Stage two of the Giro d’Italia was won by Tim Merlier of Alpecin-Fenix in a dominant sprint. The Belgian team are competing in their first grand tour but showed no signs of fear, placing Tim Merlier in the perfect position to deliver a superb win. Behind, Giacomo Nizzolo had to settle for yet another runner-up position, making it ten now at the Giro for him. Elia Viviani was third, whilst Remco Evenepoel notably took two bonus seconds at the final intermediate sprint to place him level on time with his teammate João Almeida in the general classification.
Giro d’Italia Stage Three profile
Starting in Biella, stage three of the Giro d’Italia is the most challenging thus far with over 2,000 climbing metres on the menu. The first 110km will be used to decide the breakaway and the gap they are allowed by those controlling the tempo in the peloton.
Next, we find the first intermediate sprint of the day at kilometre 114. This also marks the foot of the longest climb of the race so far. The Piancanelli is 7.5km in length and averages 4.9 per cent. This is a third category climb and therefore EOLO-Kometa rider Vincenzo Albanese will be eager to make the early breakaway to defend his maglia azzurra. It is possible, depending on the speed in the peloton, that we will see some of the purer sprinters dropped here.
Two fourth category climbs follow and, with each at around 5km in length, offer further opportunities to force the pure sprinters out the back. BORA-Hansgrohe are likely to press on aggressively on these sections; Peter Sagan will be keen to reduce his opposition for a potential sprint by dropping the likes of Caleb Ewan and Dylan Groenewegen.
The final climb of the day is uncategorised but at 2.6km and 6.8% provides an ideal launchpad for those looking to attack. From here just 10km remain to the finish. This section of the stage is not straightforward, though, featuring some steep ramps and a descent in the final kilometres to the finish in Canale.
UAE have numerous options for stage three. (Image credit: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
The favourite for the day is Peter Sagan — the stage looks like it could even have been designed with the big Slovak in mind. With numerous climbs for BORA-Hansgrohe to push the fastest riders out the back, Sagan should be one of the best sprinters left in the peloton at the finish. It is unlikely that we’ll see Caleb Ewan, Dylan Groenewegen or even Tim Merlier resist on the climbs here. BORA must be careful not to overexert their domestiques too soon, though, as the punchers and attackers will surely try to escape the main group late on, knowing that taking on Sagan in a sprint may not be the smartest of plans. BORA must ensure they have enough riders and power to combat attacks throughout, which may be difficult considering they also have GC ambitions with Emanuel Buchmann.
Giacomo Nizzolo finished second on stage two, the 10th occasion he's been the runner-up at the Giro d'Italia. The Italian and European champion is still hunting a Grand Tour stage win, and it's not entirely out of the question here. Before yesterday’s stage, Nizzolo stated, “Stage three has a hilly finish so it is a bit more complicated for me.” Despite playing down his chances, Nizzolo is one of the strongest climbers among the pure sprinters and dropping him may be tricky.
Andrea Vendrame has proven he is a more than capable climber, no more so than when he placed an exceptional fifth on stage 20 of last season’s Giro to Sestriere. The AG2R Citroën rider hasn’t claimed a podium this year but has a reasonable sprint-finish which has seen him perform competitively in mass-sprints — he was fourth on stage one of Tirreno-Adriatico this year. Vendrame's climbing skills should mean he is at the front for the finish where he could be one of the fastest riders.
Israel Start-Up have a very real chance in the form of Patrick Bevin. Bevin demonstrated his climbing ability at the Tour de Romandie on his way to consecutive podiums. The Kiwi didn’t start stage three at Romandie though, and laboured to 65th in the opening time-trial at the Giro, a discipline he has performed well in before. There are some clear question marks surrounding his form, but if he’s on he has a shot.
Andrea Pasqualon, Davide Cimolai, Simone Consonni and Fabio Felline are other riders that possess both a quick sprint-finish and fair climbing legs.
A sprint-finish, however, is far from a foregone conclusion. The stage will be difficult for BORA to control, particularly if a large breakaway jump up the road early on and if multiple attacks go off in the latter stages. BORA will hope for assistance from other teams, but may be forced to reel in the breakaway and later attacks themselves. This would play into the favour of the offensive riders.
Of the potential attacking candidates, Davide Formolo could be a good option. The Italian has demonstrated fine form in 2021 thus far though he has spent more race days looking after Tadej Pogačar than challenging himself. The race would need to be highly attritional to suit Formolo, but he's not the only option for UAE. Diego Ulissi is a great puncheur and has had many successes at the Giro d'Italia over the years, whereas Alessandro Covi could also stand a chance. Though Covi is just 22, the Piedmont native is a good puncheur and a fast finisher, something he demonstrated when finishing fifth on stage one of the Tour de Romandie.
Clément Champoussin could be another rider that chooses to attack. Just 23-years-old and without a GC-leader to deter him, Champoussin could be afforded the chance by AG2R if he is feeling good. This may depend on the aforementioned Andrea Vendrame's positioning, though.
Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert are seeking their first grand tour victory and are yet to win in 2021, but that doesn't mean they are without a chance here. Quinten Hermans performed well in the Ardennes Classics where he was 14th at La Flèche Wallonne — he evidently enjoys hilly terrain. Hermans may venture into the early breakaway or sit in and hope for a chance to make his move later on.
Considering the terrain in the final 80km of the stage, it is going to be burdensome for the peloton to control the race, particularly if BORA are forced into doing the lion's share of the work. This means we are going to go for a bit of an ‘outsider’, in the form of Quinten Hermans. The precarious finale suits the 25-year-old and his 17th-place finish on stage two suggest that he’s feeling good. Multiple scenarios suit Hermans: he is capable of winning solo or from a reduced sprint, adding to his allure.
We could always pick Peter Sagan, but where’s the fun in that?
(Cover image: Alex Broadway/SWpix)