What will Mitchelton-Scott’s strategy be?
Mitchelton-Scott could hardly have enjoyed a better first week of the Giro. Their star men, Simon Yates and Esteban Chaves, between them won the race’s first two summit finishes, and now hold both first and second overall in the GC.
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The team have already looked imperious in the three days they’ve defended the pink jersey, with Mikel Nieve, Roman Kreuziger and Jack Haig all impressing in the mountains and Chris Juul Jensen, Sam Bewley and veteran Svein Tuft taking care of the flatter terrain.
Overall victory now looks a very real possibility for the team, but they may have to face up to some potential dilemmas their current situation could produce. Having two cards to play in the GC has many advantages, but could force them to make some difficult decisions – if Yates is at any point dropped, for instance, should Chaves hold back and help him, or ride on for himself?
Then there’s also the looming threat of inner-team rivalry. Both have always come across as great team players, Yates with his laid back, down to earth attitude and Chaves with his graciousness, but the longer they remain so close together at the top of GC, the more their competitive instincts and desire threaten to make things tense.
Can Froome get back into contention?
Not many riders recover from losing over two and a half minutes and two crashes in the first week to emerge as overall winner of a Grand Tour, but Chris Froome (Team Sky) isn’t ready to throw the towel in just yet.
After losing over a minute yesterday, Froome cited the pain on his right side from his two crashes as the reason for some of his troubles, meaning we could see an upturn in fortunes in time should the pain subside.
Fortunately for him, the four stages that follow today’s rest day are benign in terms of GC potential, giving him the best part of a week to recover and get back up to speed.
The stage that will really determine whether he has a chance of turning things around will be Saturday’s and its finish atop the Zoncolan. If Froome shows signs of improvement, it’s game on; if he is again off the pace, any hopes for overall victory will more than likely be over.
Can Bennett beat Viviani again?
Just when it looked as though Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) was going to be impossible to beat in the bunch sprints for the next few weeks, Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) emerged from his wheel to win stage seven’s sprint in Praia a Mare.
That was the Irishman’s long-awaited first Grand Tour stage win, and, having finally got that first win off his back, he could be set to add to his account.
There will be opportunities for bunch sprints during the second week, although it’s difficult to predict exactly how many. Stage 13 seems to be the only banker, with stages 10 and 12 looking as though they could swing either way between the sprinters or escapees, the former featuring rolling roads, and the latter an intriguingly positioned category four climb just 7.5km from the finish.
Viviani remains the favourites, but with Jakub Mareczko (Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia) having abandoned, and Sacha Modolo (EF Education First) and Niccolo Bonifazio (Bahrain-Merida) not looking quite as quick, Bennett will continue to be the man to challenge him.
Chances for breakaways to succeed
One aspect that stands out from the first week was the lack of success of any breakaways.
Chaves’ win from the large group that got away on stage six was the only winner from the day’s early break so far; aside from Richard Carapaz’s (Movistar) late attack to win stage eight, every other road stage came down to a sprint, be it flat or uphill.
Escapees ought to have more success during the second week. As riders tire and team sizes reduce through abandonments, the odds begin to swing more in their favour, and the rolling terrain of stages ten and eleven look particularly conducive.
Look out for Italian riders eager to win on home roads to populate the breaks. Giulio Ciccone (Bardiani CSF) has looked very good on the hills and is far enough down on GC (33-47) to be allowed up the road; Fausto Masnada (Androni) impressed yesterday and will likely be back for more having not been awarded with a stage win; and the likes of Giovanni Visconti (Bahrain-Merida) and Valerio Conti (UAE Emirates) are perennial populators of Grand Tour breaks, both of whom will be desperate for stage wins.
Undoubtedly the highlight of the second week, and possibly of the whole race, will be Saturday’s finish at Monte Zoncolan.
Described by many as the hardest mountain in Europe, the Zoncolan and its almost incomprehensible steep gradients and virtual lack of any respite over its 10km has unfailingly produced thrilling encounters in its previous five appearances at the Giro.
The previous two summit finishes have seen the favourites finish either together or just a matter of seconds away from each other, to the extent that the top five on GC – Yates, Chaves, Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb), Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida) – all still lie within a minute of each other.
The Zoncolan will make a mockery of such small time gaps – expect riders to reach the top in ones and twos, and a substantial upheaval in the GC that will reveal who really are the strongest riders at this race.
The five climbs that make up the following day’s stage to Sappada will also be an important GC stage, but it’s the Zoncolan where most of week two’s drama will be concentrated.