What do we count as the biggest sporting day in Australia? Is it the AFL grand final? Maybe the NRL grand final? What about Melbourne Cup?
After the COVID-19 pandemic forced the 2020 edition out of its usual spot in early May and transplanted it into October, the Giro d’Italia is back in its rightful place as the opening grand tour of the season, and the 104th edition of the race is sure to torment every one of its 184 participants.
With a relatively straightforward 8.6km time trial to kick things off in Turin, riders will then face a hellish next three weeks that will include seven mountain stages, featuring six summit finishes, and eight hilly stages, including gravel sections that will be sure to spice up the second week of the race, plus five clear-cut chances for the sprinters, with the race to be bookended by races against the clock.
With so much time in the mountains to come over the next three weeks, it’s a formality one of the climbers will wear the maglia rosa (pink jersey) into Milan on stage 21, but who will it be? Let’s have a look at the contenders for this year’s race, starting in our own backyard.
There are a total of eight Australian riders on the start list at this year’s Giro, with a couple of them set to play a big role in the race.
All eyes will be on Jai Hindley (Team DSM), who is seen as Australia’s best general classification hopeful after finishing second last year, only conceding the pink jersey on the final stage time trial. Hindley will be joined by fellow countrymen Chris Hamilton and Michael Storer at DSM.
Caleb Ewan is here to ride his fourth Giro d’Italia having not finished his previous three attempts and will have his eyes on the points classification – the famed cyclamen jersey.
Michael Hepburn, Nick Schultz, Callum Scotson and current national champion Cameron Meyer will all have the huge task of riding in support of arguably the race favourite, Team BikeExchange teammate Simon Yates.
These are the contenders for the pink jersey, in alphabetical order.
Team: Deceuninck – Quick Step
The emerging Portuguese climber returns to the grand tour in which he made a name for himself last year, holding the pink leaders jersey for 15 days before fading on the final weekend of the race. Almeida is back with unfinished business, bringing great form to this year’s Giro after finishing well inside the top ten at all three stage races he’s participated in – including looking particularly strong at Tirreno-Adriatico, where he finished sixth. Of the genuine general classification hopefuls, Almeida is by far the strongest time trialist, so he won’t mind the 38.4 time-trial kilometres this year’s route has to offer – though he probably would prefer more. With a time trial on stage one to be followed by quite a lumpy first week, Almeida should be the first of the favourites to wear the pink jersey on his back. He would be the first Portuguese rider to win a grand tour should he be the quickest to Milan.
Team: INEOS Grenadiers
The 2019 Tour de France winner hasn’t raced since Tirreno-Adriatico in March, where he managed to finish a terrific fourth – 41 seconds ahead of Almeida and three and a half minutes ahead of Simon Yates. The quietly spoken, killer mountain climber has admitted his desire to get back to his form that saw him become the first South American to win the tour, and he comes to his first Giro to ride a par course that will suite him to a tee. The time trials may worry him a little, but there’s more than enough time spent in the Italian mountains to put paid to the riders who put time into him against the clock. Bernal and Team INEOS have been uncharacteristically aggressive through the early part of the racing calendar, so it will be interesting to see how they attack the first grand tour of the year.
Team: EF Education – Nippo
The likeable Brit was probably the most consistent rider at the Vuelta España last year, where he won on the famous brutal climb up the Angliru before eventually finishing third overall – only 1:15 behind winner Primoz Roglic. He brings solid if not spectacular form to Italy, finishing 12th at Itzulia Basque Country and fifth at the Tour of the Alps recently, but it’s his time trialing that might be of concern the most. Carthy has pulled out some decent efforts against the clock in grand tours previously, but his two efforts this season in the Volta Catalunya and Itzulia Basque Country – where he lost the best part of a minute to most of his main rivals – left a lot to be desired. He can climb with the best of them, and he’d be a popular winner, but the lanky Lancashire man would likely need a large buffer heading into the final 29.4km time trial into Milan to stand any chance.
Team: Deceuninck – Quick Step
The fact the 21-year-old Belgian has been picked as team co-leader for the Giro despite not racing for almost nine months and never having ridden a grand tour previously says a lot. The precocious Evenepoel is the next big thing in world cycling, but the world unfortunately hasn’t seen the prodigious talent since a bad crash in Lombardia last August. It’s tough to expect much from him after such a long time absent from competitive cycling, but then again, he’s special. Deceuninck, normally a stage-hunting team, have sent an incredibly strong team of riders to this year’s Giro and will boast a genuine one-two punch with Evenepoel and Almeida. Evenepoel would be the first Belgian to win the race since Johan De Muynck in 1978 if the young superstar were to do so.
Team: Bahrain – Victorious
A perennial general classification contender, Landa will ride his sixth Giro d’Italia having twice finished in the top five in his five previous efforts. Landa’s best finish at the Giro come in 2015 when he finished third, helped by back-to-back stage victories in stages 15 and six, while he also won the mountains classification two years later. The issue for Landa is, and always has been, his abilities on the time-trial bike, although the moderate 38.4km should be manageable. Landa brings typical strong climbing form into the Giro, having joined Tadej Pogacar and Wout Van Aert on the podium at Tirreno-Adriatico before finishing eighth at Itzulia Basque Country. If the Spaniard can limit his losses against the clock and turn the screw in the mountains, he’s in with a huge shot.
Team: Israel Start-Up Nation
He is another rider who rode a terrific race in Spain last year at the Vuelta to finish fourth and claim his best grand tour result. Martin actually has a great list of career wins to his name, though he’s never finished on the podium at a grand tour – surprising for such an accomplished rider. He does have three top-ten finishes at the Tour to his name, with two now at the Vuelta after last year’s fourth place. He’s only raced at the Giro twice before – finishing 57th in 2010 and failing to finish in 2014 after his team failed to make the time limit after the opening stage team time trial – and doesn’t bring too much form into the 2021 edition. The Irishman did finish third and fourth on tricky stages at the Tour of the Alps two weeks ago but will need to recapture his form from late last season to be in with a chance his time around.
Team: Team BikeExchange
He enters the race this year as one of the bookies’ favourites for good reason. The Brit has looked one of the strongest riders in the peloton since struggling on stage two of Tirreno-Adriatico. He was the only rider to get near Tadej Pogacar on a difficult stage four on the Prati di Tivo before looking a class above at the Tour of the Alps. He has encountered some bad luck at this race before – being forced to abandon last year’s race one week in after contracting COVID and falling away badly on the final weekend in 2018 after wearing the leaders jersey for two weeks. The former Vuelta España winner’s time trialing can be hit and miss, but the climbing form he’s in should be able to mask over any time trial cracks that appear. A Simon Yates victory would mean consecutive victories for Britain and three in four years for a nation that hadn’t had a rider win the race until Chris Froom saluted in 2018.
Team: Astana – Premier Tech
Vlasov took great form into his debut grand tour last year but succumbed to a stomach bug, which saw him pull out of the Giro on stage two. The climbing sensation from Russia brings perhaps even better form to this year’s edition after finishing on the podium at both Paris-Nice – second – and the Tour of the Alps – third. While his debut grand tour in Italy didn’t go to plan in 2020, Vlasov tried his hand at the Vuelta a couple of weeks later, finishing a very honourable 11th. Vlasov is a reasonable time trialist also, finishing just 22 seconds behind Swiss Stefan Bissegger on a tough 14km course at Paris-Nice earlier this year. He might not have the reputation or pro wins under the belt like some others at the race do, but Vlasov has the form and ability to be one of the dark horses of this year’s Giro d’Italia.
Team: Team DSM
The two-time podium finisher at the Tour de France and king of the mountain will suit up for his first Giro d’Italia. Bardet hasn’t been in bad form, finishing inside the top ten at both stage races he’s partaken in so far in 2021 – eighth at Tirreno-Adriatico, ninth at the Tour of the Alps. What the Giro holds for Bardet will depend on Team DSM’s tactics for the race.
Nationality: New Zealand
With most of the team’s focus placed squarely on Primoz Roglic and the Tour de France, Jumbo-Visma have sent its team built around the Kiwi national champion to the Giro. Bennett’s not a great time trialist, but he is a very capable climber, exhibited by his eight place finish at this race in 2018. The Dutch team will likely treat the race as a free hit before turning its attention to the Pyrenees.
Team: Bahrain – Victorious
Bilbao will play second fiddle to team leader Landa, but the case could be made for Bilbao who brings better form to the race having finished second at the Tour of the Alps two weeks ago – including winning a stage. The Spaniard also finished sixth at Itzulia Basque Country and after finishing fifth at the Giro last time out he could be one to watch.
Team: BORA – Hansgrohe
The German hasn’t been able to build on his impressive fourth place finish at the Tour in 2019 and has barely raced since the Tour last year, racing only the UAE Tour, Strade Bianche and Itzulia Basque Country. Buchmann will ride the Giro for the first time in his career and will be aided by a typically strong BORA team – including Austrian Felix Großschartner who himself finished inside the top ten at last year’s Vuelta España. No German has ever won the Giro d’Italia.
Team: Team DSM
The young West Australian almost shocked the world by winning the Giro at his first attempt last season. Hindley rode into Milan in the time trial on stage 21 in pink but unfortunately couldn’t fend off eventual winner Tao Geoghegan Hart. He hasn’t had the best lead in, finishing 18th at Paris-Nice before being forced to abandon both the Volta Catalunya and the Tour of the Alps. Realistically, another top-ten finish would be a great result for the Aussie.
Team: Deceuninck – Quick Step
The third Deceuninck-Quick Step rider on this list, Masnada enters his fourth Giro d’Italia as one of the form riders. However, Masnada – who finished ninth here last year – will instead act as one of the lead domestiques for Deceuninck’s two main hopefuls – Evenepoel and Almeida. It’s a bit of a shame, with Masnada building form nicely into the Giro after finishing third at the Tour de Romandie earlier this week. He’s probably the home nation’s best chance, but he’ll be busy riding for others in 2021.
Team: INEOS Grenadiers
Martinez was courted by INEOS from EF Education-Nippo in the offseason to be countrymen Egan Bernal’s right-hand man in these three-week stage races. Both Martinez and Russian teammate Pavel Sivakov will act as domestiques/fall-back options should anything untoward happen to Bernal, though it’s Martinez, winner of the Criterium du Dauphine last year, who could lay claim to top-five finish himself if let loose.
Team: Trek – Segafredo
The two-time Giro d’Italia winner – and the only former winner on this year’s start list – suits up to ride the Giro only four weeks after fracturing his wrist in a training crash. His seventh-place finish at last year’s race snapped an incredible streak of six straight podium finishes at the Giro for Lo Squalo (the shark). Nibali has made his doubters look silly before, but it would take an extraordinary effort from the 36-year-old to win his third maglia rosa given the level of competition and less-than-ideal preparation.
Soler enters his first Giro d’Italia as team leader for Movistar off the back of decent form shown at the Tour de Romandie earlier this week, where he won a stage before finishing fourth overall. Other than that, the Spaniard doesn’t have too much exposed form to go off – finishing 11th at Tirreno-Adriatico and 76th at Volta Catalunya. He likely won’t win, but it will make for a tantalising next instalment of Movistar’s next Netflix mini-series.
Five of the previous six Giro king of the mountain winners will partake in this year’s event: the previous two winners – Ruben Guerreiro from EF Education Nippo and Giulio Ciccone from Trek-Segafredo – as well as 2017 winner Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious), 2016 winner Mikel Nieve (Team BikeExchange) and 2015 triumphant Giovanni Visconti (Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè).
Given the mountainous nature of the route right up until the final time trial into Milan, it is entirely possible one of the eventual podium finishes bags the maglia azzurra (blue jersey) as well.
Some of the other names to look out for in the mountains include: Frenchman Geoffrey Bouchard (AG2R Citroën Team), Colombian Jefferson Cepeda (Androni Giocattoli Sidermec), Frenchman Nicolas Edet (Cofidis), Italian Matteo Giulio Ciccone (Trek – Segafredo) and breakaway artist Belgian Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal).
Points classification (cyclamen jersey)
Like the Tour de France, the Giro’s points classification is weighted in favour of the sprinters. With five true sprint stages – plus potentially two more – on hand, it’s likely the beautiful cyclamen jersey will adorn one of the Giro’s fast men.
It has to be said, this year’s group of contenders is not all that deep. Aussie Caleb Ewan should be seen as one of the frontrunners, alongside Slovakian Peter Sagan (BORA – Hansgrohe), who hasn’t looked too bad since returning after contracting COVID earlier this year.
Other contenders to watch include: two-time winner and Italian Giacomo Nizzolo (Team Qhubeka ASSOS), 2017 winner Fernando Gaviria (UAE-Team Emirates), 2018 winner Elia Viviani (Cofidis), Belgian Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix), Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) and Italian Matteo Moschetti (Trek – Segafredo).
Young riders classification
The young riders classification – the white jersey – is simply awarded to the rider best placed on the overall standings under the age of 25 (born after January 1, 1996).
Of the contenders listed above, Almeida, Bernal, Evenepoel and Vlasov are all eligible for the white jersey. Other names to consider include: Russian Pavel Sivakov and Colombian Daniel Martinez (INEOS Grenadiers), Aussie Jai Hindley (Team DSM), Frenchman Clément Champoussin (AG2R Citroën Team) and Norwegian Tobias Foss (Jumbo-Visma).
1. Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange)
2. Mikel Landa (Bahrain – Victorious)
3. Egan Bernal (INEOS Grenadiers)
4. Joao Almeida (Deceuninck – Quick Step)
5. Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana)
6. Hugh Carthy (EF Education – Nippo)
7. Pello Bilbao (Bahrain – Victorious)
8. Fausto Masnada (Deceuninck – Quick Step)
9. George Bennett (Jumbo Visma)
10. Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck – Quick Step)
King of the Mountains jersey: Giulio Ciccone (Trek – Segafredo)
Points classification: Peter Sagan (BORA – Hansgrohe)
Young riders classification: Egan Bernal (INEOS Grenadiers)