After a rest day on Monday, the Giro d'Italia 2022 peloton rolls on into its second week.
The next six days of racing open with a flat 100 kilometres along the eastern coast of Italy for half of the route, however, the battle will continue as punchy climbs rear their head in the second half of Tuesday's parcours.
The Giro d'Italia 2022 route then offers up a flat stage to Reggio Emilia, representing an opportunity for the sprinters, before more hills en route to Genova on Thursday.
The sprinters could shine once again on Friday, with the Cueno plain sure to yield a fast finish. Then, the final two days ahead of Monday's rest day will represent a challenge - with hills to Torino on Saturday, then a mountain top finish in Cogne on Sunday's stage 15.
Here's what to expect...
Caution or aggression in the GC battle?
The second week of the Giro begins with an intriguingly unusual scenario playing out at the top of the general classification in the Giro 2022 standings.
The climb of Blockhaus at the end of last week was supposed to be the big day in the race for the pink jersey, where a favourite emerged and only a few others retained a genuine chance of dethroning him. Instead, six riders crossed the line at the top of the mountain together, with another six arriving within 1-08 behind them, leaving the top half a dozen on GC separated by less than a minute and a half.
This leaves the many riders still in GC contention facing a tantalising dilemma as to whether they should approach the second week with caution, or aggressively?
On one hand, the closeness of the time gaps may make riders reluctant to over-commit. Whereas big, bold moves come with a high risk of losing minutes and tumbling down the tight classification, riding conservatively by conserving energy and following wheels is a safer way to remain in contention come the third week, when all of the hardest and really decisive stages will take place.
Then again, with so little to choose between them all, some may conclude that this Giro may be decided by minimal gains, and therefore try everything that can to take advantage in whatever terrain they can.
There aren’t many opportunities for gaining time during the week, with only a few small hills towards the end of stage ten and rolling terrain throughout stage twelve offering any kind of springboard for attacks.
But the race for the pink jersey could really come to life during the weekend. Saturday’s short circuit stage at Torino offers exactly the kind of intensive climbing that can see a race blow to bits should a GC rider and their team attempt an ambush, while Sunday features two category one climbs prior to a less difficult summit finish, which could prompt early attacks.
Multiple riders still in the race for pink
So which of the riders amassed just behind Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo) on GC are most likely to take the race on this week?
As the three more impressive climbers on Blockhaus, Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious) and Romain Bardet (DSM) may want to make hay while the sun shines.
Carapaz is an instinctively attacking rider, and his inability to drop the others on Blockhaus might induce Ineos Grenadiers to use their powerful climbing domestiques to hatch a more elaborate plan to try and gain time, with early moves rather than waiting for the final climb.
Landa too loves attacking on instinct, but might hold back to give the injuries sustained after his crash on stage ten time to heal, while Bardet will be keenly aware of the need to gain time before the final stage time trial.
In second-place on GC at just twelve seconds down, João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) is currently the best placed of the containers behind López, especially considering that he can expect to gain time in the final day time trial. That might suggest he’ll ride more defensively, especially considering how deep he had to dig to not get dropped on Blockhaus, but the Portuguese rider packs a real punch on short uphill efforts, so may want to gain ground on the comparatively easier climbs this week compared to the tougher challenges awaiting in the final week.
Despite being dropped with Almeida earlier on the climb, Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) won the sprint for the stage at the top of Blockhaus, putting himself right in contention for the pink jersey that he so narrowly missed out on winning two years ago. With Emanuel Buchmann also still right up there in ninth at 1-09, Bora-Hansgrohe have the numbers to ride an aggressive race if they want to; likewise, Bahrain-Victorious could use Pello Bilbao (tenth at 1-22) as a foil, so long as he’s recovered from his nasty-looking injuries.
Perhaps the rider most likely to ride defensively is Lopez himself as he continues to defend the pink jersey, although even he might sense a chance to slip clear should he sense the other contenders still don't see him as a genuine threat to hold on to pink all the way to Verona.
Renewal of the sprinting showdown
The battle of the sprinters that was postponed following stage six as the race entered hillier terrain is set to be renewed this week, with two likely bunch finishes on stages 11 and 13.
Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) came out of that stage as the man to beat, sealing consecutive stage wins, just as he did during the first week of the 2020 Giro as part of his four-stage haul.
A third win won’t come easily, however. Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) knuckled down and clambered his way through the first week despite an opening day crash, and looked to be in form as he finished second on stage six.
You still sense that the Australian could have the beating of Demare and every other sprinter, if only he could get a clear run-in to the line. Aside from his early abandonment from last year’s Tour de France, Ewan has won stages in all six of his last Grand Tour appearances — surely he’s going to win a sprint at some point?
After his win in the first bunch sprint, it looked like Mark Cavendish (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) was set for another huge haul of sprint wins as in past Grand Tours. But things haven’t gone quite to plan since, with him being dropped out of contention on stage five, and beaten fair and square by Demare on stage six. However, with two more stages on offer this week, that haul could still materialise.
Those are the three most likely riders in the bunch sprints, but Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) shouldn’t be written off having already registered second and third place finishes, while Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) and Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain-Victorious) could spring a surprise.
Maglia Ciclamino contest heats up
After a subdued opening week as the sprinters sussed out whether or not it’s worth going for the contest for the Maglia Ciclamino will ignite this week.
At present, it’s shaping up to be a two-horse race. Arnaud Demare is streaking ahead with a total of 147 points, and Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) trails by 27 points, while every other rider is at least another 40 points adrift.
Given how he has finished ahead of Girmay in all of the flat sprint finishes, Demare is expected to extend his lead on stages 11 and 13, but Girmay’s much superior climbing will hold him in good stead.
With this in mind, stage ten could be very important. There are enough hills for Demare to be dropped, so if Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux control the breakaway to set up Girmay for a sprint finish, then Girmay could make serious inroads.
Likewise, it’s not impossible he could score points on the hilly terrain of stage 12, either from a breakaway or from the bunch, while Demare might possibly even be dropped on the hills of stage 13.
The points classification isn’t necessarily going to come down to these two riders. Currently in third-place with 78 points, Mark Cavendish (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) would come back into contention if he wins the two flat stages.
And what are Mathieu van der Poel’s intentions? The Alpecin-Fenix rider hasn’t been making a point of chasing points at the intermediate sprints, but if he turns his attention towards doing so, he could score points in all terrain, from the bunch sprints to the hilly stages.
If the Dutchman is in the mood, he could entertain us royally by chasing the points, and the 75 point deficit to Demare could come down very quickly.
Nibali looking to go out on a high
Vincenzo Nibali’s announcement that he will retire at the end of the season makes the rest of this Giro d’Italia an emotional farewell tour for the two-time winner of the race.
The Italian has a sense of the romantic, and will surely want to bid goodbye to the Giro with something special — specifically, an eighth career Giro stage win.
A rider like him is liable to spring an attack at any moment, so we shouldn’t write him off from winning any stage with even the mildest of climbs (or, remembering his notorious downhill skills, descents). But it’s the mountainous tests at the weekend that are best suited to him, and we can expect him to go on the attack here rather than leave it to the final week.
How Nibali goes about winning that stage might be complicated, given that he’s still only 3-04 down on GC in thirteenth place. Despite being dropped early on Mount Etna, he was one of the best performers on Blockhaus, where he was the eighth rider to cross the line.
Getting into the breakaway will therefore be difficult, as he will still be seen as a potential GC threat.
That won’t be a problem for the likes of Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco), Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo), who are all now over ten minutes down. If they can overcome the problems that saw them lose so much time on Blockhaus, they could animate the breaks of the climbing stages and chase stage wins.
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