As the 2023 season draws to a close, the cycling world is already turning its attention to what might lie in store for next year, with one race in particular capturing the imagination — the Tour de France. The saga of Primož Roglič’s transfer away from Jumbo-Visma that dominated the news cycle a few weeks ago has set-up the Slovenian’s return to the Tour, where he’ll come up against the two stars that have monopolised the GC race for the last few years, Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogačar. Add to that Remco Evenepoel’s long-anticipated debut, and the race is shaping up to be the most star-studded, mouthwatering GC battle in years.
But what does all this mean for the Giro d’Italia? This year the race was contested by both Evenepoel and Roglič, and even though the hoped-for showdown never quite materialised as Covid forced the former to withdraw from the race, it was still a high-quality GC tussle between Roglič, Geraint Thomas and João Almeida that went right down to the wire. For next year’s edition, however, as yet none of the Big Four riders have said they are targeting it, and the race doesn’t have a headline name confirmed as attending.
Race director Mauro Vegni must have had this in mind when he and his team of organisers at RCS Sport devised the route for the 2024 edition, which was announced last week in Trento. Along with the earliest mountain top finish in several decades (stage two’s Oropa), a Strade Bianche-style stage in the opening week, and a mountainous final week (including a double-ascent of the Monte Grappa on the penultimate stage) the headline news from the route announcement is the generous number of time trialling kilometres. The 68.2km spread across two stages is only marginally less than this year’s total, which was the most of any Giro since 2013, and which was one of the main attractions that brought Roglič and Evenepoel here. The organisers may be hoping to pull off the same trick this time, while potentially tempting the similarly powerful time trialists Vingegaard and Pogačar.
Roglič almost certainly won't return to the Giro to defend his title
But they are unlikely to prove such a draw this time. Roglič may have attended the presentation as defending champion, but the casual outfit he donned that day reflects his disinterested attitude towards returning next year. Now that he’s won the pink jersey, he’s turning his attention towards completing his palmarès with the Tour’s yellow jersey, hence his move to Bora-Hansgrohe. Similarly, Evenepoel’s is not prioritising the Giro having done it this year, and it’s long been the plan for him to make his Tour debut in 2024. Riding both Grand Tours will be seen as incompatible, especially given his ambitions to ride some of the Classics, too.
Can either of Vingegaard and Pogačar be tempted? Pogačar certainly seems like a possibility. The Slovenian has an insatiable appetite for racing, and the Giro is now the only major race (aside from Paris-Roubaix) that he has yet to attempt since turning professional in 2019. That’s a long time for such a big star to not even have attempted one of cycling’s great events. And knowing him, he wouldn’t schedule a season around the Giro as a result of the frustration of losing out to Vingegaard at the Tour two years in a row, but will be confident that he can indeed become the first rider to win both since Marco Pantani in 1998. It might be hard squeezing the Giro in-between the Classics and the Tour, but Pogačar’s the kind of rider you wouldn’t put anything past. It’s still a bit of a long shot, but he appears the most likely of the four to do the Giro — Vingegaard has also not yet attempted the Giro in his career, but his more cautious, conservative personality makes a double-up unlikely.
Perhaps aware of the possibility of none of the major stars attending this year, the organisers have come up with a route that prioritises balance, and producing a tight, exciting GC race. Including a summit finish on just the second day indicates that they want the GC race to kick off early, and, though the mountains are back-loaded in the final week, there isn’t a single, massively important stage at the end for them to wait for. Unlike last year, when Roglič usurped Thomas as race leader on the penultimate mountain time trial up Monte Lussari, 2024’s stages against the clock feature in the first and second week. And although the climactic Monte Grappa GC stage on the penultimate day is hard, but not hard enough that the wannabee winners can afford to hold back and wait for it.
Looking at the big picture, it’s also an altogether less attritional Grand Tour than recent editions. The stages are generally shorter, with only four exceeding 200km, meaning the riders will cover fewer kilometres than any Giro for several decades. And as for the mountains, Vengi reckons “we have about 20% less climbing than we did last May”.
A lack of the superstars may pave the way for other riders to secure a victory at the Giro
If the Big Four are all indeed absent, the stage is set for a new, emerging name to breakthrough, on a route that shouldn’t be too intimidating compared to some Grand Tours. In particular, the many super-domestiques in the superteams of Pogačar and Vingegaard’s respective UAE Team Emirates and Jumbo-Visma super-teams could have a chance to lead a Grand Tour, rather than ride the Tour as domestiques. Given the time trialling kilometres, Juan Ayuso and João Almeida look better candidates than Adam Yates for UAE Team Emirates; similarly it might be that which tempers any new taste for leadership Sepp Kuss might have developed since his surprise Vuelta triumph, with raw but talented new recruit Matteo Jorgenson perhaps better suited.
Other teams must be sniffing an opportunity for Grand Tour success after Jumbo-Visma swept the board this year. In particular Ineos Grenadiers, now without a Grand Tour win since the 2021 Giro, will want to reassert themselves, potentially through Geraint Thomas, who so narrowly missed out last year. Though the parcours is less-well suited to them, the peloton’s other Grand Tour contenders just beneath the very elite like Richard Carapaz and 2022 winner Jai Hindley may sense an opportunity for success, having tried their hand at the Tour this year. But maybe the stars of the race won’t come from the GC battle, but rather the sprints, of which the organisers have supplied a generous number of opportunities. Certainly Italy’s main hope for positive headlines looks like coming from this year’s breakout fast-man Jonathan Milan, while emerging stars Olav Kooij and Arnaud De Lie have been waiting to make their Grand Tour debuts for some time now. The Tour de France might be set to attract the most glamorous roster, but this route suggests the Giro might yet be the best race.