A done deal for Pogačar? How the GC is shaping up ahead of week two of the Giro d'Italia

With two weeks of racing still left to go, the race for the pink jersey is far from over

One week into the Giro d’Italia, the GC race has gone pretty much exactly as we also expected it to go – it’s been the Tadej Pogačar show. It only took a couple of days for the Slovenian to get himself into the maglia rosa, and he's been the centre of attention throughout, winning both summit finishes at Oropa Sanctuary and Prati di Tivo, as well as Friday’s time trial. Even on the non-GC stages, he's been at the centre of everything, from his nearly successful late attack on what was supposed to be a straightforward sprinters’ day on stage three, to his lead-out for teammate Juan Sebastián Molano on Sunday. 

Yet for all his dominance, the race for the pink jersey is far from over. Though he has won every GC stage so far, his gains have only been minor, and he's yet to land the kind of knockout blow as he did at, say, his last Tour de France overall victory in 2021, when he pulverised the opposition in the mountains on stage eight to go over four and a half minutes clear of all of his rivals. His lead over Dani Martínez in second is a relatively close 2:40, while five riders still remain within five minutes of him – all of whom have the potential to cause him problems in the coming two weeks.

Of those five riders, Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) has the best credentials when it comes to Grand Tour racing. He's an experienced racer, knows how to pace himself over the course of a three-week race, and goes reliably well in the high mountains. He's shown great form so far this Giro, limiting his losses to Pogačar to keep himself 2:58 behind him on GC. While that might seem a lot, it's the kind of deficit that can disappear during one bad day in the high mountains, where we have before seen Pogačar struggle after going hard at the start of a Grand Tour, much as he has this year. Thomas will likely continue to bide his time and preserve energy during the second week's relatively benign stages, but, with a well-performing team behind him, will be poised to pounce should he show any weakness come the serious terrain of the final week.

As impressive as his start has been, Thomas doesn't actually end the first week as the rider closest to Pogačar on the GC. That honour instead goes to Dani Martínez (Bora-Hansgrohe), who seems at last to be riding the kind of Grand Tour that's long been expected of him. With overall titles at prestigious single-week stage races like the Critérium du Dauphiné and Itzulia Basque Country already to his name, it's well-known what a talent he is, but for various reasons he's only once made the top 20 at a Grand Tour, when he placed fifth at the 2021 Giro while working for his then-Ineos teammate Egan Bernal. Given outright leadership for this Giro, the Colombian is relishing the role, and has finished as the closest rider to Pogačar on both the summit finishes. He's now entering uncharted territory, but will surely be considered a dangerous prospect by UAE Team Emirates. 

A little further down on the overall standings is Ben O’Connor (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale), who currently ranks fourth overall, at 3:39. The Australian made the mistake at the very start of the race of trying to match Pogačar blow for blow and paid for his efforts on the Oropa when he went into the red and was dropped badly. But since then he has been more measured and has risen back up the rankings after stage seven’s time trial and on Prati di Tivo. As someone who's finished fourth overall at the Tour de France in the past, he’s proven he can go all the way at a Grand Tour, and is well set having for once come through an opening week without a crash or other major incident.

While Pogačar needs to be wary of O’Connor and these other aforementioned contenders because of their past credentials, the next two riders are dangerous precisely because of just how little is known about them. Cian Uijtdebroeks (Visma-Lease a Bike) and Antonio Tiberi (Bahrain-Victorious) are 21 and 22 years old respectively, and likely have very high ceilings as to how good they might become. Right now, both remain very raw, and have had weaknesses exposed during the first week, but that's not to say they might grow stronger and wiser as the race goes on.

Uijtdebroeks is the marginally better placed of the two, in fifth at 4:02, and has the advantage of already having completed a Grand Tour as a GC contender. That was last year’s Vuelta a España and ended successfully as he finished eighth overall, and showed his potential as a Grand Tour racer by improving during the last two weeks. Much was made about his supposed weakness against the clock, but he actually made it through stage seven’s time trial relatively unscathed, and rose up to fifth overall after finishing with the select group of favourites on Prati di Tivo. Better set than he was at this point of last year’s Vuelta, he could pose a real problem.

Tiberi was also present in that select group of seven that made it to the top of Prati di Tivo together, and has improved as the race has gone on. Having been hyped as a potential GC contender going into the race following a podium finish at the Tour of the Alps, the stage two Oropa summit finish seemed to come too early for him, and he was dropped early, losing over two minutes. That might have already spelt an end to his GC hopes, but the young Italian had other ideas, and leapt back into contention with an excellent time trial, where he finished sixth. He now finds himself sixth at 4:23, and, with another time trial to come next weekend, he might make up more ground.

Of course, expecting any of these riders, whether experienced or youthfully talented, to overcome Tadej Pogačar is a tall order, and there can be no mistake that he and his UAE Emirates team are currently in total control of the race. But with the time gaps currently close, and lots of racing still to come, any declarations that the pink jersey is already his are much too premature.

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