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This week isn’t all about the Ardennes.
The Tour of the Alps kicks off Monday and a swathe of grand tour stars are set to race across a saw’s tooth five-stage parcours. With the Giro d’Italia just 20 days away and the Tour de France looming on the horizon, this week’s Alpine tour sits perfectly placed for stage-racing greats to tune-up and tweak their three-week engines.
From the future of Chris Froome and Thibaut Pinot, to the pink jersey quests of Simon Yates and Jai Hindley, there will be some must-watch storylines spinning out of the Austrian and Italian mountains this week.
Here’s what to watch for at the Tour of the Alps:
Giro d’Italia stars fine tune form ahead of the ‘grande partenza’
This week’s race is stacked with stars looking to race for the pink jersey next month. Simon Yates, Alexander Vlasov, Hugh Carthy, Jai Hindley, and Thibaut Pinot are all on the start sheet, making the race a who’s-who of Giro contenders. Of all those eyeing the Giro’s pink jersey, the only absentees are Egan Bernal and the injured Vincenzo Nibali.
Finishing just two weeks ahead of the Giro and packing all the big-diesel climbing required to open the climbing legs for the Italian mountains, this week’s Tour of the Alps makes for the perfect dress-rehearsal for the Corso Rosa, and many squads are sending their deepest grand tour rosters to Monday’s startline in Brixen.
“After the Volta a Catalunya and now the training camp in Andorra, Tour of Alps is a stepping stone to the Giro d’Italia which is my main goal of the season,” said Yates, who will returns to the Giro for the fourth time next month.
Although Bernal won’t be in the Alps this week, his Ineos team is sending Daniel Martínez and Pavel Sivakov to the race, and both will be key support riders in the Giro next month. Yates and Bernal are top contenders for next month’s Italian tour, so both Team BikeExchange and Ineos Grenadiers will be hoping to see promising signs from their seven-man squads in the Alps this week.
Three other names in action this week ahead of scheduled starts at the Giro d’Italia are emerging talents Aleksandr Vlasov, Hugh Carthy and Jai Hindley. Vlasov rolls into 2021 as all-out leader of Astana Premier-Tech after the exit of Miguel Ángel López, and Hindley will likewise enjoy an elevated authority at Team DSM after Wilco Kelderman moved to Bora-Hansgrohe over winter.
Chris Froome, Thibaut Pinot need to prove their form, and soon
We all know the Chris Froome script.
On the comeback from injury and on the build toward a tilt at his fifth Tour de France, the 35-year-old has been trying to race himself back into shape through the early season. When will Froome live up to his word that his form is returning? He has said it after nearly every race in the last six months but remains a shadow of his former self.
There are still 10 weeks until the Tour’s Grand Départ, but if Froome is going to have the legs to compete with Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič this summer, he has to start showing some sparkle sooner rather than later.
While it’s unlikely that Froome’s slot on the Israel Start-Up Nation roster for this summer’s Tour is under threat, Thibaut Pinot’s grand tour schedule could be defined by his performance this week.
Pinot has shaken up his ambitions for 2021, shunning the Tour de France for only the second time since 2012, and instead turns his attention to the Giro. Only now, he may not even make it to the start line in May as he continues to struggle with the back injury that detonated his grand tour hopes last summer.
“I am scheduled for the Giro but I will only go if I am at 100 percent,” Pinot said last week. “I remain cautious. The real answer will be at the Tour of the Alps.”
If Pinot sits out the Giro, he’s unlikely to get a slot on the Groupama-FDJ squad for the Tour as the French outfit goes all-in for sprinter Arnaud Démare. Pinot’s road to the Vuelta a España could be paved on a poor ride in the Alps this week.
Shifting priorities for Dan Martin and Romain Bardet
The Tour of the Alps will see two of the peloton’s most enduring stars take a subtle shift in ambitions.
Dan Martin has long flirted with both the Ardennes classics and GC leadership, but after scoring a career-best grand tour finish with 4th at least fall’s Vuelta, the Irishman is fully embracing stage racing this year – at the cost of his long-beloved hilly classics.
“I’m looking forward to doing Tour of the Alps for the first time,” Martin said. “It’s also the first time in my career of 14 seasons that I am not at the Ardennes classics, which is a strange feeling but it’s also very exciting to discover a new race. This is an important week to continue building towards the Giro and I want to see how good my condition really is.”
Martin founded his palmarès on his victories at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia and has a hatful of top-6s at Flèche Wallonne. Turning his back on the Ardennes in favor of a tilt at the Giro and support duty for Froome at the Tour is a big call. Will the 34-year-old’s gamble pay off? Look to his form in the Alps for clues.
Romain Bardet has had a similar shift in ambitions in 2021. The Frenchman stepped away from Ag2r-La Mondiale this winter after turning pro with the team way back in 2012, and is looking for fresh inspiration and a new approach with Team DSM.
Also read: Bardet seeking career reset with Team DSM
Bardet plays co-leader with Hindley at both this week’s race and next month’s Giro in his debut season with his new team. Will the Frenchman be eyeing the overall, supporting his Aussie teammate, or be let off the leash to hunt stage wins at the Giro? Early murmurs suggested Bardet may be handed a free, attacking role at DSM. However, after finishing 8th at last month’s Tirreno-Adriatico while Hindley suffered a low-key start to the season, will Bardet be back to GC duty? Team DSM’s playbook this week may give insight.
— Romain Bardet (@romainbardet) January 5, 2021