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Giro d'Italia

Giro d’Italia analysis: Questions for the pink jersey protagonists

From one-hit wonders to doomed superdomestiques, the top of the Giro crop all carry question marks heading into the race's final week.

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Stars, water carriers, and sharks.

The protagonists of the final week of the Giro d’Italia all have their albatrosses to get free of and legends to live up to.

The next few days could see Richard Carapaz make the grand tour “big three” a “big four,” Jai Hindley add punch to a problematic palmarès, and so much more.

Also read:

Here are the questions facing the pink jersey protagonists ahead of a final-week thriller:

Richard Carapaz: On par with the ‘big three?’

Pogačar, Roglič, Bernal … and Carapaz? (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)
  • Maglia Rosa
  • Grand tour best results:
    • Giro d’Italia 2019: 1st
    • Vuelta a España 2020: 2nd
    • Tour de France 2021: 3rd
    • Giro d’Italia 2018: 4th

Richard Carapaz is one of the most dynamic and consistent GC racers in the bunch.

But is he up there with the “big three” of Tadej Pogačar, Primož Roglič and Egan Bernal?

We’ll find out in the next week.

“I feel even better than I did in 2019 [when Carapaz scored his breakout Giro victory – ed], and in that case, it was far from assured, so that gives me even more confidence for the week to come.”

A second Giro title would kick Carapaz up to the level of Bernal in the Ineos team bus and push him to the top of the GC peloton.

And after that?

A faceoff with Pogačar or Roglič would be the true test for Carapaz. The Ecuadorian ace was resilient but couldn’t crack the power of Pogačar at last year’s Tour and blew out before Bernal and Roglič ran rampant through the final week of the 2021 Vuelta.

A Pogačar-Roglič-Carapaz collision is currently on the cards for this year’s Vuelta. But before we start popping the corn for what could be a sizzling summer in Spain, Carapaz needs to conquer the Giro’s final week.

He’s got the team to support him and the high altitudes that favor him.

Carapaz had a very big chance to make a GC “big three” a “big four” in the next week.

Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe): One hit wonder or top of the pops?

Hindley has the albatross of a post-COVID breakout to get free of. (Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images)
  • 2nd at +0:07
  • Grand tour best results:
    • Giro d’Italia 2020: 2nd

“I wanted to prove to people, and more so myself, that I was capable of riding at that level and that 2020 wasn’t just a fluke, like a lot of people on social media think.”

The weight of a podium finish in Giro shrouded in what-ifs lies heavy on Jai Hindley’s back.

Second to Tao Geoghegan Hart in what some see as a decaffeinated post-COVID Giro shorn of big stars came as a blessing and a curse.

After lighting up Aussie hopes with his breakout Giro in the wild and wacky pandemic season, Hindley faded from view in a 2021 riddled with setbacks and sickness.

“It was really frustrating to have all these setbacks and have all that stuff going on,” he said.

“After each setback I kept losing the form and that was hard to compete at a decent level but ultimately a change of team was a new start and breath of fresh air. It was like pressing the reset button.”

This year is Hindley’s year to show 2020 was no one-off.

So far looking the sole climber capable of matching the explosive exuberance of Carapaz and flanked by a deep green army of Bora-Hansgrohe bodyguards, Hindley could even pull on pink in Verona.

Nobody touted Hindley as a prime pink jersey candidate two weeks ago. 2021 was a no-show and the Aussie felt an anomaly.

In one week’s time, victory, or even another podium finish, would put Hindley right back on the GC map.

Joao Almeida (UAE Team Emirates): Is third enough?

Joao Almeida wears the young riders' jersey at the Giro d'Italia
Almeida has youth and time at his side – is racing for third enough? (Photo: Luca Bettini/AFP via Getty Images)
  • 3rd at +0:30
  • Grand tour best results:
    • Giro d’Italia 2020: 4th
    • Giro d’Italia 2021: 6th

Is a podium finish enough for a rider on a five-year deal with one of the richest teams in the world?

João Almeida hopes so.

“A podium spot would be like a victory for me,” he said.

After finishing in the top-6 of his first two grand tours, Almeida seems content to target a step on the podium.

“To be in the top three guys is totally special. I was close for 2020 and it was really good for me. I was really happy, so if I can get the one better and being the final podium is always special. So yeah, if I get third at least I’m happy with my performance.”

A defensive race for third ain’t going to be exciting. But a podium placing would show the progress UAE Emirates no doubt wants to see before Almeida partners Tadej Pogačar at the Vuelta this summer.

A third-place finish may not rock pro cycling record books, but there’s no hiding Almeida has ridden one of the most resilient races so far. Hanging tough under pressure on the Blockhaus summit and salvaging a race-ending split on the rampage around Turino shows Almeida has a full pipeline of potential.

At 23 years old, Almeida has the time to stretch his wings and the opportunities to strive for higher. Third place in Verona may just be a part of the Almeida long-game.

Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious): Superdomestique or certified champion?

Landa: A career carry water bottles or a true GC champion? (Photo: FABIO FERRARI/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
  • 4th at +0:59
  • Grand tour best results:
    • Giro d’Italia 2015: 3rd
    • Tour de France 2017, 2020: 4th
    • Giro d’Italia 2019: 4th

Mikel Landa, best bottle carrier in the pro peloton?

At 32 years old, Landa is running out of time in a career spent playing second best and sacrificing ambitions to top-flight teammates at Sky, Astana, and Movistar.

“I’ve dreamed many times of racing and winning the Giro and at the moment this year there are still options, so let’s keep dreaming,” Landa said Monday.

DNFs in both his past two grand tours pushed Landa off the GC grid after he established himself as a classification constant with his streak of consistency from 2017 through 2020.

At almost one minute down, Landa has a lot of time to claw back on Carapaz this week. And with a Giro podium already on his palmarès, the bottom steps of the podium may not be enough for Landa and his pink jersey dream.

“I think that the stages ahead will be more suited to my characteristics,” he said. “I prefer these longer climbs at high altitude, and very hard stages coming consecutively should be better for a rider like me.”

“Landani” will need to launch an all-out assault on the mountains in a Giro where only first will be enough.

Success will see the Basque bounce from superdomestique to undisputed champion. Anything less than first might only rubberstamp his reputation as a GC second-best.

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana Qazaqstan): How to sign off a near-perfect palmarès?

TURIN, ITALY - MAY 21: Vincenzo Nibali of Italy and Team Astana – Qazaqstan competes during the 105th Giro d'Italia 2022, Stage 14 a 147km stage from Santena to Torino / #Giro / #WorldTour / on May 21, 2022 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)
Nibali is back in the center of the frame – how to sign off a stellar career? (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)
  • 8th at 2:58
  • Grand tour best results:
    • Giro d’Italia 2013, 2016: 1st
    • Tour de France 2014: 1st
    • Vuelta a España 2010: 1st
    • Seven more podium finishes across all three grand tours

The palmarès and the current place on GC says it all.

Vincenzo Nibali won’t be racing for a top-10 in this final week of the race.

“I definitely want to try to leave my mark,” Nibali said after he vaulted up the classification last weekend.

Stuck between the rock of wanting to go out of his final Giro with a bang and the hard place of being too close to the pink jersey to be allowed into a significant break, Nibali maneuvered himself into a no-man’s land.

What would be the best way for the Shark to sign off an illustrious career?

Another Giro stage win to take his total to eight would add some shimmer and prove his longevity after not achieving the feat since 2017.

But for a rider like Nibali – a predator that hunts its prey with exhilarating attacks and long-range raids – only something spectacular will be enough to survive the test of time.

A repeat of the type of overturn that wrenched the maglia rosa from Esteban Chaves in 2016 may not be possible. But if Nibali wants to truly “leave his mark,” he’s going to have to try something.