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Classics season is behind us and the Tour de Romandie is now complete. That can only mean one thing — it’s time for the Giro d’Italia.
The 102nd edition of the Giro starts in Bologna this Saturday and concludes in Verona on June 2. Ahead of the first Grand Tour of the season we take you through the course, the stages that matter, the overall contenders and much more. Read on for everything you need to know about the season’s best Grand Tour!
Raced over 21 stages, this year’s Giro spans a total of 3,578.8 kilometres. Beginning in Bologna in the north of Italy, the race sweeps down the country’s west coast over the first five stages, before crossing the country then heading back up the east coast from stages seven through nine.
After the first rest day the riders will begin a big clockwise loop that takes them through the mountains in the far north of Italy, before swinging around into Verona by the final stage.
This year’s Giro is a race that, from a sporting perspective, can be roughly divided in two. The first 12 days are relatively easy, featuring a bunch of long stages, the bulk of the likely sprint finishes, and almost none of the decisive climbs. The final nine days are far tougher, featuring the majority of the decisive climbs including some brutally tough days in the Alps.
The key GC stages
We might get a sense of how the GC contenders are faring as early as stage 1. This first of three individual time trials is just 8km long, but with a steep 2km climb to the finish (averaging 10%), the big hitters could well feature. That said, the stage is very unlikely to have much bearing on the outcome of the race overall.
By our reckoning there are seven key stages that should help shape the general classification:
– Stage 9: A mostly uphill time trial of 35km.
– Stage 13: The first summit finish — 20.3km at 5.9%.
– Stage 14: A big day in the mountains with five climbs.
– Stage 16: More than 5,000m of climbing, including the Gavia and Mortirolo.
– Stage 19: A 13.6km climb at 5.6% to finish.
– Stage 20: The final mountain stage, a monster in the Dolomites with five big climbs.
– Stage 21: The final-stage ITT which includes 4.5km of climbing.
Of course, being a Grand Tour, the Giro is about more than just a handful of key stages. Riders can lose time on just about any stage, whether that’s due to a mechanical, a crash, being caught out in the crosswinds, illness, or just by having a bad day. That’s the beauty of bike racing — we never really know what’s going to happen, particularly the race is three weeks long.
The GC contenders
There are a handful of riders we expect to challenge for the overall title at this year’s Giro:
Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) – If we had to pick one stand-out favourite, the Slovenian would be it. He’s certainly the most in-form rider among the GC contenders — he’s done just three races for the year (the UAE Tour, Tirreno-Adriatico, and the Tour de Romandie) and he’s won them all.
The last of those is particularly instructive. Roglic won three of six stages in the Swiss race: two reduced bunch sprints on tough mountain stages plus the final stage individual time trial. He was also a close second in the prologue time trial.
As one of the best time trialists in the world, particularly on hilly courses, Roglic will be right at home at this year’s Giro. But he’s far from a one-trick pony — in addition to time-trialling like a beast, Roglic can also climb, descend (see his win on stage 19 of last year’s Tour de France), and he’s got a handy sprint.
Roglic has only raced the Giro once before (in 2016 when he finished 58th) and he’s improved out of sight since then. He was fourth at the Tour de France last year and it would be no surprise to see a better result at the 2019 Giro. Can he win it? Absolutely.
Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) — Like Roglic, Dumoulin will be licking his lips at the thought of three time trials. Dumoulin won this race in 2017 off the back of his time trialling, and would have won last year too were it not for Chris Froome’s ridiculous stage 19 raid.
Dumoulin hasn’t been spectacular in 2019 so far — his highlights are fourth overall at Tirreno-Adriatico and sixth at the UAE Tour — but the Dutchman is building into his season nicely, just like he did the past two years. He’ll be one of the very best in the ITT stages, and if he can climb at his best, he’ll be a big chance for another podium, if not a second overall title.
Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) – If Froome’s raid was the story of last year’s Giro, then the tale of Simon Yates’ rollercoaster wasn’t far behind. The Briton won three stages, led the race for 13 stages, and looked a near-certainty to win overall. And then he imploded on stage 19, paying for his efforts and slipping well down the leaderboard.
A year on, Yates admits he has unfinished business with the Giro. Sure, he won the Vuelta a Espana last year, but you get the sense the 26-year-old won’t be fully satisfied until he can win the Giro as well.
Yates has been good so far this year, winning a stage at Ruta del Sol and Paris-Nice. He’ll have former podium finisher Esteban Chaves in support, but will be ruing the loss of Jack Haig who has been sidelined by a knee injury.
Expect not to see much of Yates in the first 12 days. He’s said he won’t be racing as aggressively as he did last year and he seems likely to save himself for the tough final week. If it all falls into place and he can avoid a repeat of last year’s implosion, the maglia rosa is a very achievable goal. Anything but a podium is likely to be a disappointment.
Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) – “The Shark of Messina” is the only multiple-time winner on the startlist and one of only two former winners, alongside Dumoulin. Winner of the 2013 and 2016 editions, Nibali returns after a one-year absence but does so as one of the riders to beat.
He’s not as strong against the clock as the likes of Dumoulin or Roglic, but on his day he climbs with the very best of them. And while he’s probably past his absolute prime, Nibali’s a stone-cold master of measuring his effort across three weeks. Just see his final week of the 2016 Giro.
Nibali has had some promising results so far this year with third overall at the Tour of the Alps and eighth at Liege-Bastogne-Liege but it probably won’t be until late in the second week that we know whether Nibali is at his best. If he is, the podium is a very realistic goal, if not a third overall title.
Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) – Like Roglic, Lopez has had a very strong start to 2019. The 25-year-old won Tour Colombia and he won a stage plus the overall at the notoriously difficult Volta a Catalunya.
The Colombian was third on debut last year and another podium is well within his range, particularly if his Astana team continues to ride with the strength it has all season.
Mikel Landa (Movistar) – Like some of the other GC favourites, Landa has had some decent finishes this year without really blowing us away. He was fourth at Coppi e Bartali with a stage win, and seventh at his home race, the Tour of the Basque Country. Landa was third on GC at the 2015 edition of the Giro — his best Grand Tour result — but hasn’t raced the Giro since 2017.
Interestingly, Movistar goes into the Giro with three leaders, a strategy the team has employed with little success at recent Grand Tours. Landa is likely to be the main man, but with Andrey Amador (fourth in 2015 and sixth the year after) and Richard Carapaz in the wings, the Spanish outfit certainly has options.
Richard Carapaz (Movistar) – The Ecuadorian is one of those riders we don’t see much of throughout the year, but he certainly seems to peak nicely for the Giro. He was fourth overall last year and took a stage win; a similar result doesn’t seem beyond him this year. Of note: Carapaz won the Vuelta Asturias last year in the lead-up to the Giro and he did the same again last week.
It will be interesting to see how Movistar manages its resources and whether it’s Carapaz that gets the nod once things shake out later in the race.
Top 10 contenders
Beyond the big favourites for the overall, here’s a selection of riders we’d expect to see battling it out for the remaining spots in the top 10.
Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) – It’s hard to see the Russian winning the Giro but a top 10 is certainly within his range, if not a top five. He finished fifth in 2017 and has shown some decent form of late, including eighth overall at the recent Tour de Romandie. Good against the clock, good uphill — if anything, it’s his descending that lets him down.
Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) – Majka knows what it takes to ride top 10 at the Giro. After all, he’s done it three times before, finishing seventh, sixth and fifth. Like so many of the Giro’s GC leaders he’s had decent form in the lead-up, but nothing remarkable. Sixth at Tour of the Alps and seventh at Volta a Catalunya show he’s in the ballpark, and we can expect a similar sort of result from him at the Giro, assuming all goes to plan.
Bob Jungels (Deceuninck-QuickStep) – The Luxembourger has made a habit of spending some time in pink these past few years, with three days leading the race in 2016 and five days in 2017. He finished sixth and eighth overall in those two editions, respectively, and another top 10 is a very strong possibility, particularly with three time trials in this year’s edition.
Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) – The Dutchman’s best result at the Giro is a seventh overall in 2017 and while he hasn’t shown massive flashes of brilliance since then, he’s a strong performer over three weeks and a dangerous rider.
Mollema and his team are aiming for top five on GC but should the 32-year-old drop out of GC contention, look to him to target stage wins instead, just as he did to great effect at the 2017 Tour de France.
A look at the course for this year’s Giro suggests seven stages that are very likely to end in a bunch sprint:
– Stage 2: A rolling stage with a few climbs but a flat finish.
– Stage 3: A few lumps along the way but also a flat finish.
– Stage 5: A flat final 40km.
– Stage 8: The longest stage at 239km. A few climbs but flat finish.
– Stage 10: Dead flat for the entirety.
– Stage 11: Also incredibly flat.
– Stage 18: 60 flat kilometres to finish.
As you’ll note, the vast bulk of the sprint stages are concentrated in the first 12 days of the race. As a result, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see many of the big sprinters head home after stage 11, rather than dragging themselves through the mountains for one more sprint late in the race.
So who are the big-name sprinters at this year’s Giro?
Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-QuickStep) — The winner of four stages last year, Viviani has been the best sprinter in the world for most of the past 18 months. Decked out in the tricolore of Italian champion, he’ll have extra motivation for success at this year’s Giro.
He hasn’t had the very best lead-in — while he has got four wins for the year, it’s been a couple months since he got his hands in the air. And having withdrawn from the Tour de Romandie due to illness, his preparation hasn’t been perfect.
All that said, it would be a great surprise if Viviani didn’t add to his five career wins at the Giro over the coming weeks.
Fernando Gaviria (UAE-Team Emirates) — The last time Gaviria raced the Giro (2017) he won four stages. He had a strong start to 2019, taking three wins before the end of February, but he hasn’t won since.
But as with his former teammate Viviani, it’s hard to see Gaviria heading home from the Giro without at least one stage win to his name.
Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) — The German champion has three wins for the year as well, most recently the WorldTour-ranked Eschborn-Frankfurt on May 1. He mightn’t be the biggest-name sprinter on the startlist, but he’s absolutely a contender.
Side note: it’s hard not to feel for Ackermann’s teammate Sam Bennett. The Irishman has had his best-ever start to a season year with six victories, but he’s been overlooked for the Giro … a race he won three stages of last year.
Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) — Ewan also has three wins for the year: an uphill sprint win at the UAE Tour, then two stage wins at the Tour of Turkey. Note that his wins in Turkey were against a second-tier sprint field, with Sam Bennett the only other top-notch sprinter in attendance.
All things being equal, Ewan might find it challenging to best the likes of Viviani and Gaviria in the flat finishes, but he’s certainly done so before. He won a stage at the 2017 Giro ahead of Gaviria, Bennett and Andre Greipel so a repeat performance certainly isn’t out of the question.
Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) — Demare is yet to hit the winners’ list this year and he’s yet to win a Giro stage in his career. But the Frenchman has a way of winning on the big stage, even when he’s not one of the favourites. A stage win wouldn’t be a huge surprise.
The opportunists and the eye-catchers
Of course, there’s more to the Grand Tours than the GC battle and sprint finishes. With 21 stage on the menu, there are plenty of chances for stage-winning breakaways, for surprise winners, and for big breakout performances.
Here’s a selection of riders we’ll be keeping an eye on throughout the race:
Ben O’Connor (Dimension Data) — The West Australian was one of the breakout riders of last year’s Giro. He looked to be riding his way to a top 10 overall when he unfortunately crashed out on stage 19. It will be great to see how O’Connor gets on a year later. He’s aiming for the top 10 and assuming he makes it to the finish line this time around, that’s a very realistic goal.
Davide Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe) — The Italian burst onto people’s radars with a terrific solo stage win on debut in 2015 and he comes into this year’s race with solid form. He won a stage solo at the Volta a Catalunya in March and he was second at the recent Liege-Bastogne-Liege behind a solo Jakob Fuglsang.
With Majka leading Bora-Hansgrohe’s GC ambitions, it will be interesting to see if Formolo is given some rope to go on the attack. If he’s more focused on GC, another high placing is within the realms of possibility — he was 10th overall these past two years, after all.
Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) — Did you know that De Gendt was third overall at the 2012 Giro? While the Belgian is far less interested in the GC these days, he’s still one of the most exciting and aggressive riders in the bunch. He’s won stages in all three Grand Tours, and we can expect him to try to add to that tally this month. At the very least we can expect to see him up the road with great regularity — is there a rider that spends more time in the break than Thomas De Gendt?
Ryan Gibbons (Dimension Data) — The South African has had an impressive start to the year, with nine top-five finishes so far. He’s yet to take a win in 2019, but it feels like he’s not far away. He’s a strong all-rounder with a fast finish and good climbing ability — maybe a breakaway late in the Giro could suit him?
Jan Polanc (UAE-Team Emirates) — The Slovenian is a two-time stage winner at the Giro, both victories coming from a breakaway on an uphill finish. He’s a dangerous rider and one we’d expect to feature in the final week.
Ion Izagirre (Astana) — Astana will focus most of its energy on Miguel Angel Lopez’s GC tilt, but don’t be surprised if Ion Izagirre is given the opportunity to go for a stage win. He’s started 2019 well, having taken overall wins at the Tour of the Basque Country and Volta a Valenciana, plus a stage win at Paris-Nice. Dangerous rider.
Giacomo Nizzolo (Dimension Data) — Is there a rider with more top-five stage finishes at the Giro without a win? In all, the Italian has finished inside the top five on 23 occasions — 4 x 5th, 5 x 4th, 5 x 3rd, and a whopping 9 x 2nd. It would be great to see him finally take that elusive first victory.
Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) — A gifted climber who won a stage solo from a breakaway in 2016, on debut no less. If he’s up the road in the mountains, watch out.
Team Ineos’ young guns — With Egan Bernal sidelined with a most untimely collarbone break, and with Gianni Moscon now heading to the Tour of California, Team Ineos (formerly Sky) has had to scramble to find a Plan B.
That plan is to race the Giro with Tao Geoghegan Hart and Pavel Sivakov as GC co-leaders. The pair dominated at the recent Tour of the Alps, with 21-year-old Sivakov winning a stage and the overall, and 24-year-old Geoghegan Hart taking two stages and second overall.
Both are racing in just their second Grand Tour so there won’t be huge pressure on either to snag a big result. Regardless, it will be fascinating to see how they each handle the responsibility and the challenge. What’s a realistic goal for the pair? Top 10 seems achievable, perhaps more so for Sivakov who won the Baby Giro in 2017 and has had success at other hilly races in the past too (including a stage win at the Tour de l’Avenir).
And while Geoghegan Hart and Sivakov look set to lead the team, be sure to keep an eye on Ivan Sosa as well. The 21-year-old Colombian might be in his first Grand Tour but he confirmed at Tour Colombia earlier this year that he’s a world-class climber, finishing second overall ahead of Bernal, Nairo Quintana, Rigo Uran and many other classy riders.
The TV coverage
Unfortunately for Australian fans, there will be no free-to-air coverage of the Giro again this year. You’ll need to get your fix on Eurosport via Foxtel channel 511.
As ever, be sure to check your local guides and steephill.tv for more information.
Who’s your pick to win the 2019 Giro d’Italia? Which stages are you most looking forward to? And which riders are you looking forward to watching? Let us know in the comments below.