There’s never a dull moment in the Giro d’Italia.
And with the “corsa rosa” packing a five-star start list, there is an unlimited treasure chest of interesting stories and narratives.
One of the great things about cycling is the rich tapestry of stories that unfold during a race, particularly a grand tour. Whether they be dramas, fairytales or thrillers, there will be plenty to enthral the viewer and capture the imagination across three weeks of racing in Italy.
Our VeloNews editors pick out three key storylines to watch at the 2021 Giro d’Italia.
Jim Cotton: Can Peter Sagan take on the sprints or ride for glory in the breakaway?
Wherever Peter Sagan goes, a story isn’t far behind, right?
The triple world champ will start the Giro for just the second time when he rolls down the start ramp Saturday as he rolls through one of the most important seasons of his career to date.
Sagan’s contract with Bora-Hansgrohe expires this winter, and he has a future to race for. And perhaps for the first time in almost 10 years, it’s not set in stone that he’ll land a multi-million dollar agreement lasting over several seasons.
After seeing his early season torpedoed by a bout of COVID-19 and long recovery, every race-day counts for Sagan as speculation continues to swirl over where he will be racing in 2022 – whether that’s Bora-Hansgrohe, Deceuninck-Quick-Step, or according to recent murmurs, maybe even Movistar.
With so much at stake for Sagan, it’s just as well he’s refound his winning stride this spring with victories in Catalunya and Romandie – albeit against relatively weak fields.
What can we expect from Sagan at the Giro this month?
Last year, Sagan salvaged a season of near-misses when he won in spectacular style into Tortoreto. It was vintage Sagan, attacking early and gutting out a tough stage in gritty weather, and and a day that reminded us why watching him in his pomp is just as engrossing as any Mathieu van der Poel madness.
Will Sagan be elbowing for bunch sprints like he has done so far this year, or will he be pivoting back to the barouding breakaways which handed him glory at last year’s Giro? And with a Tour de France start also on the slate for this summer, will Sagan even race through the mountainous final week, or hit pause and reset for a challenge on the green jersey in France?
“I won in my style,” he said after he won stage 10 last year. Whether we see sprinter Sagan or breakaway artist Sagan at the 2021 Giro, you know he’ll be bringing character to the party.
Excatly 11-year interval between Peter Sagan's two stage wins in Tour de Romandie. #TDR2021 (📷 Getty)
🏆 #3 (28/4/2010) | 🏆 #116 (28/4/2021) pic.twitter.com/kn3gWI34go
— ammattipyöräily (@ammattipyoraily) April 28, 2021
Sadhbh O’Shea: What can Groupama-FDJ do without Thibaut Pinot?
Up until just a few weeks ago, Groupama-FDJ was planning a tilt at the Giro d’Italia title with Thibaut Pinot. With the former Tour de France podium finisher now out of the race due to a lingering back problem, the French squad has had to go back to the drawing board.
“It won’t be an easy Giro, but we can experience great things with this group,” sports director Philippe Mauduit said earlier this week.
While the team’s GC goal has been severely dinted, all hopes of a strong overall finish have not gone completely out of the window.
Also read: Thibaut Pinot scraps Giro d’Italia
In Rudy Molard the squad has at least a fighting chance of getting into the top 10, though it’s a tough ask given the field at this year’s Giro. The 31-year-old rarely gets an opportunity to take his own chances, but he has still finished as high as 14th at the 2018 Vuelta a España while riding in support of Pinot.
The Giro d’Italia is possibly the most unpredictable of the grand tours, so if Molard can remain consistent then a decent GC ride is within his grasp.
FDJ also brings with it several riders with a strong breakaway pedigree including Antoine Duchesne, Sébastian Reichenback and Romain Seigle.
Thibaut Pinot might not be coming to the Giro d’Italia, but all is not lost for Groupama-FDJ and it will be fascinating to see how the team changes its approach to the race.
— Équipe Cycliste Groupama-FDJ (@GroupamaFDJ) May 6, 2021
Andrew Hood: Will Ineos Grenadiers win?
On paper, Ineos Grenadiers is the five-star favorite to win the pink jersey.
Its “Giro Eight” boasts a former Tour de France winner with Egan Bernal, two would-be podium contenders with Pavel Sivakov and the improving Dani Martínez, and perhaps the deepest squad in the Giro, with riders like Filippo Ganna and Gianni Moscon to smash the flats, and Jonathan Castroviejo and Jhonatan Narváez for the mountains.
Anything short of victory is, well, a loss.
That’s what happens when a team packs the biggest budget in cycling — the only thing that counts is the “W.”
For all of its firepower, however, Ineos Grenadiers has a fatal flaw.
Also read: Ineos Grenadiers and the Egan Bernal enigma
No one really knows how long Bernal will last. Even he admitted as much in pre-race interviews. Hobbled by nagging back issues, the big question for this Giro is which version of Bernal will show up?
If he’s the rider who blazed to victory at the 2019 Tour de France, this Giro should be a wrap. If not, well, we have a race on our hands.
Of course, there is no such thing as a guarantee in grand tour racing. And thankfully so.
If things go well at the Giro, Ineos Grenadiers is possibly set up for a grand tour sweep. If Bernal falters, it could mean that the team sees one of its franchise riders tumble into a career crossroads.
The pressure is on.
🎬 Opening Ceremony & Teams Presentation del Giro d'Italia 2021
— Giro d'Italia (@giroditalia) May 6, 2021