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It may seem like only yesterday that the Tour de France peloton pulled into Paris, but this year’s Giro d’Italia is set to roll out this weekend.
The second grand tour of the reconfigured COVID season may be playing second-fiddle to the Tour and having to contend with running consecutively with the classics, but this October’s race is set to be a must-watch, with grand tour stars set to battle the toughest mountains and gnarliest weather that this season will throw them.
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This year’s Giro should see a whole host of storylines alongside the battle for the pink jersey thanks to a strong sprint field and a whos-who of the world’s finest time triallists due to line up for the opening stage in Palermo on Saturday. Oh, and Peter Sagan will be making his Giro debut, and where Peter goes, surprises and spectacle tend to follow.
The route: High mountains and one heck of a lot of time trials
To call the 2020 Giro d’Italia route old-school would be an understatement. With 65km of time trialing across three ITTs and a final week packed with high mountains and summit finishes, Mauro Vegni and RCS Sport has pushed back against the modern trend toward short stages and punchy climbs.
“It’s not rocket science, but it’s going to be about consistency over three weeks,” summarized Mitchelton Scott director Matt White. “It’s the toughest of the three grand tours; we have a hard start, a hard finish, and a lot of kilometers in between.”
The race kicks off with four days in Sicily after original “Grand Partenza” hosts Budapest were forced to withdraw. The opening Sicilian salvo will shape the initial GC standings thanks to its super-fast downward-tilting 16km TT to open the race and a summit finish to the top of the volcanic Mount Etna on stage 3.
The peloton will then track north through mainland Italy’s eastern Adriatic coast for the remainder of the first and second weeks, with the middle of the race punctuated by a hilly 34km time trial on stage 14 and a summit finish on the steep slopes of the Piancavallo climb the day afterward.
It’s the final phase through the Alps that will truly split the men from the boys however, with Ineos Grenadiers boss Dave Brailsford saying “it’s going to go down to the wire in that grueling final week.” The final series of stages features five consecutive 200+ km days, three of which are summit finishes. The Alpine block will be packed with high-altitude ascents, including the 2,758m Stelvio and 2,774m Agnello.
The race rolls to a close with a final 15.7km time trial into Milan, and if the classification remains tight in the mountains, the flat closing blast through the city streets could determine the overall winner.
Star names and storylines
Just as this year’s Giro packs a balanced route with a traditional blend of sprint, high mountain, and time trial stages, there are heavy hitters from all specialisms at this year’s Corsa Rosa.
Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers), Vincenzo Nibali (Trek Segafredo) and Simon Yates (Mitchelton Scott) are among the top GC stars, while Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Michael Matthews (Sunweb) will lock horns in what could be a fearsome battle for the hilly and grippy sprint stages.
For the pure bunch kicks, home star Elia Vivani (Cofidis) is back after failing to hit the podium at the Tour, and he’d best hope his legs are feeling strong as he’s up against top-class fastmen Fernando Gaviria (UAE-Team Emirates) and Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ).
With three time trials massing to 65km against the clock at this year’s Giro, the race has drawn some of the finest testers in the peloton. Newly-minted world champion and grand tour rookie Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers), teammate and 2019 rainbow jersey Rohan Dennis, and perennial time trial favorite Victor Campenaerts (NTT Pro Cycling) are all on the start sheet. With Thomas back to his fastest on the time trial bike having taken fourth at the Imola worlds, we could even see an Ineos clean-sweep of the podium in one of the Giro’s three TT tests.
While time trials don’t make for the most spectacular viewing, this year’s time trial-heavy route should set up a fascinating thread to follow in the GC narrative. Explosive climbers such as Yates and Nibali will be under pressure to scoop seconds whenever the road goes uphill for fear of losing time against the clock to noted rouleurs such as Thomas and Steven Kruijswik (Jumbo-Visma).
“All of the climbers need to be aggressive, including us,” said Mitchelton Scott director Matt White. “When and where, and from who, will be interesting but we’re going to have to take time.”
The situation should be a familiar one for Yates and his team – the Brit lit up the first two weeks of the 2018 Giro with relentless attacks and three stage wins as he looked to bank time ahead of a long time trial in the third week, only to crumble out of contention in the final block of mountains.
The prospect of the lightweights going on the offensive in the high mountains of the final week before the closing Milano time trial will make the race well worth setting your alarm and cappuccino machine for.
The Giro d’Italia is renowned for its harsh conditions when held in its traditional May slot, with anything from scorching sun to heavy snow a possibility. The weather could play just as large a part this year, with the race likely to roll out in near 30-degree-Celcius temperatures in Sicily before hitting the highest peaks of the Italian mountains two weeks later, just as fall begins to transition toward winter.
“Normally at the Giro, the weather is getting better day-by-day as we start in spring and approach summer, whereas this year will be the complete opposite,” said Yates. “I’m expecting some bad weather this year and I’m mentally prepared for that.”
Teams’ and riders’ preparedness and resilience to whatever the elements throw at them could feature high in the way the GC takes shape. With stage racers already being susceptible to chest infections or viruses as the immune system breaks down after two weeks of racing, the snowcapped 2,000+ meter ascents of stage 18 and 20 could make the denouement of the race a test of resilience and team planning and administration.
“Logistics could be a big challenge with the summit finishes and bringing people down off mountains in inclement weather – you can’t always park team busses at the finish line on those stages,” warned Sunweb coach Matt Winston. “You have to have a really good plan up-front, and really think about smartly how you’re going to do things.”
How to watch
The Giro d’Italia will be broadcast live in the USA and Canada on FloBikes. The action will be available on Eurosport and GCN Race TV in Europe.
Stages will generally finish at around 1600 to 1700 CET / 1000 to 1100 ET