Giro d’Italia Preview

The Giro is back in its rightful spot, when spring turns into summer and the Italian countryside is bright green. This year promises an open contest with three grand tour winners in Egan Bernal, Simon Yates and Vincenzo Nibali taking to the start and many others hoping to seize the opportunity in the absence of the almost invincible Slovenians. For Nibali just starting is a victory following a race to recover from a broken wrist while Bernal is also overcoming injury, while Simon Yates returns for the third time since his 2018 implosion. Add on Remco Evenepoel, Pavel Sivakov, Jai Hindley, Romain Bardet, Mikel Landa, Hugh Carthy and others to a route full of surprises and we have a mouthwatering prospect.

Route summary: 38km of time trials, one at the start and the other at the end and in between many mountains. This is a route tilted to the climbers, but so was 2018 where Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin crushed the climbers by minutes. The third week is crucial but the race builds with important climbs coming in the first week and the gravel stage mid-race could have a lottery effect, especially if it rains. With few opportunities for the sprinters many days have hilly terrain where the GC contenders can contest time bonuses.

The Contenders

Simon Yates (Bike Exchange) is the form pick, he was the best in the Tour of the Alps, winning the Kaunertal stage by dropping the entire field on the final climb. It was a muscular performance but how much can we extrapolate from this one day? Plenty, because when he’s ridden like this before he’s hard to beat and when he goes, he’s gone: he often wins crucial stages solo. You’ll remember he imploded late in the 2018 Giro and then resurfaced to win the Vuelta the same year, having learned to ride more economically. He’s struggled to replicate that form since but showed it in Tirreno late last year and recently again in Austria. He’ll need to manage his efforts again but the second week must be tempting, there’s a lot of terrain to hustle his rivals. Unlike 2018 when he had to take time to pad out a lead on Dumoulin and Froome though this time he might be more relaxed, although this depends on some rivals, particularly Remco Evenepoel. He’s got an unflappable mentality and whole team in his service.

Egan Bernal (Ineos) is the precocious winner of the Tour de France in 2019 but has an old man’s concern of chronic back problems, and the kind a three week grand tour can exacerbate. After all he was strong in the short stage races in 2020 and went into the Tour as a top contender before fading. The big question is whether he’s over these issues and speaking to Gazzetta this week he says they’re still bothering him but have eased of late as he’s lightened the workload. This begs the question of what happens in the labour-intensive third week? He sounds confident and is more than the stereotype of a Colombian climber, he’s a crafty racer who’s as happy on strade bianche as a long Alpine pass so he’ll look to exploit the course wherever possible. More diesel than Yates for the time bonuses, his only weakness ought to be the time trial if the back holds up. While Yates has a team to try and support him, Ineos has a muscular squad to take on the race. Pavel Sivakov is a solid Plan Б that should work better the more Bernal is in the race as he can work with him to put pressure on rival teams by making moves whereas if the Colombian were to crack then Sivakov by himself might be easier for rivals to topple but he’s still only 23 and improving.

Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana) is another up-and-coming Russian but if he’s a newer name than Sivakov, he’s older having just turned 25. He looks like the real deal, he can time trial and climb well and has had a strong start to the year while the Giro has been the big focus. Third in the recent Tour of the Alps, second in Paris-Nice, he’s consistent but yet to win a stage race of any kind so the Giro is a big ask. He fell ill at the Giro last year and rode the Vuelta instead where he was a decent 11th given he only decided to start at the last minute. He’ll figure in this race but how to win? It’s hard to see him outclimbing the field day after day though. Astana have a strong team but are also aiming for stage wins from others along the way.

Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quickstep) has never ridden a grand tour and he’s not raced since a horrific crash last August that required long rehab. Yet he’s a big favourite of the bookmakers and you can see why: he can win time trials, he climbs well and sometimes has just ridden the peloton off his wheel. Plus he won all four stage races he started last year so bet against him at your risk. The lack of racing isn’t a problem by itself given his team will have all his power data – the days of having to race into shape went out with wool shorts – it’s more that if he’s not been ready to race until now then tackling a grand tour is a big ask. There are two questions, one which will get answered immediately and the other much later. First, is he fully recovered and back to the kind of form where he can win time trials outright, here we’ll know a lot this Saturday. Second, just how well can he climb? Because the high mountains are still a new frontier, yes he excelled in the Vuelta a Burgos last year but climbs like Lagunas de Neila and Picon Blanco are 15-25 minute efforts compared to the hour long efforts to come here, and all deep into the third week too.

This second question is just what we were wondering about his team mate João Almeida last year. He returns after his long spell in pink last year, there’s a good chance he can do the same again and once more his challenge is the high mountains, he’s got the punch for the mid-mountain stage finishes and their time bonuses but he was ejected on the Stelvio and we’ll see if he’s improved since but his compact, muscular build might just mean he’s always better suited to the first 15 days of the race, he can still aim high but the overall win still looks more elusive.

Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) has been improving year on year leading to fourth place in the 2019 Tour de France and if he can keep the kind of company pictured in the photo above then he’s a stealth pick for a podium. Only a crash in the Dauphiné last summer made 2020 a write-off and he’s had a shy start to the season making his form today hard to judge. Despite the grissini limbs he can do a good time trial too, but it’s hard to see him winning outright. Felix Großschartner looks to be in a good form too and 9th in last year’s Vuelta shows he can hang on for three weeks.

There’s image and reality with Mikel Landa (Bahrain). We picture the daring Basque climber soaring uphill in the drops, an eagle among chickens. Only in reality he’s winning even less these days than in his Movistar period and has a tendency to grind out GC positions like fourth overall in the Tour de France through consistency rather than panache. The tantalising prospect is everything comes together and this  course suits but he’s got his share of misfortune too. Pello Bilbao can aim for a high stage on GC and pick off a couple of stage wins along the way with his fast finish and descending skills while Damiano Caruso will help both and can be a very consistent rider.

Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo) looks in good form of late and makes a dependable pick for a high finish on GC. Third in the Vuelta a España last year including a good time trial performance he should find the Giro’s long climbs suit and he’s the stoic type who won’t worry about bad weather, although his weakness is descending, more so than his time trialling. His consistency makes it hard to see him winning overall, he is steady rather than brilliant but if he could win atop the Angliru last year, why not the Zoncolan now?

George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) is the lieutenant who wants a go for himself but this needn’t require winning, just a solid ride along the way to see what he can do when he’s not pulling for Primož although Jumbo-Visma bring a squad that looks more suited to sprint wins than GC. Still Tobias Foss is worth watching too, a former Tour de l’Avenir winner and to cite him is to mention the white jersey competition which is going to be of interest with a third of the field eligible.

Jai Hindley is back, how to improve on last year’s result? By starting from zero without the comparisons to an unusual edition of the race, and free of any expectations. He’s a fast climber and we’ll see how he fares in the hills, the shape looked good in the Tour of the Alps but not spectacular but the goal has been to hit form for May not April. While we’re asking if Hindley can do it again, Romain Bardet has done it again and again in the Tour de France, although years of this have left him frazzled at times and seeking a new team and fresh challenges. He now brings experience to help Hindley and gives DSM a two-pronged attack,  and it’ll be interesting to see if the move has improved Bardet’s time trialling but he might be out to have fun in the breakaways rather than play percentages for a high overall.

Dan Martin (Israel) did great to finish fourth in the Vuelta but Giro’s longer climbs here are a harder challenge, he’d had allergy problems in May too in the past but is over the worst of this, it’s the time trials that are his problem. Is Marc Soler (Movistar) a grand tour contender or better suited to one week stage races that skip the very highest mountains, we’ll learn more this month and if he’s more of a raider than a grand tourer he could take stages in style. Jefferson Cepeda (Androni) could feature in the climbs and given the way he was riding in the Tour of the Alps it’s a good thing his team have got a late invite but just repeating the ability to hang in the front group again in the Giro would delight his team. Domenico Pozzovivo (Qhubeka-Assos) can rides high on GC but at 38 a top-10 would be a result.

Finally Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) has been racing to start following a broken wrist, but if he’d avoided injury he can’t prevent being 36. In peak form he’d lose time against the clock and hasn’t looked like winning a summit finish against his rivals for some time so the overall win looks elusive, even with a third week worthy of Lazarus. Yet if he can come good a stage win awaits and often unseen outside of Italy is how he’s a really big name, a pull factor whose presence draws people to paint his name and daub selachian tributes. Team mate Bauke Mollema is talking about stage wins over a high GC finish these days, although given he’ll aim for mountain stages the rest will follow as he’s solid in the time trials.

Simon Yates, Egan Bernal
Aleksandr Vlasov, Remco Evenepoel, Hugh Carthy
Emanuel Buchmann, Pavel Sivakov, Mikel Landa, Romain Bardet
Hindley, Almeida

62 thoughts on “Giro d’Italia Preview”

  1. The only thing that could ruin this Giro (other than multiple covid positives) is if the Ineos train strangles the race. Jumbo don’t have the team to do it, so only Ineos can make this a TdF-like grand tour. I don’t care who wins (including Ineos), I just don’t want to watch a procession.

    • We should see the paradox where those who want to win the race won’t want the maglia rosa early so a breakaway has a good chance, a situation a lot like 2019 where many were happy to have Valerio Conti and Jan Polanc in pink mid-race.

    • This isn’t the Tour (altho even there they didn’t influence the 2020 race) they won’t have the manpower to influence the peloton here either – l even doubt that will be the case in July

    • ‘Trains’ only work if it’s to defend the strongest rider. Anything less won’t do, as we saw with Jumbo in last year’s TdF. Since Ineos no longer have the world’s very best GT riders they won’t be using that approach much anymore.

      • It didn’t result in victory for Jumbo at last year’s TdF, but it was just as tedious to watch as when Sky/Ineos do it.
        Whether or not it’s successful has nothing to do with how dull it is to watch.

  2. Nibali: “Yet if he can come good a stage win awaits and often unseen outside of Italy is how he’s a really big name, a pull factor whose presence draws people to paint his name and daub selachian tributes.” Especially here in Sicily! Forza Squalo!
    I think Bernal’s back will act up, Yates will croak in the third week, Nibali will end up chasing a stage win, Vlasov will get sick, Martin will be duking it out with Mollema for 5th on GC at the end, Evenepoel will ride around learning how a Grand Tour plays out, Hugh Carthy will flap around like an air-powered attention-grabber at a used car dealer, Landa will look great until he croaks or loses the plot before it’s all over …so it’ll be a race among Hindley, Bennett and Almeida….and maybe Ciccone or Formolo? I’m not a fan of Bennett so I’ll hope it’s one of the others barring some magical comeback from The Shark. W Il Giro!

    • Buchmann? would be like Zubeldia winning a GT, although personally I never had a problem with Haimar, great professional just a stealth rocket.

    • “Hugh Carthy will flap around like an air-powered attention-grabber at a used car dealer,” superb analogy – I think Carthy’s great and easy to spot in pink but of course no doubt EF will be in a random change strip to confuse me.

    • Weirdly, I was in Sicily when Nibali won the Giro in 2016 and was desperate to avoid the result as I planned to watch it upon returning from my holiday. The entire time I never saw a single mention of his name anywhere – no newspapers, nothing on TV, nothing at all. Of course, I wasn’t looking, but I never thought I’d get away with it. I’m not complaining: one of my favourite things about cycling is that you can miss a race and watch it a few days (or weeks) later without finding out the result first.

      • Not a fan of social media, evidently. All those ‘friends’ desperate to be blabbing the results. I mean, I only ever comment on how a race turns out when there’s something really good to say, so that’s not a spoiler is it? 😉

      • I guess it depends on where in Sicily you were? I’ve been all over Italy and there are some places that are kind of like a Walt Disney image of the country. Capri is one of ’em, Venice another. Same for Taormina and San Gimignano. English newspapers everywhere and hardly any Italian is heard in the streets. Places like these seem easy to avoid knowing anything about Il Giro even if an Italian or Sicilian was winning.

          • Can seem the same in France at TdF time; if the race is passing nearby it’s a big deal, but otherwise not much attention. I’ve had a struggle getting the local bars to change the TV from some stupid game with a ball to the Tour!

      • Funnily enough I was in Sicily at the time as well and was going to say something similar. However I was following the race and knew the result.

        I wasn’t quite expecting it to be like being in a city that’s just won the Premier League but I was expecting some sort of buzz. But there was nothing, nor really any mention on TV or in the papers the next day.

    • Great summary, although I think you’re unfair on Carthy – seems to be building nicely and he was *this* close to the Vuelta last year. I could be wrong but last year would indicate that him and Hindley have the 3-week endurance for a Grand Tour while someone like Formolo has never got close (he might be duking it out with Martin and Mollema…). Agreed about Evenepoel – I could be wrong, but INRNG (and the betting markets) seem to be doing away with conventional wisdom with making him a favourite – no racing at all after a bad injury seems an odd/risky approach.

      • Evenepoel’s a bit all or nothing, he can and has beaten people in time trials and summit finishes, plus he’s at his lightest weight too when the really high mountains where the challenge. But he’s inexperienced and unproven in grand tours and, I didn’t mention it in the preview, maybe his bike handling is something to see. Pogačar is a reference point, nobody saw him winning the Tour de France last summer until he did and by now it seems so obvious and he’s set for more. When Merckx was starting to ravage the pro ranks someone described it as a forest fire, unstoppable but at first they couldn’t quite see it with their eyes until they got singed.

        • Any ideas when Evenepoel hasn’t raced in any 1 week stage races? From the outside it seems like an easy way to regain that experience of the stress and intensity of racing without the pressure of actually winning. Most riders seem to indicate they need this, but perhaps he is a special case.

  3. Thank you for the excellent in-depth preview as always.

    The field isn’t stacked and I can’t see past Yates for the win. Should be a great race though with some perennial Giro polemica.

    Do we reckon Ciccone is in with a shout? Or maybe he’d be happy with stage hunting / climbing jersey?

    • I had Ciccone in the text originally but no chainrings, so chopped it but the idea was he’s a potential GC project for Trek but right now it seems to be it’s stage wins and the mountains jersey.

    • and I had the startlist as stacked – particularly after last year’s thin crop (though Yates and Thomas were forced out). Who is missing: Roglic, Pogacar, Quintana, Uran, Pinot…? And will Almeida and Hindley still shine with better opposition?
      My chainrings:
      4 : Yates
      3: Bernal, Landa
      2: Vlasov, Evenpoel, Carthy, Bardet, Bardet, Almeida, Soler
      1 : Martin, Bennett, Nibali, Hindley, Mollema
      If Evenpoel gets through he may well win. Either he or Lefevere (or both) must feel confident. He could be victor or DNF. I’d like to see Bardet with a podium and a smile.

  4. Perhaps famous last words but at this stage Remco Evenepoel seems more media hype than second coming, I suspect a decent top 10 would be a good result.

    The mood music from Egan Bernal isnt good, if (big if) his back stays relatively pain free then he has the potential to win but not sure he really justifies 4 chain rings. Also not completely convinced by the Ineos squad, what does Gianni Moscon bring to a team trying to win the GC (yes I know having Italian riders on the team for the Giro is good for the sponsors). It has a slightly B team feel about it.

    I cant see either Jai Hindley or Joao Almeida repeating the feats of last year.

    Hugh Carthy might be a good pick for the podium, he has a decent time trial and the race has come down to the final day’s TT fairly regularly. What if he was 30 seconds behind Simon Yates going in to the last stage?

    Simon Yates does seem to have the form and the experience. The team looks a bit on the thin side (Jack Haig would have been useful) and Matt White’s tactics are not always the best. However given that there are question marks over all his main competitors this might not matter too much. He might need a decent lead going into the final TT to avoid another final week failure.

    I suspect the most difficult thing for any of those with ambitions on the GC is to stay in contention until the Monte Zoncolan stage, elephant traps always await the unwary on the first half of the Giro (though the weather forecast is warm & generally dry spring conditions). Experience and a bit of luck can be more important than form.

    • I think the Giro will be a better race if Evenepoel is in good shape and lasts well in the third week.
      He can provide that clear contrast to a lot of the other contenders; if he’s going well he could possibly take 1 – 2” out of a lot of them in the TTs.
      You have to feel that Quick Step wouldn’t be bringing him if he couldn’t do something here. Watch out for him starting quickly on Saturday anyway.
      I’m excited to see him, Almeida is there to nurse him in the mountains and it wouldn’t surprise me to see one or both of them in the pink jersey at some point.

  5. Just once I’d like to see Landa ride a grand tour without losing time early on.
    I think he was unfortunate in the 2019 Giro, where I think he might well have been the strongest rider, but his team mate, Carapaz, took time early on, and so Landa had to support him.
    Usually, though, he is the archetypal ‘lose time on a flat, windy stage’ rider.
    I’d like to see Bilbao being allowed to ride for himself too – he was impressive last year.

    I’m still baffled as to how and why DSM are apparently paying Bardet two million Euros a year. Nothing against the guy, but what do they expect to get from that?

    Hopefully it’ll be an open race: it’s usually the best grand tour with the TdF being all about the trains (Ineos’s team looks ominously strong for this Giro), and the Vuelta being a series of single-climb sprint finishes.

    (And thank you for providing a balanced and sensible – of course – view on Evenepoel, unlike so many other publications.)

    I won’t bother making a prediction as mine are always horseradish (so look out for Bardet winning).

    • Ah, screw it.
      1. Bernal (because Ineos have the finest medical staff money can buy so that back will be fine)
      2. Yates (because he knows how not to crack now)
      3. Carthy (because style means nothing – ask Froome)
      4. Landa (because he will have lost time earlier in the race)
      5. Vlasov (because his form is good)
      6. Buchmann (because his form isn’t so good)
      7. Almeida (because he was solid last year and because Evenepoel won’t last the pace)
      8. Bilbao (because he’s the only Caja Rural rider that Carlton Kirby has ever named in a race – usually incorrectly)
      9. Sivakov (because he’ll be working for Bernal)
      10. Hindley (because last year was his chance, and there will always be a – perhaps small – part of his mind that regrets not ignoring whatever instructions he was given by his team, and instead attacking TGH earlier on Stage 18 – might have worked; might not – but he was always going to lose time in the ITT and Kelderman was done for anyway… just an awful decision by the team to back neither rider, and Hindley was the obvious choice – no wonder he apparently wants to leave; even I’m still a bit annoyed by it)

    • DSM are a very strange team, how many good riders have they lost? Jai Hindley is on the way out too. Their behaviour towards Wilko Kelderman last year was dreadful, the least they could have done was keep it private rather than produce a corporate video showing the world how badly they treated him. Maybe the setup will suit Romain Bardet, being away from the pressure of being the “great French hope” might (though I doubt it) allow him to fulfil his undoubted potential.

  6. Maybe it’s not so unusual, but it seems like there are a high number of question marks in this race than most grand tours. Bernal’s back and Evenepoel’s long time away from racing (plus Groenewegen in the sprints) are the biggest, plus many other potential contenders have either a lack of history (being young), or a history with high-profile stumbles. Yates is far from a locked-in favorite, but he seems the most solid bet by a wide margin, while at the same time there are at least half a dozen riders would, in retrospect, could end up seeming like the obvious picks. Should make for compelling viewing.

  7. I’m not bothered who wins, though I’d prefer it if it wasn’t an Ineos rider. The only thing I want from this Giro is for an Italian GC contender to emerge and take over from Nibali and Pozzovivo. Poor old Domenico especially is looking a bit frayed around the edges these days. I’m not bothered if it’s Ciccone, Masnada or even Formolo.

    • Same here but I’m not holding out much hope. I cringe every time I see poor Pozzovivo on the bike, he makes Fernando “The Crab” Escartin look good!
      Israel Washed-Up Nation’s new kit is fugly while EF’s is far less awful than I feared…the bike paint job may even be an improvement IMHO.
      On the subject of cringing, am I the only one who hates to hear Anthony McCrossan’s voice? WTF does he have to put -ah on the end of every Italian word? The Italian announcer says “Trofeo Senza Fine” and then this guy says “Trofeo Senza Fine-ah”. I assume the man speaks Italian better than yours truly (though that is not saying much) and that’s why he has the job – but the constant butchering of so much of it is like fingernails on a chalkboard!
      OTOH, I just laugh when Eurosport’s Riccardo Magrini butchers (Bike Sexchange, Mitchelston Scott, etc.) most everything in English, so perhaps it’s just me? W Il Giro!

  8. How about Masnada as a long odds podium pick?
    A good result at Romandie, with a surprisingly good TT ride, consistent all year and seems to consistently improve each year. Yeah, he’s supposed to be working for Almeida, but if last year’s anything to go by he’ll be avoiding that as much as possible

    • Long but, yes, one to watch. He’s punchy in the uphill finishes but that’s just where Almeida and Evenepoel should do well too and the TT in Turin should suit them even more so he’ll be behind them from the start and expected to help out. But a lucky break – literally or figuratively – and he could get some more space.

    • Yeah, was hoping for some better value on a Masnada podium… 17/1 is a bit short for mine. But, as said above, all the favourites have a big question mark over them so an outsider for a podium could be fun

    • Landa’s career has gone slowly backwards since Sky. Where he once had a punch to go free this has been lost. So I don’t see how he can be a horse to back for the overall win. He has morphed into Zubeldia.

    • A Landa from 5 yrs ago maybe…. this year he’s finished Tirreno nearly 3 minutes down on WVA, and rolled in 8th in the Basque Country…

  9. Carlton Kirby has to go. There’s a fantastic abundance of more than capable and erudite commentators, providing moments of genuine humour too, currently relegated to playing second fiddle. Despairingly resorting to mute, or listening to proceedings in another language, shouldn’t have to present itself as the only option. Carlton Kirby has to go.

    • By far the best pair of commentators on Eurosport, in English at least, are Dan Lloyd and Adam Blythe. Both are funny and both have relatively recent experience of most of the races. They also manage to chat for hours without sounding samey and constantly repeating themselves. How and why Kirby is still allowed to commentate on anything other than his own life is a mystery.

      • I think Carlton is great. I might just send Eurosport a message saying just that.

        He cracks me up all the time. I imagine he’s a very good commentator for viewers not familiar with cycling. Between the details I get on this blog and the food descriptions I get from Carlton, I’m in a happy place when I watch a bike race on Eurosport.

    • This is a Giro preview, rather than a space for ranting about local TV commentators. Many Italian, Belgian, Colombian readers etc won’t know what you’re on about. I always recommend local TV coverage as they’re on the ground and have a moto behind the peloton for more info, and RAI does a great job, you don’t need to know Italian as you’ll soon pick up the words for attack, crash, climb, descent etc and this will get you through, but if you want a secondary English source then SBS in Australia are covering the race.

      • Sorry, didn’t mean to start up the Carlton Kirby Non-Fan club. I only mentioned McCrossan because RCS employs him at these presentations – but I assume the Eurosport commentators talked over him, so unless you watched on RAI’s broadcast you didn’t hear him?

    • Elasmobranchii include (among others) skates and this is a cycling blog.

      PS I, too, would be glad if I didn’t have to read another rant or complaint about Carlton Kirby in this section anymore.
      PPS I have now listened to him and I think I can perfectly understand why the rants and complaints keep on coming, but enough is enough and there is a time and place for everything and I agree wholeheartedly that in this particular case this isn’t it.
      PPPS I did like Magnus Bäckstedt’s commentary, though.

  10. The strange thing that COVID seems to have brought is a lack of clarity as to which riders have top form. Evanepoel is probably the rider which most people will be excited to see how he performs but with no racing since his horrific crash he could be no better than Froome.
    I think Inrng’s pick of Yates is probably right, but this is more as a result of there not being clear favourites. If Bernal’s back is still troubling him then the issue has not been resolved, and it is a matter of when, not if, it will affect him. Hugh Carthy would be a strong pick if he could time trial, but as it is someone else is going to knock him out of the running because they do it better than him. Many of the other runners start the race looking like they are aiming to line up behind the eventual winner, which bring us in a circular fashion back to Yates, beyond Bernal (injury doubt) and Nibali (too old) he’s the only grand tour winner going, and looks to be in fine form.
    But the joy will be from riders that ‘show’ New found form, or just new form.

  11. Here we go with our predictions. Fine, but who had GeoghanHart and Hindley last October, eh?
    W il Giro
    Forza Maestro INRNG e grazie a lei

  12. My money is on somebody new. I mean a new like like Jai Hindley was last year. I’ve never heard of him before. That would be great again.

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