Three days into the race, this is likely to be the first pure bunch sprint of the race. Unlike the uphill bunch finish on the opening stage won by Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), this one will be for the pure sprinters, with a whole set of different names set to contest for the stage wins than puncheurs and climbers who featured that day. Although there shouldn’t be any changes in the GC battle, the spectre of crashes always looms threateningly over early Grand Tour stages like this one.
Kaposvár > Balatonfüred, 201km
Thankfully for the sprinters, they won't be leaving Hungary without this one chance of battling for a stage win in a bunch finish. This is about as straightforward a stage as they could have hoped for, taking place almost exclusively on flat roads in this southwestern region of the country. There is one small climb 13km from the finish, but the only impact it’s likely to have is to determine which of the day’s escapees will earn the maximum King of the Mountains points before inevitably being caught by the peloton.
The approach to the line is similarly merciful, with most of the final 10km spent hugging the shore of Lake Balaton and avoiding any twists and turns, before a virtually straight final 2.5km. While crashes are always a concern on the hectic first week bunch finishes, the lack of any tight corners will mitigate the risk.
As the winner of two stages at last year’s Giro, as well as another two at his previous appearance in 2019, Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) would certainly have been the man to beat, but his form is uncertain following his dramatic crash at the end of stage one.
The Australian went into the race as the most in-form rider of any of the sprinters going into this year’s race, with more wins (five) than any other.
With three wins to his name this year, Mark Cavendish is the next most successful sprinter here, and his QuickStep-AlphaVinyl team are sure to battle with Lotto-Soudal in the run-in to the line. He has two top lead-out men in Michael Mørkøv and Bert Van Lerberghe, who you can expect to arrive somewhere near the front of the peloton in the final kilometre.
Groupama-FDJ aren’t quite so committed to their sprinter Arnaud Démare, with a possible high GC placing for Attila Valter also on the cards, but if the Frenchman can rediscover anything like the form that saw him storm to four stage victories at the 2020 Giro then he'll be in the reckoning.
On the basis of Friday’s opening stage, where he won the sprint in the peloton for intermediate sprint points, Giacomo Nizzolo (Israel-PremierTech) is both in good form and eyeing up the maglia ciclamino. Winning that jersey requires consistency rather than sporadic victories, and the Italian tends to be a rider who is normally up there but rarely wins, famously going seven editions before finally winning his first Giro d’Italia stage last year.
Mathieu van der Poel wore the first pink jersey of the 2022 Giro d'Italia (Credit: RCS Sport)
Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) looked in great nick on stage one, where he finished second behind Mathieu van der Poel (above). This pure sprinter finish probably doesn’t suit him quite as well, but he’s likely to be in the mix.
Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain-Victorious) has also been in good sprinting form, having already won a WorldTour stage on Italian roads at Tirreno-Adriatico, while five-time Giro stage winner Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) is at last showing signs of his old form with second-place at the recent Eschborn-Frankfurt classic.
And it’ll also be fascinating to see if Van der Poel decides to sprint or not, given that he’s Alpecin-Fenix's quickest finisher in the absence of Tim Merlier and Jasper Philipsen.
Last July, Mark Cavendish made an astonishing return to the Tour de France by winning four bunch sprints. Now, riding his first Giro d’Italia since 2013, he has the pedigree, experience and, based on his win at Milano-Torino, the form to do something similar in the first bunch sprint of this race.
Cover image: Getty Images