TORINO, Italy (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) might have won the 99th Giro d’Italia, but the race also served as a platform for a new generation of riders to elbow their way into the established power structure.
Nibali was the only one of cycling’s “Cuatro Galacticos” to race the Italian grand tour (Nairo Quintana, Chris Froome, and Alberto Contador stayed home this month), so perhaps it was no surprise that he managed to pull off the victory. Another rider meeting expectations was Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), with third overall and a stage win.
Behind those two established stars was a Giro filled with new riders keen to use the opportunity to strut their stuff. From GC riders to stage-hunters and sprinters, the season’s first grand tour always presents an opening worth exploiting. Here are five who took the 99th Giro d’Italia by the horns:
Esteban Chaves (Orica – GreenEdge), 2nd at 0:52
Saturday’s final climb proved to be one summit too far for the electrifying and always-smiling Chaves. The 26-year-old’s performance is more confirmation than revelation, but this Giro will put him on another level. A winner of the 2011 Tour d’Avenir, Chaves saw his promising career almost cut short with a devastating arm injury, and Orica deserves credit for giving him time and space to recover. Two stage victories, a spell in the leader’s jersey and fifth overall in last year’s Vuelta a España revealed his promise. His ever-steady and gutsy ride in this Giro almost delivered Colombia’s second pink jersey, and confirmed that Chaves is the real deal. To win? Hit the repeat button, see more support from his team in the mountains, and limit his losses in the time trial.
Quote: “I’ve learned in his Giro you can achieve your dreams. If you keep going hard, don’t give up, you can do it. We only lost a bike race, there are other things more important in this life.”
Up next: Chaves is expected to be key member of the five-rider Colombian team for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. The climb-heavy course is perfect for the Colombians, but the team will need to work out what could be the complicated question of who will be their designated leaders. After that, it’s a return to the Vuelta. After this Giro, the goal will be to win.
Bob Jungels (Etixx – Quick-Step), 6th at 8:31 and best young rider
The 23-year-old Luxembourger delivered one surprise after another at this Giro. A promising GC rider for one-week races, Jungel’s breakout Giro that included a spell in the pink jersey has everyone thinking he could have the right stuff for grand tours. Third in this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico, Jungel’s future already looks bright, both in the hilly Ardennes classics and in one-week stage racing. Whether he can truly develop into a grand tour contender remains to be seen. At 6-four-3, he’s one of the tallest riders in the bunch, and will need to shed some kilos if he hopes to be able to stay with the climbers in the grand tours. He showed remarkable staying power in this Giro, riding in the top-20 in every key climbing stage in a race when many expected him to fade. His role model? Bradley Wiggins. If Wiggo can do it, maybe Jungels can, too.
Quote: “This Giro’s been a surprise for me. I came here with ambitions for the GC, so I’m really surprised. I’ve seen my strengths and weaknesses over three weeks, and I’ve learned so many things. I’m defending quiet well, and that’s how I want to develop in the future.”
Up next: Jungels is penciled in on Etixx’s long list for the Tour de France, where he would be a utility players, helping in the sprints with Marcel Kittel and having the freedom to hunt for stage. After that will be a likely trip to Rio in August. He’s already under contract with Etixx next season.
Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale), 34th at 1h32:56
A winner of the BabyGiro in 2012 ahead of Fabio Aru, America’s purest climber since Andy Hampsten found his grand tour legs in this Giro. After battling through some health issues and two seasons with Sky, he’s settled in nicely at Cannondale, taking a big win last year at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. The 25-year-old came to this Giro to help GC captain Riboberto Urán, but the team also gave him his own chances. He rode with the big boys in stage 13, in what was a prelude to the Dolomites. A mechanical took him out of the breakaway on the epic stage to Corvara, and he surprised yet again with an impressive eighth at the Alpe di Susi climbing TT. He saved the best for last, riding into main breakaway in Saturday’s bone-crusher, riding to a career-best third on the day.
Quote: “I think grand tours suit me. The third week is usually better for me than the first week. I am not super punchy or fast, but I can keep going and going. Coming out of this Giro, I am feeling good. It’s hard during the stage, but I don’t feel any more tired than I do at hard training camps.”
Up next: With two solid seasons at Cannondale, the team won’t let him get away, and he will only have more freedom in the coming seasons. The future is bright, especially when the road tilts up.
Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL – Jumbo), 4th overall at 1:50
If it wasn’t for his crash into a snow bank Friday, this Giro might have had a very different ending. Kruijswijk was looking unbeatable going into this weekend’s final two climbing stages, but a moment’s lack of concentration over the top of the Agnello climb proved costly. Kruijswijk proved he’s toughness by starting Saturday despite cracked ribs and other injuries, but he couldn’t fend off the wolves alone, and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) bumped him off the podium. Three times second on stages and one time third, Kruijswijk rode an impressively consistent Giro that bodes well for the future. It’s a bittersweet conclusion to what was otherwise a tremendous breakthrough performance for the 28-year-old Dutchman.
Quote: “This might have been my only chance to win the Giro in my life, so I am a bit happy and sad at the same time. I showed myself to the world that I could challenge for the Giro, but to lose it the way I did is disappointing. I am proud how I rode this Giro.”
Up next: Kruijswijk is scheduled to race the Vuelta a España, and will be a candidate for the Netherlands’ Olympic team, but the real question is what jersey he will be wearing next season. He’s off contract at the end of this year, and his asking price will skyrocket despite his end-of-Giro mishaps. No Dutch rider’s won a grand tour since the 1980 Tour de France with Joop Zoetemelk, and though many see Tom Dumoulin as a future GC contender, Kruijswijk has also emerged as a legitimate alternative.
Alexander Foliforov (Gazprom – RusVelo), 45th at 2:06:37
Almost no one had heard of Foliforov before the Alpe di Susi climbing time trial, when he stunned the established WorldTour favorites. The 24-year-old has been knocking around Russian development squads since 2012, posting some solid results, including stage wins at the U23 Ronde d’Isoard in 2014, and victory at the GP Sonchi in 2015. None of that seemed to foreshadow such a strong performance during this Giro. As part of the RusVelo team, he was discreet through the first half of the Giro, with 12th at the stage to Cividale del Fruili, before springing to victory at the climbing time trial. He backed that up with a solid weekend in the Alps, with 30th at Risoul, and fifth Saturday to Sant’Anna di Vinadio.
Quote: “To have won the time trial was a big surprise, because I would have been happy with a top-10. It’s a dream, because I came here to win this stage, climbing time trials are my forte. This won’t be the last you hear of me.”
Up next: A likely move up to the WorldTour team in 2017, where he will be part of a new generation of young Russians making an impact on the peloton. The way Ilnur Zakarin rode in this Giro before crashing out on the penultimate mountain stage, it’s safe to say the Russians are back.