Giro d'Italia

Giro d’Italia roundtable: Does Sagan need success in Italy to salvage his season?

We chew over Sagan's Giro campaign and Fuglsang's tattered team, as well as turning our attention to the frantic finale of Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

The Giro d’Italia saw its first road stage Sunday, with Diego Ulissi punching away from Peter Sagan in the hilltop sprint at Agrigento.

The pink jersey favorites stayed hidden in the race along the Sicilian coast as they saved their legs for the big Etna summit finish Monday. However, there was further bad news for Jakob Fuglsang, who saw his talented young teammate Aleksandr Vlasov abandon, just the day after Astana also lost Miguel Ángel López.

Away from Italy, there was drama, disaster, and delight at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. New world champion Julian Alaphilippe‘s madcap sprint and premature celebration saw the flamboyant Frenchman pipped to the line by Primož Roglič and then relegated to fifth place for his wayward acceleration.

Let’s get some takes from a packed Sunday of pro racing – time to roundtable!

Does Sagan need Giro wins to salvage his season?

Jim Cotton (@jim_c_1985): Let’s face it, when Sagan wins, the whole cycling world wins. Having a personality like that in top form and in buoyant mood brings flavor and fun to the sport. Who doesn’t love a winning wheelie? But for Sagan personally, I think even one stage win at the Giro would affirm to everyone that he’s still Sagz, he’s still a force to be reckoned with, and that sacrificing the classics to go to Italy wasn’t in vain. That said, he seems to be deflecting criticism and pressure pretty well so far, and let’s face it, seven top-10s at the Tour and fourth place at Sanremo is far from a disastrous year.

Andrew Hood (@eurohoody): Sagan seems above such criticism that would normally be linked to a mere mortal. Sagan lives in another realm, but, hey, a win would be nice. It’s not for a lack of trying. Sagan is one of those racers who needs to race to get in top shape. So if you believe that, the Tour de France was a three-week training camp for the Giro. A win or two would get him another milestone of stage wins in all three grand tours, as well as make the Giro folks happy. My only question is, does he ride all the way to Milan?

James Startt: Sagan doesn’t need to salvage his season. He’s Peter Sagan! After everything that he has won, any victory at this point is just icing on the cake. But Sagan is Sagan. And he likes to win, as yesterday showed. He is plenty fit, and he is here to win. But not to salvage his season. In addition, we have been here before with Sagan. He has had dry spells before in his career, quite often before popping a big one!

What makes for a better good-news story – Roglič winning Liège after his Tour defeat, or Alaphilippe winning his first race in the rainbow stripes?

Roglič found redemption at Liège this weekend.

Andrew: If “feel-good” is the only criteria, you gotta go with Rogz winning Liège. His Tour implosion was something that could scar a lesser rider, but everyone close to him said he took it on the chin, and turned the page pretty fast. With how honest and accepting he was after what happened on the Belles Filles time trial, you have to give him credit for bouncing back and racing hard to win. It confirms his class on and off the bike, so chapeaux to Roglic. He reminded everyone the race isn’t over until you hit the tape.

James: Both are good…It would have been great to see Julian do the double, as it took a long time for him to get to this level again, and seeing the rainbow stripes first across the line is always great. But Roglič deserves it after his Tour de France disappointment. Either way is a good story, but mostly their stories once again remind us that a bike race isn’t over until you cross the line. Roglič showed us that great champions bounce back quickly, and I am confident Alaphilippe will do the same sooner than later.

Jim: I’ve always had a soft spot for Rog, and to see him taking a win, even under such bizarre circumstances, is a great story in my opinion. Some riders might never have bounced back from that Tour defeat, and getting heat from media and fans a week later for “not co-operating” at the worlds when he was totally legless could have been the nail in the coffin. Cycling is a tough sport, and Roglič’s steely resolve to keep trying is a testament to the fact that you need to have a tough head if you want to be at the top.

Are Fuglsang’s Giro prospects over now Vlasov and Lopez are out?

Andrew: I would not say over, but his Giro boat is certainly taking on water. To lose your top two climbers in the first two days would already hurt, but Fuglsang lost more than 1 and a half minutes to Geraint Thomas in 15km on Saturday. It takes a huge effort in the mountains to earn that back. The Giro can deliver surprises, but Fuglsang won’t have much of a team when he hits the third week. That could really hurt him if he hopes to mount a late-race comeback.

Jim: They sure are looking ropey. However, while that’s bad for Jakob, it may be good for us lot sitting on our sofas. Fuglsang will need to go on the offense whenever he can, and without his two best climbers to support him, he may have to rely on daring dashes rather than attempting to strangle the race with team power. That type of move isn’t his specialty, but he may be forced to try something spectacular.

James: Was he ever likely though? Fuglsang is a great, great rider. But he has only finished once in the top-ten of a grand tour, so he has yet to show that a three-week race is the best platform for him. So my answer is no, his Giro is not over. He is always a dangerous rider, and he knows how to play off of other riders. My hunch is that he is here firstly for stage wins, but as Pogačar showed us in the Tour, you don’t always need a strong team, even in a three-week race.