As if to highlight the oddity of the 2020 professional season, this preview launches one day after the Giro has already begun. Stage One’s Prologue took place on the same day as the finale of the BinckBank Tour, a race that itself saw one stage canceled due to coronavirus.
The second stage, continuing in Sicily after the opening stages were moved from Hungary to Italy, takes place on the same day as Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
The opening salvos have been fired and after a deceptively tough time trial, it’s TT world champion Fillipo Ganna in the maglia rosa ahead of his team leader, Geraint Thomas in fourth. And it is Thomas who took advantage of this year’s many time trial kilometers by putting 26 seconds into Simon Yates and over a minute to the likes of Wilco Kelderman, Vicenzo Nibali, Jakub Fuglsang, and Rafael Majka.
There are two dark horses still in the mix, though, and both from Deceuninck-QuickStep. Jao Almeida and Fausto Masnada are some of the top up-and-coming climbers in a generation chock-full of talent. Almeida was a very quiet one second ahead of Thomas, while Masnada is on pace with the like of Steven Kruiswick at 1’27” down.
It’s Monday’s summit finish on Mount Etna that should see those climbers, already in a hole, looking to claw back a bit of time and rebuild some confidence. And with three total time trial stages, it looks as though climbers will need to salvage every single second if they’re going to hemorrhage so much time to the likes of Thomas and Yates every time out.
While the time deficit is alarming, this year’s Giro has more curveballs tossed up than usual. Specifically, the weather will be a challenge for all the riders. Nearly mountain stage will have at least the chance of snow, cold weather, and even cancelation, which means riders relying on elevation can’t count on having every single climb slated for the race to actually appear. Of course, even finishing the Giro is tough in the world of Covid-19. Riders testing positive will be pulled from the event but, unlike the Tour, two positives in a single squad won’t pull the entire team from the competition.
It’s not all mountains and GC, though. Peter Sagan is making his Giro debut and admittedly hit out for the pink jersey yesterday, but didn’t quite have it in the legs. That was certainly the case in September, where Sagan simply couldn’t keep pace with the likes of Sam Bennett. The hillier course might be prime for Sagan, though here he’ll have to battle a rider of similar skills and on flying form from Michael Matthews from Sunweb. On the flatter finishes, Sagan may well see the heels and hubs of Caleb Ewan yet again, with the Lotto-Soudal rider also pulling back-to-back Grand Tours.
After his early restart, few would have expected Geraint Thomas to be a favorite for the Giro, though even fewer would have expected to see him in Italy in the first place. In what was widely considered a snub, the 2018 Tour winner was left off the Ineos Grenadiers team in France, only to 2019 winner Egan Bernal struggle, implode, and ultimately abandon the Tour. Next to what looked like an Imperial March that Ineos/Sky had written over the past eight years, it was a thud that echoed even more loudly due to Team Jumbo-Visma taking up the tune until the Stage 20, at least.
Thomas has been a favorite of kolo since he debuted in the Tour in 2010 as British road champion and battling bar-and-elbow with the likes of Thor Hushovd and Fabian Cancellara on the Paris-Roubaix stage. Since then, he’s shown his ability in Classics races, stage races, and pocked a Grand Tour ahead of teammate Chris Froome. Since then, however, only this most recent edition of Tirreno-Adriatico, where he finished second, showed the sort of form that won him bike races, and it’s good to see him firing on all cylinders again.
Because of the strong , experienced team around him and the multiple time trials on offer, Thomas is our not-very Bold Prediction for the Giro, although we’ll sneak in Almeida as a podium contender as well. For Nibali, we’re expecting a stage win, though his age may mean his days a true GC threat are behind him. Even Thomas is an old hand, and this Giro may be one where the elder generations holds the upper hand one last time.