Giro d’Italia stage 1 preview: Who will win the first pink jersey?
A short but steep finale will set the stage for a tug-of-war between the sprinters and the 'puncheurs' for the first maglia rosa of the 105th Giro.
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BUDAPEST (VN) — Everything is in play Friday in the opening stage of the 2022 Giro d’Italia, with the pink jersey and the stage victory waiting at the top of a short but steep ramp to the line.
All the Giro “bigs” — from Caleb Ewan to Mathieu van der Poel, to Attila Valter to Alejandro Valverde — are in the running for pink in what will be a dramatic finale.
The 195km stage runs from Budapest to a hilltop finale at the Visegrád castle overlooking the Danube, setting the stage for a tug-of-war between the peloton’s sprinters and puncheurs.
The setting couldn’t be more dramatic for the opening of the 105th edition of the corsa rosa.
With the final 5km at 4.2 percent, it’s just steep enough to put everyone under pressure.
The big question is: will it be steep enough to split the bunch and drop the pure sprinters?
Steep enough to drop the sprinters?
On paper, this finale looks ideal for Mathieu van der Poel, but the man himself has his doubts.
“It’s really steep, and there are a lot of advantages of staying in the bunch. It will be difficult to attack there,” Van der Poel said Wednesday. “It will be difficult to drop the sprinters like Caleb Ewan, so we will see who has the best legs to win the sprint.”
The short, fourth-category summit finish spices up what’s a rather routine road stage to open the 2022 Giro.
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The stage starts in Budapest’s Heroe’s Square, and rolls through the city center, crosses the Danube, and paces southwest out of the city. There are no rated climbs along the undulating loop that circles north back toward Visegrád, located about 50km north of Budapest along the Danube.
Smaller teams are sure to try to ride into a breakaway, but with the pink jersey on the line and a time trial looming Sunday, the big teams will work together to bring the bunch into the closing kilometers with everything in play.
The otherwise routine stage finally gets interesting in the final kilometers as the road climbs from the Danube valley up to the castle. Things turn steep at 3.8km to go, with one short ramp up to 8 percent at 2km to go.
Following a few narrow switchbacks, the final hits out with decreasing gradient in the closing few hundred meters.
The big question is, will it be steep enough to drop the sprinters like Caleb Ewan or Mark Cavendish?
Pre-Giro favorite Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco) inspected the finale Wednesday and said he expects to see the sprinters to be able to make up it to the castle.
“It will be tough to drop the fast guys like Caleb, and he’s quite good on the slight uphill finishes,” Yates said. “That’s a good finish for Van der Poel as well. It looks steep on paper but once we rode up it — you can see it’s going to be a fast final. The first day is always aggressive, especially with the pink jersey up for grabs.”
Hometown hero Attila Valter will have the power of an entire nation to give him wings, and since he’s already very good at explosive finales, everyone will be expecting him to go all-in to drive for the miracle finish.
Time trial Saturday will assure a tight finish
No stage in a grand tour exists in a vacuum.
With the short, technical 9.2km time trial on tap Saturday, that means several time trial specialists will also be burying themselves Friday to stay within striking distance of pink for Saturday.
“There is a nice chance to get the pink jersey Saturday,” said Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma). “To do that I cannot lose any time Friday in the short climb finish. It will be very fast so it will be important to loose the wheel and have a gap open up.”
Not everyone is convinced that it will be a bunch sprint.
Spain’s Pello Bilbao said he expects things to be a bit more selective than some are predicting on the short climb above the Danube.
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And just as Dumoulin is eyeing Saturday’s time trial, a climber like Bilbao already has his sights set on the Mount Etna finale on Sicily on Tuesday when the Giro lands back in Italy after three stages in Hungary.
Bilbao said a strong showing in Budapest, even if it doesn’t result in victory, could set him up for a run at pink on Etna early next week.
“Tomorrow I will try to see where I am to see how far I can in the final,” Bilbao said. “I am ready to try in the stage Friday, and the TT is also good for me with the uphill finish. These first two stages I will try to give 100 percent to see if I can limit my losses and be close going into Sicily.”
Stage 1 key details
Distance: 195km from Budapest to Visegrád
Rated climbs: There are no rated climbs along the route. The finish is a fourth-category climb to the Visegrád castle.
Intermediate sprints: There are two intermediate sprints: at 112km and at 135km
Favorites: Caleb Ewan, Mathieu van der Poel, Atilla Valter
Contenders: Biniam Girmay, Diego Ulissi, Alejandro Valverde
Outsiders: Pello Bilbao, Giacomo Nizzolo, Wilco Kelderman
Key facts of the 2022 Giro d’Italia
Dates: Friday, May 6 – Sunday, May 29, 2022.
Rest days: 3
Climbing meters: 51,000
Time trial kilometers: 26.3
Start: Budapest, Hungary
Finish: Verona, Italy