The Giro d'Italia may be famous for high mountains, stunning scenery and an epic battle for the pink jersey. But the first grand tour of the season is about much more than just the fight for the pink jersey.
We take a look at what we're looking forward to at this year's three week race beyond the competition for the maglia rosa.
MVDP tearing up the rule book
Cycling fans may not agree on everything, but it’s a universally accepted fact that a bike race with Mathieu van der Poel in it is a better bike race. He animates the action in his own inimitable style and with his incredible power and punchy finishing skills, there’s no doubt he’ll have his eyes set on victory on stage one in Visegrád, with a view to being the first rider to don the maglia rosa.
The race organisers have reportedly paid handsomely for his participation and while there’s talk of ciclamino, to win the points jersey will require MVDP to remain in the race for the full three weeks. Completing a Grand Tour is a feat he’s never achieved before, but with the temptation of glory at his fingertips, we could see the Dutchman ticking his first grand tour off the bucket list this May.
Cavendish goes for 18
The last time Mark Cavendish rode a Giro he cleaned up, taking five stage victories and the points classification. That was in 2013, and now, nine years later, with the wind back in his metaphorical sails, he has the chance to add to his impressive career tally of 17 stage wins. To do so, he’ll have to conquer a strong sprint field which includes some serious rivals – the likes of Caleb Ewan, Fernando Gaviria, Giacomo Nizzolo and Arnaud Démare.Cav's in the house (Credit: RCS Sport)
On paper it looks as though the sprinters will have six opportunities, and with stage finishes in both Naples and Treviso, two cities in which the Manx Missile triumphed at the previous time of asking, along with the late addition of super lead-out man Michael Mørkøv to the QuickStep line-up, morale should be high for Cav going into la corsa rosa.
Biniam Girmay making (more) history
Another thorn in Cavendish’s side could be the young Eritrean Biniam Girmay. With his victory at Gent-Wevelgem at the end of March, the rider for Intermarché–Wanty–Gobert became the first black African rider ever to win a Belgian one-day classic.
At the Giro this year, he will set his sights on becoming the first black African to claim a stage victory at a Grand Tour. Having recently extended his contract, confidence will be running high for the young sprinter, who will go up against the likes of Cavendish and van der Poel as he tries his luck at both sprint stages and punchy finishes. Regardless of whether he succeeds this time around, the increased awareness of diversity within the peloton as a result of Girmay’s success can only be a positive.
Biniam Girmay won Gent-Wevelgem earlier this year (Credit: SWpix)
Young riders making waves
The vast array young talent on display at this year’s Giro should not only make for a thrilling battle in the best young rider classification, but should also provide some top entertainment, with future GC stars such as Thymen Arensman, Mattias Skjelmose and Santiago Buitrago having already shown great form so far this season.
Arensman won the white jersey for Team DSM at the Tour of the Alps while also working as a lieutenant for his leader Romain Bardet. That partnership will be key to the overall GC battle and Arensman is likely to impress in his own right. So too Buitrago, who won the Saudi Tour early on in the season – he’ll be working for a stacked Bahrain Victorious team that includes Pello Bilbao, Mikel Landa and Wout Poels, but if he gets a chance to show his climbing skill he could really impress. Mattias Skjelmose might represent Trek-Segafredo’s best opportunity on GC. The young Dane is coming into his own this season, and alongside Giulio Ciccone Trek will challenge for at least one rider in the top ten on GC.
Veterans bowing out in style
At the other end of the age scale, there are a few riders who will be targeting this year’s Giro as the place to make a grand exit. Alejandro Valverde is heading for retirement, and of the incredible 30 grand tours he’s ridden across the span of his long career, this will surprisingly be just his second participation at the Giro d’Italia. The first was in 2016, where he won a stage, and in his final year of pro competition he would love to add a second to his palmares.
Vincenzo Nibali rides his last pro season too, and on home soil this will mean even more to the Shark of Messina. Two stages take place on his home island of Sicily, including an ascent of Mount Etna and a likely sprint finish into his home town of Messina where we can expect emotional scenes as he bids farewell to top level competition.
Richie Porte’s last hurrah will be in support of Richard Carapaz, but the opportunity to grab some honours for himself, if it were to arise, would be a fitting end to a brilliant career for the Aussie.
Round One for the Big Guns
While the inevitable focus of the Tour de France will be ‘take three’ of the Pog v Rog battle, the Slovenian superstars’ respective teams at the Giro have a very different look about them. Tobias Foss and Tom Dumoulin represent a joint leadership option for Jumbo Visma – it’s unclear as to the form either carry going into the race, and currently the Dutch side are not favoured for overall victory.
UAE Team Emirates on the other hand, have a clear leader in João Almeida, who himself has come close at the Giro in recent years but hasn’t always had the support he needed. UAE have shown they struggle to unite as a team without Pogačar at the helm, so it remains to be seen how they will approach this race.
Enter Ineos – the grand tour specialists have turned classics kings this season, but in Richard Carapaz they have a proven winner who goes into the race one of the favourites for the overall win. The Ecuadorian Olympic champion will hope to steal a march on his rivals and prove that the British team are as competitive as ever at the grand tours.
Blockhaus, anybody? (Credit: Getty Images)
The GC battle kicking off early
The Giro has often been known to drag its heels in terms of the GC battle, with the real racing often not kicking off until the final week. This year could well break the mould. With some big climbing days thrown in early (Blockhaus on stage 9, anyone?) and a collection of GC contenders looking to make statements – to their teams, their doubters, or just to themselves – there is every possibility that the skirmish among the top contenders could kick off right out of the gates.
With a lack of time-trial kilometres to fall back on, any riders who excel against the clock will be forced on the offensive. They will be unable to simply sit back and rely on a good performance on the final stage to pull a lacklustre campaign back from the brink.
Cover image: RCS Sport