Giro 103 – Five contenders for pink

Featured image courtesy of RCS Sport

Rescheduled for October after coronavirus disrupted the season, it is quite bizarre to see the Giro d’Italia take place after the Tour de France. It is something we’re getting used to. The Vuelta will clash as will the Spring Classics which for 2020 will be remembered as the Autumn classics instead. The 103rd Giro may not possess the biggest names in cycling compared to the Tour and it may not live up to the dramatic scenes we saw just two weeks ago.

This is a strange year for a whole range of reasons. A Tour de France before the Giro is one thing but the Tour of Italy taking place in October will be one for the ages. Snow capped mountains in May are the normal images we’re accustomed to, Italy in October, that’s something new for cycling fans.

Italy has been through a lot because of the virus, the first European country that made the rest of Europe sit up and take notice that this virus isn’t a joke. The Giro cancelled was the biggest sucker punch but thankfully pride is restored for a race that shows off the best Italian scenery from island to coast, Apennines to Tuscany and Dolomites to cities.

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A quick note on the route before a look at the contenders for the famous maglia rosa. The route was due to start in Hungary until the virus struck meaning this year’s race is now entirely in Italy. Sicily gets the Grande Partenza with an opening time trial into Palermo, a hilly road stage and then a summit finish atop Mount Etna.

The 2020 route should be a vintage Giro d’Italia. The third week of the race is always hard, Dolomites and Alps galore with Stage 20 to Sestiere the ‘Queen’ stage featuring the Colle dell’Agnello and the Col d’Izoard across the border in France. It is the first and second week that could determine how your challenge for pink goes. Decisive stages in the Apennines and the Tuscan hills mean every GC contender has to be alert to anything unexpected. Unlike the Tour you cannot control the race from start to finish, attacks come from all angles.

Just like last year’s edition, 2020 features three time trials with 65 km in total. Pure climbers versus GC men who can time trial, we await to see who will take advantage on their TT bikes alongside their abilities to climb mountains. The winner of the pink jersey come the final time trial in Milan should belong to an all-rounder.

The full route below.

The 2020 Giro d’Italia route map

So, who are the contenders for pink? Defending champion Richard Carapaz doesn’t start but two former Tour de France winners do begin this year’s race. Among the favourites, three names start with points to prove after previous Giro’s ended in disappointment.

Jakob Fuglsang – Astana

Plans were already set in stone for Jakob Fuglsang to skip the Tour and ride the Giro before coronavirus hit the season. Three time trials and climbs that suit his abilities, this must surely be Fuglsang’s last opportunity to win a Grand Tour. The Dane has the leadership to try something at this year’s race but the one thing he will need is luck.

He crashed on Stage 1 of last year’s Tour and in 2017 he abandoned the Tour after Stage 13 due to a fractured arm. If Jakob Fuglsang can get through the flat stages unscathed then he’ll be a threat to his rivals. The only time he has finished inside the top-10 at a Grand Tour came at the 2013 Tour – there’s a chance he can do the same in Italy.

Jakob Fuglsang also has the backing a strong Astana team. Colombian Miguel Ángel López is one of few mountain goats making the quick turnaround from the Tour to ride in Italy, Spaniard Óscar Rodríguez should add extra power on the climbs and young Russian talent Aleksandr Vlasov is making huge impressions on the peloton, someone to look out for.

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Steven Kruijswijk – Jumbo Visma

If it wasn’t for an unfortunate crash at the Critérium du Dauphiné then Steven Kruijswijk would’ve been included in Jumbo-Visma’s Tour de France selection. After Primož Roglič lost the yellow jersey to Tadej Pogačar on the penultimate stage before Paris this might be the perfect opportunity for the Dutch team to make amends. Last year’s Giro saw Roglič start so well before folding in the final week – more motivation for Jumbo-Visma?

Back from the shoulder injury he suffered from in France, Steven Kruijswijk is perfectly capable of winning the maglia rosa, a steady rider who can climb, time trial and keep his cool on the flat. Since 2016 he has finished inside the top-10 at every Grand Tour he’s ridden since, third at last year’s Tour de France is the evidence you need that Kruijswijk can get close.

But how close will he get this year? Could the shoulder injury hamper his chances? Stage 3 atop Mount Etna will be the first chance to test his legs plus Jumbo-Visma bring both Jos Van Emden and Tony Martin to add engine power on the flat. Consistency is Steven Kruijswijk’s A-game. Let’s not forget that he came close to winning the Giro back in 2016 before that infamous crash on the Colle dell’Agnello which he’ll climb again this year.

The first of three names at the 103rd Giro with something to prove.

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Vincenzo Nibali – Trek-Segafredo

Overall winner in 2013, 2016, four times on the podium and seven stage wins at his home Grand Tour – that’s Vincenzo Nibali folks! Nothing but admiration for the Shark of Messina who makes his ninth start at a race he just excels in every time he races.

Nibali has been quiet and at 35 years of age you do wonder whether his best days are behind him. Experience is the key word in a year where he’s put all his eggs in the Giro basket looking for a third pink jersey going all out for the overall victory.

Last year he did everything he could to disrupt Primož Roglič from winning the Giro except he could not stop Richard Carapaz from taking pink instead. Vincenzo Nibali won’t want a repeat this time and although he may not possess the explosive style of years gone by, his rivals absolutely won’t discount the shark from trying something.

The three time trials won’t faze the Italian, the home favourite who rides among a Trek-Segafredo team that has supreme talent. Italian riders Gianluca Brambilla, his brother Antonio Nibali and last year’s King of the Mountains and stage winner Giulio Ciccone will offer support in the mountains.

There is nothing to suggest that Vincenzo Nibali will have a terrible Giro. Mount Etna is the first test to see where Nibali is at but never stop believing in this remarkable bike rider.

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Simon Yates – Mitchelton-Scott

After Steven Kruijswijk comes the next rider with something to prove. Third time lucky for Simon Yates? We all remember 2018. Three stage wins, in the form of his life, before he cracked on the Colle delle Finestre and Chris Froome did the impossible. Last year he tried to do the same but finished eighth overall nowhere near the pink jersey.

Wearing the pink jersey in 2018 saw some fantastic moments for Simon Yates. It was down to going too deep in the second week that caused all the suffering in the third, a mistake that Mitchelton-Scott won’t want to see again. Let’s not forget that Simon Yates is a Grand Tour winner in the same year he blew up at the Giro he rode magnificently and with style to win the Vuelta.

A second Grand Tour to add to his palmares? It is possible after showing impressive form to win Tirreno-Adriatico just a few weeks ago. Yates has the form, the winning shape and determination from a team that believes in him. Mitchelton-Scott take a decent team to Italy with ever improving Lucas Hamilton, young Italian time trial specialist Edoardo Affini and the ever-loyal mountain domestique Jack Haig included. No Mikel Nieve who misses the Giro for the first time since 2017 won’t be a setback.

Tirreno-Adriatico was the perfect starting point. Just like Jumbo-Visma, Mitchelton-Scott have something to target and make amends – a pink jersey in Milan.

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Geraint Thomas – INEOS Grenadiers

While Primož Roglič and Jumbo-Visma were left disappointed at the Tour, the same can be said for INEOS Grenadiers – defending champion Egan Bernal was clearly not in shape to win the yellow jersey again. Dave Brailsford has been criticised, the elastic has snapped, the INEOS/Sky dominance at the Tour de France was broken, new challenges lie ahead.

Was Brailsford’s decision to leave Geraint Thomas out of the Tour a mistake? That question is now irrelevant and a question we’ll never know the answer to. Thomas might have ridden into form to possibly win the yellow jersey for a second time but skipping the Tour to ride the Giro could actually turn out to be the best decision.

Geraint Thomas as winner of the Tour de France in 2018 (and could have so easily defended his title last year had it not been for the pesky weather in the Alps), starts this Giro as favourite. A fantastic stage win by Michał Kwiatkowski was the only crumb of comfort for Ineos Grenadiers at last month’s Tour, so a bounce back in Italy? That must surely be the aim not just for the team and Geraint Thomas personally. Can he prove that he’s back to his best at a Grand Tour?

Confidence will be in abundance after finishing second behind Simon Yates at Tirreno-Adriatico and an encouraging fourth place at the worlds in the time trial. An extra month away from the circus of the Tour might turn out to be a huge help to G’s chances of winning a second Grand Tour. The three time trials will be his strength and apart from Stages 18 and 20, this year’s Giro doesn’t go over 2,000 metres, so that could play into Thomas’s hands.

Teammates include British national road champion Ben Swift (starting his third Giro d’Italia), another Brit in Tao Geoghegan Hart (who sadly crashed out at last year’s race), the recently crowned time trial world champion Filippo Ganna and the former two-times time trial world champion Rohan Dennis.

A strong team for Geraint Thomas, the only thing he needs now is luck. 2017 was the year of highs and lows before 2018 saw a brilliant achievement in France. Steven Kruijswijk crashed out in 2016, Geraint Thomas fell out of contention thanks to that stupid motorbike incident in 2017 and Simon Yates cracked in 2018. Jumbo-Visma, Ineos Grenadiers and Mitchelton-Scott are three teams with points to prove.

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Other names to watch?

Polish rider Rafał Majka for Bora-Hansgrohe is unlikely to win the Giro but should finish inside the top-10. He finished fifth overall in 2016 and to be fair his Grand Tour GC placings have been consistent. A stage win might also be on the cards.

After a superb Tour de France for Team Sunweb, attention now turns to two objectives in Italy. Michael Matthews, in what is his last Grand Tour for the German team before moving back to Mitchelton-Scott, will target stage wins but in Wilco Kelderman you have a decent time trialist and climber. Crashes and injuries have hampered the Dutchman in recent Grand Tours but a top-10 isn’t out of the question.

Simon Yates and Geraint Thomas might be the two British riders getting the attention as GC favourites but what about James Knox? His debut Grand Tour at the Giro last year plus his first appearance at the Vuelta brought nothing but sympathy for him last year as he sadly crashed out in Italy and then crashed with one mountain stage to go at the Vuelta. Knox did finish in Madrid but had it not been for the crash on Stage 19 a top-ten in Spain would have been fantastic. Best of luck to James Knox at this year’s Giro.

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We’re relieved to see the Giro take place after what has been a difficult time for Italy indeed the world. The cycling continues…