A closer look at the points competition and the sprinters in the Giro d’Italia.
Set piece sprints are rare in the Giro, there are just five or six this year. In fact they’re getting more scarce across all the grand tours, a subject to explore more another day. In the meantime here’s a closer look at the points competition and the contenders for the month ahead…
It’s all about the arithmetic
There are two intermediate sprints a day in the Giro, depicted by the purple “S” on the stage profiles. For the points competition riders score points at the first intermediate sprint and at the finish line (what’s the second sprint of the day about? Both intermediate sprints offer 3-2-1 second time bonuses and the second sprint of the day also has a separate intermediate sprint competition with 10-6-3-2-1 points but these only count for the intermediate sprint contest which has its own daily award on the podium). The allocation of points depends on the stage in question, they are categorised with the typical sprint stages offering more points in a bid to place the purple maglia ciclamino on the shoulders of a sprinter.
- Stages 2,5,7,10,13,18 offer points for the first 15 riders at the finish: 50-35-25-18-14-12-10-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. For the intermediate sprint there are points for the first eight: 20-12-8-6-4-3-2-1
- Stages 3,4,6,8,12,15 offer points for the first 10: 25-18-12-8-6-5-4-3-2-1. For the intermediate sprint there are points for the first five: 10-6-3-2-1
- Stages 1,9,11,14,16,17,19,20,21 offer points for the first 10: 15-12-9-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 and for the the intermediate sprint there are points for the first eight: 12-8-6-5-4-3-2-1
The scale rewards the sprinters with the flat stages offering more points, to more riders. There are two strategies to winning the points competition: one to monopolise the bunch sprint stages à la Démare 2020; the other is to perhaps win a sprint stage and place often, then score on the days when other sprinters cannot, this has been Peter Sagan’s method to the green jersey in the Tour de France. A rider has to finish the race too, obvious but the Giro regularly sees the sprinters bail before the Alps, but for the points competition we tend to see those in contention stay because of the prize on offer.
Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) had an excellent Tour de Romandie, a stage win and also the kind of form that saw him get over climbs when the sprinters were dropped. He rode the Giro for the first time last year but the points competition eluded him thanks to Arnaud Démare’s dominance, here he can hope to add a first maglia ciclamino win to his collection and Maciej Bodnar and Daniel Oss bring experience and horsepower. With craft and a bit of luck he could win a bunch sprint but can score on days when others might not, look to see if he goes in breakaways on mountain stages to score points at the intermediate sprints. Despite a stage win in Romandie on a very hilly day Sonny Colbrelli isn’t riding so this gives Sagan more chances still.
Is Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) the world’s best sprinter? Some will cite Sam Bennett but Ewan’s as good if not better, his handicap is a team that can’t offer the leadout Bennett enjoys. Here Ewan gets support from Jasper de Buyst and Roger Kluge but a sprinter of his calibre might want more backing. Ewan might be a pure sprinter but remember the Cipressa this March? He’s got a chance of floating over some of the hills early in the race, but if he can win once or twice we’ll see where he is in the points standings and if he’s out of the mix he may opt out of floating over the Alps.
Alpecin-Fenix aren’t in the World Tour but on several measures they’re superior to some of the WorldTeams and it’s not just Mathieu van der Poel, one of them is win rate of Tim Merlier. The Belgian isn’t a superstar but quietly poaches sprint wins with his fast finish but can he do it in a grand tour? He’s won a stage of Tirreno-Adriatico before but this is his first grand tour. One stage win would do very nicely.
Elia Viviani (Cofidis) is back to winning ways, of sorts. A win in the GP Cholet means he’s at least won something for Cofidis but it’s a meagre score for someone signed on a big contract although both sides knew he would target the Olympics last year Tokyo’s a big goal this season too. Still this is his home race and he comes with his Italian lead out train with his brother Attilio, Fabio Sabatini, and also Simone Consonni who is handy for some uphill finishes.
The UAE squad are seen as one of the big ones in the World Tour but Tadej Pogačar does the heavy lifting for them, without him the squad hasn’t got such depth compared to rival outfits. Fernando Gaviria (UAE Emirates) used to be the hottest thing in sprinting but since moving teams his win rate dropped and that was before he got Covid-19 twice last year too. But the team believe in him and supply him with a big leadout train so we’ll see if he can find winning ways again and one stage would be ideal and he might be encouraged to race on to the end given the team may not be bothered about bringing a sprinter to the Tour de France and if they are then Alexander Kristoff can stake his claim too.
Dylan Groenewegen returns after his long ban. He will test of all of his skills of timing, balance, precision and handling… just to face parts of the media who are going to be asking him how he feels a lot so he can emote live on TV (what really ought to count is the private discussions he’s had with Fabio Jakobsen and that’s none of our business). But it’s the return to peloton that’s probably more interesting and meaningful, just how will he cope with a hectic sprint? He’s been one of the best sprinters in the world – exclude the BinckBank Tour and he’s won stages in every stage race he’s started for a two year spell between 2017 and his Katowice crash – and won’t be starting here just to dip a toe in the water. He’s a pure sprinter though and will struggle with any climbs so the points competition is harder. David Dekker also joins and is a promising sprinter and perhaps more as well for the classics to come.
The field tails off and comes a long list of others who can feature in the top-10 but it’d be an upset if the beat all the names above to win a stage. Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos) is a versatile sprinter who won the European title thanks to this range, it’s the pure speed that’s his challenge for a stage win but he’s won the points competition twice without winning a stage. Matteo Moschetti (Trek-Segafredo) can place but the wins don’t come often although the Giro is his big goal. The Israel team have several sprinters on the books but bring Davide Cimolai who is more of a leadout specialist. Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert can crowd the top-10 with riders like Andrea Pasqualon and Riccardo Minali while not cracking the top-5, the same for Eolo-Kometa with Vincenzo Albanese and veterans Manuel Belletti and Francisco Gavazzi.
Can a non-sprinter win the points competition? You might remember Michele Scarponi and Joaquim Rodriguez winning a decade ago but o tempora, o mores as those times had a points scale with the same score on offer every day regardless of the stage type. Since the competition was changed to offer more points to the sprinters it’s been their preserve and nobody’s got close.
Finally a tactical question: which teams chase and which riders sit on the front all day to bring a breakaway back? Bora-Hansgrohe and Jumbo-Visma might want to save energy to support their GC goals, Lotto-Soudal might save their riders for breakaways, UAE too. Cofidis haven’t brought a big “tractor”. Alpecin-Fenix don’t have to. This could lead to a stand off at times.