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.
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