When examining the Giro d’Italia startlist, Attila Valter would not be the first name that grabs the attention of a regular cycling fan. However, after Thibaut Pinot announced he wouldn’t ride the Tour of Italy, Groupama-FDJ’s race plans were heavily altered. From GC ambitions to stage and jersey hunting, their entire squad would now be afforded a plethora of opportunities without a GC leader to tend to. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, Pinot’s non-attendance could even be viewed as a blessing in disguise — it has afforded Attila Valter the chance to introduce himself to the world.
Still aged just 22, Valter’s WorldTour career is in its early phases. However, he is clearly a force to be reckoned with right now. After he claimed the maglia rosa on the San Giacomo climb on stage 6, who is the Giro's new Hungarian leader?
Valter signed for Groupama-FDJ in 2021 for what would be his second season in the pro ranks. He joined the CCC Development team in 2019 where he would ride a range of lower category stage races. At this level, Valter was able to make an impression frequently, particularly when the road went uphill. In June 2019 at the Tour of Hungary, Valter’s home race, he finished an impressive third overall where he was only beaten by Krists Neilands and his good friend Márton Dina, with whom he rode with at the Pannon Cycling Team in the 2018 season.
Valter’s promise would continue to grow a few months later when he raced the Tour de l’Avenir. The ‘Baby Tour de France’ is now famed for discovering the next generation of talent — Egan Bernal and Tadej Pogačar won in 2017 and 2018 respectively. The Hungarian wasn’t a major contender in the GC but did win one of the queen mountain stages to Tignes. The stage was a mere 73km but boasted over 2,500 metres of climbing. It is already obvious that Valter's skillset lies in the mountains.
His performances throughout the season were enough to convince CCC that he was worthy of his first WorldTour contract with the senior team. Valter continued to ride predominantly second tier races where, among other results, he recorded an impressive top 10 at Gran Piemonte. Later in the year, Valter returned to his homeland for the Tour of Hungary. This time, Valter dominated the mountain-top finish and won solo, also winning overall. It was the first time since 2005 that a Hungarian had won the race and Valter had done so at the age of just 22.
This was the perfect prelude ahead of Valter’s Grand Tour debut, the 2020 Giro d’Italia. Valter was expected to ride in support of his team leader Ilnur Zakarin, but the Russian’s GC chances faded quickly. Although the Hungarian didn’t win a stage, his performance at the Giro set a trend which has continued to this point in his career. Notably he improved as the race progressed, despite it being his debut Grand Tour. He claimed his first top 10 of the race on the final mountain stage to Sestriere. This trend has only continued into his second pro season after signing with Groupama-FDJ.
Attila Valter was the best young rider ahead after stage 4 (Image credit: Giro d'Italia)
After he was largely anonymous over the first few days of the Volta a Catalunya in March 2021 (even when racing to the Vallter 2000 ski station), he finished an impressive third in the tricky final stage around Barcelona. He joined the early breakaway and was only outlasted by Thomas De Gendt and Matej Mohorič — a clear sign of Valter’s pedigree.
So, should we be surprised by Valter’s pink performance at the Giro d’Italia thus far? Perhaps, but the Hungarian has displayed continuous development, powers of recovery throughout stage races and elite climbing skills already in his young career. Considering all of the above, what could Valter realistically hope to achieve at the Giro d’Italia this year?
Speaking after claiming the maglia rosa, Valter said "I will do my best to wear it proudly and show my respect for the jersey. I'm also the first Hungarian to wear the jersey and I want to show a really good example."
When asked how long he can hold the jersey after stage 6, Valter responded, "Now for sure it will be on me, I will sleep with it. As we saw yesterday it's a really demanding race. You have to stay in the moment, anything can happen in this race. I hope to stay as much as possible in this beautiful jersey."
With a flat stage next, Valter will hope to spend at least one more night with the maglia rosa. His first real challenge lies on stage 8.
Image credit: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images