Giro d'Italia

Giro d’Italia roundtable: Peter Sagan back to his winning ways, even under looming COVID cloud

Teams are withdrawing, with weather and steep climbs yet to come. VeloNews examines how this affects tactics and overall strategy for the remainder of this year's race.

Peter Sagan is riding in his first appearance at the Giro. He’s been winless since the 2019 Tour de France, but that came to an end today when he scored his first win of the season.

Meanwhile, entire teams — not just individuals — are withdrawing from the 2020 Giro d’Italia. And, the really tough Alpine climbing has yet to come, with some mountaintop roads already under snow. How will this affect team tactics and strategy?

Will the race make it to Milan? Let’s roundtable!

As COVID-19 positives are spiking inside the race “bubble” — and in Italy overall — should the Giro d’Italia continue?

James Startt: I think that race director Mauro Vegni is in close contact with the Italian government. And I am sure such conversations are happening. The results today changed everything, unfortunately. And, yes, you see that the bubble has been broken. Mitchelton-Scott which had one case three days ago, had four before the start of the day’s stage. And the entire team and staff tested negative after their first test was revealed. So, today two teams pulled out. And between now and the next rest day, it is not unreasonable to expect others to follow suit. I don’t even know if it is a question of, ‘should the race continue.’ It just might not be possible.

Ben Delaney: Yes, the show should go on. I’m not advocating abandoning caution, just proceeding with caution. The teams — already accustomed to germophobic practices — have been keeping up their end of the bargain. It seems they could use some help from the race organization in reducing crowding around the starts and in the team hotels. As for fans running alongside riders in the mountains… that’s a harder one to police.

Jim Cotton (@jim_c_1985): I think so — yes — however, the protocol needs clamping down, perhaps with daily testing of the riders and staff as opposed to just the coming rest day Monday, and increasing controls at start/finish zones. The issue regards hotels being packed out with several teams, as well as the general public, needs to be addressed, and I’m not sure anything can be done about this with short notice, although not every hotel is necessarily going to be in this same situation, of course.

Many people said pro racing shouldn’t return at all this August, and it made it through 10 weeks largely unscathed. I think the Giro can — should — make it to Milan provided there’s increased vigilance.

Andrew Hood (@eurohoody): Only wars, and now pandemics, have stopped professional cycling. If the riders and teams still feel it’s safe to race, I say it’s their decision. One can imagine that some teams might be pressuring their riders to keep their opinions to themselves and keep racing, which would be unfortunate. One can also hope that team doctors, which have been closely involved in how the sport is mitigating the dangers of COVID since spring, will have an influential voice in deciding if the race continues. The Giro built-in flexibility into its rules to allow for the race to go on without kicking out teams, but so far, two teams have left by their own volition. Ultimately, the Italian government may have the final say. If there are more cases in the coming days, the Giro might cross the line, and be shut down.

Peter Sagan won a stage! Remember that guy? Does the spotlight on COVID-19 diminish his first win in more than a year?

Andrew Hood: It’s a great win for Sagan, who was running out of time in 2020 to see his first victory. Sagan is wildly popular in Italy, so his exploits will help ease some of the pressure on the Giro. His decision to pass up on the northern classics to race the Giro is turning out to be the right call. Paris-Roubaix and Amstel Gold Race have both been canceled. He’ll now only miss Flanders, and instead of Sagan racing for one day, we get three weeks of him. Let’s hope he keeps attacking. The Giro needs it.

James Startt: Thank you, Peter! What a brilliant ride from a brilliant champion. I have followed Sagan closely over the years and that was one of his gutsiest rides ever. He had his back against the wall. Clearly not as fast as Démare and others, it was hard to imaging how he was going to win even one stage. But Sagan wanted to honor the Giro as he lived in Italy for years. And he did just that. Today we saw classic Sagan from one of the classiest riders. COVID cannot take anything away from this!

Ben Delaney: A win is a win, right? Especially at a grand tour. I was thinking of writing something stupid like, ‘This could be the year he transitions from a sprinter into a craftier rider,’ but that is nonsense; Sagan has always been an intuitive rider who is as comfortable reading a race as he is riding a one-handed wheelie. Still, it appears his days of absolute sprint dominance are behind him, and I, for one, am happy to see the guy notch a ‘W’ today.

Jim Cotton: Without wanting to diminish the importance of the COVID news this morning, Sagan’s victory will not be overshadowed. His win was emphatic and daring, a perfect example of the Sagan that 99 perent of cycling fans love so much, and it’s a key landmark in his career. Now he has won stages at all three grand tours. The Slovak’s victory today was the perfect counterpoint to a grim start to the day in Italy.

It is possible that the Giro may not make it to Milan. How will the looming threat of an abbreviated tour affect the GC tactics over the next few days?

Ben Delaney: I would love to be a fly on the wall at the team dinners and morning meetings inside the busses. What is the plan? While I’m not expecting any suicidal solo flyers a la Floyd Landis in the 2006 Tour de France, we have to keep in mind Egan Bernal on the attack when weather brought the 2019 Tour de France to an abrupt end. And I’m sure every team inside the Giro is well aware of the similarities here. Whenever this game of musical chairs stops, it stops; and whoever is wearing the maglia rosa at that moment will win all the marbles.

Jim Cotton: Every stage will be raced like the last. Riders know they cannot wait until the third week due to both bad weather and the COVID risk. While today’s stage saw scuffles in the GC and Thursday’s hilly test will likely see more, this weekend could prove the kingmaker. A long time trial Saturday followed by a tough mountain stage Sunday could become the peloton’s new finish line, at least in their heads. Both stages this weekend offer a huge amount of potential for time gains and losses. There will be fireworks.

Andrew Hood: It’s going to have a major impact. If the hardest mountain passes are snowed out and rerouted to lower, easier climbs, riders like Jakob Fuglsang and Vincenzo Nibali, who thrive on a hard third week, will have a harder time trying to move into the lead. That plays into the interests of riders like GC leader Almeida, or Wilco Kelderman, who might take pink on Sunday. Riders need to start attacking every chance they get, and play a bit of a less calculating game. As far as I know, there is no official rule that says a grand tour needs to be raced a minimum number of days to be considered an official result. If the Giro gets whacked next Monday, is that a real Giro? I say award the race victory to whoever is leading the race at the time outside events might provoke its early conclusion.

James Startt:
Expect to see what we saw today, day in and day out. Everybody at the line said today’s racing reflects that uncertainty with just all-out racing from the get-go. “Now it is possible that every day is the last day. It’s just all in every day,” said Brandon McNulty after finishing second behind Sagan today. That pretty much sums up how COVID has suddenly changed the face of the race.