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Three-week racing is a different beast.
The difference between a podium, a victory or anonymity in a race as demanding as the Giro d’Italia can come down to a lapse of concentration, a spill, or one bad day.
Some riders are finely tuned to the consistency and staying power that grand tours demand. Others show promise, but fall short of delivering their full potential.
This year’s Giro is packed with riders poised to take the next step. Behind the marquee five-star favorites such as Egan Bernal or Mikel Landa is a fleet of racers who could vault up the hierarchy of the peloton.
Our VeloNews editors pick three riders who be the Giro’s dark horses.
Jim Cotton: Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo)
Who wouldn’t want to see Hugh Carthy on the podium at the end of this month?
The gangly 26-year-old provides must-watch attacking action, all elbows, pain faces and old-school guts, and his post-race interviews make for a magic mix of dry Brit humor and honest, open appraisal.
OK, sure, I have a bit of a soft spot for “Huge” Carthy and would love to see him hit the big time in Italy. But the EF captain also has a very realistic chance of hitting the podium, or at least a top-5.
He’s known for his climbing after conquering the Angliru on the way to finishing third at last year’s Vuelta, but he’s got a solid time trial to back it up. Carthy can withstand the grimmest of weather and thrives in the long diesel climbs – he’s the model of a Giro specialist.
After beating Pavel Sivakov, Nairo Quintana and Dani Martínez in his ride to 5th at the Tour of the Alps earlier this month, Carthy is my rider to watch.
Standing at 6-foot-4 and with an equally impressive gurn, you’ll struggle to miss him.
"You got all my stuff?"
A massive win on the Angliru on @lavuelta Stage 12 for @EFprocycling's Hugh Carthy yet he was more concerned at the finish by the whereabouts of his belongings 😂
🇪🇸 #LaVuelta #LaVuelta20 pic.twitter.com/jSgZQP9k8X
— Velon CC (@VelonCC) November 1, 2020
Andrew Hood: Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech)
The 25-year-old impressed during his rookie WorldTour season with three victories that coincided with the COVID calendar in 2020, and came out hot in August in the restart only to abandon on the second stage of his grand tour debut at the Giro d’Italia with a bad stomach. He proved his GC chops with 11th in a hard-fought Vuelta a España last fall.
Second at Paris-Nice and third at Tour of the Alps in his run-up to the Giro confirms he’s right there behind the marquee favorites for a shot at the final podium.
After confirming he can handle a grand tour, the big question mark this month is how well he will be able to haul his 6-foot-1 frame over the brutal climbs of northern Italy.
Vlasov should be able to defend in the time trials against most of the other climbers, so what does he have to do to join Denis Menchov, Pavel Tonkov and Evgeni Berzin as the only Russian grand tour winners?
Consistency is the name of the game, so he needs to limit his losses in the time trials, and hope he finds superb climbing legs on the key mountain stages. Astana-Premier Tech brings a strong team, with one eye on a stage win, and another on protecting Vlasov.
If everything goes right, a podium is possible. If he can rocket away on one of the climbs, why not dream of pink?
💠 PREVIEW & ROSTER: @giroditalia
— Astana Qazaqstan Team (@AstanaQazTeam) May 3, 2021
Sadhbh O’Shea: Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick-Step)
It does feel a little cheeky naming Remco Evenepoel as a dark horse for anything, but this is his grand tour debut and his first race back after his horrific crash at Il Lombardia last fall.
Nevertheless, it would feel remiss not to include him in this list given his penchant for nailing things at the first try.
Evenepoel has shown himself to be adept at all manner of terrains throughout his short career, whether it be mountains, time trials or anything else in between. Had this not been his first ever grand tour, the 21-year-old Belgian would be a red-hot favorite.
There is no doubt that he can mix it with the best climbers in the peloton, but the question remains over how he will cope with three weeks of racing in the legs. The longest race he has done so far in his career is just seven days.
While it might affect his sharpness early in the race, his lack of racing kilometers so far in 2021 could play into his hands later in the race as fatigue really sets in. Whether or not it gives him an advantage over the other contenders is another question altogether.
Evenepoel is not Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s outright leader with João Almeida, who wore the pink jersey for over two weeks in 2020, lining up alongside him. The on-form Fausto Masnada is also due to ride the Giro d’Italia and Evenepoel could find himself in a support role for either of them.
But if Evenepoel can hit the ground running in his grand tour debut then it would be foolish to bet against him coming home with a maglia rosa to show for it.
Fred Dreier: George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma)
It’s blasphemous to call anyone on Jumbo-Visma a dark horse at a grand tour, since the Dutch squad has built itself into the most formidable all-around team in the WorldTour. Still, I cannot place George Bennett alongside Egan Bernal, Mikel Landa, or Vincenzo Nibali as a true five-star favorite. Bennett is a great all-around grand tour racer who is still searching for that grand tour effort that goes off without a hitch. He’s been eighth at the Giro (2018), but in all of his other grand tour efforts he’s suffered the awful One Bad Day, and has seen his GC run take a tumble.
Bennett comes in with one of the stronger squads in the race, with experienced Paul Martens and the young Tobias Foss to help him in the mountains. Jumbo has split ambitions, with Dylan Groenewegen targeting the springs, so Bennett will undoubtedly be isolated at some points during the race. He’s riding high after an awesome Tour de France, and an even better late classics season in 2020 that saw him win Gran Piemonte and finish second at Il Lombardia. Did those results give Bennett the confidence boost to fight for a Giro d’Italia win? I hope so!