Giro d'Italia

Giro di Hoody: Absence of Geraint Thomas leaves the Giro d’Italia wide open

Peloton will be wrong to overlook Joao Almeida if he can defend pink Sunday.

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I’m still blown away by the early exit of Geraint Thomas. Talk about bad luck. And Thomas has had plenty of it at the Giro d’Italia over the past few years. Remember when he was struck by a police motorcycle in 2017? Thomas was saying he was in as good shape as he was when he won the 2018 Tour de France, and he looked it.

Without Thomas and Ineos Grenadiers controlling the tempo of the race, this Giro is now wide open.

There have been hints that Trek-Segafredo and Vincenzo Nibali moving in to fill the void left by Ineos Grenadiers. Every grand tour needs at least one team willing to do the hard work to keep a lid on things. Otherwise, big breaks might ride away and turn the race upside down.

One of the three remaining veterans — Nibali, Jakob Fuglsang and Steven Kruijswijk — still look likely to win. Of those three, Nibali and Fuglsang have looked the sharpest in the early going. But everyone knows a Giro can be won or lost in the closing days of the race, especially Kruijswijk. If he’s the same steady diesel he was in 2019 at the Tour, he could at least hit the podium, if not more.

The way João Almeida (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) is riding, coupled with the fact that Jonathan Caicedo (EF Pro Cycling) tumbled out of the top-20 on Wednesday, he could possibly carry the pink jersey well into the second week. In fact, if he survives Sunday’s stage to Roccaraso in pink, there is nothing on paper that should dislodge him until stage 15. Almeida could even widen his lead in the stage 14 time trial, and defend the following day.

The problem for 22-year-old Almeida is that he’s never raced more than 10 days in his young career, and the wheels could come off the cart at any moment. Right now, no one is really counting him as a real contender for overall victory, but stranger things have happened.

He’s the right profile of the general youth trend that’s been overtaking the peloton the past few years. Egan Bernal and Tadej Pogačar won the Tour at about his same age. He’s a strong time trialist, and he’s been climbing with the best. A few things also count against him. He’s never raced a grand tour, and he’s never truly gone toe-to-toe with the strongest in the pack in the truly high mountains when it counted.

And this Giro is riddled with potentially explosive transition stages that could see the race blow up at the most unexpected time.

What’s sure is that without a big favorite and the uneven approach of the Giro in this COVID-19 affected season, it’s very possible that there are going to be a lot of big surprises from here to Milano. Let’s hope so.