Five things we're talking about ahead of the Giro d'Italia
The first Grand Tour of the year is upon us and all the focus is on two leading riders
With the Giro d’Italia just days away, we look at five of the hottest talking points that we’re excitingly discussing in anticipation.
Which of Roglič and Evenepoel has the edge?
In most of the races Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and Remco Evenepoel (Soudal - Quick-Step) have competed in so far this season, they’ve totally trounced the opposition. Roglič was untouchable on his return to racing at Tirreno Adriatico, winning three back-to-back stages and the overall, while Evenepoel waltzed to overall victory at the UAE Tour and Liège–Bastogne–Liège without anyone seriously threatening him.
The only race in which they haven’t was when they faced off against each other, at Volta a Catalunya. It was a proverbial unstoppable force meets an immovable object, in which both riders occupied the top two spots in four of the seven stages, and only six seconds separated Roglič in first overall and Evenepoel as runner-up.
Remco Evenepoel and Primoż Roglič went head-to-head at Volta a Catalunya (Image by Getty Images)
That hotly contested, aggressive showdown sets the scene for what is promising to be one of the bouts of the season, made all the more mouth-watering by how evenly matched they looked. And though, at the respective ages of 33 and 23, Roglič and Evenepoel are at the opposite ends of their career, they share very similar attributes, with each being among the world’s best time trialists, and packing a punch quick enough to win uphill sprints.
They also share a vulnerability in the high mountains, with each having come unstuck in this terrain in the past, and it’s here where the fate of the pink jersey could be decided. Whereas you’d expect only seconds to separate them in time trials, punchy finishes and the more modest mountain stages, the high-altitude summits of the Alps and Dolomites of the final week are where minutes could open up. If both riders begin the final week still close on GC, a classic final showdown will be on the cards.
Can anyone stop the Big Two?
As difficult as it is to imagine a rider other than Roglič or Evenepoel winning the pink jersey, a lot can happen during the three weeks of a Grand Tour, and should anything happen to those two race favourites, plenty of riders are poised to capitalise.
The rider who came closest to both at the Volta a Catalunya was João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates), indicating he has the form to potentially challenge them. Few riders know how to ride within their limits quite like Almeida, who is often seen dropped on mountains only to claw himself back by the top, so if Roglič and Evenepoel overextend themselves fighting each other, he might surprise them both.
This year's Giro d'Italia will be João Almeida's fourth edition (Image by SWPix.com)
Damiano Caruso is one of the home favourites for this yer's Giro d'Italia (Image by SWPix.com)
Bora-Hansgrohe have a clearer leader in Alexsandr Vlasov, who was fourth in 2021, but his recent underwhelming form might mean any of former stage winner Lennard Kämna, the reliable Patrick Konrad, or the resurgent Bob Jungels come to the fore as plan-B options.
And EF Education-EasyPost are one of the few other teams to have riders with past experience of finishing on the podium at Grand Tours, although Hugh Carty seems to be a better shout than the ageing Rigoberto Uran following his second-place finish at the Tour of the Alps.
Can Ineos rediscover past success?
Aside from Evenepoel and Roglič, only two riders competing at the Giro this year have won a Grand Tour in the past, and both of them will be riding for Ineos Grenadiers: Tao Geoghegan Hart and Geraint Thomas. But there are big doubts about the ability of both to repeat their past successes.
In the case of Tao Geoghegan Hart, he still has much to do to prove that his triumph at the 2020 Giro d’Italia was not a one-off. Since that surprise victory, his two subsequent Grand Tour rides saw him place down in 60th at the 2021 Tour de France, and only just inside the top 20 at the Giro last year. His form in recent weeks has been the best it’s been since then, however, with third-place at the Tirreno-Adriatico followed by two stage wins and overall victory at the Tour of the Alps.
Tao Geoghgan Hart won the Giro d'Italia in 2020 (Image by Getty Images)
Geraint Thomas long since proved that his 2018 Tour de France victory was not an isolated result, but recent form suggests he might finally have passed his peak. He’ll turn 37 years old on the day the Giro enters the Dolomites for the first time in the final week, which is three whole years older than the current record holder for the oldest winner of the pink jersey (Fiorenzo Magni, who was 34 in 1955). In an era in which the new young generation are taking over, can he really keep up and remain a contender?
Ineos have their own youthful talents riding, but they’re far less established in Grand Tours. Pavel Sivakov has never shown the necessary consistency since making the top 10 at the 2019 Giro age just 21, while 23-year-old Thymen Arensman hasn’t so far shown the form that saw him place sixth at the Vuelta a España last year since signing for the team this year. If Ineos are to repeat their pink jersey titles of 2020 and 2021, it’s likely to have to be one of their established riders.
Who will dominate the sprints?
In a field absence of some of the most elite sprinters, the frontrunner for success in the bunch finishes appears likely to be Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo). The Dane was the most prolific sprinter at the most recent Grand Tour, last year’s Vuelta a España, and has been exceptional this spring, making the top six in all three of the Monuments he competed in, as well as winning a bunch sprint at Paris-Nice. If there’s anything counting against him, it’s the fact that riders don’t tend to peak for both the spring Classics in April and the Giro in May.
Mads Pedersen hasn't raced the Giro d'Italia since 2018, opting for the Tour of France instead (Image by SWPix.com)
His all-around abilities also make Pedersen the favourite for the points classification, but Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco) will make for a dangerous foe. Matthews may not pack quite the kick he once did in bunch sprints, but is a consistent performer who will always be thereabouts, and can survive the climbs better than any other contender.
In terms of the pure sprinters, Mark Cavendish (Astana Qazaqstan) is the standout name, but hasn’t done better than finish third a couple of times this season, so will have to find some form fast if he’s to add to his career tally of 16 Giro stage wins. Fernando Gaviria (Movistar) is another rider who has struggled to be as quick as he was in the past, but a stage win at the Tour de Romandie last week indicated he’s coming into form at just the right time.
Mark Cavendish is one of the more experienced riders going into this year's Giro d'Italia (Image by Getty Images)
Perhaps the young generation will supplant the old guard? Twenty-four-year-old Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Fenix) won a maiden Grand Tour stage on debut at the Vuelta last year, and showed great form recently to win two stages at a difficult Volta a Catalunya. Alberto Dainese (DSM) showed his talent, albeit not consistency, by winning a stage at last year’s Giro, while 22-year-old Jonathan Milan (Bahrain-Victorious) won a competitive bunch sprint at the Saudi Tour this year.
Who will be the successful stage hunters?
In between riders targeting the GC and those gunning for the bunch sprints are a host of riders who will be hunting out stage victories, and their battles often make for some of the most exciting at a Grand Tour.
Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost) has proven the master of this kind of racing in the past, winning multiple stages at the Tour de France and Vuelta a España, and is now targeting the Giro to complete the full set of Grand Tour stage wins.
Magnus Cort is looking on fine form so far this season (Image by Getty Images)
His EF Education-EasyPost teammate Ben Healy comes into the race as one of the form riders of the peloton following his surprise success at the Ardennes Classics, and fits the profile of a rider who could be a contender for multiple stage wins in the hilly terrain and medium mountains.
In the high mountains, Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) is looking to go out with a bang in his final Giro d’Italia before retirement. Though he could target the GC, it seems likely that he’ll prefer the less pressured goal of chasing stage wins, and second place on the queen stage of the Tour de Romandie shows that the form is good.
The Tifosi will be desperately hoping that some of the native riders step up to deliver some success, in what looks like one of the weakest Italian lineups in Giro history. Although Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) will be the man to beat in the time trials, the Covid-enforced withdrawal of Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) leaves them relying on less reliable Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost), out of sorts Gianni Moscon (Astana Qazaqstan), unproven Lorenzo Rota (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty) and ageing Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates).