The horrific exits of Mikel Landa and Pavel Sivakov in Wednesday’s high-speed crash are not only unfortunate and unnecessary, but their untimely departures will have a major impact on the Giro d’Italia and dynamics in the fight for the pink jersey.
Landa was a five-star podium favorite and looked to be in his best form in years. Sivakov was a key “Plan-B” for mighty Ineos Grenadiers, which won last year’s Giro using a “Plan C” option with Tao Geoghegan Hart.
With both of them out of the race, the 2021 Giro d’Italia will now have a very different feel and tone.
First off, Bahrain Victorious will transition from being a team that would be attacking and controlling the race from the front to one that will be attacking from the back.
Without Landa and his “guarantee” of a podium spot, the team will switch into full-on disruptor mode.
Instead of using riders like Damiano Caruso and Pello Bilbao to control attacks and set up Landa, those two riders will now be unshackled. Caruso is no stranger to the top-10, and he’s popped in a few strong results over the years, and he rides into Thursday’s stage lurking in 11th overall. Bilbao, second at the Tour of the Alps, is slow out of the gates, but will now have the freedom to attack.
Neither will have anything to lose, and both will now have the green light to move. A stage victory would likely be a higher reward than a top-10 GC placing, but those two riders are now more dangerous without being held back to help Landa.
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And then there’s Ineos Grenadiers.
After losing Sivakov, all the pressure falls on Bernal’s shoulders.
Dani Martínez isn’t that far back and could grow throughout the race, but it’s now up to Bernal to carry the team’s hopes.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise, because Bernal is slated to be the leader for cycling’s richest teams. There’s a lot riding on this Giro, however, in the wake of last year’s meltdown on the Grand Colombier.
Despite a strong showing in the first stages, especially with his flawless movement Tuesday at Sestola, there remain many question marks about Bernal’s back and staying power.
Also read: Ineos Grenadiers and the Egan Bernal enigma
Bernal flourished when he was riding the shadow of Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas. Now he’s firmly in the spotlight, with the entire peloton watching him. If he’s the Bernal of 2019, Sivakov’s exit shouldn’t be that much of a factor.
If Bernal starts to struggle in the third week, however, the entire peloton will pounce to try to eliminate the dangerous Colombian. Without allies like Sivakov, Bernal will be more prone to attacks on his flanks.
And finally, the exit of Landa creates more space at the “top” for other riders to move up on the GC hierarchy.
Perhaps more than anyone, Wednesday’s crashes benefit Remco Evenepoel. With Deceuninck-Quick-Step teammate João Almeida largely out of the GC frame, the team will be riding to protect and nurse along their young charge. If Evenepoel has the legs to go the distance, Landa’s absence will mean one fewer warm body he needs to pass on the GC.
— Remco Evenepoel (@EvenepoelRemco) May 12, 2021
Pre-race favorites such as Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) and George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) struggled early, so the GC is still very much wide open.
Thursday’s uphill finale, the first real test for the climbers so far in this Giro, will answer a lot of the question of who’s on form to make a serious run for pink.
Losing Landa and Sivakov so early in the race simply reshuffles the deck before the real card game even starts.