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Giro d'Italia

Giro d’Italia roundtable: How is the lack of one dominant team impacting the race?

VeloNews looks at how a lack of any single dominant team is shaping this year's race, balancing riders in two grand tours, and how long João Almeida will remain the current race leader.

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Frenchman Arnaud Démare ripped to his second stage win of the Giro d’Italia on Thursday, outkicking and distancing the top sprinters in the uphill finish in Matera to continue his stellar summer season.

João Almeida hung on to the pink jersey after a late crash, and he now heads into a series of flat or hilly stages with a 43-second GC lead over Pello Bilbao. Key rivals Vincenzo Nibali, Jakob Fuglsang, and Steven Kruijswijk are all over one minute back on the young Portuguese rider.

Let’s deconstruct the day’s action, time to roundtable!

How can Groupama-FDJ balance the interests of Démare and Thibaut Pinot, given both typically want to prioritize the Tour de France?

Andrew Hood (@eurohoody): The best thing Madiot could do would be to bring Démare to the Tour, regardless of what the route looks like, and take pressure off Pinot. Some riders thrive under responsibility, Pinot is obviously not one of them. By putting all their chips behind Pinot in 2020 was all but guaranteeing Pinot would crack. Bring Démare, and take some pressure off Pinot by saying publicly, oh, we’re going for stages. And then Pinot might actually find his groove without everyone expecting him to win the Tour.

Fred Dreier (@freddreier): There are two factors impacting the future, and one of them is the type of Tour route created by ASO for 2021. If ASO creates another climbing tour with few flat stages, then there’s no point in binging Démare. I believe that the balance could also be impacted by the remainder of the season. If Démare’s winning ways continue, and he bags more Giro stage wins and perhaps a classic, then he logically should surpass Pinot in the team’s pecking order, given PInot’s dismal showing at the Tour this year. If that’s the case, then I could envision Groupama management organizing a split team at the Tour de France to cater to both men.

Jim Cotton (@jim_c_1985): Madiot and Co. aren’t going to be able to ignore Démare too easily next year if he continues to win everything in 2021. If the course of next year’s Tour doesn’t suit Pinot, I could see him benched in favor of his sprinter teammate given it seems impossible to balance a strong GC bid and sprint unit in France.  I guess one thing to also consider is whether Pinot will want to continue returning to the Tour? He suggested after yet another disappointing race this summer that it could change his whole outlook on racing – and maybe a break from the pressure of leading his team at the Tour would do him good.

James Startt: Well that’s easy because Pinot is likely not too keen to race the Tour for a while. Actually, the team has been doing that balancing act for years. Already, Pinot needed a break from the Tour and for two years did the Giro instead. Those years Démare led the team in the Tour. So I reckon that next year will be his year again. He is having a tremendous Giro much better than last year where he just one a stage in a crash-filled final. The victories have been clear and will give him confidence in the Tour next year…as long as his legs are as good of course!

How is the lack of one really strong team impacting the race dynamics at this Giro?

Jim: It’s making it better! Breakaways have a better chance of going to the line and riders are more willing to gamble. I bet Ganna wouldn’t have won stage 5 Wednesday if a team like Jumbo-Visma’s Tour eight were in Italy crushing the action. And the racing could be a lot more exciting in the GC in the high mountains with no one team able to really squeeze the peloton. There could be some great mano-a-mano scraps in the high peaks.

Fred: I love the fact that there is no one dominant team at this year’s Giro, and this dynamic is giving the Giro a wide-open feel as we head into Sunday’s big mountain stage. In my opinion, this makes the Giro’s GC battle more about the individual riders and less about the team strength. Vincenzo Nibali, Jakob Fuglsang, Steven Kruijswijk, and the other GC contenders will all battle each other in a solo format during the high mountain stages this year. Only Nibali may have a team helper in Giulio Ciccone. Still, I feel like the lack of a Jumbo-Visma or Team Ineos Grenadiers dictating the race makes it more exciting.

James: I don’t think you can say that. Trek-Segafredo is as strong as is Jumbo Visma. And both those teams can take control of the race of one of their riders is in pink. For my those are the two strong teams regarding the GC and as we enter the second half of the race, we will see them at the front even more. Trek is already riding like a real GC team as Nibali is in fifth and was on home territory in Sicily. It will be curious to see how he handles the next time trial. If he moves up in the standings then he will rely on Trek even more. But if he loses time he will have to play the opportunistic game.

Andrew: It hasn’t yet, but it will later. It could play out in a few ways. First, and most likely, is that the race will devolve into a “mano-a-mano” race between the strongest, with the captains all but isolated without too much protection, which could deliver a very interesting race. The flip side would be that a big breakaway could form, perhaps in poor weather or simply by catching out someone like Nibali, and a relatively minor GC player could suddenly find themselves in pink. There are a bunch of riders who if they get a several minute lead in this Giro might be able to hang on and win.

How long can Almeida retain the pink jersey?

Jim: Possibly a very long time. If he can cling on to it in the super-hilly stage 9 on Sunday, the youngster could go as far as the big summit finish atop Piancavallo on stage 15 next weekend. This Sunday’s stage will prove a real challenge, but Deceuninck-Quick-Step has two strong climbers – James Knox and Fausto Masnada – that could help a lot.

Andrew: I think he will keep it all the way into stage 15. If he’s got good legs and has a bit of luck if no big breaks go clear, he should survive Sunday. He’ll likely widen his lead in the Tuesday time trial, and depending on the dynamics, could defend it there. He’s never raced more than 10 days, so he’s going to be untested going into the second week. If he doesn’t crack, someone’s going to have to take it away from him to lose it before then.

James: Good question. Perhaps for a while. I could easily see him taking it to the Alpes. But not more really. He just doesn’t have the team or the experience to last through that final week in my books. But his Giro has already been a huge success and a real springboard for his career.

Fred: The big test is Sunday’s mountain stage to Roccaraso. My assumption is that Almeida will lose pink on that day, so that’s where I’m putting the natural end to his run in pink. That said, if the other GC teams do not light it up on Sunday then Almeida could conceivably hold the jersey until next Saturday, which is the 33km ITT in Conegliano. My assumption is that Fuglsang or Nibali would take the jersey on that stage.