Five tackle the Alps: Quintet separated by 61 seconds heading into Giro d'Italia final week

Carapaz, Hindley, Almeida, Landa and Pozzovivo all in contention for pink

Giro d'Italia
(Image credit: Getty Images)

This time last week, we were salivating over the prospect of a Giro d'Italia general classification battle for the ages, as 12 riders were separated by just 90 seconds on the second rest day.

Seven days later, and while the list of contenders for the final maglia rosa might have slimmed down a bit, thanks mostly to an incredibly hard stage 14, there are still five riders separated by just 1-01 at the top of the leaderboard.

Not a lot happened on Sunday, but that is fine, more will happen, I promise.

With six stages still to come, and with four of those being hard mountain stages, the battle for pink is far from over. Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) might currently hold the lead, but Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe), João Almeida (UAE-Team Emirates) and Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious) certainly all have designs on winning the Giro, and Domenico Pozzovivo (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) can't be ruled out, and his staying power is something to be admired.

The Giro has been especially good at keeping the race for the overall title in recent years, keeping the suspense going right until the very end, the final time trial. This is different, however. The last time five riders were within 1-01 of each other after stage 15 was in 1981, 41 years ago. Not even Pozzovivo was alive then.

Of course, even stranger things can happen at the Giro. Six years ago, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana-Qazaqstan) was 2-51 behind then GC leader Steven Kruijswijk on the final rest day. This time around, Nibali is 2-58 behind Carapaz. The fairytale ending for Lo Squalo is unlikely, but it isn't out of the question. Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious) and Emmanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) are both within two minutes of the lead, and that kind of time can easily be lost or gained in the Alps.

There are still 18,961 metres of climbing to still be tackled this week, with Tuesday's stage 16 and Saturday's stage 20 looking particularly tough. It will not just be a procession for Carapaz, far from it. Then there is the matter of the final time trial in Verona next Sunday; it might just be 17.4km, but time is there to be lost and gained. For those riders who are good at TTs, like Almeida, this is something to savour. For those who are less competent against the clock, like Landa, a buffer of time might be required to protect their position.

Bad weather is forecast at times for this final week, and therefore makes it even more likely that something unfortunate might take one of the famous five out of contention. 

One disappointment is that Romain Bardet is no longer at the Giro, having come down with a stomach bug; the Frenchman would surely have added some firepower to the final week battle. Also, Simon Yates will be sorely ruing his knee injury and his loss of time last week, as the Briton now looks near to his best form, and will be looking for stage wins in the mountains.

Here, then are the five riders with the strongest claim to lifting the Trofeo Senza Fine in Verona on the 29th.

Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers)

Giro d'Italia

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Carapaz was the favourite for the Giro before it even began, and has only strengthened his credentials over the fortnight so far. The Ecuadorean has won the race before, in 2019, and has one of the strongest supporting squads in the race.

He is yet to land the killer blow, although he did try on stage 14 with an audacious attack on the circuit around Torino. Among the Ineos Grenadiers team helping him in his victory attempt are experienced stalwarts like Salvatore Puccio and Richie Porte, while in Pavel Sivakov and Ben Tulett, he has youth on his side too.

All eight Ineos riders are still in the race, and they are fully behind Carapaz's exploits, which might be crucial in this rollercoaster of a last week. His attacking nous might be needed if he is to extend his lead, but he will certainly be comfortable at the top on Monday.

Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe), at 7s

Giro d'Italia

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The Western Australian is having a second coming at the Giro. After his exploits in the 2020 edition, which saw him win a stage and finish second overall, Hindley is back and seems to have recaptured that form for this race.

His 2021 was interrupted by illness and injury, but he now seems like he is on his way to the top of cycling again. It is only 18 months since that special pandemic-delayed edition of the Giro, and so it should be no particular surprise that Hindley is still good at Grand Tour racing.

The Bora-Hansgrohe rider has already won one stage, on Blockhaus, and has proved his team's most competitive rider; they came into the Giro with multiple leaders, but Hindley has weathered this to be on top. In Emmanuel Buchmann, Wilco Kelderman and Lennard Kämna, the Australian has lots of support to rely on in the high mountains.

A podium would be enough for Hindley and Bora, but the lead is tantalisingly close, and might just be claimed at some point this week.

João Almeida (UAE-Team Emirates), at 30s

) Domenico Pozzovivo of Italy and Team Intermarché - Wanty - Gobert Matériaux and João Almeida of Portugal and UAE Team Emirates

(Image credit: Getty)

Just like Hindley, Almeida moved team in the off-season, leaving Quick-Step and joining UAE-Team Emirates. The transfer seems to have worked out for the young Portuguese rider, allowing him to concentrate on being his team's undisputed GC leader.

He has experience at the top of the Giro, holding onto the pink jersey for 15 days in 2020, and will be desperate to do better this time around. He finished 4th in that edition, and 6th last year, so a podium seems like the next step, but he is definitely in contention for the overall win too.

The UAE rider is probably the best time-triallist near the top of the GC, and that fact will be hanging over his rivals this week ahead of the final day time trial in Verona. However, he cannot afford to hold back this week if he is to win. At times on Saturday he looked like he was slipping back, but managed to cling onto his position come the end. 

His team is an odd one for a GC challenge, made up of a sprinter and his leadout man (Fernando Gaviria and Max Richeze), and a bunch of stage hunters like Diego Ulissi. We will see if they can offer much support in the final week.

Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious), at 59s

Giro d'Italia

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It feels like Mikel Landa has nothing to lose. The 32-year-old has finished on the podium before at the Giro, in 2015, so a mere top-five finish would not be enough to satisfy him. 

The Spaniard is almost a minute down on Carapaz, and so will need to attack this week in order to challenge for the pink jersey, which might just suit his instincts. He is also not known as great against the clock, so he will need a time buffer over his rivals before next Sunday if he is to win. Landa has a legion of fans willing him on, but will this be enough?

With his teammate Pello Bilbao also relatively close on GC, Bahrain-Victorious might be able to utilise this for some interesting tactics in the final week. As long as Landa stays on his bike and avoids misfortune, he might be the man to spark something interesting in the Alps.

Domenico Pozzovivo (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), at 1-01

Giro d'Italia

(Image credit: Getty Images)

It would be easy to dismiss Pozzovivo. He is 39, has an ungainly style on the bike, and came into the Giro with very few expectations. He only joined his new Belgian team in February, and last finished in the top 10 at the Italian Grand Tour in 2018, which feels like a world away.

However, he has stuck around on general classification while others have faded, and why shouldn't he be considered a contender for the overall win come the end of the race?

If Pozzovivo were to triumph, it would be remarkable, the oldest Giro winner ever, by some distance. Fiorenzo Magni was 34 years and 180 days when he won in 1955. The last time someone older won a Grand Tour was Chris Horner at the Vuelta a España in 2013, at 41 and 238 days.

It is unlikely that the Italian will crush his younger rivals in the Alps, but stranger things have happened. What is certain is that he is the highest-flying home rider, so the tifosi have someone to cheer on in this final week.

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