One of the big talking points over the past few seasons has been the youth movement that’s swept the peloton.
Young pros barely out of their teens are roaring into the sport and quickly stamping their authority on the bunch. Think Tadej Pogačar, who became the youngest modern Tour de France winner last month at 21, just one year after Egan Bernal had set that mark in 2019.
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The 2020 Giro d’Italia is turning back the clock.
Of the top five favorites lining up Saturday in Palermo, four are well into their 30s.
Consider their ages: Vincenzo Nibali, 35, Geraint Thomas, 34, Steven Kruijswijk, 33, and Jakob Fuglsang, 35, and all were born in the 1980s. Only Simon Yates, 28, was born in the 1990s among the leading favorites.
Just call this the Eighties Giro.
Coming into the race, the older riders know this could be one of their best and last chances to win a grand tour.
The 2020 Giro looks to be one for the veterans.
Each of the veteran captains is facing new threats to their leadership, both from within their respective teams as well as from the larger peloton quickly filling up with riders who are barely into their 20s.
That’s certainly the case for Thomas, who was left off the team’s Tour de France squad after leadership backed Bernal with a team full of riders new to the franchise. With Ineos Grenadiers boss Dave Brailsford continuing to load up on new talent — the team confirmed four new big-name riders for 2021 last week — there is no guarantee that Thomas will remain at the center of the team’s plans going into his final year of his contract next season.
The 2018 Tour champion, who turned 34 in May, turned his Tour snub to his advantage, and enters the Giro in top shape, ready to reassert his place at the top of the peloton’s hierarchy.
“I’m excited, but I know that I’ll also have to stay calm,” said Thomas, leading a powerful Ineos Grenadiers team. “We have one of the best teams, and I’m looking forward to three weeks of hard racing.”
With so many veterans lining up as favorites, it will be interesting to see how it might impact race tactics.
Veteran riders are typically more patient and know that a grand tour requires tenacity and consistency over three weeks.
Younger riders sometimes get jumpy or make mistakes by going out of the gate too fast, and sometimes blow up. In contrast, veteran riders have learned the hard lesson that any race, especially a grinding grand tour like the Giro, can often come down to the final mountain stage.
That could lead to more conservative racing, especially with a challenging first week that will test the legs of everyone, young or old.
“I’m here for winning, but I’m not sure to win,” said Fuglsang, who’s only finished once in the top-10 in 14 grand tour starts. “I’ve built my form to perform [over] three weeks, but I’m aware that the first week is already very important.”
Among the top-5 favorites, Yates at 28 is the youngest among the quintet. After enduring his spectacular blow up in the 2018 Giro, when he came out fast in the first half of the race to win stages and take control of the pink jersey, Yates has already learned to race in a different way.
This year’s time trial-heavy route might force Yates to race in a similar way as he did in the 2018 Giro, who he won stages early to scoop up time bonuses to build a buffer against superior time trialists like eventual winner Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin. Yates also learned that pacing is important in a grand tour, and he carried those lessons into the 2018 Vuelta, where he raced more conservatively and came away with his first grand tour victory.
Now entering his late 20s, and arguably the prime of his grand tour racing career, it’s obvious Yates has also learned to downplay his chances in public. Last year, he came out with some bravado statements that came back to bite him. This year, it’s all about “one day at a time.”
“From my past participation, I’ve learned to stay calm in this race,” Yates said. “Having won Tirreno-Adriatico doesn’t make me the favorite, but I’ll do my best to win it.”
Could there be a young diamond-in-the-rough lurking in the Giro peloton?
Remco Evenepoel was supposed to have made his highly anticipated grand tour debut this weekend, but he’s at home nursing a hip injury following a horrific fall at Il Lombardia.
There are a few names. Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana), 24, has been blazing since the COVID comeback, and could be an outsider for the podium in his first grand tour.
Portuguese talent João Almeida (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), 22, and American all-rounder Brandon McNulty (UAE-Emirates), also 22, will have chances to show off their stuff in their respective grand tour debuts. The 2019 winner of the Tour de l’Avenir Tobias Foss (Jumbo-Visma), 23, is also on for his first grand tour. Of course, Bernal and Pogačar each blazed to Tour de France victories after winning Avenir, so there’s pressure is on the young Norwegian.
It’s more than likely one of the “Eighties Club” riders will end up on top in Milano on October 25.
And the favorite for victory among the veterans is Nibali.
He’ll be 36 in November, and despite having one of the best racing minds in the game, this Giro could be among his last opportunities to win a fifth career grand tour.
With two Giro victories on his palmàres, a cagey veteran like Nibali is smart enough to downplay his chances in public, hold his cards close to his chest, and pounce when it counts.
“I’m ready for the Giro,” Nibali said at Thursday’s team presentation. “I don’t want to make any predictions. I will try to do my best, and then we will see what we have achieved.”
Spoken like a true veteran.