A finely poised GC race
With both of the major pre-race favourites, Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), having dropped out of the race, the 2020 Giro d’Italia enters its second week as a wide-open affair with no clear favourite having yet emerged.
Despite an opening week that featured everything from mountain top finishes and a windy time trial to crosswind chaos and crashes, it remains very tight at the top of the general classification. Behind current pink jersey holder João Almeida (Deceuninck – Quick-Step), who retains a handy thirty second lead, the next ten riders on GC are separated by less than 30 seconds.
Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) and Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-McLaren) are currently second and third, mostly thanks to an unmarked attack on Mount Etna and strong showing in the time trial respectively, while just behind the veteran trio of Domenico Pozzovivo (NTT Pro Cycling), Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) lurk ominously.
Just behind them are a mixture of the experienced in Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) and Rafał Majka, plus his Bora-Hansgrohe teammate Patrick Konrad, and the inexperienced – Sunweb’s 24-year-old Jai Hindley and Lotto-Soudal’s Harm Vanhoucke.
The GC is likely to remain this close for most of this week too, with nothing on any of the stages between Tuesday and Friday likely to cause splits between them. Only during the weekend, which features the longest time trial in the race on Saturday and a mountain top finish on Sunday, will we begin to have a better idea of who’s going to win the pink jersey.
Almeida hanging on to pink
How long can João Almeida cling on to the pink jersey for? That was one of the main questions pondered over last week at the Giro d’Italia, and will continue to be asked as the race enters its second week.
The Portuguese rider first took the jersey after finishing second on the opening day time trial and finishing close behind the favourites on the Mount Etna summit finish two days later, and since then, despite losing a few seconds on yesterday’s mountainous stage in the Apennines, has maintained a healthy lead over his rivals.
There’s no reason to believe that he won’t remain in pink for most of this week. The only climbing during the first four days is of the punchy climb he has proven so adept at, while his performance on the opening day suggests that Saturday’s time trial will be an opportunity to gain time, rather than a threat of losing it.
Only Sunday’s trip into the Dolomites looks like a threat. The evidence so far is that Almeida is a little off the pace of the GC favourites in the harder mountains, and those small time losses might become bigger once fatigue begins to set in at this late stage of the race.
But at just 22-years-old, Almeida is of the age that no-one knows what his ceiling is, and if there’s one lesson to be learned from this season is that young riders should never be underestimated.
Sprinters and breakaway specialists fighting it out for stage wins
The riders still have a long way to travel northwards along the Adriatic coast before they reach the Dolomites, meaning there will be plenty of chances for sprinters and breakaway riders to chase after stage wins before the GC riders come to the fore.
Apart from stage eleven, which is pan flat and provides purer sprinters like Fernando Gaviria (UAE Emirates) and Elia Viviani (Cofidis) a chance to take something from what has so far been a fruitless Giro, all of the stages during the week could conceivably be one for the sprinters or the breakaway.
Stage ten is the most well-balanced of all, with several small but frequent climbs packed into the forty kilometres, while stage twelve’s relentlessly undulating parcours favouring attackers who can climb, and stage thirteen leaning towards sprinters, with just the two category four climbs in the final 35km.
These will all be stages that the red-hot Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) will be eyeing up to add to his already bountiful tally of three stage wins, while Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) will no doubt be persistent in trying to improve upon his three runner-up finishes so far. Michael Matthews (Sunweb) also appears to be coming into good form, and will relish in particular the hillier of these stages.
And there will be plenty of riders now far enough down on GC to go out on the attack and attempt to replicate what Alex Dowsett (Israel Start-Up Nation) did on Saturday and win from the breakaway. Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), especially, has an insatiable appetite for attacking, and is in good form.
A weekend of crucial GC stages
Stage fourteen’s time trial in Cesenatico is longer than both of the other time trials combined, and will therefore be one of the most pivotal stages of this year’s Giro.
Although its parcours is lumpy, this is no mountain time trial, and will therefore offer a great chance for the more time trial-orientated GC contenders to gain time over the climbers.
The results from the opening time trial were skewed somewhat by the changeable wind conditions, but if this one plays out in milder conditions, then expect to see the likes of Kelderman, Nibali and Kruijswijk gain time, while lighter riders like Majka and especially Pozzovivo struggle to limit their losses.
They’ll have a chance to strike back the following day, however, when the race reaches the Dolomites for the first time for stage fifteen. There are four climbs in total, with the hardest saved for last, with a finish at the Piancavallo.
Rated as a category one climb, the toughest slopes of this 14.5km mountain come towards the bottom of the climb, with gradients of over 9 per cent for most of its first half. This should make it an exciting affair, with riders making their attacks early on the climb rather than waiting until closer to the summit. Ahead of a very mountainous stage, it will be a taste of things to come as the race reaches its endgame.
The pink jersey battle taking shape
The GC candidates will spend most of the second week trying to stay out of trouble and not lose any time needlessly, but at the weekend the race between them will ignite.
So far, Wilco Kelderman and Jakob Fuglsang have looked the strongest in the mountains. On Mount Etna, Kelderman managed to break clear from the other GC candidates early on the climb, while Fuglsang put in several stinging attacks behind, and the pair were the first two riders from the peloton to reach the mountain top finish at Roccaraso yesterday.
However, both riders have in the past struggled to maintain such a high level throughout the whole three weeks of a Grand Tour — Kelderman has never finished on the podium, while Fuglsang has only once made the top ten. This weekend will be a stern test of whether they are capable of doing better this time.
By contrast, Steven Kruijswijk and especially Vincenzo Nibali have great Grand Tour credentials, and tend to come into their own towards the crucial back-end of the three weeks. Both haven’t quite looked their best so far, with Kruijswijk dropped multiple times on Mount Etna and both riders losing time yesterday, but still remain firmly in the mix. This weekend could see them emerge as the top two contenders.