Giro d’Italia 2020: Five favorites for the pink jersey

Geraint Thomas and Vincenzo Nibali headline a Giro that will play off the climbers against the time trialists.

Photo: Luk Benies / AFP via Getty Images

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The Giro d’Italia might not get the peloton’s biggest names, but the Italian grand tour has an uncanny ability to often serve up the better race.

This year’s Giro, rescheduled for October after the coronavirus blew up the first half of the season, means the Italian race slots in the rather odd position of being after the Tour, not before.

The Giro came too soon on the heels of the Tour to draw some of the bigger names. Miguel Ángel López, seventh in the Tour, is the only rider in the Tour’s top-20 making the fast turnaround to start the Giro on Saturday.

The Giro is seeing the best of the rest.

Per a typical Giro, the GC contender’s list is quality over quantity. There might not be as many riders with realistic chances to win, but the ones who are lining up Saturday in Palermo are top-level riders.

Two former Tour de France winners — Geraint Thomas and Vincenzo Nibali — headline the marquee favorites.

It’s a unique crop of top contenders, with most of the favorites well into their 30s. That could make for a more tactical, drawn-out battle.

One big name missing is Remco Evenepoel, who crashed out at Il Lombardia, and will be out of action until 2021. Evenepoel could have added a younger, more unpredictable element to this year’s Giro of veterans.

The 103rd edition of this race has all the ingredients to serve up another memorable grand tour.

With a course staying entirely within Italy — the planned start in Hungary was swapped out for Palermo — the race should follow a familiar partner with a few twists. It’s hard in the third week, as any Giro is, but the first half presents a few decisive days that could shape the GC battle for the remainder of the race.

The big face in this year’s Giro is three individual time trials. With nearly 65km against the clock, it presents an interesting opportunity for all-rounders and sets up a quandary for the climbers.

The 2020 Giro might have a hard time, however, living up to the dramatic turn of fortunes that capped the Tour de France.

Here are five favorites who hope to impose their will on the race and bring home the pink jersey:

Jakob Fuglsang, 35 (Astana)

Fuglsang is on form and has a strong team behind him. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Image

Giro record: Second start
Best finish: 12th in 2016

Jakob Fuglsang skipped the Tour to put all of his chips on the Giro. With three time trials and a solid mix of climbing, this is Fulgsang’s best and perhaps last chance to win a grand tour. He has the skillset and engine to stay with the best on any terrain. Now he has the pressure to deliver on his long promise as a GC rider.

Why he’s a favorite: For someone who is always considered a perennial favorite in most grand tours he starts, he’s only finished once in the top-10, with seventh in the 2013 Tour. Fuglsang has stepped up a notch over the past few seasons, winning the 2019 Critérium du Dauphiné as well as the 2019 Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He was fast out of the gates in August, winning Il Lombardia, but wasn’t sharp at Tirreno-Adriatico, with 14th. His fifth-place finish at the worlds last weekend reconfirmed he’s on form.

How he wins: First he has to avoid some of the bad luck that’s plagued him in recent grand tours. Then he has to have the legs to go the distance. Much like Steven Kruijswijk, he will need to count on his ever-steady diesel to keep him in the game, and hope his rivals crack in the third week.

Team strength: Miguel Ángel López, hot off his stage-winning ride at Col de la Loze, comes across from the Tour to add some heft in the climbs. The team has riders for the flats, and Spanish climber Óscar Rodríguez should be there in the deep mountains. The team’s wildcard will be WorldTour rookie Aleksandr Vlasov, who’s been flying so far in 2020. Making his grand tour debut, Vlasov could deliver a big surprise.

What he said: “Leading at the Giro will be a big opportunity for me. It’s a good course and we bring a strong team. I am very motivated to be the leader at the Giro.”

Steven Kruijswijk, 33 (Jumbo-Visma)

Kruijswijk is the do-it-all Mr. Reliable of the five favorites. Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images

Giro record: Eighth start
Best finish: 4th in 2016

Much like Geraint Thomas, Steven Kruijswijk comes to the Giro after missing out on the Tour. And like Ineos Grenadiers, which didn’t see their Tour go well, Jumbo-Visma will also be on a bit of a revenge tour after seeing the yellow jersey slip away in the final time trial at the Tour. And like Yates, Kruijswijk has something to settle with the Giro. He buckled to Vincenzo Nibali in the closing stages in the 2016 edition, losing the pink jersey when he crashed into a snowbank high in the Alps.

Why he’s a favorite: Back from a shoulder injury, the ever-steady Kruijswijk has emerged as a guarantee in any grand tour he starts. Since his breakout in 2016, he’s been in the top-10 in every grand tour he’s finished, capped by third in the 2019 Tour. Kruijswijk’s all-round skillset will bode him well in this Giro.

How he wins: Kruijswijk is Mr. Consistency, and he’s hard to break. He’ll need to defend his options in the early time trials and stay close in the opening explosive climbs. He’s more diesel than Ferrari, so he’ll be counting on a very hard final week to crack his rivals. The Giro’s difficult third week, including a return to some of the same terrain where he buckled in 2016 against Nibali on the penultimate stage, will favor him this time around.

Team strength: Tony Martin lines up from the Tour team, who see help on the flats from the likes of Jos Van Emden. Last year’s Tour de l’Avenir winner Tobias Foss sees the start, and Kruijswijk will see help in the mountains from Chris Harper and Antwan Tolhoek.

What he said: “In the first week we can immediately brace ourselves. The third stage already has an uphill finish. That will be a measure for me to see where I stand. I just hope that I am completely fit when the Giro starts, so that we can go for a good result in the general classification.”

Vincenzo Nibali, 35 (Trek-Segafredo)

Nibali has been quiet this summer, but no-one knows how to handle the Giro as well as the home star. Photo: Getty / Tim De Waele.

Giro record: Ninth start
Best finish: Overall winner 2013, 2016; twice second, twice third; seven stage wins

Just call him Mr. Giro. No rider in the peloton understands or excels as well at the Giro as Nibali. All of his depth of experience will be brought to this year’s Giro in what could be his best and last chance to win another pink jersey. Though he’s on contract for 2021, Nibali put the Giro at the center of his plans this year and is going all-out for overall victory.

Why he’s a favorite: With his impeccable track record, including two overall victories and four podiums in eight starts, no one comes close to his Giro pedigree. Last year, he got caught out in a cat-and-mouse game with Primož Roglič, opening the door for Richard Carapaz to snatch the victory. This year, Nibali won’t be making any miscues. He hasn’t been great since his COVID comeback, but Nibali is a guarantee in almost any Giro he starts.

How he wins: Though he might not be as explosive as he once was, his durability and experience will pay dividends going into the third week. The penultimate stage covers familiar ground where he made his famous heist in 2016 to secure his second career pink jersey. Without a Tom Dumoulin-type rider among the favorites, Nibali will not lose too much ground in the time trials, and can slowly pick away in the mountains. Stage 20 will be his ideal hunting ground.

Team strength: Trek-Segafredo brings a balanced squad to the Giro, with riders like Julien Bernard and Pieter Weening bringing experience to the fore. Antonio Nibali (Vincenzo’s younger brother) and Gianluca Brambilla will help in the mountains, with Giulio Ciccone a world-class climber for any situation.

What he said: “It’s true that the Giro is 21 stages and that the decisive part is the third week, but with such a demanding departure it’s necessary to have good condition right away. In the time trial I will defend myself and then we will face the Etna.”

Geraint Thomas, 34 (Ineos Grenadiers)

Thomas is hitting form just in time for the Giro after sitting out the Tour. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images.

Giro record: 4th start
Best finish: 80th in 2012, twice second in time trial stages

The 2018 Tour de France champion lines up Saturday with a target on his back, and a score to settle.

With his grand tour pedigree and strong team support, Thomas will be one of the top favorites for overall victory. And after being left on the sidelines at last month’s Tour de France, Thomas will have something to prove.

Based on comments coming out of Tirreno-Adriatico, where he finished second overall, there is no rancor with the easy-going “G”. He quickly accepted the team’s decision to leave him out of the Tour lineup, and though many wondered if Dave Brailsford made a mistake for leaving him home, Thomas seems motivated and determined.

Why he’s a favorite: Along with Nibali, he will be the only other Tour winner in the field. Of course, the Giro is a very different race, but Thomas will start with the confidence that comes with knowing how to manage a grand tour and winning the yellow jersey. Skipping the Tour might have been a blessing in disguise. The extra month gave him more time to hone his form, and with second at Tirreno-Adriatico, and a strong fourth-place finish in the world time trial championships, Thomas is coming into form just in time for a run at pink.

How he wins: Three flattish time trials favor him against the climbers. He’ll be battling teammates Rohan Dennis and Filippo Ganna for the stage-wins against the clock, but he should be able to take important gains that will off-set any lapse in the high mountains. If he can endure the final week, the closing-day time trial in Milan should be his coronation.

Team strength: Somewhat surprisingly, the team is lacking some firepower for the high mountains. Tao Geoghegan Hart, Eddie Dunbar, and Michal Golas will be there on the climbs, but the team is missing that world-class climbing domestique to help pace him on the Giro’s highest mountains. Save the stages 18 and 20, this year’s Giro route doesn’t go over 2,000m, however, so the Ineos squad is balanced with riders who can pace Thomas on the flats and protect him when it counts.

What he said: “I’m really looking forward to a good October. That’s the call that was made [Tour selection], you can spend all day questioning things. I’m really excited about the Giro. That’s my main goal.”

Simon Yates, 28 (Mitchelton-Scott)

Yates will have to go on the offensive in the mountains to give a buffer for the time trials Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images.

Giro record: Third start
Best finish: 8th in 2019, three stage wins

Simon Yates is hoping the third time’s a charm at the Corsa Rosa. In 2018, he came out guns blazing, scooping up three stage wins early, but famously blew up on the Colle delle Finestre while riding in pink in the third week. Last year, he was full of confidence, but stuttered into Milan in eighth without mounting a real challenge for pink.

Why he’s a favorite: Yates skipped the Tour de France to focus on the Giro in this COVID-affected season. Third at the Tour de Pologne and overall victory at Tirreno-Adriatico confirms he’s in winning shape. His determination to finally crack the Giro could give him a mental edge to his rivals. With three grand tours in his legs since his 2018 blow up, including overall victory in the 2018 Vuelta a España, means Yates will have the staying power to last into the final week.

How he wins: The first half of the Giro could provide Yates with similar terrain to follow his playbook from 2018. He will need to chase the bonus seconds against the time trialists and will try to be aggressive early. Time trialing remains a worry, and with three on the menu, Yates will need to have a comfortable lead in the 15.7km test against the clock in Milan if he wants to hit the top step.

Team strength: Mitchelton-Scott brings one of the deepest and well-balanced teams to the Giro. Riders like Michael Hepburn, improving rider Lucas Hamilton, and American Brent Bookwalter will protect his flanks, and he can count on Damien Howson and Jack Haig to be there in the deep mountains.

What he said: “Tirreno was a great victory and I’m very proud of what I accomplished there but the big goal has always been the Giro, so I hope I can hold my form from there until the end of the Giro.”

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