The fireworks started on stage 14 and they’ll likely only leave the Giro at its end in Verona, next Sunday. Looking at the profiles one would point to stage 15, and the summit finish at Cogne as the stage to watch in terms of the general classification (GC). Well, stage 14 was a testament to the motto “the riders make the race and not the other way around”. The pace was hell-ish on the way to Torino and that completely blew up the GC. Stage 15, on the other hand, while expected by many to be the most difficult out of the two (certainly the one with the highest mountains), was a huge disappointment. While the final ascent to Cogne was not the steepest, the fact that 26 riders arrived together, in the GC favorites’ group, proves how meaningless the stage was in terms of GC.
Richard Carapaz (Ineos)
Comes out of the weekend as the clear main contender to the Giro. He was the most dynamic, the most feared rider, the one who is leading and making everyone else chase. He has the ability, the team and the maglia rosa right now. It will be difficult to dislodge him but he also must gain some more time on João Almeida during the third week: 30 seconds likely won’t be enough for the final time-trial.
Jai Hindley (Bora Hansgrohe)
He’s the surprise of the Giro so far, in my opinion. I understand that many people may have counted on him for an important result but I don’t think many of them would have backed the Australian to be 7 seconds behind the maglia rosa at the beginning of the third week.
I, in particular, did not see this coming. In my mind, Hindley needed to show that he was not a Thomas de Gendt or Bernhard Kohl – a one-time Grand Tour (GT) podium finisher. What I mean by this is that I was hoping for a sustained performance from Hindley, maybe even a stage win. Something that he would build upon for the future.
The Australian certainly had other ideas and just went straight to the maglia rosa. I still do not back him for a podium finish. I think the 3rd week is where his disappointing 2021 might come into play. Regardless, Jai Hindley has certainly proved me and many others wrong in our assessments, and will be looked upon much differently in the future.
João Almeida (UAE)
After Simon Yates’ disaster stage on the Blockhaus he became, in my estimation, Carapaz’s biggest threat. He lost some time in stage 14, and is now 30 seconds behind the Ecuadorian. I don’t see this as a problem for the Portuguese, especially since he geared his preparation for the 3rd week, for the Dolomites. I think this was clear through a subpar time trial performance on stage 2 and an okay but still shaky display on the Blockhaus. Much like last year I back the Portuguese to show his might on the third week of the Giro, and to finish on the podium in Verona.
Mikel Landa (Bahrain)
A bit like Hindley, Landa hasn’t shown anything in GTs in more than one and a half years. Unlike Hindley, he’s never shown, over three weeks, the ability to win a GT. I think his fight is for the podium. Bahrain came to this Giro with Landa as the clear leader and Pello Bilbao as protected rider. Now, Landa is 59s behind Carapaz and Bilbao only 1m52s. The latter is in the podium fight in his own right and will certainly not wait for Landa if he breaks down. Bahrain has two cards to play in the 3rd week. We’ll see which one trumps the other.
Domenico Pozzovivo (Intermarche Wanty Gobert)
In a Giro that is being decided by process of elimination, Pozzovivo has hung on. I didn’t particularly back him (or Nibali, or Valverde) after their great performances on the Blockhaus, and I still don’t to be honest. The tougher days in this Giro have been heavily spaced out so far: Etna on stage 4, Blockhaus on stage 9, Torino on stage 14.
Now there’s no more space left. Stages 16, 17, 19, 20, and 21 will decide the Giro and every rider is in danger of losing more than 10 minutes in each of them. The Intermarche rider already has an 8 minutes advantage over 11th (Alejandro Valverde) and nearly 16m over Hugh Carthy (18th) so his top-10 seems secure.
Nevertheless, I would put his chances of a top-10 finish at 50/50 right now. Lucas Hamilton, Thymen Arensman, and even Hugh Carthy are lurking outside of the top-10 and all three will certainly give their all to get back in it. Maybe Carthy is more geared towards stage wins right now, but the other two certainly would love to prove themselves as GT riders with a top-10 in this Giro. All it takes is one day.
Pello Bilbao (Bahrain)
Ever since 2020 the Spaniard has been a model of consistency in GTs. The opposite of his team leader. I picked Bilbao to finish above Landa in this Giro and I’m still confident in my pick. I think Bilbao accumulated enough clout within the team in the past two years to have a certain level of freedom and, at 1m52s behind, he is still close enough that any slippage by Landa will turn him into the team leader.
Emanuel Buchmann (Bora)
A 29 year old whose potential we still don’t know. I wrote that I still needed to see some consistency from Hindley before I back him as a top-GC rider. Consistency is certainly not something Buchmann ever showed. The only outstanding result of his career is a 4th place in the Tour. But that is a truly outstanding result. He’s placed in the top-20 of GTs two other times so we know there is some potential there.
He finished last year’s Tour at a relative high so he has completed a 3-week race within the past year, which puts him at an advantage over many of his top-10 rivals. I don’t think a podium finish is feasible for him, especially when his teammate Jai Hindley is fighting for the maglia rosa. If he is able to simply manage his effort though, a strong top-10 position awaits him.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)
Read Pozzovivo. He has a 6 minute advantage over 11th. Based on this it’s almost impossible to say he’s not going to finish in the top-10. I, however, do not back him to reach that goal. Now that GC stages are coming on back-to-back days I don’t see a 37 year old Nibali being able to be at that high-level.
It’s possible he’ll keep his top-10 place out of elimination: he already has a 6 minute advantage after all. But I think these upcoming days will be too hard for him, in the end.
Juan Pedro López (Trek Segafredo)
His collapse on the final 25km of Saturday’s stage cost him the maglia rosa and nearly 5 minutes in the GC. However, 5 minutes over 11th should be more than enough for the talented Spaniard to keep his place in the top-10. Today’s stage will be crucial to assess whether his motivation is shot after losing the pink jersey, or whether he is motivated to fight for a top-10 standing. I backed him to get into the top-10 before the Giro started and I stay true to my prediction. His teammate, Giulio Ciccone, won stage 15 with authority. Adding a top-10 to that plus 10 days in pink, would be a dream scenario for Trek Segafredo.
Guillaume Martin (Cofidis)
Martin looks like he found a particular strategy in a videogame that allows him to exploit some weakness in the programming. He gets where he needs to be (top-10), but through different means than the ones initially planned by the videogame designers. In this case the designers are the organizers of the GTs and the usual means to get to the top-10 is to stick with the favorites during the hardest stages. Martin does it through breakaways or solo attacks when his GC contenders are just sitting in the bunch. That’s just as valid, no question, but does not bode well for the 3rd week, in my opinion.
Fortunately for the Frenchman, he seems to be really motivated to get in the top-10 and he already has three and a half minutes over Lucas Hamilton, the first rider behind him that might care just as much as him to get into the top-10.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Jan Hirt (Intermarche) and Wilco Kelderman (Bora) are 11th, 12th, and 13th, respectively, but I don’t back Valverde for a result in this Giro at 42 years of age (I’m rooting for a stage win, though), and Hirt and Kelderman both have teammates in the top-10 which will be their teams’ priorities.
Lucas Hamilton (BikeExchange) and Thymen Arensman (DSM) are their team’s best placed riders in GC and their careers would receive a major boost if they actually managed to get into the top-10 of the Giro.
Romain Bardet (DSM)
The Frenchman did not start stage 13 due to stomach problems. He was 4th at 14 seconds from the maglia rosa when he abandoned. France seems to be cursed when it comes to the GC of Grand Tours. Laurent Jalabert was the last French rider to win a GT (1995 Vuelta). Bardet had a chance to be in the fight for this Giro. Sadly, that was taken from him. All the best to him in his recovery.
Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ), Simon Yates (BikeExchange) & Giulio Ciccone (Trek Segafredo)
Winners of stage 13, 14, and 15, respectively, all riders proved something with their victories. Demare proved that he’s clearly the best sprinter in the race and essentially guaranteed the maglia ciclamino at the end of the Giro. Yates proved that he should be in contention for the Giro. I think stage 14 was not the last one he won in this edition of the Italian GT. And Ciccone proved to his team that he is best utilized as a wildcard, stage hunter than a GT rider. I mentioned as much before this Giro and I hope Trek now finally figured it out.
As predicted Koen Bouwman (Jumbo Visma) took hold of the blue jersey on stage 15. He seems to be the strongest contender for this jersey and I would be surprised if anyone else took it from him. Diego Rosa (Eolo Kometa) is 2nd in this classification with 92 points (17 behind Bouwman) but, at this point of their careers, I can’t see Rosa defeating the Dutchman for this jersey.
Stage 16 Preview
Mountain stages after rest days are always unpredictable. This is an incredibly long stage (202km) with three long and steep 1st category climbs. Whoever is distanced early won’t make it back and will lose dozens of minutes. It will be hell for the sprinters to make sure they make it inside the time limit.
Will a breakaway make it? Well, the stage is too long for us to be sure. On the other hand, Ineos (the best team in the Giro) already has the pink jersey so they’ll be less inclined to take over the race and make it hard early. I can see both scenarios playing out, really. I can see the peloton taking it easy until the final climb and fighting amongst themselves there. And I can see some team leader being distanced in the first or second climb of the day and someone taking hold of the peloton there, which likely would prevent the breakaway from winning the stage.
I’m going with Simon Yates. I thought he was the favorite for the Giro before the race. He won stage 14 benefitting from his status as a non-GC contender. I think he’ll do the same here. The small descent after the final climb will likely make the top GC contenders not go full gas at the top, and a rider like Yates can take advantage of this to claim his second Giro d’Italia stage this year.