We’re six stages down and this year’s Giro d’Italia has begun to tease the sort of racing we’ll be seeing over the next two weeks. The weekend has the potential to shake up the general classification with Saturday’s time-trial the first stage likely to have a major impact on the top ten.
The Race So Far
Things kicked off in Apeldoom last Saturday with the 9.8km time trial. At the point where 182 riders had finished Lotto NL–Jumbo’s Primož Roglič sat comfortably at the top of the leaderboard after delivering a performance as surprising as it was superb. Favourite Tom Dumoulin was the next man home and edged Roglic off top spot by the smallest of margins. An impressive fifth that day was Marcel Kittel and he took the leaders jersey two days later after a pair of dominant sprint wins. Things are coming good for the Etixx train but you’d be forgiven for wondering how much Kittel really needs them after seeing the power of his launch – Arnaud Demare and Elia Viviani were left comfortably beaten as the next-best finishers. Going into today’s stage, possibly his last chance of the race, Kittel has the strange accolade of winning four Giro d’Italia stages without ever finding glory in Italy.
Once we got to Italy there was a win for a home team and home rider with Diego Ulissi out-foxing first his breakaway companions and later the peloton. It was Giro stage number five for the 26 year-old who’s currently seventh in the GC. Kittel faltered that day and Tom Dumoulin, who’s definitely not going for the GC, sprinted for second and re-took the Maglia Rosa.
Andre Griepel won the next stage – too long/hard/fast for Kittel to contest – by powering up the sloped finale to defeat the bunch in a testing sprint. Yesterday we saw a summit finish and a successful long-range escape by Tim Wellens. Behind him we saw the first Astana moves by Jakob Fuglsang and Vincenzo Nibali but, whilst the Dane rode to second place, Nibali abandoned his efforts, sat up, and lost seven seconds to Alejandro Valverde. Rosa-wearing Dumoulin was at it again, smartly accelerating away to gain time in the final kilometres. But he ‘hasn’t been to an altitude camp’ and is absolutely, definitely, ‘not going for the GC’.
This Friday’s stage ends with 30km of flat Italian roads and looks set to end in a bunch sprint. There is plenty of climbing prior to the finish in Foligno with the categorized Valco Della Somma presenting enough of an obstacle to scare super-fast Germans. However, despite obvious and familiar shortcomings earlier this week, Kittel is still climbing better than his fragile portrayal and it’s hard to argue he isn’t an overwhelming favourite. The stage profile doesn’t show too much information on the finish itself but they’ll be a few technical corners to navigate around – this is the Giro after all, in an era where very little is given to the sprinters for free. The usual names will surface as challengers with Greipel and Demare hoping to give Etixx a scare. My faith in Sacha Modolo has been so far unsuccessful but he has at least showed his face on a number of occasions.
The Weekend: Stages 9 & 10
Saturday’s stage 9 is a lot harder to predict with Strade Bianche’s Alpe Di Poti sticking out at the end of the 186km profile. The opening 150km are relatively easy and we could see the Alpe attacked with fresh legs. There shouldn’t be much movement by the GC favourites but, that being said, nothing goes as expected in the first week of the Giro and Astana have been known to strain themselves for the sake of a few seconds. The gravel slopes aren’t too unkind but the climb is too long to see a full peloton arrive at the top ready for the twisting, two-step descent. We do see a flat finish but who and how many contest the sprint is anybody’s guess.
Etixx’s Bob Jungels is clearly carrying fantastic form and the climb won’t cause him much concern. He’s not known for his sprinting but clearly possesses great power. The stage also looks another good one for Diego Ulissi. The Italian could escape over the top or play the waiting game and win from a reduced group. Cannondale have a few suited to this finish but the Uran-centric team have had a very relaxed opening week and may not be overly interested. Bardiani’s Sonny Colbrelli ticks most boxes and could go well if he stays near the front when it matters. Southeast have lost Jakub Mareczko but still hold the card of fast-finishing Manuel Belletti. He is another that could get dropped but is my outsider for victory on Saturday. If the GC riders don’t blow things apart it’s not impossible that the regular fastmen could feature but, after how things went on stage 4, I just don’t see this happening. I predict we’ll see attacks over the top and a handful of riders descending for victory. Others to watch include Gianluca Brambilla, Andrey Amador and Nicolas Roche.
On Sunday we reach the long 40.5km time-trial and a reminder (should you need one) that the serious racing is about to begin. For months the ITT has been at the forefront of discussion but after one week’s worth of stages we know very little extra about the form of the contenders. On Stage 1’s dress rehearsal Vincenzo Nibali finished highest. Whilst his 16th place finish wasn’t particularly surprising, it certainly wasn’t guaranteed. The Astana leader’s steady time-trialling has not always gained recognition over the years but a glance at his strong Grand Tour results shows he is ready to deal damage. The route is hilly and this, whilst potentially acting as an equaliser for others, will suit Nibali down to the ground. Many kilometres of the route are actually downhill and this plays into Nibali’s hands to an even greater extent. ‘The Shark’ has total command over technical descents and rolling terrain, and I would go as far as saying he could win this stage outright. Alejandro Valverde and Rigoberto Uran are others looking to cash in whilst Esteban Chaves, Rafal Majka and particularly Mikel Landa will be on the defensive. The favourite remains that man Tom Dumoulin. His time-trialling has not looked at its highest level in the last month but this is all relative for a rider with outstanding ability. Should he find his absolute best form he could be looking at minutes, rather than seconds, on some of his rivals. I don’t believe an ill Fabian Cancellara would have soldiered through the first week without an eye on the ITT. Little needs to be said about his prowess but his condition raises a handful of questions. Cannondale’s Moreno Moser is an interesting outsider but will need his stars to align if he is to come out on top.
Any Other Business
The KoM competition has been lukewarm so far barring a feel-good day in blue for veteran Dutchman Maarten Tjallingii. The current wearer is former Giro winner Damiano Cunego. On the one hand it’s been fantastic to see Cunego attacking and giving interviews to Eurosport’s Juan Antonio but on the other, sad to see one of Italy’s former great hopes so far down on the GC. The former Lampre captain had a great set of performances in the mid-2000s and returned to the Tour de France to come sixth in 2011. I’d still like to see him kick on and claim a stage win for Nippo-Vini Fantini.
Steven Kruijswjik and Ryder Hesjedal have once again taken well to the Giro roads after finishing in hot form 12 months ago. After six stages in 2015 Hesjedal was over six minutes down and three minutes behind him was Kruijswijk. The Dutchman is currently having a great race in fifth and Hesjedal leads Trek-Segafredo exactly one minute behind.
There’s still time for one more Dumoulin mention. He’s one of my favourite riders at the moment and he’s been fantastic at this Giro so far. He’s been smart and attentive on the road and his coy interviews have added to the mystery surrounding his form. There’s likely some truth in his rehearsed words that the highest climbs will see to the end of his challenge – but he could well find himself a minute clear in the GC by Monday’s rest day. Go on Tom!