What do we count as the biggest sporting day in Australia? Is it the AFL grand final? Maybe the NRL grand final? What about…
This week, the 105th Giro d’Italia begins when the starting gun fires in the Hungarian capital of Budapest.
After COVID-related issues forced race organisers to postpone the Hungarian start originally scheduled for 2020, it will mark the 14th time La Corsa Rosa has begun outside the host nation of Italy.
The first three days of racing are taking place in Hungary before an early rest day to prepare the 176 riders for 18 days of treacherous racing around the ‘bel paese’ (beautiful country).
This year’s route is a very intriguing one, featuring six true mountain stages with only four summit finishes. The riders will go beyond 2000 metres above sea level only once (on the penultimate stage 20).
Throw in another six hilly and seven flat stages to go with a total of 26.3 kilometres of time trialling (the fewest in any edition of the Giro since 1963 when there was exactly zero), and we have a parcours that potentially lends itself to our ‘super-puncheurs’ as opposed to the pure mountain men.
As per usual, the overall classification will be won (and lost) in the race’s final week, with four of the final seven stages fought out in the Italian mountains.
However, with an uncharacteristic summit finish as early as stage four (atop the famous Mt Etna), riders looking to build into this year’s edition will be found wanting if they’re lacking any condition.
The Giro will conclude with an individual time trial for the fourth consecutive year, this time a 17.1 kilometre lumpy race against the clock in the city of Verona.
Will the race have already been decided in the previous 3393 kilometres? Or will we need 17.1 more to decide who will be the 42nd man to win the 105th ‘maglia rosa’ (pink jersey)?
Before we delve into the contenders for this year’s race, let’s have a look at the Australians on the start line for the ‘grande partenza’ (great start).
There are a total of nine Australians at this year’s Giro, with some of them sure to attract plenty of attention from us bleary-eyed Australians watching a handful of time zones away on the other side of the globe.
Sprinter Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) will be ever-present in the races first two weeks as he jostles the bunch sprints, although ‘king Caleb’ is not expected to stick around for the race’s conclusion in Verona on May 29.
One man who will though is Richie Porte (INEOS Grenadiers). Porte will ride his 17th and final grand tour as lead support for the race favourite (more on him later).
Miles Scotson (Groupama FDJ) will form a critical cog in the lead-out for fast Frenchman Arnaud Demare, Jai Hindley, runner-up at the Giro two years ago, is back and leads an interesting trident at his new team BORA Hansgrohe, while Chris Hamilton (Team DSM) will ride in support of one of this year’s dark-horse contenders.
Callum Scotson, Damien Howson, Michael Hepburn and Lucas Hamilton will all feature for Australian outfit Team BikeExchange Jayco and support maglia rosa hopeful Simon Yates.
And now, to the contenders.
Team: UAE Team Emirates
Almeida became the first rider from the Iberian nation to wear a race leader’s jersey in a grand tour when he donned the famous maglia rosa for two weeks in 2020 before finishing fourth overall.
He lost a bunch of time in the first week last year, which ultimately doomed his chances, but he’s back with his new team of UAE Team Emirates this year to contend again.
Almeida has enjoyed his early life with UAE, finishing fifth at the UAE tour, eighth at Paris-Nice and third at Volta Catalunya in March.
He hasn’t raced since failing to finish at the Gran Premio Miguel Indurain on April 2, and so his form in the early stages will be intriguing to see.
Some might be surprised UAE picked Almeida for a race that doesn’t suit him with such little time trailing, but he’s a terrific, emerging general classification rider who is one of the favourites to be in pink when the peloton enters Italy for the first time on stage four.
Team: Team DSM
Bardet rode well at last year’s Giro d’Italia, looking particularly strong in the final two weeks, and eventually finishing seventh overall.
That was his first attempt at the Italian grand tour and the Frenchman is back again in 2022 with good form in his legs.
A ninth-placed finish at the UAE tour in February was followed by a 12th-placed finish at Tirreno Adriatico in March before recently claiming overall victory at the Tour of the Alps.
He hasn’t podiumed a grand tour since the 2017 Tour de France but his form is good compared to many of the other contenders and the parcours is favourable.
The only concern may be his DSM team being built to also contend for the points classification (with sprinters Cees Bol and Alberto Dianese both present) and therefore Bardet may not have the support of others in the Italian mountains.
Despite this, he looks like a rider who can win the race overall.
Team: INEOS Grenadiers
The winner of last year’s Olympic road race starts his third Giro d’Italia as the favourite among an interesting group of general classification hopefuls.
The winner of this race in 2019, Carapaz has only 20 race days to his name so far in 2022, so he comes into the first grand tour of the season fresh.
He won the penultimate stage at the Volta Catalunya in March before finishing second overall, allaying any fears that had arisen from the Ecuadorian’s earlier season form.
He will have a strong INEOS team for support as he rides the Giro for the first time since saluting in 2019.
Team: EF Education EasyPost
Carthy hasn’t been seen much this season, racing only 17 race days and most recently finishing ninth at Tour of the Alps.
The big Brit also raced at Volta Catalunya in March, finishing a disappointing 27th on roads where he normally flourishes.
This year’s Giro will be Carthy’s tenth grand tour and his fifth Giro (with a best placed finish of eighth last year).
He hasn’t been able to recapture the form that saw him ride to an excellent third at the Vuelta Espana in 2020, but if he can rediscover such form over the next three weeks he’s not without a shout of a podium place again.
Team: Jumbo Visma
After stepping away from cycling for a period of time last year, Dutchman Dumoulin returns to lead Jumbo Vismo at his first grand tour since the Vuelta Espana of 2020.
Dumoulin, winner of this race in 2017, is a peculiar pick as leader given he’s barely raced this season. He hasn’t been seen since Amstel Gold on April 10. And the parcours doesn’t exactly suit him with so few time trial kilometres.
Despite this, he does have a great track record at the Giro, finishing second in 2018 after his aforementioned victory in 2017, although he has failed to finish two of his previous four attempts at the race.
He’ll need to find his climbing legs quickly, but his best is definitely good enough. A top-ten finish would be seen as a success.
Team: BORA Hansgrohe
The German team BORA Hansgrohe haven’t had a great season, and so it’s strange to see them go with Kelderman as the team’s leader for the biggest stage race of the season to date.
The Dutchman hasn’t raced much this season. His best result came on stage four at Tirreno Adriatico, finishing eighth. Kelderman eventually finished 19th overall.
He last raced at Liège-Bastogne-Liège where he failed to finish and will lead the line for BORA, who also have German Emanuel Buchmann and 2020 runner-up Jai Hindley at the team’s disposal.
Kelderman did finish fifth at the Tour de France last year and third behind current teammate Hindley at the Giro in 2020, but the 31-year-old doesn’t come into the race with great expectations, which could ultimately work in his favour.
Team: Bahrain Victorious
The veteran Spaniard will be on the start line for his 17th grand tour and his seventh participation in the Giro d’Italia.
It’s interesting to note Landa hasn’t been named as the leader for Bahrain Victorious, instead the form team of the world tour peloton has gone with fellow Spaniard Pello Bilbao.
Regardless, Landa – who disappointingly crashed out on stage five here last year – will have a big say on the pointy end of the general classification come the last week of the race.
The likeable Landa has only podiumed a grand tour once – at this race in 2015 – but if he’s going to win a grand tour in his career, it’s going to be on a parcours like this due to his poor capabilities against the clock.
He finished third at Tirreno Adriatico and 11th at Tour of the Alps more recently.
Miguel Angel Lopez
Team: Astana Qazaqstan Team
Superman Lopez crossed back to Astana from Movistar in the offseason after a miserable 2021 at the Spanish team culminated in Lopez abandoning the Vuelta Espana under interesting circumstances (we’ll call it disagreeing with team tactics).
The Colombian’s form hasn’t been great, although he did win at the Tour of the Alps recently when he looked impressive, taking victory from Frenchman Thibout Pinot in the final kilometres on stage four.
It looks like he’s building for a race such as this, with a parcours that will favour his skill set. There is lots of climbing with little time trialling.
He has failed to finish his last three grand tours but had six straight top-ten finishes prior to that. He should be considered a genuine podium chance.
The Frenchman they call the ‘philosopher’ rides his seventh grand tour, although he’s a debutant as far as the Giro d’Italia is concerned.
He finished in the top ten in both the Tour de France (eighth) and Vuelta Espana (ninth) last year and brings handy form into the race, having secured top-ten finishes at Paris-Nice (ninth) and Volta Catalunya (eighth) in March.
He is another who will like the terrain and might come into podium calculations given the parity at the top among the contenders.
Team: Team BikeExchange Jayco
Yates will be at the start line for his fifth consecutive Giro d’Italia, having participated in every edition since 2018.
Yates often enters this race as one of the top favourites, but he would surely have to fancy himself this year with all of the top general classification riders (namely Tadej Pogačar, Primož Roglič and Egan Bernal) absent from the race, and the fact it is a tough parcours.
He finished second at Paris-Nice earlier this year and interestingly raced earlier this week in the continental level race Vuelta Asturias Julio Alvarez Mendo to get more kilometres into the legs.
He is a real chance to add the Giro d’Italia to his victory at the Vuelta Espana in 2018.
Team: Bahrain Victorious
Bilbao forms arguably the race’s best one-two punch with compatriot Mikel Landa for Bahrain Victorious.
He’s been in tremendous form this season, finishing third at the UAE tour, ninth at Tirreno Adriatico, fifth at Basque Country and fourth at Tour of the Alps with an impressive fifth-place finish at Strade Bianche thrown in.
He finished 13th here last year but will surely better that placing this time around.
Team: BORA Hansgrohe
The German was looking great at his debut Giro before crashing out on stage 15 last year.
He hasn’t looked great this year, with his best result being a sixth-placed finish on stage five of the pro level stage race Vuelta Andalucia.
He’s a talented climber, and if he finds his legs as we move through the race, he could become a podium threat. But the former fourth-place finisher at the Tour de France is a genuine unknown.
Team: Trek Segafredo
Ciccone, who won the king of the mountain classification here in 2019, was sitting pretty in fourth position before crashing on stage 16 last year and eventually abandoning the race two days later.
He has failed to finish his previous two Giros and will look to better his best effort of 16th in 2019. Ciccone is the home nation’s best hope of an overall win although a top-five finish would be seen as a huge success.
Team: BORA Hansgrohe
The man from Perth rode a thrilling race in 2020, finishing second after Brit Tao Geoghegan Hart pinched the pink jersey from him on the final stage time trial.
He abandoned the race last year but returns with decent form, having finished fifth at Tirreno Adriatico and 13 at Volta Catalunya in March.
Watch to see how his new team for 2022 uses him alongside Buchmann and official leader Kelderman.
Team: Astana Qazaqstan Team
Returning for the team, which he rode for when he won the Giro d’Italia in 2013 and 2016, Nibali will lead Astana in his 11th (and potentially final) home grand tour.
He has raced primarily below the world tour level this season and doesn’t have the legs these days sadly, so he may look to simply cease stage opportunities, allowing the man they call ‘the shark’ to go out with a bang.
Team: INEOS Grenadiers
Porte’s 17th grand tour and fourth Giro participation will come as support for team leader Richard Carapaz.
He hasn’t ridden the Giro since 2015 (when he failed to finish) and brings typical solid form into the race after finishing seventh at the Tour of the Alps.
A top-ten finish is not out of the question given he’ll be expected to go deep into the mountains with Carapaz.
Only two riders on the start line have won the king of the mountain classification at the Giro d’Italia previously: Giulio Ciccone (Trek Segafredo) and Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious).
Frenchman Geoffrey Bouchard (AG2R Citroën Team) won the jersey last year, though he is not on the start line of this year’s race.
Given the mountainous nature of grand tours, it’s likely the winner of this classification will also contend heavily for the maglia rosa.
Excluding the names listed above, some other names to watch in the battle for this jersey include Belgian Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), Dutchmen Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious) and Bauke Mollema (Trek Segafredo), German Lennard Kamna (BORA Hansgrohe), local hopeful Lorenzo Fortunato (EOLO-Kometa) and Austrian Felix Gall (AG2R Citroën Team).
In the classification for the sprinters, there looks set to be seven stages that should end in some form of bunch sprint (reduced or otherwise).
With intermediate sprints in between, there will be plenty of opportunities for the fast men to open the throttle and go all out for one of the most beautiful jerseys in world cycling: the ciclamino jersey.
The question is, with such a difficult final week on offering, who of the main fast men will be left to claim it by race’s end?
There are three riders on the start line who have won the jersey before: evergreen Brit Mark Cavendish (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl), Colombian Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) and two-time winner and local boy Giacomo Nizzolo (Israel – Premier Tech).
While Australian Caleb Ewan is the likely favourite this year, there are some interesting contenders for the Aussie, namely Dutch phenom Matheiu Van Der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), Frenchman Arnaud Demare (Groupama FDJ), rising African prospect Biniam Girmay (Intermarché Wanty Gobert), Dane Magnus Cort (EF Education EasyPost), Dutchman Cees Bol (Team DSM), German Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain Victorious) and locals Alberto Dainese (Team DSM) and Simone Consonni (Cofidis).
For this particular classification, it’s impossible to know which riders will bail early and which will stay. It could be a case of last man standing for the points classification.
This award is simply for the best rider in the general classification under the age of 25. For context, both of the previous two winners of the Giro d’Italia have also claimed the white jersey as best young rider (Colombian Egan Bernal in 2021 and Brit Tao Geoghegan Hart in 2020).
Of the main contenders listed above, only Joao Almeida is eligible for this classification.
Other young riders to look out for include Brit Ben Tulett and Russian Pavel Sivakov (both from INEOS Grenadiers), Norwegian Tobias Foss (Jumbo-Visma), Dutchman Thymen Arensman (Team DSM), Spaniard Juan Pedro Lopez and Dane Mattias Skjelmose (both from Trek Segafredo) and Hungarian Attila Valta (Groupama FDJ).
1. Richard Carapaz (INEOS Grenadiers)
2. Joao Almeida (Team UAE Emirates)
3. Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana Qazaqstan Team)
4. Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange Jayco)
5. Romain Bardet (Team DSM)
6. Giulio Ciccone (Trek Segafredo)
7. Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious)
8. Guillaume Martin (Cofidis)
9. Mattias Skjelmose (Trek Segafredo)
10. Richie Porte (INEOS Grenadiers)
King of the mountain: Lennard Kamna (BORA Hansgrohe)
Points classification: Biniam Girmay (Intermarché Wanty Gobert)
Best young rider: Joao Almeida (Team UAE Emirates)