Three-week races like the Giro d'Italia never go by the script. As the race situation evolves and team’s objectives alter, some of the riders you’d least expect can find a way to excel.
Just last year, Tao Geoghegan Hart entered the Giro d’Italia as a domestique and left it as the winner. Six months on, who are the breakout riders that have grabbed their opportunity at the 2021 Giro d’Italia?
Foss and Bennett attack early on stage 11 (Image credit: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
Tobias Foss entered the Giro with only nine days of Grand Tour racing before. However, he started emphatically with third place on the opening time-trial in Turin. At that stage, we wrote that he could be Jumbo Visma’s joker card — a rider that could play a role in the general classification, yet due to their inexperience at the top, may be allowed some room to attack where other contenders would not. However, Tobias Foss has been more than that, he is now Jumbo-Visma’s out-and-out GC leader.
George Bennett quickly faded after entering the Giro d'Italia as the primary option. But now, with Bennett dropping away and hunting a stage victory instead, Foss has taken on the reins. It’s a role that he is flourishing in, which was seen on the punishing stage 11 to Montalcino.
On the second gravel section, both Bennett and Foss ventured up the road with still 30km left, hoping that Foss would be given space by the peloton. The move was shut down relatively quickly, but the offensive intent was clear. Despite that additional energy expended, Foss was one of the strongest of the GC favourites, gaining major time on the likes of Remco Evenepoel and Giulio Ciccone. The ride was so good that Foss had shot from 18th to 9th overall by the end of the day.
Now the question is, what can Foss do over the final week? With the toughest mountains to come he must remain resilient. He dropped to 11th after the Zoncolan, but if he can stay in touch until the final stage — a 30km time trial to Milan — he’s in for a sublime result. The time trial bike is perhaps where Foss is most comfortable, certainly when compared to many of the other GC contenders present.
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Is 31 years-old too late to be a ‘breakout’ rider? Not in this rulebook.
Israel Start-Up Nation only won their first Giro d’Italia stage in 2020 when Alex Dowsett won solo from the breakaway on stage 8. They are yet to claim a stage this year, but David Cimolai has been oh so close on numerous occasions.
Cimolai has great Grand Tour experience and before this year’s Giro, he had started eight Grand Tours. A consistent but not electric sprinter, he has achieved top 10 finishes in every one of them, but never a podium placing.
That has all changed this year, where Cimolai has excelled as one of the most well-rounded and speedy finishers. His first opportunity fell on stage 3, where he was second and only denied by that Taco breakaway. The drag to the line in Termoli was his next chance, and again he was the runner-up, only beaten by Caleb Ewan. Another podium followed in Foligno after Bora ramped up the rhythm to drop the pure sprinters — Cimolai has no issues going over medium climbs or ramps, meaning when Bora or other teams increase the tempo Cimolai is a prime contender.
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Hands up, who’d heard of Victor Lafay before the Giro d’Italia?
If your hand is now raised, you may well have been watching the Tour of Valencia in April. There, Lafay demonstrated his climbing prowess on the queen stage between Torrent and the Alto de la Reina, where the only rider to deny him his maiden victory was Enric Mas.
Mas is only one year Lafay’s senior, but is a vastly more experienced rider when it comes to WorldTour racing — he had finished on the podium of a Grand Tour and in the top five on two other occasions already. For Lafay, finishing two seconds behind Mas was a great success, although his first win would have to wait.
Not for long, though. Lafay joined the Giro stage 8 breakaway and he’d be satisfied — he was clearly one of the more accomplished climbers in the group on paper. He stayed composed despite numerous attacks in the final 15 kilometres from the likes of Victor Campenaerts and Giovanni Carboni, before launching his own assault on the line with three kilometres to go. It was a dominant win. Lafay had amassed a lead of 36 seconds over the relatively short climb.
The talented Frenchman continues to hunt stage wins as the Giro continues, but based on his climbing pedigree he may even play a GC role in Grand Tours to come.
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The Monte Zoncolan is one of the mountains most closely associated with the Giro d’Italia. Legends have won at its peak, from Gilberto Simoni to Ivan Basso and even Chris Froome. So, when a breakaway went clear on stage 14 of the 2021 edition and swiftly gained an eight-minute lead, one of the lucky eleven riders would write their name alongside the greats.
Among the group were Bauke Mollema and George Bennett: two riders more than capable of riding a solid GC race when at their best but who had lost time for one reason or another and would focus on stage victories. With teammates in the group, neither needed to worry about their workload on the front either. Which of the two would be the latest to conquer the Zoncolan?
Well, Lorenzo Fortunato. Yes, a 25-year-old participating in his first Grand Tour. Fortunato attacked near the foot of the climb and distanced his on-paper much stronger rivals before dropping his final comrade Jan Tratnik in the final three kilometres. Fortunato held on for Eolo-Kometa’s first Grand Tour stage win, and what a way to do it.
With one week still remaining at the 2021 Giro, Fortunato is 28 minutes down overall. He won’t play a role in the final general classification this time, but his efforts mean he is now fourth in the KOM competition with 40 points. Perhaps Fortunato and Eolo-Kometa, who were the first team in the maglia azzurra, could also be the team holding the jersey in Milan.
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Filippo Fiorelli has raced in two WorldTour stage races thus far in his career: the Giro d’Italia 2020 and Giro d’Italia 2021. However, the 26-year-old has raced without any fear at the 2021 race so far and has demonstrated his skills on highly varying terrain.
The stage two finish in Novara was the first opportunity for the sprinters. Fiorelli sneaked into the top 10 on multiple mass-sprints on his Giro debut last year, but is certainly not among the favourites at this level. However, he improved his best Giro result to 7th in Novara where he finished ahead of Caleb Ewan and the aforementioned Davide Cimolai.
Just two days later, the riders would tackle a very different route: 3000 metres of climbing lay between Piacenza and Sestola. Most of the sprinters, if not all, would switch off and cruise home in the grupetto. That’s what they are supposed to do, right?
Not Filippo Fiorelli. The Italian joined the large breakaway which would fight for the stage, where Joe Dombrowski, Alessandro De Marchi and Nelson Oliveira were all present. Fiorelli battled to an admirable third-place, just days after juking it out with some of the best sprinters in the world.
A jack of all trades, Filippo Fiorelli could be Bardiani’s hidden gem and an inaugural pro victory may not be too far away.