Giro d’Italia Stage 1 Preview

The Giro begins with a road stage that’s all about the uphill finish at Visegrad. Who will take the maglia rosa?

The Route: normally Budapest to Visegrad would be a short spin north along the banks of the Danube, Europe’s second longest river. But in order to make it 195km, there’s a long loop out to Székesfehérvár – “white castle” and coincidentally the birthplace of the Hungarian prime minister – before tracking north and riding alongside the Danube. It has all the hallmarks of a 190km parade followed by a 5km uphill race but of course there will be an early breakaway to target the intermediate sprint and things will get more frantic the closer the finish gets, the bunch more and more nervous despite the often wide roads.

The Finish: the course turns right in the town of Visegrad to head up a small side valley. At first it’s just a ride out of the town, then the road narrows a touch. With 4km to go there’s a turn to the left and this is where the slope pitches up. It averages 5% but there are moments of 7-8% and also some flat portions midway. Overall it’s a fast climb on a wide road, the hairpins run large and suggest there will be Poggio-like moments where riders might be forced to brake.

The Contenders: the final climb is likely to be ridden so fast that surfing a slipstream will count for plenty. This gives sprinters a chance, better this than a stop-start race that could make life harder for heavier riders having to close down moves. Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) has the finishing kick to win here and can cope with a sharp climb too, he must be everyone’s pick but remember he was expected to win Stage 1 of the Tour de France last July only to finish 20th, although the Fosse Aux Loups climb was different, shorter but much steeper at the start and he was out of position going into it. This isn’t his ideal finish, it’s perhaps couple of kilometres too long but “it’s not as steep as I thought” he said.

Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) who could be in the mix, among the pure sprinters he’s also handy on the hills but holding on for five kilometres and then sprinting is asking a lot. We’re still discovering what kind of rider Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty) can be. He has the punch for short climbs and sprints well but he’s just turned 22 and mastering a finish like this can require some practice. Magnus Cort (EF Education) has the experience, and the wins to show for it, but has he got the form after a troubled start to the season, cracking his collarbone in Tirreno-Adriatico.

Now come a second wave of lighter riders who should be there in the finish and will hope the names cited above have been asphyxiated by the climb so that they can launch. UAE bring Diego Ulissi and Alessandro Covi and the former is wiser from experience, the latter probably superior in pure talent. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) would have been The Pick 10-15 years ago and he’s still a contender today. Pello Bilbao (Bahrain) is a pick too. Simone Consonni (Cofidis) is an Italian version of Bryan Coquard, as in a lightly built sprinter but alas also an infrequent winner.

Normally Quick-Step would have a rider made for uphill finishes but not this year, Mauro Schmid might be their best bet. Andrea Vendrame (Ag2r Citroën) would prefer to win among a small group while Vincenzo Albanese (Eolo-Kometa) can feature.

The local is Attila Valter (Groupama-FDJ) who is good on uphill finishes but for all he and the Hungarian media will have been looking forward to today, it can be a burden too, plus this finish has few secrets and all the contenders for today will have done their recons. Team mate Arnaud Démare is a big rider but can cope with longer efforts on the climbs, if it was 2km he’d be a strong pick so perhaps he’ll be using his shoulders to shield Valter.

The GC contenders just need to avoid losing time and the best way is to be at the front. There’s no three kilometre rule today so if riders jostling for position cause a crash or a blockage nobody wants to be on the wrong side of this. Which means everyone will fight for position, heightening the crash risk. Now actually winning the stage might not be ideal, sure there’s a time bonus but for those wanting the maglia rosa in Verona, ten seconds’ gain today isn’t worth the bother of all the media duties and having to put the team to work. Still Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco), Richard Carapaz (Ineos) and João Almeida (UAE) have the right kind of finishing skills.

Mathieu van der Poel
Biniam Girmay, Pello Bilbao
Cort, Ewan, Almeida, Ulissi, Valverde, Covi, Albanese, Valter

Weather: 24°C and mostly sunny, but with clouds could swell up, there’s a chance of a shower or even a thunderstorm later in the race.

TV: the stage starts at 12.40pm CEST and the finish is forecast for 5.15pm CEST. Tune in from 4.30pm onwards to watch the Danube dash as tensions rise.

46 thoughts on “Giro d’Italia Stage 1 Preview”

    • You’re an optimist?
      A bit unkind of IR to state that Valverde would have been top pick 10 – 15 years ago.
      More like 5 or 6.
      But I’m going for Mr Evergreen 🌲
      King of the Surfers 🏄‍♀️

      • A far from exhaustive sample slicing through Valverde’s career.

        Valverde was winning a 50-men sprint at the Vuelta less than 4 years ago – a very slight uphill drag to the line which kept into contention some lighter weights but which didn’t anyway select the group (bigger than most Sanremo or Scheldeprijs), given that Valverde had to beat the likes of Sagan, Van Poppel and Nizzolo.

        10 years ago, pretty much right back from his long sanction, he was winning a 60-men sprint at Paris-Nice over the likes of Gerrans, Meersman, Xavi Florencio, Hivert or Gavazzi (yes, I guess that the majority of those names won’t say much to most readers, but albeit not pure sprinters they were all fast wheels).
        OT: give him a few more months and in late August he was smoking Contador, Froome and Purito, the three of them together, at the Vuelta on pure climbing finales like Arrate or Gallina.

        Some 15 years ago he was winning 2008 Paris-Camembert in a large bunch sprint, but that same season he was also going to beat the likes of Rebellin, Ballan, Van Avermaet, Pozzato, Nocentini, Erik Zabel, Bettini and Gilbert on the mild ramps of Jaén at the Vuelta over a 100-men bunch. In 2007 he was rather working on his ITT skills, but still in 2006 he had been winning a 50-men sprint at Itzulia over Freire, Rebellin and Martín Perdiguero.

        Some 20 years ago (or nearly so), in 2003, still a neo-pro, he was getting his first top-level victory prevailing in a 90-men sprint, again at Itzulia, again with some GC men in the mix (notably Pantani, Mayo or Hamilton) but still packed with fast wheels as Rebellin, Di Luca or Samuel Sánchez. That same year he’d also win a 30-men sprint at Vuelta a Aragón over fast finishers Ángel Edo and Michael Albasini (Pantani was 4th).
        In 2002, 20 years ago indeed, he was not winning the race because the break made it (Lastras won, whom you may recall from the Movistar “El día menos pensado” doc series) but Valverde won all the same the sprint of the pelotón in Córdoba, Vuelta a España stage 9, over Erik Zabel and Ángel Edo.

        The fun thing is that although he’s a great wheelsucker and quite crafty on the bike, too, he’s not that good in actually “surfing wheels” (if one wants to translate Italian “limare” like that), or navigating the bunch as a fish of sort, which, for example, was Freire’s top skill. Which means that he really decided not to contest a lot of those potentially winning finishes quite often because he felt too squeezed or in danger.

  1. I will be one of those who will be out riding on a sunny Friday afternoon, but I’ll be home and showered and on the sofa by the time the peloton (or the breakaway) reaches the 20 km arch.
    I’d like to think that the maglia rosa is the day’s objective, stated or not, for all of the above riders. It is another thing that not winning it has its obvious advantages and it will be no big thing if you come third of fifteenth (provided you get the same time and only lose the bonus seconds), but the leader’s jersey still has a certain cachet, it must have!

  2. The lack of a 3km rule here could be significant. The first stage of a GT is always nervous, a simple touch of wheels here could end someone’s chances before they have begun. Not sure this is a sensible decision by RCS, better let those who want to fight for the first jersey do so and let those who want to fight for it at the end concentrate on the longer game.

    • It is a concern, the worry that someone’s GC bid comes undone and that this is all self-fulfilling, everyone has to be at the front but they can’t all be there. But the road’s wide and with few surprises, and even with the 3km rule wouldn’t solve everything as teams fret about splits so they all feel like they have to keep their GC guys right in the mix to the end.

      • That’s true but the loss of a handful of seconds in a split is pretty insignificant so early in the race, a minute or more in a pile up is rather different.

        • Look for support riders filling time gaps at the line.
          Since this is an uphill finish I can kind of see the point of removing the 3k rule to prevent riders being shielded from the time gaps implied but everyone better be on their best behaviour if there are any narrows or tight turns. And this will be at exactly the time when it’s maximum pressure to get a good position. Something is sure to happen, like it always does early on when all hopefuls are still riding to plan.

          • So Richard Carapaz managed to take 4 seconds on Joao Almeida, Simon Yates & Tom Dumoulin amongst others. Doubt it will add up to the proverbial hill of beans in the end, though Primoz Roglic seems to make a habit of picking up all possible bonus seconds.

  3. Gaviria was climbing pretty good as well recently. It all depends on how the climbs is raced, but he might stand a chance. Or am I now overestimating his climbing and/or underestimating the climb?

    • A few years ago yes, but a harder pick of late as he’s often being beaten in the sprint. A good chance to place, a harder pick to win but no longshot at all. He’s on the right track and UAE have a lot of options today.

          • Wow – I just had a quick look at some of those comments – I really hope they don’t discourage future similar blog posts Inrng. I found your piece very interesting but can see how it became a piece of forum fire kindling.

          • Quite, nobody’s going to resolve the issues in Hungarian society via the comments section of a cycling blog, instead it just triggers some to get argumentative and rather than let tempers flare, better to lock the discussion. If only people could be as excited by racing.

          • Just one small additional info: Székesfehérvár does not mean only white castle, but Seat’s white castle, as it was the former capital of Hungary and crowning place for medieval Kings. As also Esztergom – another city today – Székesfehérvár had an important role in Hungarian history. Due to it both cities are important for the government as well as for Hungarian tourism sector. Every other thing is really just a coincidence.

            Btw. Your tips were amazing for today.

          • Well – in all of our defense, we’ve had some pretty testy forum battles when talking about Lance and Team Sky.

            But, in general everyone is pretty on edge these days.

          • To give it a second thought it is a great pity though!
            I mean the most part that makes all the people angry and full of hatred is just plain wrong, not to use a stronger word.

            It is just a pity that came up a subject you maybe wanted to understand better and then closing after the first different opinion, taking the chance away from some people at least to got to know something what is behind the scene.
            For my part I surely didn`t get flared, more like asking questions 🙂

            Don`t get me wrong, it is your site and I have great respect for it, following for years now, and I get your decision whatever it is.

            I was just speaking my mind after some good cycling which makes one half enlightened :-)))

  4. How comparable is this climb to Willunga Hill? And how much would it pay off for Ineos to grant Richie porte a few days in pink before Richie takes over at Etna or Blockhaus?

    • Willunga hill is shorter (3km) but steeper (7.5% ave)…so probably not too dissimilar in terms of the time taken to climb, but much harder to create gaps today as the speed, and therefore the drafting effect, will be much higher.
      Willunga also comes at the end of a week’s racing which has softened up a lot of legs. And of course, it also comes in an early season stage race, which few riders (aside from a handful of Aussies) make a target of.

  5. Pretty interesting finish! Don’t think it’ll be a pure sprinter winning this. Somehow I have a feeling it’ll be a strong finishing climber (like Valverde…). Could this also be one of those climbs that burns off the domestiques in the first 4k’s, leaving a dangerous tactical deadlock moment among the favorites? I can see someone like Poels, Mollema or even some of the 3 star favorites waiting for that to pull off a 1k to 500m escape.

  6. I didn’t know the 3 minutes rule was not in effect today.

    Where I believe this Giro edition may be won by an unexpected rider; this could be a stage which knocks out at least one of the favorites. Omitting the 3 minute safety net increases that chance.

    Go Cort.

  7. Congrats, I think the big winner is Inrng – picking the top 2 in order.

    How will this playout on GC with all the crashes and no 3-km rule?!?

  8. INRNG, I really hope you made a killing today at the casino with those top 4 picks… great call and as always great insight. Thanks

    • Have you heard Lance Armstrong’s new betting series!!!

      Have to admit it made me cringe in a big way… properly lame…. also Bruyneel picks are good but they’re not that good!! The sort of picks any vaguely competent cycling fan would make, nothing compared to INRNG.

      I assume the INRNG gambling spin off blog is close?

      • Don’t gamble on bike races, it’s very hard to make money*, the odds rarely reflect the risks. As proof, anyone inspired by my picks for today will probably lose their shirt/jersey tomorrow.

        * but if you find a “fast” source of video that shows events happening without the usual TV delay, well there’s an edge on bookmakers and the crowd.

        • I love betting on cycling. I’ve currently got a very nice treble running on Roglic for Paris-Nice, MVDP for Flanders, and Pog for TDF. But generally it’s a tough book, the odds for cycling are prohibitive.

  9. I was a lot more disappointed that Girmay didn’t win than I expected…?

    Also, Ewan is making a habit of crashing a pressurised moments? Isn’t that three? Yesterday, MSR and last years TDF?

    • I was also cheering for Girmay, at the same time I was shaking my head at Ewan. At least this time he didn’t take out Girmay the way he took out Sagan at the TdF. I recall seeing so-mo footage of him at full sprint with his front wheel bouncing all over the place due to how light he is and how hard he pulls on the bars. He also gets so far out in front over the bars that it’s not surprising that, while he seems fine at maintaining his line, he seems to struggle with obstacle avoidance. Today he seemed to be aiming right at Girmay’s rear wheel.

      Speaking of Ewan, my gut instinct (or rather, my reading of his typical pattern) was correct as he announced before the stage that he would indeed be bailing out early and not targeting the points jersey.

    • Girmay is hugely talented but VdP is currently cannier. Ewan seems to still have issues with bike control at full speed. Still, it’s great to see an African, an Asian-Australian and a Dutchman who looks like someone from an early Van Gogh realist work (or his grandfather) fighting it out in a sportswashing hill climb. I love cycling!

  10. To be fair, Szekesfehervar was the medieval seat of hungarian kings and de facto the capital of Hungary (perhaps even for longer than Buda – in fact, the Slovak capital Bratislava is still the town which served as an oficial hungarian capital for the longest period iirc), so it makes sense to do a journey from Budapest to Visegrad (a castle of the king Matthias Corvinus) via Alba Regia – Stuhlweissenburg. (Etymology of Visegrad is slavic, it means the upper castle / akropolis, similarly the seat of early Czech Premyslid princes is the Vysehrad in Prague. Hrad means a castle rather than a town – grad, gorod – here.)

    Otoh, a certain prime minister should be of course expected to use every sportwashing and sportmarketing opportunity available; albeit this isn’t the first case the Giro sells itself to a rather unsavoury regime, is it?

    Let’s hope for less politics and more great racing. 🙂

    • Oh, now I realize I may look like an Orban apologist, I certainly didn’t meant it that way. By less politics I mean less misusing of sport for political benefit.

    • Thank you for the cultural background — I found it interesting. I also confused Visegrad with Vysehrad, which 1) kept me hearing Smetana, and 2) confused me further because Visegrad doesn’t sound Hungarian. But that’s OK — resolving confusion (which your explanation has done) is more interesting than not being confused in the first place. If that makes any sense.

    • 4, and would have been 5 but for Ewan’s brainfreeze. Not even his own mother had Kelderman on the wide angle podium tho!

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