Giro d’Italia week three preview: Where the pink jersey will be decided

With five riders within 61 seconds of the pink jersey, nothing is decided, and everything is still in play.

Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

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The Giro d’Italia is renowned for its brutal final week. Many consider it the hardest week of racing in cycling.

Some of cycling’s greatest exploits in the past decade have come out of the Giro’s final week that’s littered with epic climbs, time trials, and trap stages, all set against the sport’s most dramatic backdrop in the Dolomites and Alps.

From Ryder Hesjedal’s unlikely win in 2012 to Chris Froome’s raid in 2018, the Giro’s final week never disappoints.

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So what to expect this week in the 105th edition of the corsa rosa?

The stage is certainly set for some GC fireworks. Richard Carapaz carries pink into week three, but by the slenderest of margins.

With five riders within 61 seconds of the pink jersey, nothing is decided, and everything is still in play.

Let’s dive into what’s at stake and where the race could be decided:

What’s on tap: Monster climbs, tricky finales, one final time trial

Passo Pordoi is one of the classic climbs in the Giro’s final week. (Photo: Tim De Waele/Getty Images)

Some of the Giro’s most legendary climbs are stacked up like firewood across what could be a burning final week.

Up first is the Mortirolo midway through Tuesday’s 202km stage 16 from Salò to Aprica. With the way the GC is lined up, a breakaway will likely be battling for the stage spoils, with the pink jersey group keeping its powder dry for the final hour of racing.

The route goes over the “easy” side of the Mortirolo (if such a thing exists), and the final first-category climb up to Aprica is where the GC flares will be fired. Bora-Hansgrohe is in the pole position to try to snatch away pink, so the team might be aggressive early to try to isolate Carapaz from his Ineos Grenadiers cohorts. With weary legs after two weeks of racing, every summit finale will soon be a mano-a-mano duel.

Things could get complicated in the 168km rollercoaster from Ponte di Legno to Lavarone in Wednesday’s stage 17. Two first-category climbs are sandwiched into the closing 40km, with a fast downhill run to the finish. Two races will likely unfold, with a break up the road chasing the stage win, and the GC riders swapping punches on the closing climbs. Losses can compound quickly for anyone isolated and dropped without teammates.

Thursday’s transition stage from Borgo Valsugana to Treviso could be one for any sprinters left in the bunch, but the stage’s short distance at 152km doesn’t give much time to chase if a determined group pulls clear. On paper, it should be a mass gallop, but with most of the sprinters already home, who is going to chase?

Friday’s stage 19 runs 178km unforgiving kilometers from Marano Lagunare to Santuario di Castelmonte, with the brutally steep Cat. 1 Kolovrat at 135km before the uphill second-category summit finale. This one has trap written all over it.

Arguably the “queen stage” of this year’s Giro could be Saturday’s short but explosive 20th stage from Belluno to Marmolada. The stage tackles the Cat. 1 Pellegrino at 80km, with the stunning hors-categorie Passo Pordoi. The Giro’s final week hits its crescendo at the famed Marmolada/Passo Fedaia.

If the Giro’s not a wrap by then, there’s the 17.4km individual time trial starting and finishing in Verona on Sunday. The course features a short climb midway through the stage, and weary legs will likely mean the differences will be minimal.

Will it set up drama until the bitter end? Or will someone ride away with pink and never let go? Let’s dive into the scenarios:

Richard Carapaz with pressure to deliver on favorite status

Richard Carapaz, flanked by Richie Porte, is in the driver’s seat going into the final week. (Photo: Claudio Benedetto/LiveMedia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The Olympic champion rides into the Giro’s final week with a slender seven-second lead, and the Giro’s strongest team backing him up.

Is this a replay of 2019, when he grabbed pink in week 2, and held it all the way the finish? Or will the wheels come off in the Ineos Grenadiers wheelhouse?

“Actually the Giro started two weeks ago and you will see that this is a factor in the last week,” Carapaz said Sunday. “Of course the last climbs will be decisive and we’ll try and defend and keep the jersey.”

How he wins: Carapaz needs to mark the wheels of the likes of Jai Hindley and João Almeida, and then drop the hammer on the steeps to widen his lead. Ineos Grenadiers’ experience will count for a lot in the final week to keep other rivals like Mikel Landa and Domenico Pozzovivo from riding back into the race. And of the major contenders, Carapaz is on the only one who’s won a grand tour, so he knows how to manage the pressure.

How he loses: Carapaz needs to stay upright and healthy, something that’s never assured in a grand tour. He’s already crashed twice in this Giro, and just as the peloton saw Romain Bardet flame out with a stomach bug, anything can happen.  Ineos Grenadiers looks the strongest, but the team’s done most of the work so far in this Giro, and Carapaz could find himself isolated against Bora-Hansgrohe or Bahrain Victorious.  He will definitely want to pad his 30-second lead to Almeida going into the final TT, where the Portuguese rider could take back two to three seconds per kilometer if he has any reserves.

Jai Hindley and the Bora-Hansgrohe threat

Jai Hindley and Bora-Hansgrohe are poised for the podium or maybe more. (Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images)

All season long, Bora-Hansgrohe has been emphatically demonstrating that it’s turned the page on the Peter Sagan Era and is now firmly focused on stage racing. Even though Wilco Kelderman flamed out, the team, along with Bahrain Victorious, is the only squad with two riders in the top-10.

How he wins: Hindley is climbing well, and needs to be aggressive to have any chance of winning. A podium is looking good, but if he doesn’t settle for a top-3 and rolls the dice, he could be Carapaz’s most dangerous rival. Bora-Hansgrohe can use its numbers to attack Carapaz, and Hindley can come over the top.

How he loses: At just seven seconds back, Hindley also sees a target on his back, and he will need to withstand a flurry of attacks all week long from podium rivals. Like Carapaz, he will need to pad any advantage going into the final time trial.

João Almeida and the TT card

João Almeida is the biggest threat in the Giro’s final time trial. (Photo: FABIO FERRARI/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

UAE Emirates is one of the few teams to bring a sprinter and a GC rider to the Giro, and that could backfire in the final week. Davide Formolo is doing his best to support Almeida in the mountains, but the Portuguese star could find himself stranded in every key stage.

How he wins: Hang on for dear life until the final TT in Verona. Of all the major GC candidates, he’s the best against the clock. How much could he take back in Verona? Maybe 30 seconds or more. If he has a great TT, and his rivals are tired, the Giro could be set for a final-stage turn-around.

How he loses: At some point, the elastic might snap. So far in his young career, Almeida has struggled to stay with the fleetest in the deepest mountains. Carapaz and others know he is the most dangerous in the TT, so everyone will be racing against him.

Mikel Landa on favorable ground

Will Pello Bilbao, left, and Mikel Landa race as one? (Photo: FABIO FERRARI/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The Spanish climber seems poised for at least a podium, if not more. After a strong Blockhaus climb, Landa showed some cracks over the weekend. The longer, heavier climbs in the final week will favor Landa’s more diesel-like engine. With Pello Bilbao bouncing back from some first-week losses, Bahrain Victorious has perhaps the best team for the mountains.

How he wins: Landa will be hoping that magic strikes one day, and that he can ride everyone off of his wheel. He will have to risk everything to go deep on one of the most decisive days, perhaps laying everything on the line Saturday. He can limit his losses on the most explosive days, Landa could ride into pink this weekend. Landismo lives.

How he loses: Perhaps no rider in the bunch has suffered the bad luck, team politics, and mistimed bad moments than Landa. He danced with fire at Blockhaus, when he crashed twice. It’s hard to know how many lives this cat will have in the unforgiving final week. And Bilbao might want to race his own race, and Landa could fall victim to an internal  power struggle yet again.

Outsiders: Miracles for Pozzovivo or Nibali?

Vincenzo Nibali is hoping to win a stage in his final Giro. (Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images)

As hard as the final week is and how deep the top of the GC is looking, it’s highly unlikely to see anyone pulling a late-race miracle comeback from further back in the overall.

Domenico Pozzovivo at 39 and Vincenzo Nibali at 37 are both too far back to mount a serious GC threat. A stage win by either or a run into the top-5 would be beyond expectations for the two veteran Italians. There’s no way the GC favorites will let a rider like Hugh Carthy or Simon Yates to ride back into the frame.

Anyone in the top-10 could still win, though the winner will likely come from the leading four riders.

At least the Giro is still packing some drama and suspense, and that’s why the corsa rosa is so thrilling. This one isn’t over yet. Far from it.

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