We’ll find out at the Giro d’Italia this month.
The Slovenian super-duo – champions of five of the past seven grand tours – are absent from this year’s Italian tour, leaving a power vacuum in the race for pink.
With recovering defending champion Egan Bernal also on the sofa rather than the startline, this year’s Giro is without a center of gravity. The peloton has been knocked off its three-week axis, setting the scene for open and explosive racing that might otherwise have been smothered under a Slovenian blanket.
All eyes are on Simon Yates and 2019 champion Richard Carapaz to go tug-o-war for the title, but around a dozen riders will be a “maybe” for the maglia rosa when the peloton rolls out of Budapest on Friday.
“With Carapaz, surely they have the strongest team, and he’s won the race before,” Yates said in his pre-race conference. “I think it’s normal to class him as the favorite but I think there will be many others who will be competitive.”
Releasing the Slovenian stranglehold
A modern grand tour without Roglič and Pogačar is a race without reference points.
Roglic finished top-4 in the past six grand tours he finished. Pogačar has only raced three three-weekers, but finished on the podium every time.
Take Bernal out of the equation, and the last grand tour won by “another” rider was when Tao Geoghegan Hart took the weird and wild post-lockdown Giro of October 2020.
Further back than that?
Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas, Yates, and Carapaz were the grand tour champions of 2018 through May 2019. It was a far-flung world when Froome was un-injured, Ineos was Sky, and coronavirus sounded like something from sci-fi.
Pogačar’s crushing form through spring makes it feel almost inevitable he’ll be back on the podium in Paris this summer. And if Roglič remains upright, his crazy consistency sets him on track for another top-3 tilt should he keep things upright.
- Carapaz clear on ambitions: ‘I want to win the Giro d’Italia’
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Without Roglič, Pogačar, and Bernal, it feels fitting Yates and Carapaz take center stage in the 2022 Giro d’Italia.
But just out of focus behind them lies a long list of riders that would be far from the frame were Roglič or Pogačar in play.
Miguel Ángel López, João Almeida and Mikel Landa sit poised for a push at pink. Any of Tom Dumoulin, Romain Bardet, Hugh Carthy, Pello Bilbao or Bora-Hansgrohe’s triumvirate could spring a surprise.
“Take it back to last year, I won Tour of the Alps, then I read everywhere I was the favorite to win,” Yates previewed this week. “Bardet won there, and no one’s even talking about him. There are a lot of guys who have good form and are flying under the radar a bit. Bahrain also has a good team, but we’ll see once we get on the road.”
No Roglič or Pogačar opens the race to the fringe-players of the grand tour scene in a Giro that could be far from the victory parade Pogačar pulled at last year’s Tour de France.
Rather than watching and waiting for a rider like Pogačar to uncork the type of trouncing he did at Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico this spring, or in his assault on the Grand Bornand last summer, Giro teams will be incentivized to attack.
“I don’t think we can wait until the last week to move,” Bahrain-Victorious co-captain Pello Bilbao said.
A lack of TT kilometers means even big engines like Almeida or Dumoulin will need to winch out time on the road.
“We think we can do a good Giro with João,” UAE Emirates director Mauro Gianetti told VeloNews this week. “It’s all possible, but there is also Carapaz, there is also Landa. The start list quality is very high and this will probably be one of the hardest Giros ever.”
The Giro will still sparkle without the Slovenians
So will a Giro without Roglič, Pogačar and Bernal be like watching the B-Team playing on the A-Team’s pitch?
Far from it.
This year’s Giro has one of the hardest parcours of recent history. Mountains come early and frequently, the final week is fierce as ever, and a stack of long transfers add attrition.
“There are no lucky winners of the Giro,” said BikeExchange-Jayco boss Matt White. “It’s a very demanding three-week tour.”
No matter who is on the startline Friday, whoever hits the top step when the so-called “hardest race” of the season reaches Verona will have a place in the record books and a lasting line on the Trofeo Senza Fine.
Bring on what could be a barnstormer.