Tirreno-Adriatico in typical style: he made one attack on the main mountain stage wasn’t seen again by his rivals until the podium ceremony. He’s punchy for stage wins and time bonuses, as we saw in 2018 he can tussle for any kind of uphill finish. He’s good in a time trial too, he even won the TT in Paris-Nice in 2019 but the Giro’s TTs here are harder for him, they’re on big wide roads so it’ll be damage limitation versus Thomas. Up to him to steal time on Thomas early on, all while holding something back to ensure he copes with the final mountain stages, a residual fear from 2018 but soothed by his Vuelta win that year. Mitchelton bring a similar team to Ineos with rouleurs and Jack Haig playing TGH’s role.

Jacob Fuglsang is a perennial contender who’s ridden 14 grand tours and only cracked the top-10 once. He should make it twice now but can he win or get on the podium? He’s improved as a rider of late but this has translated best into landing one day Monuments and one week stage races. He’s quietly improved in the time trials as well, but this means narrowing his deficit rather than pulling out a winning advantage. Astana though have cards to play with Alexsandr Vlasov as an able deputy in his first grand tour who climbs well and is excellent against the clock, plus Miguel Angel Lopez comes in from the Tour. He was a GC contender last month and we’ll see if he can hold it together for three weeks but this gives Astana options, they can launch mountain raids and pressure teams with one leader.

Steven Kruijswijk is back with unfinished business. He’ll climb the Agnello that was his undoing in 2016 but “The Coathanger” has also got the crash from the Dauphiné this year to get over, it put him out of the Tour de France and he hasn’t raced since August. Form is unknown but if he’s at his best he’s a strong climber and good in a time trial but how to beat Thomas in a time trial or Yates on a climb? Jumbo-Visma bring a youth team with Chris Harper and Tobias Foss as riders to watch for the future as well as climbers Antwan Tolhoek and Koen Bouwman, it’s a herd of mountain goats and in contrast to other teams and this could be interesting to watch.

Vincenzo Nibali is the only past winner of the race to start and is now a few weeks short of his 36th birthday. Second last year, his form has been more discreet since resuming racing and all week in Tirreno-Adriatico he never placed higher than 23rd on a stage although watching him vibed training camp rather than target event. This doesn’t invite a strong rating, but he’s often like this pre-Giro only to rustle up a raid or a coup that turns the tables in the third week. This year’s course with three time trials and an early summit finish is tough. Would he sign up today for third place? Maybe not, he’s got nothing to prove and one of the joys of his second place finish last year was the way he drew crowds to the race, if the GC bid fails he can save himself for popular raids in the third week. Team mate Giulio Ciccone can also do well, he’s capable of matching last year’s mountains prize win and a stage but caught coronavirus recently meaning he hasn’t raced for over a month.

Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb) is 29 and off to Bora-Hansgrohe next year. He’s excellent in the time trials and good on long climbs, elegant to watch and, mishaps aside, very consistent. But how to outclimb the rest? His steady riding could see him to a top-5 and a podium.

Among the other riders, Rafał Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) had a great Tirreno-Adriatico but the “Bison of Zegartowice” is a pure climber and struggles in the time trials, if he can hang with Yates and Thomas and snipe a stage win or two it’ll be a success and team mate Patrick Konrad can make the top-10 too with his diesel consistency. Ilnur Zakarin (CCC) almost got on the podium here before but is a long shot for the outright win. Technically not a neo-pro as he rode for a pro conti team before, 22 year old João Almeida (Deceuninck-Quickstep) starts his first grand tour after some good results this summer and James Knox could be up there for the white jersey too. Brandon McNulty (UAE Emirates) is the same age and a good stage race all rounder in the making and someone for American fans to cheer. The white jersey contest could be worth watching as there are more names and some gadfly climbers to enliven the mountain stages.

Geraint Thomas
Simon Yates
Steven Kruijswijk, Jacob Fuglsang, Vincenzo Nibali
Kelderman, Vlasov


Lastly a word on the weather. The Giro has its fair share of filthy weather, more so than the Tour and Vuelta to the point where snow is part of the race’s legend: think of Charly Gaul on Monte Bondone, Bernard Hinault on the Stelvio, Andy Hampsten on the Gavia and also the cancelled stages and diversions we’ve forgotten. More recently race director Mauro Vegni has sought and got a later slot on the calendar to buy an extra week’s time. Now in October it’s the race of turning leaves… and possibly falling snow. It can snow in the mountains in October, it even snowed last week but while people are quick to post images online of overnight snowfall, often they don’t post the picture of it melting by lunchtime. Unlike May where riders ride past deep banks of snow, this time there’s no waiting blanket of snow in the mountains, instead the risk is fresh snowfall, a dusting rather than a mantle. In short it’s always risky holding the Giro in May and October is on average about the same, riders will need ample rain bags.

68 thoughts on “Giro d’Italia Preview”

  1. I know there is a good deal of personal taste in this but to me this looks much more like a Grand Tour route than the recent TdF. A good mixture of flat stages, time trials, big mountains through the Italian countryside, a route to let a narrative build over 3 weeks. Tough for the riders too with a good number of stages over 200km. At the moment the weather forecast looks friendly with much idyllic autumnal weather promised but how accurate the forecasts will be is always difficult to know.

    A real chance for Geraint Thomas to add the Giro the the Tour. If he can stay on his bike and keep clear of the elephant traps he seems so attracted to, he must be the clear favourite.

    • For me having more time trials narrows the cast of contenders, writing the preview above means writing off the chances of several climbers because the rouleur-grimpeur riders like Thomas can put minutes into the climbers in time trials, but climbers can only take seconds in a summit finish. But plenty disagree, as you say it’s a matter of taste.

      People who like time trials should like next year’s Tour de France route with talk of two big time trials along the way, it sounds like a return to tradition.

          • Usually. But I daresay that the make or break point of contemporary cycling is exactly that: how likely and how often, those multi-minute mountain cavalcades? If not likely enough and not often enough, something is structurally the matter, and is only waiting for structural correction.

          • I’m not sure the lack of mountain raids is due to the route – I think rather it’s a symptom of the growth & professionalism in the sport…the mountain raids of the past surely only happened because of two reasons – 1) a much wider spread of abilities across the peloton, meaning the stronger riders could more easily get away and there were fewer strong riders to chase; and 2) mega-doping / EPO.
            It’s harder to take minutes in the mountains when half the domestiques in the peloton can climb at 6w/kg !

          • A salary cap is the only way to bring back long mountain raids, which I miss dearly. As Davesta says, if you have a team of uber-domestiques you simply can’t ride away from them. A salary cap would mean these riders would be in other teams, or at least in other races (if the cap was only applied to races, not teams). Cycling could do this: it could just be a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ – no legality necessary.
            I don’t miss long TTs, though, having watched a lot of GTs back in the day where the winner would simply crush the others in those and just follow in the mountains. And with riders unable to pick up big time in the mountains they don’t fit in modern racing, as it gives too big an advantage to the TT guys.

          • It works (mostly) in rugby.
            And it’s not limiting individual wages, it’s limiting a team’s budget.
            So, for example, riders like Dumoulin and Roglic would be on different teams.
            Therefore, the better riders would be on different teams, riding for themselves, and we’d have more exciting racing and fewer processions up mountains.

          • Here’s an excellent topic for you, Inrng! Your words telling about great mountain raids. I’m new to the sport so I only remember a few, like Aru’s Astana over TD, Froome’s doing a Landis, Contador breaking Sky at LA Vuelta…

      • This Giro seems like a gift to Thomas. Maybe an unexpected challenge from McNulty, Vlasov? Anything to make the Giro interesting and not an Ineos TTT.

    • This is a Tour of Italy too, rather than a Tour of the hilly parts of Italy. That doesn’t necessarily mean time trials of course but I welcome them for novelty value if nothing else. It’s almost like the Giro is the anti-Tour, when the Tour was all time trials it was all climbs.

      • Italy’s topography is much more amenable to visiting all region’s regularly than France’s. Other than an obligate flat stage in and around the Po valley you’re never more than a stage transfer away from some serious climbs.

  2. Good preview. I think Thomas must be motivated enough to nab this one. On weather, the Giro should be the grand parade of winter cycling equipment (clothing, tyres), especially for Italian brands. I don’t know why they don’t exploit this angle further.

    • I think similar. The brands/sponsors are all in it to sell their products. Technology enables us to ride in most weathers – even snow. I understand the safety angle (a descent on snow is going too far) however, it should be possible (within reason) to ride in almost all weathers. The equipment is out there; be it clothes, bikes, tyres, etc

  3. Really remarkable to think Fuglsang has only once cracked a top 10. I do think this Giro will see a surprise winner though, because I don’t think I can trust Thomas to go out and win this as the clear favourite (even just staying upright for 3 weeks). Especially if the weather plays its annual role, this could get pretty chaotic.

    On a personal level, I’d love to see Kruisjwijk pull it off after the devastation of 2016. Hopefully he won’t settle for a podium if he’s up there.

    • Im still bemused at the fact Fuglsang is constantly thought of as a grand tour contender, and this isnt an insult its just hes clearly a talented one day racer. He’s never actually been close to winning a proper GT mountain stage that has Multiple HC climbs above 2000m. Hes also a reliable but not exceptional time trialist really dont see how he could podium.

  4. I love the Giro, in autumn light and colours it’s got potential to be even better than usual. Thomas looks favourite. A rerun of 98 with him as Zulle and Yates as Pantani could be on the cards (it’s on YouTube kids) with this kind of route. I fancy a surprise or two in the top 10, maybe like that Vuelta where Dumoulin came out of nowhere. I’m not sure who though. If De Gendt nails the time trials and gets in some mountain breaks he could roll back the years.

  5. Thomas & Yates have to be red hot favourites. No disrespect to the other contenders, but if we’re mentioning Rafa Majka as a possible winner then it’s definitely not the deepest of fields. I suspect the weather will cause mayhem on at least one stage, which could mean some crazy racing. I can’t see Ineos or Jumbo crushing everyone under their wheels this time, so it should be fun.

  6. Really looking forward to this year’s Giro.

    Like I heard a street preacher holler in Chicago one time – Trust in G.

    Here’s to a safe and sporting race.

  7. Of passing interest to note that were Thomas to win he would be only a month or so younger than oldest-ever winner Fiorenzo Magni 65 years ago. Fuglsang or Nibali would become oldest-ever winner. On that basis I’m picking Yates or Kruijswijk with Lopez as the outsider.

    • No disrespect to Superman but I think he’s got more chance of being outside the timecut in one of the time trials than he has an outside chance of winning. After the Tour surely he’ll be stage or mountain jersey hunting.

      • It’s very intriguing that he could push Bernal so hard in the Tour de Suisse last summer, but this further delay seems to confirm that his commitment really is to TT’s. I am guessing that it will take a couple years to make the final conversion ala Wiggens, but he’s already 30 and one could argue the competition is stronger than when Wiggens won, especially since the strongest rider was his teammate. This Giro would have been a great course for Rohan to test his GT ability.

    • Yes, it is indeed. Do they actually make it bigger and bigger to add new names to it? If so, I hope I’m still alive to see the winner try and lift it in 30 years time!

  8. Given that EF education have had a pretty good 2020 so far i was interested to see who they have in their line up and whether they might feature on the GC. But they look like a team of snipers. They’ll disrupt the race (and win stages) but no clear GC rider from the look of things.

    • So if Thomas can follow his wheel on the steep slopes that’ll probably mean they’re both distancing pretty much everyone. So how is that yawn?

  9. I spent a great deal of the TdF thinking ‘If Pinot was in good form this season why doesn’t he quit the Tour, and focus on the Giro, particularly given the relatively weak field?’
    Even if he’d won a stage it would have been small beans for him.
    I always think it’s a shame that doubts are cast on his character (i.e. whether or not he has the stones for this), but he seemed almost relieved to be out of GC contention, and I’m sure if he really wanted to do the Giro Madiot would have allowed it.
    He was probably the best rider in last year’s race – in a relatively weak field – Bernal only besting him on Pinot’s last stage (where he may or may not have already been injured – anyone know this for sure?), but I never thought he’d win a grand tour after that. This Giro seems like a massive opportunity for someone to take a comparatively ‘easy’ GT.
    Thomas was fortunate in 2018 that Froome and Dumoulin had done the Giro already, and fortune seems to have favoured him this year too. Even fit he’d never have won this year’s TdF – let’s see if he’s managed to get himself fit for this race, which judging by T-A he has.

    • I believe he said he had already suffered the injury on the first stage Bernal took time. It happens on a transition stage across to the Alps. For me last year really should have been his year.

      I fear FDJ just don’t have the riders to wrap in cotton wool for 3 weeks like he needs.

  10. Gadflies!! Painful reminder of my recent trip to the in-laws in Tuscany that left my back completely peppered in painful bites, while out riding.

  11. What a strange season. Sunday sees my favourite monument and a stage of my favourite GT. LBL has it all with rain and 65km/h gusts predicted, a great field, and even Froome (though no Valverde for the first time in years).

    • Should make for an unpredictable race, the only problem with the weather being that bad is the race becomes all about the weather and not about the course at all. A bit like when Pedersen won the worlds and riders who were otherwise favourites were dropping out halfway through.

      • Being a hard ass deserves reward. You don’t want every race to be in terrible conditions but that LBL of a few years ago when it snowed was the best for a while and the Gent-Wevelgem in a near hurricane that Paolini won was good too. Bad weather and the flat finish might bring it towards the cobbled classics riders a bit more, if any have entered.

      • Mark – that’s harsh. It’s all about riding to the conditions – heat on a GT day, strong winds any day and rain, hail or snow in many races. Being a pro and winning as a pro isn’t about perfect conditions for cycling. Mads Pederson was a worthy worlds winner and to say otherwise fails to understand the above

  12. As ever, difficult to find fault with Mr Ring’s analysis. As others have said, that’s an amazing fact about Fuglsang’s GT record. Perhaps he should be marked down a chainring. I wonder whether Vlasov could be the next brilliant young gun to astonish us – maybe give him another half a ring

    • You have to remember that Fuglsang has spent the vast part of his career in the shadow of Vincenzo Nibali, Fabio Aru and Mikel Landa, and it’s only really been since 2017 that he’s been given more of a leadership role since those main protagonists have all moved on. Not to mention that Lopez has come into the fold. Since those other riders have moved on Fuglsang has improved not only his GC positions but also started winning classic races and standing on podiums.

  13. How is the condensed season with 2 GT and a few one day races in such a short time affecting things.
    Teams must be fielding riders they normally would not just to make up the numbers in at least some of the races.
    Anyone who just finished the tour and doing this race 2 weeks later. Is that a symptom of the compressed calendar.
    The TDF was ultra important this year for sponsors so i would presume most teams will have run the best part of there A team in that. All other races may suffer for a few weeks.

  14. ITV are not even doing a highlights programme this year, grrrr.

    IF anyone doesn’t have/ can’t get Eurosport On their TV , ( thank you Aaasma from customer service) I have noticed that there is a highlights programme every evening on Quest , which is a freeview channel.

    Who knows what it will be like, better than nothing though I hope.

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