The Giro d’Italia rolls out Saturday, and the GC field is as rich as Nonna’s finest ragu.
With no Tadej Pogačar or Primož Roglič taking the start line in Torino this weekend, Egan Bernal, Simon Yates, Vincenzo Nibali, João Almeida and Jai Hindley headline a long list of contenders eyeing the pink jersey with hope in their eyes.
So, who’s our top favorite to be wearing the pink in Milano at the end of this month?
Sadhbh O’Shea: Romain Bardet (Team DSM)
It was hard to pick a clear favorite, as few of this year’s general classification contenders have had outstanding starts to the year – Simon Yates aside.
However, after some careful consideration, I have decided to plump for Giro d’Italia debutant Romain Bardet.
Though he has done a limited number of races in Italy during his career, I think his aggressive racing style will suit the slight sense of organized chaos that is the corsa rosa. The Italian grand tour requires a rider to be nimble and race instinctively, something Bardet is well used to doing.
He’s packed in plenty of Italian kilometres this season in preparation for his Giro d’Italia debut and has been pretty consistent with it, taking eighth at Tirreno-Adriatico and ninth at the recent Tour of the Alps. He also rode Strade Bianche to test himself on gravel roads – which the peloton will face at the Giro – and finished an admirable 20th.
The results are not exactly setting the world ablaze, but you don’t need to be raking in the wins before a grand tour begins to win it. Racing over three weeks is about stamina and Bardet looks like his form is in the right place to come good in Milan.
Bardet also knows what it takes to make a grand tour podium, finishing second at the 2016 and third at the 2017 Tours de France. Unlike in those years, the pressure of expectation will not rest solely on Bardet’s shoulders and he will be able to share the burden with last year’s second place finisher Jai Hindley.
The biggest hurdle for Bardet to overcome will be the two time trials that bookend the race. Not known for his talents against the clock, he will have to put a real shift in to minimise his time losses in this discipline.
Jim Cotton: Simon Yates (BikeExchange)
I almost dare not say it, but I think Simon Yates could finally do it this year.
The Giro d’Italia is like kryptonite for Yates.
After a breakout 13-day stint in the pink jersey in 2018, the Brit was unceremoniously usurped by that 80km exploit by Chris Froome, tumbling to an anonymous 21st-place finish.
Since then, Yates has won the overall at the Vuelta a España, scored handfuls of stage and weeklong victories, but has never been able to crack the Giro. He was eighth in 2019 and last year lost time early before being forced out after testing positive for COVID.
But this could be his year.
Yates and his Aussie squad tore through the Tour of the Alps last month, beating a number of Giro contenders in the process. Yates has got the wind at his back and a parcours that could play in his favor. Though he’s no slouch on a TT bike, there’s relatively few TT-kilometers on tap in Italy and just one specialist – João Almeida – in the GC pack.
With questions still remaining over Egan Bernal’s form, Yates will be the man to match in the mountains and should be able to limit his losses in the time trials.
If there’s ever an opportunity for Yates to be tasting the podium prosecco in Milan, it’s this month’s race.
"I hope I can have clear run and a good go at fighting for the win." – @SimonYatess 🎙
— Team BikeExchange-Jayco (@GreenEDGEteam) May 3, 2021
Andrew Hood: Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers)
That Egan Bernal isn’t considered a shoo-in to win reveals how fast things can change in cycling.
Just two years ago, everyone thought the Colombian sensation was going to sweep to five yellow jerseys in a row and more. Back issues and uncertainty about his ability to go the distance is casting a pall over Bernal and his grand tour future.
This Giro could be key to his return to the Tour’s highest step.
If Bernal is close to being back at the form he had to win the Tour in 2019, that should be good enough to win this Giro.
Not to say that the Giro field is sub-par, but with the peloton’s top riders targeting the Tour this year, there should be room for Bernal to challenge for the pink jersey even if he still a touch off his 2019 level.
Ineos Grenadiers brings a strong team to support him across all terrain. Filippo Ganna, Gianni Moscon, Jonathan Castroviejo and Salvatore Puccio have the heft to protect his flanks on the flats, while Ivan Sosa, Dani Martínez and Pavel Sivakov bring depth for the mountains.
No team brings this much depth and quality to the Giro.
And a Bernal victory at the Giro would bolster his confidence, put him back on a winning footing, and prepare him for a return to the Tour.
And if Bernal falters? Sivakov or Martínez could be in pole position to fill the void in the short-term while Ineos brass try to get their heads around what happened with Bernal.
It's #Giro race week!
Time to spread the word 💗 pic.twitter.com/YpdwOqBJly
— INEOS Grenadiers (@INEOSGrenadiers) May 3, 2021