Ten days after the Giro d'Italia's Grande Partenza in Budapest, we’ve got eight road stages, one time trial and a transfer day under our belts. We’ve seen two men in the maglia rosa, two in the maglia ciclamino, five in the maglia azzurra and three riders in the maglia bianca.
As for talking points, there have been countless. We’ve tried to pick out some of the best to serve as a reminder of an unforgettable start to the 105th Giro d’Italia.
MVDP does MVDP things
As if there could have been any doubt, Mathieu van der Poel was characteristically buoyant in the early stages of the Giro. Widely touted as the likely first wearer of the maglia rosa, van der Poel delivered a trademark ‘wattbomb’ attack up the final climb at Visegrád on stage 1 to fulfil his destiny and pull on the pink jersey, which he wore for the following three stages.
He has proven capable of whatever he sets his mind to, narrowly missing out on winning the time trial in stage two despite it not being his strongest discipline, looking as though he might contend the bunch sprint on stage three, and even threatening to take the maglia rosa off for a jaunt in the breakaway on stage four.
After losing time on Etna he refocused on stage wins, and wasn’t far short on stage eight in Naples, pulling off another of his trademarks and attacking almost 50km out, although it wasn’t enough to deliver him to victory in the end. Expect more fireworks for the duration of his stay.
The Bora trident… or pitchfork?
One of the teams to catch the eye in the first week-and-a-bit of racing was the self-titled "band of brothers", Bora-Hansgrohe. In their first season post-Sagan the team have relished the opportunity to shine outside of the Slovak’s shadow, and have already amassed a decent set of wins.
The talk coming into the Giro was of the ‘trident’ of riders who would co-lead the team – Wilco Kelderman, Emanuel Buchmann and Jai Hindley. Of these, Kelderman looked the liveliest in the first few days, finishing fifth on stage one and maintaining his top ten place on GC through stage eight.
But nobody bargained for Lennard Kämna. The German breakaway specialist produced a strong time trial on stage two and won on Etna, taking the maglia azzurra and moving up to second on GC In the process. He tested the patience of the maglia rosa, who marked him closely in the following days and left us all wondering: just how many GC hopefuls do Bora have?
To underscore a brilliant first week for the German team, Jai Hindley won an incredible stage on Blockhaus on stage nine to move into 5th on GC with Emanuel Buchmann hanging on in 9th, two of the now four prongs replacing the other two in the top ten. How many will remain by week three?
Following his historic win at Gent-Wevelgem, the hype surrounding Eritrea’s Biniam Girmay has been bordering on hyperbolic at times. Yet not without cause: the 22-year-old is a prodigal talent, and his apparent lack of fear of his rivals has found him at the pointy end of almost every race he’s been a part of so far this season.
He may not have won a stage yet at the Giro but he’s been involved in almost every one, consistency the watch-word for the Intermarché man as his first nine Grand tour stage results included five top-five finishes, putting him comfortably in second position in the points classification.
If he can sort out his positioning in the bunch sprint, or get the better of the likes of Van der Poel on a punchy finish, he may have what it takes to make history once again at the Giro.
The De Gendt rivalry
Cycling social media is totally unique among sports in the level of quirky humour and interaction it offers. Twitter favourite and breakaway king Thomas de Gendt began a friendly rivalry with his countryman and namesake Aimé de Gendt in the opening stages of this year’s Giro, and the resulting back and forth between the two has been great entertainment.
They began a ‘De Gendt GC’ which, as it stands, sees De Gendt the elder leading in 67th position, with the younger in 128th.
Thomas’s stage win on the brilliant stage eight around the city of Naples really threw down the gauntlet to his younger compatriot and it remains to be seen how Aimé will respond in the coming days. After the Belgian Breakaway of 2021 at Paris-Nice, we think a double-De Gendt breakaway would be a brilliant twist.
Sprinting ups and downs
With their fair share of opportunities in the first nine days, the sprinters brought the fireworks. Mark Cavendish led out the action on stage three with a long, dominant effort to win at Lake Balaton. The fast men were made to suffer after that, ascending an active volcano on stage four and pushing themselves over a category two climb on stage five, before they could really open up the legs once more.
Caleb Ewan had a torrid time, crashing on stage one and missing out on stage five, being dropped on the category two climb along with Mark Cavendish.
The big story among the fast men though is the resurgence of Groupama-FDJ’s Arnaud Démare. After winning four stages of the Giro in 2020, Démare had a difficult year in 2021, but found his legs once more on stage five. He was able to close the gap that had opened up on the climb to power to victory.
Wins are often like buses for sprinters, as they bring confidence, and Démare showed this winning again in stage six and taking ciclamino in the process.
Teamwork makes the Dream Work
Cycling is often misunderstood by the casual viewer. Why would someone work on the front all day for no reward? The first nine days of the Giro have given clear answers to this question.
The tearful celebrations as Juanpe López realised he’d taken the maglia rosa after the Etna stage; the aforementioned return of Arnaud Démare to the peloton on stage five, courtesy of his hard-working domestiques; Tom Dumoulin’s tireless work making it back to the leading group to help team mate Koen Bouwman to victory on stage seven; Harm Vanhoucke’s salute to veteran Thomas de Gendt as he crossed the line to take his first Giro stage win in ten years after a hard day’s work in the breakaway.
These are just some of the glorious examples of team work that prove why cycling is a team sport. No individual could pull off such feats alone.
Magnificent Maglia Rosa
The coming of age of Trek Segafredo’s Juanpe López has been a joy to witness. He’s fought valiantly to keep the pink jersey after he took it on stage four, culminating in a titanic struggle up Blockhaus on stage nine in which he rode the final climb with no support from his team mates, losing contact with the front group only to find enough to cross the line with his lead still intact.
His youth and relative inexperience in such a revered position has been endearing. From politely requesting that the peloton stop so that he can take a comfort break, to taking matters into his own hands to repeatedly mark the insouciant Lennard Kämna, to fighting his way alone up Blockhaus to retain the jersey in the face of big attacks from all of the front runners. He was once again emotional following the stage, his candour opening him up to punishment as he immediately apologised for an altercation with Sam Oomen that may land him in hot water with the UCI.
His youthful naivety has in the past days been offset by his incredible resilience and bags of talent. At this stage the central question is: how long can he hold on?