Giro d'Italia

Giro d’Italia roundtable: How do concerns about weather impact tactics?

VeloNews examines the potential effects of bad weather in the Alpine stages, as well as the chances for a darkhorse win, and the importance of time trials at the 2020 Giro d'Italia.

Filippo Ganna powered to a remarkable win on stage 5 of the Giro d’Italia on Wednesday. The 82kg time trial specialist pulled away on the long final climb before descending to victory.

Behind Ganna, João Almeida hung on to the pink jersey after nearest rival Jonathan Caicedo cracked on the long climb to Valico di Montescuro.

The stage played out in cool, damp conditions in the first stage on Italy’s mainland. As the race heads northward and toward the Alps, weather forecasts are calling for worsening conditions, throwing into doubt the high mountain stages in the final week of the race.

From race tactics to total dark horses, time for some takes!

How do recent weather reports impact team tactics in Alpine stages in the coming weeks?

Fred Dreier (@freddreier): It impacts tactics for the pure climbers like Domenico Pozzovivo, Rafal Majka, and Simon Yates. These guys are already at a disadvantage to Vincenzo Nibali, Steven Kruijswijk, and Jakob Fuglsang due to the long individual time trials, so their strategy was already based around attacking in the mountains. Now, if bad weather eliminates some of those high passes, these guys are going to have to look at every sustained uphill as an opportunity to attack. 

Andrew Hood (@eurohoody): It’s still a long way out, but if those final mountain stages are altered or outright canceled, it will obviously have a huge impact on how the Giro is decided. Riders like Nibali, who might be tempted to wait until the final week to make a move, might be lured into attacking earlier than they expected to try to gain an advantage if he thinks stages won’t be raced. On the other hand, it could help anyone with an early advantage. Almeida is no slack against the clock, and if he’s still in the lead and a few big stages get canceled, it could be very difficult to wrestle away pink from the young Portuguese rider.

Jim Cotton (@jim_c_1985): The Alps are still a week away, so the weather could be totally different by the time the race hits the highest peaks. That said, teams are going to be nervous about leaving it to the huge final mountain stages to swoop down on the victory. GC men are going to be very anxious to keep well in contention and not let any even semi-dangerous breakaways slip in case stages or high passes get canceled.

How likely is it that a dark horse such as Almeida wins the overall?

Jim: Highly unlikely, but who knows?! Deceuninck-Quick-Step has a pretty strong team and Almeida has the balance of time trial and climbing skills. Without one super-team like Ineos Grenadiers bullying the bunch, the race is a lot more open. Other than Nibali and Trek-Segafredo, there’s no single “established” GC guy with a super-strong team and the form to really crush the race.

Fred: It’s very, very unlikely, however not impossible for Almeida to hold on and win. He’s young and inexperienced, but he is unquestionably talented as a GC rider, and he has a strong team. We’ve seen young guys rise to the challenge in their first grand tours to score amazing results. Think Nairo Quintana in 2013, or Tadej Pogačar at the 2019 Vuelta a España.

Andrew: It’s still too early to say. Nibali still has the experience and gravitas to manage the Giro, and the final week is going to be very, very difficult. Having said that, if the weather forces the alteration of stages (like at the 2019 Tour de France), or if Nibali isn’t in the GC frame, it’s looking more likely. There’s no stopping Generation Z!

How do you see the race’s two remaining time trials impacting the GC battle now Geraint Thomas has abandoned?

Andrew: Much less so because no one remaining has a clear time trial advantage. Almeida does, who beat Thomas in Palermo, but it’s still unproven how far he can go in a grand tour since he’s never raced more than 10 days. There is a lot of equality among the other GC favorites, and as the old-timers keep repeating, this Giro will be decided in the mountains. It’s certainly setting up for an interesting race.

Fred: I see the two remaining ITTs becoming increasingly important for Jakob Fuglsang and Steven Kruijswijk, especially for the latter rider. Kruijswijk is a top climber, but on the slopes of Mt. Etna he appeared to be a few speeds behind Nibali, Fuglsang, and the two pure climbers of Majka and Pozzovivo. Thus, if Kruijswijk wants to win the Giro, he’s going to need to shadow these guys in the climbs and then pop a couple of really big time trial efforts, which he’s capable of doing. So, I see the pure climbers needing to attack in the hills, and Kruijswijk, Nibali, and Fuglsang needing to follow those guys and then have strong showings against the clock. Nibali is probably more inclined to attack in the mountains than wait for the ITT, and Fuglsang is somewhere between Nibali and Kruijswijk in this strategy.

Jim: A lot less than when Thomas was a part of the race. The Welshman was by far the strongest against the clock of the pre-race favorites and could have ended the race on the 34km time trial next weekend. As it stands, the playing field is more level and it could lead to a more exciting race with riders looking to grab time in the mountains or with some cunning ambushes in the tricky hilly stages through the first two weeks.