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Giro d'Italia

Giro d’Italia: Vincenzo Nibali, João Almeida and Mikel Landa share pink jersey ambitions

Can lightning strike twice for João Almeida? Is it too late for Vincenzo Nibali? And can Mikel Landa finally deliver? Here's what the stars say ahead of the Giro d'Italia.

The 104th Giro d’Italia cranks up Saturday with 184 riders jostling for the pink jersey.

The start list boasts a mix of marquee favorites with Egan Bernal, confirmed superstars in Peter Sagan, speedy sprinters with Caleb Ewan, and riders on the cusp of greatness, such as Remco Evenepoel.

Teams are arriving now to Torino for Saturday’s opening time trial.

Here’s what some of the top protagonists are saying just days before the start in Torino:

Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) — race against time

Fans cheer for Vincenzo Nibali.

Vincenzo Nibali won two editions of the Giro, and hit the podium on four other occasions. Does the Shark have one more bite left in his legs? He’s hoping so.

A training crash last month almost derailed his Giro plans, but the 36-year-old got a late-hour reprieve Monday, and Trek-Segafredo confirmed he will start.

“It was a race against time and I’m very happy that I’ve won it,” Nibali said. “Since the day of the crash, April 14, I’ve done nothing but think about recovering in order to be at the Giro. I don’t have the top condition, which I had hoped to achieve without the crash, and I’ll also need a lot of caution pedaling in the peloton. But now, finally, I can only think about the competition that, now more than ever, will be to experience it day by day.

“I want to say it clearly: it’s useless and impossible to say if I’ll target the general classification or I’ll aim for stage wins. I want to try to leave a mark on the Giro, but I’ll only understand how to do it along the way.”

João Almeida (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) — lightning strikes twice?

How good was João Almeida and his grand tour debut at the 2020 Giro?

The Portuguese rider wore the maglia rosa for 15 consecutive days and ended up fourth in Milano. Almeida returns hoping lightning strikes twice, but admits that the parcours could make for a very different race.

“Last year it was an incredible Giro. The team put in a huge effort in what was an amazing but at the same time a hard three weeks,” he said. “We fought for a good result, and in the end, I finished fourth on the GC. I would like to be up there again, fight for a nice result and keep a good feeling, which is the most important thing. Hopefully, things will go well and we’ll score some nice results.

“This year, the mountain stages are going to play a more important role in the final outcome, which means consistency will be the key.”

Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) — podium quest

Mikel Landa getting a temperature check
Mikel Landa is hoping to heat things up during the Giro. Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images

Mikel Landa is grand tour racing’s nearly man. After hitting third at the 2015 Giro, the Basque all-rounder has knocked on the door on several occasions, but some bad luck or team politics seems to conspire against him.

Backed by the full might of the Bahrain Victorious team, this could be the 31-year-old’s best chance to climb back onto the podium, and perhaps even win.

“I am pleased with my present shape. After the Tour of Basque Country, I had few rest days, and now, before my sixth Giro d’Italia, I spent few weeks at an altitude training camp in Teide,” Landa said. “I had great conditions and worked hard and very well. I’m feeling very good now, and I believe that I’m in perfect shape for the next and my main objective of the season 2021.

“I’ve always raced and performed quite well on Giro d’Italia. My overall best was 3rd in 2015 and 4th in 2019. I also had two stage wins at Giro 2015. Giro is a race that I know quite well, and I feel very confident with my teammates. I think that we have an outstanding team around me, so I believe it’s going to be a very, very good month.”

Matt Winston (Team DSM coach) — all for Romain Bardet

Team DSM has a new name and a new star, with Romain Bardet. The French captain is steering clear of the Tour de France this year, and hopes to shed the pressure to perform on home roads for the unbridled passion and climbs of Italy.

Could the two-time Tour de France podium finisher go even higher at the Giro? Team DSM brings a strong squad to back him up.

“We go to the Giro d’Italia with a really strong team for what is a tough edition of the race. We’ll face a challenging parcours throughout the event, with the climbing becoming more intense as the race progresses,” said Winston. “We’ll take on some gravel roads and testing hilly stages early in the race which we need to be sharp during and remain attentive for.

“The famous Monte Zoncolan finish on stage 14 preempts the final week which is full of tough mountains, with very demanding back-to-back days on stage 19 and 20 before the potentially decisive final time trial into Milan on the last day of racing.

“We’ll go all-in for a team GC result and we really need to utilize our collective strength with a complete eight-rider effort to do that. We’ll also keep in mind opportunities in the sprints as we look to grab some day results on the stages that best suit us. We have a nice mixture of riders in the team that should cover all bases and bring a good amount of experience to go for those goals.”