Here we go! I haven’t felt Giro fever this much since May 2019. The calendar was chopped up beyond recognition during the COVID-19 pandemic and – possibly due to the comparatively short turnaround – last year’s race just didn’t hit me. Egan Bernal was a brilliant winner. Damiano Caruso and Giacomo Nizzolo were hugely popular stage winners. Filippo Ganna was at his most mighty. But the fact I had to remind myself of all these things on YouTube last weekend is indicative of a Giro that fell short of what I crave from my favourite race on the calendar.
It’s difficult to know what to expect from this year’s startlist. After closing the gap substantially in the Froome-era, the Giro has fallen away in its battle with the Tour to attract the biggest names in cycling. Even this year’s brief trip to Slovenia has failed to attract Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič. Nevertheless, the Giro has delivered thrilling races with startlists far worse than this latest offering.
Grande Partenza: Budapest (May 6th – May 8th)
We start this deliciously and deliberately awkward journey to Verona in guest host city Budapest. Hungarian Atilla Valter climbed to ninth into Sestriere on Giro debut in 2020, before sporting the Maglia Rosa for three days last May. He’s sure to earn the loudest cheer when signing in on home soil at the start of the race, and that’s unlikely to be the last we see of the exciting 23-year-old climber.
Stage 1 is probably too gentle for Valter, but definitely too hard for the sprinters: it ends with a 5km drag at 5%. We stay in Budapest for Stage 2 and get a more familiar 9km time-trial. It’s interesting to see a short TT placed after a road stage at the start of a Grand Tour. For the winner of the TT to take the jersey, they’ll have to have been close to the winner of the opening stage. This could lead to a bit of unnecessary but very much welcomed Maglia Rosa fun to start the race. Stage 3 will be a sprint to the town of Balatonfüred, before we leave Hungary and take a familiar early-Giro rest day.
Stage Hunting in the South (May 10th – May 15th)
The race lands in Sicily for Stage 4 and riders are tasked with climbing Mt. Etna, because sprinters don’t deserve anything nice unless they’ve earnt it. Always an impressive spectacle, recent history suggests that an early Mt. Etna stage is likely to be a defensive affair for the race favourites.
Stages 5 & 6 should finish in big sprints on flat road, but day five does include the cat-2 Portella Mandrazzi because – as previously mentioned – sprinters don’t deserve anything nice unless they’ve earnt it. Stage 7 is a classic rolling Giro stage which should at the very least provide the landscape for great breakaway racing. Stage 8 should be a sprint of sorts, but the peloton could be thinned significantly after four laps around the beautiful Monte di Procida.
Stage 9 supplies a bumper day of climbing combining the Passo Lanciano (10.3km at 7.6%) and Blockhaus (13.6km at 8.4%) ascents. It’s a far harder day out than when we visited Blockhaus in 2017. It will either be a GC day or we’ll see a spectacular performance by a seriously talented breakaway rider.
The Lull, The Superga, & The Visit to the Alps (May 17th – May 22nd)
Stage 10 is another with a number of short bumps in the latter half. I’m going to give this one to the sprinters, however, as I suspect the peloton will be on a collective go-slow at this point of the race, desperate to avoid a blow-up and/or the rest day curse. Stage 11 looks so flat and boring that it’s actually an almost impressive creation. Nailed-on sprint. Don’t tune in early.
Stages 12 & 13 take us from Parma along to Genoa, down to San Remo and up to Cuneo. It’s a fun two-parter and both should be mopped up by breakaway success. Stage 14 is back to the Giro’s brilliant best. We only venture from Santena to Torino, but legs will be tested by non-stop climbing. The Superga (of Milano-Torino fame) is completed twice, and it should be a highly tactical day. I’m expecting multiple lieutenants to be dispatched up the road and splits aplenty in main bunch.
We are then treated to another huge GC day with lots of uphill. Stage 15 will shape the GC ahead of the final week. It might even be the first major shake-up, depending on how the leading teams have approached the race up to this point. The first two ascents average out at around 7% and combine for 26km of leg-zapping road. The final climb is easier, and flattens, but does at least prevent one of those frustrating downhill finishes.
Altitude & Attitude (May 24th – May 29th)
Stage 16 is quite something: three cat-1 climbs amounting to over 5000m of climbing. The climbs are spaced out with long fast descents, but apparently these aren’t nice either. Twisty and technical downhill sections are beautiful but I’m not sure if the race should be won and lost on a rider’s willingness to take a 100km/h risk, three inches from a barrier. Nevertheless, downhill racing is iconic and requisite to any good Giro route. Thankfully, we end with an almost-summit finish: less than five kilometres down from the Valico di Santa Cristina before a drag to the line.
Stage 17 is rollers day! Picture a backdrop of beautiful Brescia and lines of riders spinning their legs before the start. This profile has become a signature of modern Grand Tour racing. There’s around 8km of climbing (uncategorised but not easy) from the moment the flag drops. There are then long sections of downhill road before two cat-1 climbs at the day’s conclusion. This could be a day we see ‘two races’. The breakaway will cut and run, and the GC boys will eventually wind themselves up ahead of the brutal 10% gradient Monterovere.
Stage 18 will be a sprint before a trio of crunch GC-stages end the race. Stages 19 & 20 are both summit finishes but differ greatly in difficulty and therefore should be two very different race days. With the majority of riders waiting for the mammoth Saturday of climbing, I suspect Stage 19 will be targeted by care-free riders with more to gain than lose. Stage 20, however, is the sort of Dolomites stage where you can lose buckets of time if you crack on the penultimate climb (the Cima Coppi, Passo Pordoi). The final ascent of the Giro is the brutal Malga Ciapala, averaging greater than 11%.
We end with a time-trial on Stage 21. Interestingly, it’s the first time we visit the solo discipline since Budapest. It’s 17.5km long, which might just be long enough for somebody with an aversion to clock-racing (Romain Bardet) to have their three weeks in Italy ruined. Nevertheless, the final stage takes the total TT kilometres to just over 26km, which is well down recent tallies.
An open field combined with three weeks of unpredictable racing means there are a number of riders who could feasibly add a Maglia Rosa (and that beautiful trophy) to their collection. However, instead of mentioning every Tom, Richie & Hugh with an outside chance, I’ll instead focus on the five riders I believe are best equipped for success: Richard Carapaz, Simon Yates, Miguel Angel Lopez, Romain Bardet and Mikel Landa.
All five of those names have ridden at least eight Grand Tours, and podiumed at least once. However – with the exception of Carapaz – you could argue they might all feel slightly unsatisfied with their Grand Tour careers. With the mass of young talent building on the World Tour, this Giro provides a rare chance for Yates, Lopez, Bardet, and Landa to add a huge win to their collection. Whilst none of the four are close to retirement age, it’s possible that one day soon they will be resigned to fighting for lesser honours.
This is particularly true for the 32-year Mikel Landa who has been dealt a cocktail of bad luck, bad legs, and bad management since first proving his worth in 2015. I was at pains to put him on my list of five, but he might just have stumbled across the right Grand Tour. Bahrain-Victorious brings a strong squad of climbers, made even better by the comparatively weak efforts by usual bunch bullies Jumbo and UAE.
The lack of TT kilometres is great for pure climber Landa, but even better for Romain Bardet. It’s been a while since Bardet’s been mentioned as a Grand Tour favourite but after winning his first stage race since the 2013 Tour d’Lin last month, he’s arriving with some of the strongest recent form. He’ll need to level-up once again – all the way up to his 2016 form – if he’s got any chance of following the big attacks in the Dolomites, but this route is just too interesting to ignore one of cycling’s most documented ‘bad’ time-trialists. Plus, we all love him, right?
The recent career of Miguel Angel Lopez deserves more than few lines in the middle of a preview. At last year’s Vuelta he had just won the Queen Stage and was sitting third in the GC when he missed a tactical split, climbed off his bike, and never rode for Movistar again. Now at Astana, I still believe he’ll be the strongest rider when the race heads to altitude for the final dance. The issue for ‘Superman’ is whether or not he can navigate three weeks of racing whilst managing relationships with rivals, teammates, directors, and the occasional road-side idiot. Perhaps new teammate and always-zen Vincenzo Nibali will calm him down. It’s also worth mentioning that Astana are having a truly horrible season and, although that doesn’t really include the form of Lopez, it’s difficult to visualise a great team success is on the horizon.
Ecuadorian Richard Carapaz has followed up his Giro win with podiums at the Vuelta & Tour, as well as an Olympic title. It’s a streak of results so impressive that it’s probably grossly unfair that I’m still not sure how good he really is. He can be a stealthy rider who’s wonderfully consistent in the mountains and unlikely to blow-up at any point. He’s also added an impressive acceleration to his skillset and is now capable of dealing damage on shorter, punchier climbs. The biggest difference for Carapaz at this year’s Giro is that he’s bearing the weight of sole Ineos leadership (sorry Richie Porte) as well as overall race favouritism. Even when he’s not in pink, he’ll be one of the most observed riders in the bunch.
Which leads me to my pick for the race, Simon Yates. Just writing those words fills me with dread, as every time I have previously talked up Yates it has led to a flat and disappointing performance. Though he did podium in 2021, it was a difficult and ugly third place without every threatening Bernal or even Caruso. It was more evidence that Yates can’t translate his often dazzling early-season form into Giro success. His form this year has been solid, although his chosen path to this point has limited the number of blockbuster matchups in the high mountains. After years of talking up the Yates-brand, he’s also been a little quieter off the bike. Perhaps this all-round duller approach to the Giro is exactly what he needs!
I’m classing Yates as a soft-pick as I don’t have a strong fancy for the race at the time of writing. This basically means I’ll be claiming it as a victory if he wins, but nobody is allowed to mention it if he finishes 28th.
Just a few words on two other riders. Tom Dumoulin is a blog favourite, but this is a horrible route for somebody who is not currently producing at anywhere near their best climbing level. I hope he has fun, loses enough time to relax, and attacks a few stages. As a former champion, he deserves plenty of local support. Lastly, there’s Joao Almeida, whose current form and leadership role within UAE put him worthy of consideration. At the risk of annoying his fans, I just don’t think he climbs well enough to win this Giro.
Once you remove the GC favourites mentioned above – as well as the GC guys who will happily ride for the top ten – and the handful of elite sprinters (Cavendish, Demare, Ewan) there remains a whole host of riders who will be in Italy to do their very best to take a stage win. These unsung heroes provide entertainment on otherwise drab or cagey stages. They also happen to be some of my favourite riders.
Some are already superstars (Mathieu van der Poel) whilst others are destined to become stars (Biniam Girmay). Then there’s my own special list of riders who I would love to see force their way into the headlines, if only for a day. If set free from his duties, I suspect Lennard Kamna will have some big fun for BORA. Likewise, Tobias Foss and Sam Oomen are surely due some freedom for Jumbo, at last set free from the shackles of either Roglic or a prime Dumoulin. I can’t remember the last time I saw Oomen in a breakaway riding for himself.
UAE arrives with Alessandro Covi, Davide Formolo and Diego Ulissi, which might be my favourite trio of Italians in the whole race. Leader Almeida deserves some protection, but I cannot imagine a Giro d’Italia where those three don’t try and chase some stage success. Pro level EOLO-Kometa brings Lorenzo Fortunato and Vincenzo Albanese and I’m convinced one of the two will go for victory on pretty much every stage.
In one of the weakest Movistar selections I can remember, forgotten man Ivan Sosa could be their shining light. For Quick-Step, I like Mauri Vansevenart as a regular breakaway pick. Lastly, there’s Felix Gall at AG2R. He ticks all the boxes to deliver a breakout performance… but also all the boxes for somebody who will struggle to adjust to Grand Tour racing and happily just make it to Verona.
- Podium – Yates, Carapaz, Landa
- Points jersey – Demare
- KOTM jersey – Fortunato, Kamna, Sosa
- Stage Winners – Albanese, Bardet, Covi, Kamna, Sosa, Valter, Vansevenart