The Giro d’Italia starts this Friday in Hungary and ahead lies over three weeks of racing. That much we know, the hard part is rating all the contenders and pretenders for the maglia rosa because so many have question marks about their form, their season so far or their consistency during a grand tour.
Richard Carapaz is the deductive choice in the absence of Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič because when they’ve beaten him he was at last often on their wheel while all the others had been dropped. Yet Carapaz hasn’t had it easy this season and it’s far from certain he can hold it together for three weeks. It makes for an enticing race, any emerging hierarchy we see atop Etna could be altered at the Blockhaus and rewritten again and again in the Alps.
Richard Carapaz leads Ineos. The Giro winner in 2019, he’s gone on to finish on the podium of the Tour de France and Vuelta a España since. As they say in Italian, “he who sleeps doesn’t catch fish” and with Primož Roglič and Tadej Pogačar both sitting this Giro out, the Ecuadorian stands to net the big prize in Verona. If he’s in form similar to last July then he’ll be ahead of the rest. He’s got a strong team with Ineos having won the two last editions of this race after Carapaz won. While Tom Pidcock was due to ride, his absence now means there’s even more of a GC focus. Frenchman Pavel Sivakov is an outsider, a Plan B. Richie Porte seeing out his last season as a road captain in the race where his career took off thanks to a spell in pink and normally he’s cracked under pressure when burdened with leadership in grand tours but just like his last year with Trek-Segafredo saw him on the podium in the Tour de France he can race untroubled. The only question for Carapaz is form and consistency after an intermittent season so far with several crashes and while he’s excellent in the mountains it’s rare for him to stand up on the pedals and just leave everyone behind. Instead the “Locomotive of Carchi” will often sneak away on a false flat instead after wearing down his rivals, he won the Giro on the road to Courmayeur like thi,s and took the Olympics with a crafty attack too. This time he’ll be heavily marked and the one rider the others won’t want to let get away. It’ll also be interesting to see how Ineos race, will we see the Ineos 2.0 that promises entertainment or once Carapaz gets the lead if it reverts to the Sky mountain train tactics of old to ensure they at least win a grand tour this season?
“If at first you don’t succeed, try again” might be the motto for Simon Yates who has come close to winning the Giro but been thwarted many a time. That collapse in 2018 after 13 days in the maglia rosa stands out, but there was Covid in 2020, and he started last year’s race with an injury that saw him lose time early on before recovering but too late to mount a GC challenge, just an impressive stage win. BikeExchange-Jayco bring a solid team in total support especially if Lucas Hamilton’s ready. How to beat Carapaz? Directly as at his best Yates can jump away on a climb and take time and he’s improved a lot in the time trials too. He had a wobble in the recent Vuelta a Asturias when he overheated and if only for recency bias this raises a concern. But he’s coped well in all conditions, having won a scorching Vuelta and frosty stages of Paris-Nice.
João Almeida has made his name in the Giro and this race looks to be his future as long as team mate Tadej Pogačar has to win to the Tour de France to satisfy their sponsor UAE. The Portuguese powerhouse would prefer more time trials but the one 26km stage does give him an advantage over rivals, in last year’s Milan time trial he put over a minute into most GC rivals. Now circumstances, the course in Verona mean it’s not the same but it’s a card he gets to play that others don’t necessarily have. Instead Almeida’s weakness has been the high mountains in the past but the gap’s been closed of late and he’s among the best now even if he’s still 23 and eligible for the white jersey this year and next so there’s no pressure to win and his UAE team are handy for stages along the way, they also bring Fernando Gaviria for the sprints so while Almeida’s not got a whole team behind him, he’s arguably got more support than he had with stage-poachers Quick-Step before.
Romain Bardet is fresh from winning the Tour of the Alps and where he was sprinting for stages so the only concern about form is whether it lasts for another month, right now he’s purring about his form being “optimale“. At his best he can piece together an excellent three weeks and is both reliable and daring when he needs to be. His weak point is the time trials to the point where even 26km are problematic and this has been a big factor in why he’s won so few stage races, the recent Tour of the Alps had none. DSM also bring “Dutch Indurain” Thymen Arensman who’s 22 and has banked two Vueltas and now comes to see how far he can go on GC and will be an understudy.
It’s not a trident, it’s ein Dreizack for Bora-hansgrohe who come with Jai Hindley, Emanuel Buchmann and Wilco Kelderman. But how to win? Hindley’s struggling to repeat the form that saw him finish second here in the autumn of 2020, he fell ill ahead of Liège-Bastogne-Liège so just a consistent top-10 would be ok. Buchmann has been fourth in the 2018 Tour de France but that’s his only grand tour top-10 so again we’ve seen him able to ride with the best but consistency is the challenge. Kelderman would prefer more time trials because he’s vulnerable in the high mountains and could be the more consistent pick, remember he was fifth in the Tour de France last summer but a result achieved without leaving much of a mark on the race, he could be on the podium but winning’s a tall order. Giovanni Aleotti could almost be the fourth prong, the 22 year old’s one to watch.
Astana come with Vincenzo Nibali. Over the years it’s been ruinous for his rivals to overlook him but this time the Giro has the hallmarks of a farewell parade for one of the all time greats of Italian cycling, but hopefully a high level one, the form’s coming along and a stage win’s possible. He can play a vital role for Miguel Angel Lopez (pictured). The Colombian can ride away from the field on a summit finish and has been on the podium in the Vuelta and Giro but the top step here? To finish first, first finish because he hasn’t completed a grand tour since the 2020 Tour de France thanks to crashes and tantrums. Astana used to be terrifying force in the Giro but have had a dire start to the season, so it’s on them to see if they can gather around Lopez.
Bahrain bring Mikel Landa and Pello Bilbao and come with GC intentions. Landa’s reputation precedes him now, the myth is further up the road than the man and to mention him is to imagine him attacking uphill in the drops… then falling over or falling ill. That’s part of the charm but Bahrain will want to temper this and, like many of the names cited above already, consistency is the challenge. Bilbao’s also an exciting rider, a fearless descender, he can aim to improve on his fifth place in the Giro of 2020 but the competition’s bigger this time and while he’s been winning of late he also had a collapse on the last day of the Tour of the Alps. The Basque tandem promises plenty with Santi Buitrago and Wout Poels for more climbing power on a team that will also contest the sprints with the artistic Phil Bauhaus.
Not long ago Tom Dumoulin looked to have the grand tours at his feet. He’d won the Giro, been second in the Tour de France and because he could climb with the best and smoke them in the time trials to the point that if he could build on his 2018 form, he could take on Team Sky in the Tour de France. But if it looked easy on the outside, it was too much and he needed a career break. The form’s a big question now, in his own words he’s “a bit behind” thanks to back problems and Covid, and if he’s happy to ride the Giro, he wouldn’t design this course. With all of this expectations are reset but this means he can surprise on the upside, let’s hope so. Tobias Foss and Sam Oomen are capable support for Dumoulin but if he’s not up for the “fight for pink”, watch to see what they can do too although a high GC and a stage win would be something rather than the win outright.
It’s said the weak point for Alejandro Valverde is racing above 2,000m altitude, well he’s got a course that rarely strays so high although is it really altitude or just long climbs of 40 minutes or more? This is his last season and he’s still racking up results and determined to retire at the top. So what to do, a stage win with panache, or does he leave Movistar with a parting gift of hundreds of UCI ranking points from a high GC place? Both he’d reply. Team mate Ivan Sosa is the yang to Valverde’s yin, not the opposite but complementary as he’s climbing very well and would like more high altitude. Can he race consistently across three weeks? A big talent, he’s been on team duties at Ineos before so we don’t yet know how he’ll fare as a co-leader.
Hugh Carthy is the stork-limbed stoic sort who’s been on the podium in the Vuelta when you might think he’s better suited to the longer climbs of the Giro. At his best he’ll be a constant present among the contenders and can take a stage but how to win? The EF Education team come with plenty of other able stage hunters but they’re incentivised to help Carthy earn precious UCI points via the overall classification.
Guillaume Martin could tell you all about stoics. While his hair seems to be growing into a “come and get me” taunt to Alpecin, his palmarès is neither as long nor as dense. If consistency’s the theme for so many, it applies especially to Martin who’s gone into grand tours and changed objectives several times along the way, his intention to go stage hunting’s seen him hoisted high on GC and vice versa. This time he’s after a top-5 and that’s a reasonable goal given his abilities and the field but has he got the ascetic ideal to grind out a consistent GC challenge over the next three weeks? Especially as he’s going to the Tour de France too.
Consistency again? Meet Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) for another case study as he can climb with the best on his good days and has been talked about as GC project but how to go from a mountains jersey contender to the GC or does Bauke Mollema surprise, he says he wants stage wins but get these and the GC can follow? Others who could do well in the mountains include Filippo Zana (Bardiani-CSF), last year’s Zoncolan winner Lorenzo Fortunato (Eolo-Kometa) who is in form and reputedly linked to the World Tour team. Domenico Pozzovivo (Intermarché-Wanty) is consistent, but aged 39 his problem is whether he can be high enough on GC but leads a handy team. Androni-Drone Hopper have some good options with Natnael Tesfatsion, Jeferson Cepeda and Eduardo Sepúlveda but they’ll surely hope for a stage win more than a top-10 overall.
|Simon Yates, João Almeida
|Miguel Angel Lopez, Romain Bardet
|Dumoulin, Buchmann, Kelderman, Bilbao