Giro d'Italia

Giro d’Italia roundtable: What is the key story to follow from the first week?

In today's roundtable we discuss which storyline from week one will be most interesting to follow during the remainder of the Giro d'Italia.

The Giro d’Italia concluded its first week of racing with a gritty, rain-soaked stage through the Apennines on Sunday, with Ruben Guerreiro taking the stage win from the break. Guerreiro’s victory is the second for the “Mighty Ducks” of EF Pro Cycling after Jonathan Caicedo won atop Etna on stage 3.

Behind the breakaway riders, there were small scuffles in the GC group, with Jakob Fuglsang, Wilco Kelderman and Domenico Pozzovivo all snatching a handful of seconds on their rivals.

With the peloton taking a well-earned rest day Monday, it’s time to deconstruct the first week of racing, from GC tensions to wild team jerseys. Let’s roundtable!

What’s the biggest story from the Giro’s first week that you will be following?

Fred Dreier (@freddreier): It’s the COVID-19 positive of Simon Yates, beyond a doubt. As we’ve learned from this awful virus, infections tend to come in clusters and not just ones or twos. I’m crossing my fingers that Yates is the only rider who has to leave the event due to COVID-19, but Monday’s tests should shed light on whether or not that’s the case. Still, I’m so curious about how Yates actually caught the virus, since his infection has poked a major hole in pro cycling’s ‘bubble’ concept for COVID-19 safety. Was the Giro’s bubble not airtight? Did someone in the team have it? Honestly, the sport should probably spend more energy investigating this.

James Startt: Well, depending how you play it, either the fact that the Giro got off to a successful start and as we reach the half-way point, there has only been one COVID-19 test. Or you can look at if from the opposite perspective and say, we are not even at the half-way mark and already one rider is positive. Tomorrow is the first rest day and everyone will be tested. The results will give us a better idea which perspective to take. If there are no additional cases, or less say, than on the first Tour de France rest day, well, I think you can go with the first perspective. If however, a dozen riders and staff test position well the later perspective will be more appropriate.

Jim Cotton (@jim_c_1985): It feels too obvious to discuss the rest-day COVID-19 tests after the shock news about Simon Yates returning a positive on Friday night. Instead, I’m going for the emerging narrative of the old dudes versus the young guns and dark horses. João Almeida and Pello Bilbao are first and third on the GC after nine stages – who would have called that two weeks ago? Will they be overhauled by the likes of Fuglsang, Nibali and Pozzovivo? And can Harm Vahoucke bounce back from a bad day to take a super-surprise top-10?

EF Pro Cycling garnered a ton of attention with its radical Giro d’Italia jerseys. Now the team has won two stages of the race. Which of these two successes (jerseys or stage wins) has done more for the team?

EF Pro Cycling has grabbed the headlines with its racing and its new apparel. Photo: S J Hockett

Jim: Looking back on EF and the Giro, it will undoubtedly be that kit. It feels a shame to say it, but that’s life and it was one heck of PR move. But looking back at Jonathan Caicedo and Ruben Guerreiro’s career progression in five or 10 years’ time, their stage wins could stand as pivotal moments that will be forever etched in their palmarès, while the crazy jersey they’re wearing in the podium photo will take the back seat.

James: It’s really a combination of both. A stage win with a team or rider with no personality doesn’t resonate for long. But if the only thing a team has going for it is their funky kit, well that won’t last long either. I have already made the reference with the new kits and those of Mapei back in the 1990’s. That was one loud kit, but they got away with it because they were all a bunch of hammers. If they had been off the back all the time, they would have been the laughing stock, but when you are off the front, well you can get away with a lot more…and at this year’s Giro EF Pro Cycling is off the front a lot so they can wear whatever they want. Personally I think they are cool!

Fred: The other day I had a Twitter back-and-forth with someone on the kit side who — and I’m summarizing — said that the jersey was more successful than the victory (now there are two victories) because it drove more media impressions. Hey, I applaud EF Pro Cycling for thinking outside the box with the crazy kit, and I see that the jerseys have gotten the team mainstream press. Call me old-school: I think that the wins do more for the team and for the sport. Yeah, you can design a cool kit with a skateboard brand, but that kit means nothing unless it’s worn by athletes who are at the top of their sport. And that means victories. And I honestly see the two victories by young up-and-coming riders from cycling-adjacent nations as being more impactful to the sport than a cool jersey.  You can try to put a value on Jonathan Caicedo’s stage victory from week one by tabulating media impressions and social media reach, etc. But how do you value the impact that a win like that will have on kids back in Ecuador?

Jakob Fuglsang wrote a column yesterday saying that Trek-Segafredo accelerated during stage 8 after he suffered a flat tire. What’s your reaction to this story?

Jim: Nibali and Co. were on the front of the bunch at the time of the Fuglsang’s mechanical, but they undoubtedly did pile on the pressure when they discovered the Dane was in difficulty. These types of situations tend to become allowable when “the race is on,” but as it happened midway through the stage, Nibali doesn’t have that defense. However, if a rule is “unwritten” it’s always going to be bent, and if anyone’s going to do it, it’s a whiley veteran like Nibs that’s going to do it.

Fred: I’m just stoked that Jakob Fuglsang is taking us behind the scenes within the race. Yep, Nibali and Trek’s strategy seemed to violate one of the unspoken rules of cycling, but of course it’s a race, so every ounce of energy counts. On that end, I tend to come down on the side of Fuglsang — don’t be jerks, Trek! Again, my favorite element of this story is that Fuglsang is writing highly opinionated columns that take people inside the race. Pretty soon he’s going to take my job!

James: Well that’s not very nice! At least if it is true. I’ll be honest. I didn’t see that incident so I am not in a position to comment. But Nibali and Fuglsang are both stand-up people and riders. Perhaps there is a misunderstanding. But I am not in position to say really.