Giro d’Italia: Five sprinters to watch

From Mark Cavendish to Biniam Girmay, there are some big sprint stars heading to the Giro d'Italia.

Photo: Tim de Waele / Getty Images

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The Giro d’Italia is often a tough prospect for the sprinters in the peloton, but there are some opportunities for the fastmen to shine this year.

In total, there are seven flat stages across the three weeks and those that can survive more rolling terrain will have a few more to add on to that. On offer for the sprinter in the first week is a chance to put themselves in the pink jersey with a sprint stage on the opening day.

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An extra incentive for these speedsters is the maglia ciclamino, the jersey for the winner of the points classification. That little extra carrot might prove necessary at times with just one sprint stage sandwiched into a string of days in the high mountains in the final week pushing everyone to the maximum.

Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix) was due to be one of the stars of the Giro d’Italia sprint pack but has had to pull out of the race due to an elbow injury he picked up at Paris-Roubaix. Don’t worry, there’s still a very strong contingent of sprinters due to lineup in Budapest this weekend.

Here are five of the key fastmen looking for stage success, and maybe more, at the Giro d’Italia.

Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert)

Giro record: Debut

What to expect: Biniam Girmay has been one of the revelations of the last year, from his silver medal in the U23 road race at the worlds in 2021 to his recent classics campaign that finished with a win at Gent-Wevelgem. The young Eritrean is one of the hottest tickets in town right now and his ride at the Giro d’Italia will be keenly watched by his team and fans.

At 22, it will be his first-ever grand tour so it’s hard to know exactly what to expect from him, but that didn’t stop him at the classics. Despite never having seen the courses before, he took fifth at E3 and first at Gent-Wevelgem. He returned to racing at Eschborn-Frankfurt at the weekend, leading out his teammate Alexander Kristoff to third place.

If he can hold on over the three weeks of racing, his ability to handle the lumpier terrain means Girmay could be very difficult to beat in the points classification. However, he’ll have to deal with Mathieu van der Poel, who will be up there on some of the hillier days.

Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal)

Giro record: Not finished in four attempts, won five stages

What to expect: Caleb Ewan has yet to finish a Giro d’Italia but his record at the race is far better than at first glance. In his four appearances so far, the Australian has racked up five stage victories and he’ll fancy his chances to add a few more this year.

Ewan has been one of the most prolific winners so far this season with five in total. Fabio Jakobsen and Tadej Pogačar are the only WorldTour riders that have more. Like many in the peloton, Ewan’s season has been impacted by illness. He contracted COVID-19 following the Saudi Tour and fell ill later in the spring, forcing him to miss his major goal of Milan-San Remo.

He has returned to racing since, taking two stage wins against a fairly strong lineup at the Tour of Turkey. With Ewan’s record of finishing the Giro d’Italia, or not as the case may be, placing him in the running for the points jersey seems premature at this moment but he’d be disappointed if he didn’t leave the race with a couple of sprint wins in his back pocket.

Mark Cavendish (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl)

Giro record: 15 individual stage wins, points classification in 2013

What to expect: It is almost a decade since Mark Cavendish last rode at the Giro d’Italia, but he will return this year with Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl’s Tour de France sprinter slot due to be taken by Fabio Jakobsen. Cavendish’s relationship with the Giro d’Italia began early in his career, making his grand tour debut at the race back in 2008. With two stage wins, it was a precursor to what was to come that summer at the Tour de France.

In five appearances, he won 15 stages and has never left the race without at least two stage wins to add to his palmarès. If he can maintain that record this May, he’d be pretty pleased with his efforts. The Manxman is at a very different period in his career compared to his last visit to the Giro d’Italia but he showed age was no barrier when he romped to four stage wins at last year’s Tour de France.

The recent swap of Michael Mørkøv for the injured Ilan Van Wilder will come as welcome news for Cavendish. The experienced rider is one of the best leadout men in the pack and anyone on his wheel has a strong chance of winning.

Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost)

Giro record: Debut

What to expect: Magnus Cort is another Giro d’Italia debutant on this list, but he has a vast wealth of grand tour experience behind him with seven grand tour starts across his career. He’s won stages of the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España — seven in total — in the past and he’s got his eyes set on completing the hattrick this May.

Cort wasn’t initially due to be going to the Giro d’Italia, but plans are made to be broken. Well, it was his collarbone that was broken at Tirreno-Adriatico in March, which ultimately led the team to change his race program. He hasn’t raced since picking up the injury, but he’s been training hard in the meantime.

Calling Cort a sprinter seems like a bit of a stretch these days after his escapades at the Vuelta a España last year but he’s still got a very fast finish and can cope well on those lumpy days.

Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ)

Giro record: 5 stage wins, points classification in 2020

What to expect: Arnaud Démare has a decent record at the Giro d’Italia in recent years and after a disappointing turn at last year’s Tour de France, he’ll be hoping to get back to grand tour winning ways this month. In fact, it would be good for him to get a win on the board at all as he’s not raised his arms in glory at all this season with his closest shave second on stage 3 of Tirreno-Adriatico.

Démare appeared to lose his way a bit in the middle part of last season, not helped by an early crash at the Tour impacting his form. After plenty of disappointment in 2021, he finally found some success again with a very impressive breakaway win at Paris-Tour last October. The Frenchman will have to channel some of that performance into his Giro d’Italia.

He hasn’t raced since early April, but has recently been putting in the hard miles with an altitude camp at Mount Etna, which he’ll hope can help him dig out the form he needs to get back on the top step of the podium.

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