The Grand Tour cycling season kicks off on Friday (May 6) with three weeks around Italy (and Hungary), as riders fight for the pink jersey and stage wins at the 2022 Giro d'Italia.
There's plenty of different ambitions amongst the 176-strong peloton, as well as a lot for us fans to get into as we watch them battle it out. So much in fact, that we better take it one week at a time.
Here's five things to look out for in week one of this year's Giro.
PINK JERSEY WITHIN REACH FOR PUNCHEURS, TIME TRIALLISTS AND BREAKAWAY SPECIALISTS
The first stage of a Grand Tour is always an especially competitive affair, as not only is there the prize of a stage win on offer, but also the chance to wear the leader’s jersey.
That will be especially the case at Friday’s Giro d’Italia opener in Hungary, as it features the kind of uphill finish that everyone from climbers with a fast sprint like Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates), to sprinters like Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) who have been known to hang on in the peloton on shallower climbs, could fancy their chances of winning on.
Above all though it’s the puncheurs who are likely to flourish, with two in particular promising real headline-making potential — Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), who has already a habit of wowing on debut appearances at races, and Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Materiaux), on the cusp of once again making African cycling history.
The nature of the following stages in Hungary also opens up the possibility of the pink jersey exchanging hands multiple times, meaning that not only will there be a big battle for the win, but also between multiple others scrambling not to lose any time in order to have a shot of taking the jersey sometime over the next few days.
In particular, top time triallists like Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma) and Jan Tratnik (Bahrain-Victorious) may have this in mind given the time trial that awaits in Budapest the following day. There are unlikely to be big time margins on stage one, if any at all, given the gradients, so simply remaining in the peloton may be enough for a time triallist to take pink the following day, then defend it on Sunday’s flat final stage in Hungary.
And even later in the week upon arrival onto mainland Italy, where the GC is expected to take shape in the wake of stage four’s mountain top finish at Mount Etna, there could be more chances for canny riders to inherit the jersey should a genuine GC contender unwilling to defend it for three whole weeks find themselves in pink. Stages seven and eight feature the kind of hilly terrain that favours breakaways, where a new temporary custodian of the pink jersey could be crowned.
EWAN, CAVENDISH AND DÉMARE HEADLINE SPRINTING CONTINGENT
The middle of the opening week is when the sprinters should come to the fore, with stages three, five, and six all looking like probable bunch sprints.
So which sprinter will come out on top? Last year Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) was the star of the opening week, winning two stages before heading home, and looks like the man to beat again. The Australian has established himself the most reliable sprinter in the world when it comes to Grand Tours over the past few years, and the only time he has come home without at least two stage wins in his five Grand Tour appearances since 2019 was when he crashed out of the Tour de France last year. If he avoids that fate, then another haul of wins is surely on the cards.
Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) enjoyed an even more prolific opening week during the 2020 Giro, when he won three sprint stages. His form has erred since, however — he didn’t manage a win in either of his two Grand Tours since, and is still without one of any kind this season. He’ll be hoping that the old adage of form is temporary, class is permanent holds true.
The other sprinter lining up with a history of big stage win hauls is, of course, Mark Cavendish (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl). Although there isn’t quite the same sense of impending form as there was leading into his astonishing Tour de France comeback last year, his performance in that race means he will be feared by the other sprinters, and he’ll have the full backing of a Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl team who have abandoned their GC experiment of recent Giros.
Aside from this trio, Giacomo Nizzolo (Israel-Premier Tech) is always a presence at Giro d’Italia sprints, and could be a more clinical contender having at long last won his first last year; and it’ll be fascinating to see if Biniam Girmay can compete with the pure sprinters in these more straightforward bunch finishes.
ETNA AND BLOCKHAUS SUMMIT FINISHES TO DRAW OUT THE GC CONTENDERS
The true mountain stages, with their multiple peaks at really high altitudes, will come later in the race, but there are two big summit finishes in the opening week that will ensure we'll learn early on who the top protagonists will be in the fight for overall victory.
Recent history suggests that the slopes of Mount Etna (awaiting the riders at the end of stage four) aren’t difficult enough to cause ruptures between the top contenders, so we’ll only learn whether anyone has arrived at the Giro well below their hoped-for form.
But Blockhaus on stage nine is a whole other prospect, and it could establish the battle lines for the whole GC contest, with minutes potentially opening up between the favourites.
We can expect the familiar train of Ineos Grenadiers to form on that climb, controlling the race for their leader Richard Carapaz. The Ecuadorian is the favourite to win the pink jersey on his first return to the race since his victorious 2019 appearance, and he’ll be backed up by a very strong line-up that also features Richie Porte and Pavel Sivakov — who both could, in keeping with a tactic the team has used in recent years, make some decoy attacks of their town to force other teams to chase.
Among the teams who would have to respond to such a move are Bike-Exchange-Jayco, for whom Simon Yates is once again chasing an elusive Giro title for the fifth successive season, and João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates), hoping to make a better start than he did to last year’s Giro when he was already five minutes down by the end of the first week.
And it’s on a mountain as fearsome as this that pure climbers Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious) and Miguel Ángel López (Astana Qazaqstan) will want to maximise their gains. Both riders' flaky form in recent Grand Tours has undermined their normal status as favourites, but a win on this stage would see them taken very seriously as possible overall winners.
FEW TIME TRIAL KILOMETRES FOR THE PURE CLIMBERS TO WORRY ABOUT
This is one of the least time trial-friendly Grand Tours in recent memory, so the GC riders who usually rely on stages against the clock to make big gains will be at pains to take as much as possible out of the 9.2 kilometres of time trialling in store on stage two.
Of the top GC favourites, João Almeida is the one who stands to gain most. However, even on a great day and against far inferior time triallists, there is only so much he can do in such a short course; despite going very well to place fourth at last year’s equivalent, similarly short time trial, the Portuguese rider’s gains over the likes of Simon Yates and eventual winner Egan Bernal was only in the realm of about 20 seconds.
Nevertheless, Grand Tours these days are often decided by comparably close margins, so this stage could yet prove decisive; in fact, last year was only the second time in the last six years that the pink jersey winner’s ultimate margin of victory was above a minute.
This stage will also be a chance for Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma) to put himself in the frame for overall victory. Along with Carapaz and Vincenzo Nibali, Dumoulin is the only rider here who has previously won the Giro d’Italia, but hasn’t been the same since crashing out of his last appearance here three years ago. The climbs will be the real test of whether he’s a genuine contender for pink, but the time trial gives him a chance to lay down a foundation.
Dumoulin’s team-mate Tobias Foss is another outside GC contender who could place himself right up there already on GC after the time trial, while Wilco Kelderman could also put some time into rivals, and also possibly make a case for himself to be outright leader for Bora-Hansgrohe ahead of team-mates Jai Hindley and Emanuel Buchmann.
PUNCHEURS AND CLIMBERS VYING TO GET INTO BREAKAWAYS
In between the sprint stages and mountain top finishes are a couple of hilly stages that many climbers and puncheurs will be dying to get in the breakaway during.
Stage six doesn’t appear tough enough to draw out the GC contenders, but still features enough climbing for the lightweight mountain goats to drop their puncheur companions in a breakaway.
Climbers who intentionally lost time in previous stages, as well as being relieved from domestique duties, are to be kept an eye on, and could include riders such as Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe), who recently won a stage at the Tour of Alps, and former Giro stage winners Joe Dombrowski (Astana Qazaqstan), Esteban Chaves (BikeExchange-Jayco), Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) — and, as a possible wildcard, Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious), who will enjoy all of the descending towards the ends of the stage and likes a surprise attack.
The climbs contested during stage eight are shorter and better suited to puncheurs, so many of the same riders who congested stage one are likely to be up there again. Van der Poel and Girmay will therefore be ones to watch, as will fast-finishers Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost), Davide Ballerini (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl), Alessandro Covi and Diego Ulissi (both UAE Team Emirates), while riders like Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and Lorenzo Rota (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Materiaux) could win from solo attacks.
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