Seven talking points from the first week of the 2016 Giro d’Italia

by Matt de Neef


The Giro d’Italia is now nine stages old and the general classification is starting to take some kind of shape. But as the riders enjoy the second of three rest days, the race is still wide open with a whole host of riders still in with a shot at overall victory. Here’s what has stood out to us after the first ‘week’ of the Giro..


Dumoulin’s stage time trial win was the perfect start to the race

Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) was understandably gutted when he didn’t win the stage 1 time trial at last year’s Tour de France. As a Dutchman, winning on home soil in Utrecht, would have been the ideal way to start the world’s biggest bike race. But it wasn’t to be and Dumoulin would have to settle for fourth as Australia’s Rohan Dennis (BMC) battled the heat to take the first maillot jaune.

Fast forward eight months and Dumoulin was racing another opening stage of a Grand Tour on Dutch soil, again as the pre-race favourite. The 25-year-old wasn’t going to miss out twice.

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He blasted around the 9.8km course in Apeldoorn at more than 53km/h, taking a victory you didn’t need to be Dutch to appreciate.

In the end he didn’t win the stage by much though …

Primoz Roglic has been the biggest surprise packet of the Giro so far

Primoz Roglic has had a rather unusual journey to the WorldTour. After a promising career as a ski jumper — he was junior world champion in 2007 — he decided to give away the sport and try his hand (legs?) at road cycling. He spent three years in the Continental ranks before a string of victories last season saw him earn a place with LottoNL-Jumbo for 2016 and 2017.

He wasted no time getting settled in at WorldTour level, taking fifth overall at the Volta ao Algarve (including third on one stage) and second on a stage of the infamously hard Volta a Catalunya. And yet, when the Giro began, Roglic was barely on the radar.

Roglic’s early time in the stage 1 ITT was enough to earn him a long stint in the hot seat; a stint that only Tom Dumoulin was able to end. And even then, the margin of victory was mere hundredths of a second.

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To come so close to such a huge result was crushing for Roglic. But he responded in the best way possible. On stage 9 he was among the first 25 to start the race’s second individual time trial and with a blistering time, he again earned himself a long stay on the hot seat.

No one would dethrone the Slovenian this time; not Dumoulin, not time trial master Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) and not any of the GC favourites. Granted, Roglic had the better of the conditions, completing his run before the worst of the rain fell, but his performance was far from a fluke.

With Roglic a long way down on GC already, could he be a chance to get up the road in a high mountain stage and put his considerable climbing talent to use to take a stage win? Or could he factor in the stage 15 all-uphill time trial? Either way, the future is bright for the former ski jumper and we look forward to seeing what else he is capable of.

It’s been a steep learning curve for Caleb Ewan

It’s no great surprise that so much is expected and predicted of Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge). He’s one of the most promising and exciting sprinters in the world and he’s achieved some terrific results so far in his young career. Chief among those results is his stage win at last year’s Vuelta a Espana; a win that perhaps placed greater expectation on Ewan going into this year’s Giro than he would have liked.

So far it’s been hard going for the 21-year-old. He’s struggled with position in the bunch sprints, not least because he only has a one-man lead-out train in Luka Mezgec (the rest of the team is looking after Esteban Chaves for GC). He’s also struggled to match the sheer pace of the established sprinters.

But the news is far from bad for Ewan. This is just his second Grand Tour and the depth of sprinting talent is considerably deeper at the Giro than it was at last year’s Vuelta. Plus, he’s heading in the right direction.

After finishing seventh, 12th and ninth in the first four bunch sprints, Ewan achieved his most impressive performance yet on stage 7 with a fourth place. On that day Luka Mezgec was brilliant, pulling Ewan perfectly into position before the final kick for the line. Ewan would eventually be outgunned by stage winner Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) but the way the young Australian negotiated the late-race traffic was impressive.

From here Ewan probably has just one more shot at victory — the pancake flat stage 12 into Bibione. It’s hard to see him fighting his way through a week of high mountain stages after that just for a shot at the final-stage sprint in Torino.

Whether he leaves the race with a win or not doesn’t matter overly much in the grand scheme of things. The experience he’ll have gained will prove invaluable in the years to come as he continues to develop and challenge the best in the world.

Marcel Kittel is back to his best … which makes his departure all the more disappointing

Speaking of the best in the world, it’s great to see Marcel Kittel back to his best after such an awful 2015 season. The big German was in a league of his own on stages 2 and 3 of the Giro last week, winning by several bike lengths on both occasions and earning himself a day in the maglia rosa for his troubles.

But barely a week into the race, Marcel Kittel announced he was heading home, citing the importance of not pushing too hard after battling illness for most of last year.

The social media commentary around Kittel’s withdrawal wasn’t particularly complimentary, with many expressing disappointment and others taking the opportunity to suggest weakness on the sprinter’s part.

It’s certainly a shame that Kittel won’t be there for the sprint on stage 12, nor for the final stage in Torino. But if pulling out of the Giro now means we’ll get to see Kittel at his best at the Tour de France then that seems a fair price to pay, particularly if it means he’s able to keep himself healthy in the meantime.

Brambilla showed the power of the leader’s jersey on stage 9

They say wearing a leader’s jersey allows a rider to find a degree of strength and motivation that’s simply not possible otherwise. And Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-QuickStep) showed that in the Chianti region yesterday as he flew around the stage 9 ITT course in filthy conditions.

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Clad in a pink skinsuit after winning the previous day’s stage — the biggest win of his career — Brambilla put in a very strong ride to finish 17th, ahead of GC contenders Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) and many others. That result saw Brambilla maintain his lead in the general classification by just a single second, ahead of teammate Bob Jungels.

Few had expected the Italian to ride the time trial so well, and maintaining his overall lead seemed out of the question. And yet that’s exactly what he did. It will be interesting to see whether Brambilla can hold on to pink through a hilly stage 10 once the race returns from its second race day. If he can, he might well lead the Giro for a few more days beyond that.

Dumoulin was fooling no one with his GC bluff

The man who’s spent the most stages leading this year Giro so far though is Tom Dumoulin. He’d gone into the race playing down his chances of riding for GC, saying he hadn’t been training at altitude and that he was just targeting the time trials. But when he won stage 1 and took the leader’s jersey, it was clear the Giant-Alpecin rider had no intention of simply giving the jersey away.

He lost it briefly after Kittel won back-to-back stages, but once Dumoulin was back in pink after stage 4, he wasn’t just defending his lead, he was trying to extend it. He attacked on the race’s first uphill finish, on stage 6, putting time into most of the GC contenders.

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While the Dutchman is probably out of contention for the overall win now, a few days ago it very much looked like he would be in the hunt for the trophy. And it seems it was always the plan to fight for the lead; at least that’s what Alejandro Valverde believes.

“What Dumoulin said about only focusing on the time trials? They were comments designed to throw off and mislead the enemy,” Valverde told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “We are all professional enough to know who he is, his caliber, that he’s feeling good and that, at the moment, he’s a tough rival to take very much into account.”

If Dumoulin had’ve had better legs on stage 8 and in the stage 9 ITT, he might well be leading the race by more than a minute. And at that point, he might have felt like he was in with a real shot overall.

The 25-year-old has said he’ll now try to lose a bunch of time so the GC contenders will let him get in a breakaway late in the race, giving him a chance at a second stage victory. Whether that happens or not remains to be seen, but it’s worth noting that Dumoulin is still within a minute of the overall lead in seventh place. A top-five finish is well within his grasp.

The battle for the maglia rosa is wide open

In the first 10 days of both the 2013 Giro d’Italia and the 2014 Tour de France, it was clear Vincenzo Nibali was going to win the race overall. Nibali might well win the 2016 Giro as well, but this time around the race is far more open, with many riders still in contention.

Nibali himself is fifth overall after nine days of racing, but would be fourth were it not for a somewhat surprising and ultimately ill-fated attack on stage 6. Alejandro Valverde’s attack on stage 8 was rather more effective than Nibali’s two days earlier, and the veteran Spaniard is looking typically dangerous in sixth overall.

Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) is 11th overall after losing time to two crashes and a bike change in yesterday’s time trial. He’s looking strong though, and assuming he can recover from his falls, he should be well inside the top 10 again once the race hits the mountains.

Mikel Landa (Sky) appears to have improved his time trialling since last year and is currently sitting in a threatening eighth position overall. He’ll almost certainly move up the ladder in the next week.

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Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) currently sits inside the top 10 and after being so impressive in the breakaways in last year’d Giro, Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) now sits fourth overall in the 2016 edition. The Dutchman is a genuine threat.

The high mountains should see Gianluca Brambilla and Bob Jungels drop from the top of the general classification, and third-placed Andrey Amador (Movistar) will likely slip a few places too, particularly given he’s there to support Valverde this time around (Amador was an impressive fourth last year).

Looking back at the first nine days there’s been no one rider that’s dominated the race so far, and that’s a great thing. Sure, we’ve only had the one uphill finish and only a few decent climbs, but the fact the race is still so open makes for a compelling spectacle in the weeks ahead.

As the race heads towards Italy’s mountainous northern reaches it will be fascinating to see which riders come to the fore and who slips away. There is much still to look forward to in this year’s Giro d’Italia.

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What have we missed? What have you taken from the Giro d’Italia so far?

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