Giro d’Italia: GC shake ups, close-calls, and setbacks mark the opening weekend

This weekend's time trial, late-stage pileup caught out more than a few pink jersey dreamers as Evenepoel ponders when he can give it away.

Photo: Marco Zac/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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No one will win the Giro d’Italia on the opening weekend, but a few have already seen their chances for the pink jersey take a serious blow.

Only two days into the 2023 corsa rosa have already delivered some serious GC implications.

Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step) is solidly in pink, and some are wondering if the early flares might be more than a warning shot.

The opening-day 19.6km individual time trial coupled with a late-race crash outside the “safe zone” in Sunday’s second stage sees a half-dozen pre-race podium hopefuls already on the back foot.

And all that comes before climbing the Giro’s first mountain.

“I was next to the crash, behind Davide Ballerini. They crashed on the right side because there was no more space. It’s a pity that it happened,” Evenepoel said. “I wanted to stay in the front until 3km to go, after that I didn’t want to interrupt the plan of the sprinters.

“It’s a question of respect between sprinters and GC riders. Before the crash, it was probably the easiest stage of this Giro.”

There were plenty of shakeups, close-calls, and GC implications in the Giro’s eventful opening weekend.

Here are the key talking points:

Sunday’s pileup hurts in more ways than one

It was a rough day for Ineos Grenadiers, but officials confirmed none of their riders crashed Sunday. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Sunday’s pileup happened just outside the 3km to go “safe zone,” meaning that the time splits would stand.

A few favorites were on the wrong end of the split, including Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers), who lost 19 seconds on the heels of his superb time trial Saturday that slotted him into fourth.

With that, he bounced to eighth at 59 seconds back. Not the end of the world, but that just piles on a little bit more pressure to make everything else go right.

None of the Ineos Grenadiers riders crashed, and Geraint Thomas, whose previous Giro starts were marred with early mishaps, came through safely with the first group. Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) lost 12 seconds to slip from eighth to ninth.

Here are the top GC favorites who lost 19 seconds Sunday:

Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious), Jay Vine (UAE Team Emirates), Hugh Carthy, Ben Healy and Rigoberto Urán (Ineos Grenadiers), Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), and Geoghegan Hart.

Ineos Grenadiers’ Thymen Arensman ceded 31 seconds and Pavel Sivakov some 34 seconds. Neither crashed, but rather caught in traffic.

As the saying goes, the safest place is at the front, but you have to be strong to be there.

Virtual GC: Evenepoel leads in all realities

A priest attends the peloton before the start of Sunday’s stage. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Evenepoel is the Giro’s top dog, no matter what dimension.

The opening-stage time trial largely eliminated any pack-fill at the top of the GC that would inevitably been weeded out in the climbs.

Of the top-10 coming out of the weekend, only Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers), second at 22 seconds back, and fourth-place Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) at 43 seconds, are expected to fade, perhaps as soon as Tuesday’s three-climb second-category summit finale in stage 4.

The tightly packed GC at the top of the leaderboard is the direct consequence of the stage 1 time trial.

None of the sprinters were able to come within striking range of pink in Saturday’s TT.

Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) came closest at 1:03 slower, but he lost time in Sunday’s pileup. Next best among the sprinters is Michael Matthews (Jayco-AlUla), 11th at 1:09 back.

With 10-second winner’s bonuses, he’d have to win a week’s worth of stages to wrestle away the maglia rosa from Evenepoel, and that’s not going to happen.

Virtual GC after two stages:

  1. Evenepoel
  2. Almeida +0:29
  3. Roglič +0:43
  4. Thomas +0:55
  5. Vlasov +0:55

How long with Evenepoel defend pink?

Pretty in pink. Evenepoel avoided mishaps in the opening weekend. (Photo: LUCA BETTINI/AFP via Getty Images)

That’s the big question in any grand tour when a GC favorite takes the race leader’s jersey early.

Evenepoel hinted in post-stage interviews the team would give away the jersey perhaps as soon as stage 4. The second-category summit finale could produce a breakaway stage-winner, but that’s no guarantee.

Other teams won’t be interested in seeing some middle-tier rider to ride back into the frame. It’s not just the pink jersey that’s in play, especially with WorldTour points packing so much value in the UCI’s new relegation/promotion system.

On Tuesday, Evenepoel will be making sure no direct rivals sneak away, and if he has the legs, why not pour on the gas? He won’t want to let Roglič grab back any seconds in the group comes in together.

Evenepoel could carry pink all the way into next weekend if he wants to or not. Friday’s Cat. 1 summit finish to Gran Sasso in stage 7 might produce an early breakaway full of non-threatening stage-hunters.

The stage 8 rollercoaster profile could see a breakaway holding clear, but the sprinter teams might have something to say about that. And next Sunday’s 35km time trial could see Evenepoel back in pink again.

It’s likely Evenepoel might be in pink for a lot longer than he might want.

Not only is the pink jersey a burden on his teammates with extra work and responsibility, the front third of the course isn’t set up for a custodial hero to take pink. If Evenepoel keeps trying too hard, he might equal Gianni Bugno, who wore the pink jersey from start to finish in 1990.

That’s not the worse problem to have.

GC winners and losers in opening flurry

Almeida put down an early marker that only Evenepoel and Ganna could top. (Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Two stages of racing won’t count for much by the time the peloton rolls into Rome on May 28, but Saturday’s TT quickly put everyone into their place.

There are no major surprises in the top-10, except that Roglič perhaps didn’t stay as close as expected to Evenepoel. Everyone is hoping inside the Jumbo-Visma bus that the best is yet to come.

“I rode as hard as I could, and there are still 20 stages to go,” Roglič said Saturday. “Of course you want to finish ahead of your competitors. Still, this is an excellent result. In the end it’s about who’s on top after 21 days and I don’t think I could have gone any faster.”

There were a few whose pink jersey dreams are already all but smothered after just two days of racing.

First among them are Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious), who lost 1:36 to Evenepoel, and Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost), who bled 1:56 on Saturday. Add the split Sunday, and both are nearly two minutes or more in the rear-view mirror after two days of racing.

Neither were front-line pink jersey favorites, but ever so quickly, the podium looks further away than Rome.

Things are looking good for João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates), whose steady consistency could prove one of the trickier problems for Evenepoel during the next three weeks. The Portuguese was the best among the GC contenders, only giving up 29 seconds on pink.

The upshot? The Giro is just starting, and anything can happen. But as many predicted, the time trials in this edition will play a major role on who ends on the final podium. The chaos and mayhem are simply extra factors everyone has to calculate in.

The jerseys: It’s not all about pink

Evenepoel likes the podium view. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Maglia rosa, leader of the general classification: Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step). The reigning world champion leads Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) by 22 seconds. The big question is, how long will Evenepoel defend pink?

Maglia ciclamino, leader of the points classification: Jonathan Milan (Bahrain-Victorious). The stage 2 winner takes the early lead ahead of David Dekker (Arkéa-Samsic), 50 to 35 points. The 22-year-old Milan is the youngest Italian stage winner since Giulio Ciccone, then 21, won at Sestola in 2016.

Maglia azzurra, leader of the Gran Premio della Montagna (KOM): Paul Lapeira (Ag2r Citroën). There were only two Cat. 4’s in Sunday’s stage, so there’s plenty more to come.

Maglia bianca, best young rider: Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step); worn by João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates). Based on time, the Portuguese rider is second-best young rider behind Evenepoel on GC.

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