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Giro d'Italia

Giro di Hoody: Peter Sagan ‘hungry for wins’ at Giro d’Italia

Filippo Ganna's historic milestone; Sagan's motivations to win; Giacomo Nizzolo's streak of second-place finishes.

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Insiders: Peter Sagan ‘hungry for wins’ at Giro d’Italia

Peter Sagan endured a rough patch this winter with a bout of COVID-19, and afterward, a gaggle of arm-chair sport directors suggested that his best days are behind him.

Don’t believe a word of it. Insiders are telling VeloNews that Sagan is more motivated than ever.

Expect to see Sagan unleashed during the 2021 Giro d’Italia.

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Cycling’s superhero is at a crossroads, and at 31, this Giro will be an important bridge to the next chapter of his already illustrious career.

People close to him say he’s very interested in firming up his legacy, especially trying to bolster his haul of monument wins. Another big goal: winning a record fourth world title.

Sagan always marches to the beat of a different drummer, but last year’s drubbing at the Tour de France saw some suggesting that his best days are now behind him. Those critics only prompted him to redouble his work ethic to return to his best. Things were on track for a full-on assault on the classics this spring, but his COVID-19 diagnosis torpedoed his ambitions.

That means Sagan is coming into this Giro red-hot for victories.

A Twitter message posted after Monday’s near-miss confirms his resolve:

Another factor is swirling reports of a possible exit from Bora-Hansgrohe. Though team manager Ralph Denk backpedaled on early comments that the team might not re-sign Sagan, moves across the peloton suggest that big changes are coming. It appears that Deceuninck-Quick-Step is not able to offer contracts to some of its top riders, with team boss Patrick Lefevere suggesting that Sam Bennett and João Almeida are likely both leaving.

Reports suggest that Bennett is linked to a deal to return to Bora-Hansgrohe. Of course, one of the big reasons he left Bora was due to the presence of Sagan. That could suggest that Sagan might be on the move as well.

The peloton’s musical chairs is starting early this season, and it remains to be seen where Sagan will land.

In the meantime, he’s focused on racing, and insiders tell VeloNews he wants to stamp his presence on this Giro.

Comments last month at the Tour de Romandie suggested that Sagan doesn’t shrug everything off, shooting back when asked if his stage-win there was a surprise.

“Why do I have to be surprised?” Sagan said at Romandie. “Everyone talks that Sagan is back or something, but I never left. I am always here.”

Ninety years of the ‘maglia rosa’

Last year, Tao Geoghegan Hart became the first rider in Giro history to win the pink jersey without having worn it during the race. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images,)

One of sport’s most distinctive jerseys celebrated 90 years this week.

That’s a long time in anything in the sport’s world, and is a testament to the legacy and prestige of the Giro.

The pink jersey — aka the maglia rosa — debuted in 1931, with Learco Guerra becoming the first rider to wear it in that year’s Giro.

Pink was the color choice because it matched the color of race founder La Gazzetta dello Sport, the Italian national sports daily that is still printed on pink newsprint. The jersey was inspired by the yellow jersey of the Tour de France, which drew its color from L’Auto, precursor of L’Equipe. Unlike La Gazzetta, the French daily is printed on traditional newsprint.

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The jersey remains an elusive and prestigious target.

Record-man Eddy Merckx holds the high mark, with 78 pink jerseys. Andrew Hampsten is the top North American, with eight days in pink, capped by his dramatic overall victory in 1988, the only U.S rider to win the Giro.

Ryder Hesjedal, the only Canadian to win a grand tour, wore it for five days en route to his nail-biting victory in 2012. Taylor Phinney wore it for three days at the start of that same Giro. Svein Tuft and Christian Vande Velde donned it each for one day in 2014 and 2008, respectively, after being part of the winning team time trial effort.

Last year, Tao Geoghegan Hart became the first rider in Giro history to win the pink jersey without having worn it during the race.

Filippo Ganna is unbeatable against the clock

Filippo Ganna powered to his fourth straight Giro d’Italia TT victory. Photo: James Startt

As if there was any doubt, Filippo Ganna will be hard to beat in Tokyo.

The Italian star rode a near-perfect time trial in Torino on Saturday to blaze to the victory and into the maglia rosa.

With his smashing victory, the Ineos Grenadiers star is only the second rider to win four straight time trials at the Giro d’Italia. The first? Francesco Moser.

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Ganna’s future will not be limited to time trials, however, and many expect him to develop into a style of rider similar to Fabian Cancellara, capable of winning against the clock and smashing the classics. Ganna already proved in last year’s Giro he’s no one-trick pony, winning out of a breakaway in stage 5.

With the Olympics on the horizon, Ganna steered clear of the pavé this spring, but the northern classics will shine bright on his radar in 2022 and beyond.

Ganna might be able to squeeze out another day or two in the pink jersey, but he’s already slipping into helper mode. “Top Ganna” will stay there until the final stage in Milano, where he hopes to book-end the 2021 Giro with a final-day, time trial victory.

“I will try to defend the jersey, but we know we have two big leaders on the team, so we will ride to support them,” Ganna said.

How cool is Ganna in the saddle? Racing near his hometown, he had time to wave to fans as he barreled to victory.

Giacomo ‘Oh-so-close’ Nizzolo … still searching

Maybe it’s not the record he’d like to have, but Giacomo Nizzolo holds the mark of finishing second nine times in the Giro d’Italia without ever having won a stage.

The Qhubeka-Assos rider came close again Sunday, kicking to — yep, you guessed it — second behind Tim Merlier, who won his first grand tour stage in his first grand tour road stage. He’s also finished in the top-3 some 18 times in grand tour stages without being first.

Also read: Check out Nizzolo’s cool COVID helmet

Of course, that consistency pays off in other ways, and he’s twice won the points jersey at the Giro. He’s also been first across the line on 26 occasions, and hit a new level in 2020, winning two WorldTour races (his first in that category since 2012) as well as the Italian and European championships.

As an Italian, it’s hard to image any other race he’d like to win than finally being first across the line at the Giro.

See the connection? From Jimmy to Taco …

Taco van der Hoorn defied the odds Monday to fend off the bunch in an unlikely solo victory out of a breakaway.

The victory was surprising because these types of breaks are usually kept on a much shorter leash in the first half of a grand tour when the sprinters are all hungry for wins.

The victory for the Dutch rider is his first in a grand tour, and the first win in 2021 for newly promoted Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux (say that fast in the final 50m of a sprint).

The peanut gallery might have lamented the win didn’t come on Tuesday, but his victory salute was a page straight out of the Jimmy Casper hall of fame.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.