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We are just (looks at calendar) two days away from the start of the 2020 Giro d’Italia, and there are oh so many storylines to follow throughout this year’s race. I have my eyes on five big ones, and here they are:
Peter Sagan needs to win a bike race
It’s been 447 days and 65 racing days since Peter Sagan last won a professional bike race. Even with the COVID-19 shutdown, that is a heckuva dry spell for our sport’s biggest and highest-paid celebrity. To top it off, he’s coming out of a disappointing Tour de France that saw him miss a stage win and the green jersey. The unfortunate drawback of Sagan’s otherworldly success is sky-high expectations, and unfortunately, an empty Tour just isn’t good enough for Peter the Great. What does this mean? The onus is on Sagan to win at least one stage at the Giro d’Italia. He’s skipped the classics to race the Giro, and how he needs to win.
That could be a task easier said than done. The Giro’s lineup of heavy sprinters is strong — but not insurmountable — with Elia Viviani (Cofidis), Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ), and Fernando Gaviria (UAE-Team Emirates) in attendance.
The real question, however, is what level Sagan will be in for the race. Will Sagan be a fast man for the flat sprints, or will he be the more versatile rider we’ve come to appreciate from years past? At the Tour he lacked the legs to survive hillier stages. On paper, this Giro could serve up 10 stages that cater to his strengths. What those strengths will be, however, is yet to be seen.
Americans in Italy
After a Tour de France that saw just three Americans and one Canadian take the start, the Giro d’Italia is teeming with North American riders. There are eight Americans plus Canadian Alex Cataford (Israel Start-Up Nation) on the preliminary start list. And each guy has a great storyline behind his Giro. I expect to see Lawson Craddock (EF Pro Cycling), Larry Warbasse (AG2R-La Mondiale), and Joey Rosskopf (CCC Team) battling for breakaway wins. Brent Bookwalter (Mitchelton-Scott) will be a veteran leader for Simon Yates’ assault on the maglia rosa. EF Pro Cycling’s Sean Bennett is building on his grand tour debut in 2019, and Cataford is making his grand tour debut.
Chad Haga (Sunweb) is likely to ride in support of Wilco Kelderman’s push for pink, but we could see him rest up and try to win one of the three individual time trials. And then there are Joe Dombrowski and Brandon McNulty on UAE-Team Emirates. Dombrowski is the Giro veteran who just missed the top-10 last year and is now on a new team with potentially new ambitions. And McNulty is the longtime star-in-the-making who is finally getting his grand tour shot.
There are plenty of stories to follow, and I cannot wait to abandon my journalistic objectivity and cheer for my compatriots.
Will the Alps be a snow out?
By now you’ve likely seen those photos on social media of the snow-covered Passo dello Stelvio summit alongside a tweet saying something like: “The Giro is supposed to finish here in three weeks, womp womp.”
Well, the unfortunate reality is that Northern Italy’s fickle mountain weather in mid-October is likely to be as unpredictable and treacherous as it is in May. Last year we missed out on an ascent of the Gavia due to oak tree-high snowdrifts on the pass, and this year the Stelvio could be the big loser.
And that’s not the only pass that is threatened. The Stelvio (2,758 meters) and Colle dell’Agnello (2,744 m) could see snow, as could the Col d’Izoard (2,360 m) and even the Forcella Valbona (1,782 m) and the finish to Madonna di Campiglio (1,514m). Whether or not October serves up as much snow as May is yet to be seen. The 10-day forecast for the Stelvio calls for cold temperatures and constant snowfall.
It’s no longer a secret that the season restart after the COVID-19 shutdown has caught some riders by surprise. Some guys are flying, other guys are trying to find their form, and other guys just lack the regular race days to attain grand tour fitness. You can read an in-depth explanation of this dynamic in Brent Bookwalter’s excellent diary from last week. We saw this dynamic play out in the Tour de France. Egan Bernal fell apart at the race’s midpoint, while Miguel Ángel López came on in week three, and Tadej Pogačar really came on in week three.
How will this play out in the Giro? My assumption is there will be fewer implosions within the GC field, since riders have now been racing for a month and a half. Tirreno-Adriatico gave the Giro stars a big boost of hard racing just two weeks ago. Geraint Thomas is now looking strong after his Critérium du Dauphiné setback, and Simon Yates and Aleksandr Vlasov appear to be flying. There’s only one guy with a big question mark hanging over his head…
Vincenzo Nibali’s last stand
Vincenzo Nibali just hasn’t looked his best during these early races, and the big question is whether the “Shark of Messina” will be ready when the Giro kicks off in his Sicilian homeland next week. Nibali is a pro at peaking during the third week of a grand tour, but this year’s Giro throws a huge test at the GC guys on stage 3 with the ascent of Mt. Etna. If Nibali is still searching for his GC legs this Monday, he could wave arrivederci to his GC hopes.
And that could be a disaster for Nibali. He’s 35 already, and he’s been battling for grand tour wins for seemingly forever. How many good, strong runs he has at a grand tour overall is a big question. And as much as I hate to admit it, I think this could be Nibali’s last good shot at GC.
Look, I love Nibali, and the swashbuckling style he’s adopted in his 30s reminds me of late-period Alberto Contador. But Contador’s last grand tour GC win came in 2015, when he was 33. Nibali’s long in the tooth, and I would love to see him win one for the proverbial geezers.