Giro d’Italia: Five Key Takeaways From the First Week

Featured image courtesy of Tim de Waele/Getty Images

In an eventful first week laden with crashes, Covid and bad weather, let’s examine the main events that defined the start of the 103rd Giro d’Italia.

A Wide-Open General Classification Battle

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With the two pre-race favourites out in Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) and Simon Yates (Mitchelton Scott), this Giro is playing out to be one of the most unpredictable Grand Tours in recent memory.

None of the remaining contenders have yet struck any decisive blows in the mountains, with the top-15 separated by only 2:33.

The best-placed rider is still Joao Alemeida (Deceuninck QuickStep), who carries a 30 second lead over Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb).

Almeida is young and lacking in Grand Tour experience, and is thus not expected to win the race. Kelderman is looking particularly strong; his time trial on stage one and climbing ability put him in great position heading into the tougher mountain stages. He can count on a strong Sunweb team (who did much of the work on stage nine’s final climb) for support.

Domenico Pozzovivo (NTT) and Vicenzo Nibali (Trek) are Italy’s best-placed riders, at fourth and fifth respectively.

Jakob Fuglsang is sixth, and would be more confident of improving his position were it not for the abandonment of two key mountain domestiques in Miguel Angel Lopez and Alexsandr Vlasov, on stages one and two respectively.

With two time trials still to come and the time gaps still small, the likes of Pozzovivo and Nibali will need to gain time in the mountains if they are to overcome Kelderman and 11th-place Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma).

Geraint Thomas Abandons After Freak Accident

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Geraint Thomas earned the title of pre-race favourite thanks to his second place at Tirreno-Adriatico and his time-trialling ability.

He cemented this status on stage one, taking fourth place just 23 seconds behind teammate and stage-winner Filippo Ganna.

On just stage three however, his race ended prematurely, as viewers witnessed the Briton off the back of the peloton well before the final climb to Etna began.

It later emerged that Thomas had fallen in the neutralized zone before the start proper, the culprit being a stray bidon ejected from another rider’s cage on a bumpy section of road.

A broken pelvis forced Thomas out of the race before the start of stage four, in another incident that brought rider safety into question, following high profile incidents with Fabio Jakobsen at the Tour of Poland and Remco Evenepoel at Il Lombardia.

The Ineos Grenadiers will now focus on stage wins, and will be happy with the two victories accrued this week courtesy of Ganna on stages one and five.

Threat of Covid Looms

In another big blow for British fans, Simon Yates was forced to abandon the Giro having tested positive for Covid-19 prior to stage eight.

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It proved a harsh reminder of the fragile nature of racing post-lockdown, when much of Europe is facing a significant rise in cases.

Race Director Mauro Vegni remains hopeful, declaring that the race will go ahead unless a government order prevents it from doing so.

Riders will be tested during the rest day, and organisers and riders will be hopeful that no positive tests are returned, just as they weren’t at the Tour de France (barring a small handful of team staff).

As for Yates, he will have to wait another year for a third chance at trying to win the maglia rosa. However, the fact he lost over three minutes to his main GC rivals on stage three raised serious doubts as to his form in the first place.

Démare Dominates the Sprints

The Giro’s sprint field will be wondering how on Earth it can overcome Arnaud Démare after he stormed to three stage victories already.

In what makes Groupama-FDJ’s non-selection of him at the Tour even more puzzling, the French national champion is simply a cut above his rivals this year. Only during a photo-finish on stage four did anyone look capable of challenging him.

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For the likes of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Elia Viviani (Cofidis), both winless in 2020, the first week will have been a frustrating one.

Démare also leads the Points Classification by 57 points from Sagan. He narrowly finished second in the competition last year, so will be pleased with his lead thus far.

Stages 11 and 13 look to be likely sprint stages in the second week.

Young Riders Impress

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Whilst the first week saw impressive stage victories from the likes of veterans Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates) and Alex Dowsett (Israel Start-Up Nation), it is the younger riders that have really stepped up.

Joao Almedia, 22, is riding his first Grand Tour and will never have predicted he would be in pink after stage nine, courtesy of an excellent ride on stage one’s time trial.

Having finished third at this year’s Vuelta a Burgos, and seventh at the Tour de l’Ain, Almeida will be one to watch to see if he can uphold his form for three weeks.

24 year-old Filippo Ganna is undoubtedly the time-triallist to beat this year. Having won the World Championships, he crushed the opposition on stage one, beating his closest rival (Almeida) by 22 seconds on a short, 15 kilometre course. He then displayed his all-around ability on the hilly stage five into Camigliatello Silano, outclimbing his breakaway companions to claim a solo victory.

Harm Vanhoucke (Lotto-Soudal) lies in seventh place, courtesy of finishing third on Mount Etna. The Belgian youngster can count on Brit Matthew Holmes, and Norwegian Carl Frederick Hagen for support, in a team not typically noted for its GC performances.

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