Following Friday’s opening road stage, the riders remain in Hungary for a technical time trial around the streets of the capital, Budapest. The first of two time-trials in this year’s race, the GC riders who go well against the clock will be eager to make the most of this rare opportunity to gain time in a Giro that features the least time-trialling of any edition since 1962. But at only 9.2km in length, any gains they do make will be counted in seconds rather than minutes.
Budapest > Budapest, 9.2km
As an inner-city time-trial, there are inevitably multiple twists, turns and tight corners to negotiate. The opening kilometre out from Heroes’ Square is one of the longest straight sections of the whole course, and it's followed by a series of ninety degree turns as they make their way west towards the river Danube. Far from experiencing the serenity expressed by Strauss’ famous Blue Danube waltz, the riders will instead be on the limit as they ride along the riverbank, first northwards for approximately one kilometre, then southwards again after crossing a bridge over the river
The road tilts upwards upon reaching the unusually late intermediate time check taken just 1.3km from the finish, from where the riders will take the twisty route up to the finish at Buda Square. But aside from a brief kick up to 10%, the gradient remains at a manageable 3 or 4% that should allow the specialists to retain their carefully perfected aero-tucks.
The absence of Filippo Ganna means that for the first time since 2019, a rider other than the Italian will win a time-trial at the Giro d’Italia.
João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) was among those who finished second behind Ganna during his five-race winning streak, and is one of the favourites to win in Budapest. Off the back of that second place finish on the opening day of the 2020 Giro, the Portuguese rider ended up spending a whole two and a half weeks as the race’s overall leader, and enters this time-trial with his eyes once again firmly on the pink jersey.
While Almeida is on paper the best time-triallist of the major overall contenders, there are several outside contenders for pink hoping to get their GC campaigns off to a flying start, including 22-year-old Giro debutant Thymen Arensman (DSM), who impressed by finishing third overall at the recent Tour of the Alps, and seasoned pro Richie Porte, competing in his last Giro before retiring.
Most intriguing of all will be how Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma) goes. Since returning to racing last summer, the Dutchman might not have yet shown the climbing legs to suggest he’s a contender for the pink jersey, but has already re-established himself as one of the best in the peloton against the clock by winning silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
His Jumbo-Visma team should be well-represented at the top of the standings today. In the opening time-trial in Turin at last year’s race, Edoardo Affini and Tobias Foss (another outside GC contender, having placed ninth overall last year) placed second and third respectively, and are among those likely to capitalise on Ganna’s absence.
Time trial specialists like Josef Černý (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl), Tobias Ludvigsson (Groupama-FDJ), Alex Dowsett (Israel-Premier Tech) and Matteo Sobrero (BikeExchange-Jayco) will be targeting this stage specifically, and the latter in particular is one to watch having placed fifth at the recent Tour de Romandie prologue.
While not a time-trial specialist, Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) is a powerful rouleur who will have extra motivation to take victory in stage two to defend the Maglia Rosa.
Jan Tratnik (Bahrain-Victorious) might leave it all out on the road in an attempt to mix it up in the top ten, whereas pure climbers like Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious) and Miguel Ángel López (Astana-Premier Tech) have the far more modest aim of limiting their losses as much as possible.
Hedging our bets, we’d back a Jumbo-Visma rider to win today, given the awesome strength in depth their line-up has in terms of time-trialling talent. If we have to back one, we’ll go with Tom Dumoulin to make a triumphant return to Grand Tour racing and add a fourth career Giro time trial stage to his palmares.