Here we are at last: the X hour has struck for the long-awaited, as every year, Giro d'Italia. The 106th edition takes place along the usual 21 stages, starting from Fossacesia Marina in Abruzzo and ending on Sunday 28 May, after 3489.2 km in Rome at the Imperial Forums. Who will be the athlete to succeed Jai Hindley, winner in 2022?
A route this year that confirms the trend of a hard race, suitable for well-rounded athletes, good at time trials and with great resistance uphill. Three time trials, for a total of 73.2 km, six uphill finishes including at least three high mountain stages that will make the difference: Crans Montana, Monte Bondone and Tre Cime di Lavaredo. For the rest, the usual mix of long flat transfers suitable for fast wheels and some finishes for finisseurs. First uphill finish on Tuesday 9 May at Lake Laceno, nothing transcendental for the big names, but there are three second-category mountain GPs. On the Gran Sasso (Campo Imperatore) on Friday 12 May it will already be possible to see who is doing well and who is perhaps at risk of being out of the podium lot. But it's the last week, as usual, to give the final responses with the alpine caps and the terrible uphill time trial on Monte Lussari (Saturday 27 May, penultimate stage), which this year could be decisive for the final victory. The 176 riders, 8 per team, represent the 18 UCI World-Teams, plus the 4 Pro-Team teams chosen as wild cards: Eolo-Kometa, Green Project-Bardiani CSF-Faizanè and Israel-Premiertech.
The obvious contenders for the final pink jersey are Primoz Roglič and Remco Evenepoel, a step or two above the competition. Both have already battled it out at the Tour of Catalonia (with the Slovenian narrowly victorious), but the impression is that both have prepared in the best possible way a season aimed at few objectives but of absolute quality. Remco has recently dominated the Liège-Bastogne-Liège, even if the direct clash between the titans was missed as the other favorite of the eve, Tadej Pogačar had to give up prematurely due to a bad crash
Let's start the analysis, out of respect for his age, with Primoz Roglič: the 33-year-old Slovenian reached the podium in all three Grand Tours, triumphing three times at the Vuelta España. In the '19 edition of the Giro he spent many days in the squad and then gave up slightly in the final days and was overtaken by Carapaz and Vincenzo Nibali. For climbing efficiency, constancy, coolness, time trial skill (albeit a hair lower than Remco) he is one of the natural contenders for the final victory. Unlike other athletes of his age, he still seems fresh, thanks to the fact that he approached two wheels late after a youth spent as a promising ski jumper: his first full season as a pro was at the age of 24. It also has great explosiveness on its side which makes it practically unbeatable in tight uphill arrivals. A rider with over 70 victories in his career, both uphill finishes (and we are convinced he will win more than one stage in this Giro) and time trials, with the icing on Liège in '20. The only unknown could be how well he held up in the last week (in a time trial in the last stage he was defeated in the Tour by a stratospheric Pogačar). Furthermore, his Jumbo-Visma team lost two fundamental players in Tobias Foss and Robert Gesink due to Covid, losing the advantage it had over Evenepoel's Soudal-Quickstep.
Remco Evenepoel, has his age on his side: 10 years younger than the Slovenian. A champion in full evolution, whose limits are yet to be discovered: last season his talent exploded with victories in Liège, the Vuelta and the World Championship. Winning the Giro in the rainbow jersey would be a privilege that few champions have had. Remco is very strong in the time trial and uphill, although it needs to be tested on the longest climbs and at altitudes above 2000 metres. His first Giro was not the happiest: he got off to an excellent start, struggled a lot and then had a psycho-physical crisis. However, today's Remco is no more distantly related to that of two years ago; he is fully aware of his great value, he is calmer, and at the age of 23 he is maturing physically and mentally. His Soudal-Quickstep team doesn't have any great climbers (apart from Hirt): will Evenepoel be able to manage alone on the great Alpine peaks? It's going to be a great battle with Roglic anyway. Possibility for a third wheel? We see it hard for someone to be able to override both of the two big names, but cycling has accustomed us to unpredictability so we'll see.
Let's start with the teams that seem more equipped than the others to play tricks (which in any case would be sensational) on the two announced protagonists: Ineos-Grenadiers and Bahrain-Victorious.
The English team has a respectable staff uphill (Sivakov, De Plus, Arendsman) to support the only previous winner of the pink race, Tao Geoghegan Hart and Geraint Thomas, who has the '18 Tour on his bulletin board. Tao recently triumphed at the Tour of the Alps and seems to be returning to his 2021 form while the Welshman, albeit in decline due to 37 springs, could always have his say, even we believe him in function of luxury lieutenant. In addition, Team Ineos has Filippo Ganna, who as always will inflame the time trials (the undisclosed goal is to win the first pink jersey) and, based on what we saw at the northern classics, he could also aim for a stage with a breakaway from afar.
Bahrain will not deny its nature as a team of sappers: with Caruso, Haig, Buitrago and Gino Mader we can expect everything to enliven the race. They can afford attacks from afar to aspire to stage victories and take advantage of the work for the captains in view of the general classification. Caruso seems the destined leader, but if necessary there are Jack Haig and above all the emerging Colombian Santiago Buitrago, whose rising value is undeniable.
The other potential candidates for a place on the podium are Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe), Uran (EF Education), Joao Almeida (UAE-Emirates). A step below, but always in the top 10, we place our Fortunato (Eolo-Kometa), the eternal Pozzovivo (Israel-Premiertech) together with McNulty (UAE), Healy and Carthy (EF), Mollema (Trek-Segafredo). It will be the last presence on the roads of the Giro for Thibau Pinot, a champion who was never fully accomplished, but also loved by the Italians: we don't see the Frenchman in the first places in the general classification, but we would like him to win a stage.
As always, we will see adrenaline-pumping arrivals dominated by the sprinter teams. There isn't a reference sprinter superior to the others this year, so we will see a great battle between Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), Gaviria (Movistar), Ackermann (UAE) our Dainese (Team DSM), Consonni (Cofidis), Milan (Bahrain) and the emerging Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceukink) who could rise to dominance.
There are some athletes who have in their DNA the ability to break away and win, or give a jab in the last stretches of tough stages: among these, our preferences go to Kamna (Bora-Hansgrohe), Matthews (Team Jayco-Alula) , Vendrame and Paret-Paintre (AG2R), Oldani (Alpecin), Bettiol (EF Education First) and one of the many finisseurs of Astana, a team that, having no man in the standings and a Cavendish in decline, will try to win from afar: Luis Leon Sanchez, Simone Velasco, Samuele Battistella and we hope for a revived Gianni Moscon
The list of favorites for the final victory:
**** Roglic, Evenepoel
** Geoghegan Hart, Buitrago, Caruso, Thomas, Vlasov
* Uran, Healy, Almeida