Preview: Your guide to the 2020 Giro d’Italia contenders, sprinters and more

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This year’s Giro d’Italia is being held five months later than normal, putting it after both the Tour de France and Road World Championships. Yep, it’s been an odd year. Ahead of the Giro’s 103rd edition, which kicks off in Monreale on Saturday, we take a look at the overall contenders, the sprint favourites, and other riders you should really keep an eye on.

The course

I won’t go into too much detail about the course as we’ll have a full stage-by-stage breakdown on the site for you very soon. Here are some general observations though:

– The race was originally set to start in Hungary but those plans were scuppered due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Giro will instead start with four stages on the island of Sicily.

– The race works its way north up the Italian mainland, visiting the Alps in the final week before finishing up in Milan.

– There are three individual time trials: the opening stage, stage 14, and the final stage. There are no team time trials.

– The proper climbing starts very early with a 3.7 km climb to end stage 2, and a proper mountain-top finish to end stage 3 (Mt Etna — 18.6 km at 6.7%).

– As you’d expect in a grand tour, there’s a lot of climbing packed into the second and third weeks.

The battle for pink

There are 11 stages in this year’s race that look most likely to have an impact in the battle for the pink leader’s jersey, the maglia rosa:

Stage 1: A 15.1 km ITT. A short uphill, then a descent, then flat.
Stage 2: A short uphill finish (3.7 km at 5.2%).
Stage 3: 18.6 km at 6.7% to finish atop Mt. Etna.
Stage 5: A category 1 climb (22 km at 5.7%) peaks just 12 km from the finish.
Stage 9: An uphill finish (9.6 km at 4.4% with a very steep section near the end).

Stage 9 of the Giro.

Stage 14: A 34.1 km ITT, rolling, with two small climbs.
Stage 15: Three cat-2 climbs then 14.3 km at 7.8% to finish.
Stage 17: A big day in the mountains with 11.9 km at 5.8% to finish.
Stage 18: Four big climbs (including the Stelvio) and 9 km at 6.9% to finish.
Stage 20: Four big climbs, finishing at Sestriere (11.3 km at 6.1%).
Stage 21: Pan flat 15.7 km ITT to finish the Giro.

Stage 20 — the last mountain stage.

Of course, it goes without saying that any rider can lose time on any given day for any number of different reasons — a crash, a mechanical, an injury, illness, a lack of form and so on. Just ask some of the contenders below …

GC contenders

This year’s startlist is probably one or two contenders away from having a super strong GC field. In fact, of the top 10 on GC last year, only five are at the race this year. Richard Carapaz (first), Primoz Roglic (third), Mikel Landa (fourth), Bauke Mollema (fifth) and Pavel Sivakov (ninth) will all be absent having instead raced the Tour.

Even with those omissions, there’s still plenty of great riders at this year’s Giro. Here are the favourites.

Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers): Thomas missed out on the Tour after being average at the Dauphine but he’s sure looking good now. He was second at the recent Tirreno-Adriatico and took fourth in the Worlds time trial last week.

He’ll relish the race’s three ITTs — by my read he’s comfortably the strongest time trialist among the GC contenders and this will give him a handy leg up in the GC battle. If he can be as good uphill as he was when he won the 2018 Tour he’ll be very hard to beat.

Note that Thomas has unfinished business at the Giro. In the 2017 edition, he was sitting second overall when he crashed on stage 9. He battled through to stage 12 before eventually withdrawing from the race. He hasn’t raced the Giro since.

Thomas rode strongly in the Worlds ITT.

Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma): Speaking of riders with unfinished business at the Giro, who could forget Kruijswijk’s 2016 experience? The Dutchman was leading the race on stage 19 and looking unbeatable, until he crashed into a snowbank and slumped to fourth overall by race’s end.

Kruijswijk is still on the mend after injuring his shoulder at the Criterium du Dauphine and it’s very possible he hasn’t had long enough to recover fully before the Giro. If he is fit and healthy though he should be right up there on GC. He’s good against the clock and good uphill. We’ll get a sense of how he’s faring as early as stage 2.

Kruijswijk in pink at the 2016 Giro, the day he crashed and saw his GC hopes disappear.

Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott): Yates is yet another rider who’s got a point to prove at the Giro. In 2018 he won three stages and looked untouchable in pink, until he cracked on stage 19 and faded spectacularly. He was eighth last year but he would desperately love an overall win to go with his Vuelta a España title.

The Briton comes in with great form, as shown with his overall victory at Tirreno-Adriatico a couple weeks back and third at the Tour of Poland before that. Unlike Thomas, Yates probably won’t be stoked with the three flatter ITTs. He’s not bad against the clock, but he’s certainly not on the same level as Thomas so he’ll need to make up time in the hills if he wants to win overall. He showed on stage 5 of Tirreno that he can do that.

Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo): Nibali is the only former winner (2013 and 2016) on the startlist and while his very best is probably behind him, he definitely shouldn’t be ruled out for a third title.

Nibali finished second last year having been 11th after 11 stages. Nibali is a master of improving through the back half of a grand tour so even if he looks a little off the pace to begin with, don’t count him out.

Nibali is strong against the clock but not at the same level as someone like Thomas. It’s in the mountains that he’ll make up ground and you can be sure he’ll go on the attack at some point.

Nibali last won the Giro in 2016 but he was second last year. Could he return to the top step in 2020?

Migel Angel Lopez (Astana): The Colombian has a pretty impressive record at three-week races. He’s finished six grand tours and finished inside the top eight of all of them. He was third at the Giro in 2018 and seventh last year and comes into the Giro as one of the only GC contenders who also raced this year’s Tour.

Lopez was very good in France, winning the queen stage to Col de la Loze and finishing sixth overall. The TTs won’t suit him particularly well but assuming he’s not too fatigued from the Tour he should climb well enough to end up inside the top five somewhere. His Astana team has another GC option too …

Jakob Fuglsang (Astana): In recent years Fuglsang has become of one the world’s premier one-day racers, with wins at Il Lombardia and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. He’s never quite lived up to the Grand Tour goals he set himself though.

He comes in with strong form: victory at Ruta del Sol, second at the Tour of Poland, his Lombardia win, and fifth in the Worlds road race, but whether he can string together three good weeks remains to be seen. Maybe, like Richie Porte, Fuglsang will finally reach his grand tour potential in 2020.

It’s going to be fascinating to watch how Astana plays its cards over the next three weeks.

Jakob Fuglsang, winner of the 2020 Il Lombardia.

Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe): Majka has built himself a pretty impressive record at the Giro — in four finishes he’s gone seventh, sixth, fifth, and sixth again. With third overall at Tirreno and fourth in Poland before that, it would seem the Polish rider is on track for another strong result.

He probably won’t love the three time trials — he was second overall before the final-stage flat ITT in Tirreno — but if he’s climbing well, another top five result could well be within reach.

Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb): Kelderman is one the GC contenders who shouldn’t be too worried about the time trials. He’s a former Dutch time trial champ and should be able to make up some ground on his rivals in the three ITTs.

Kelderman was seventh at this race back in 2014 and hasn’t raced it since 2017 when he DNFed. He comes in with promising form: fifth at Tour de la Provence, sixth at the UAE Tour, seventh in Poland, and, most recently, fourth at Tirreno. He should be able to land inside the top 10, if not in the top five.

Kelderman will likely need to lean on good TT performances to end up high on GC.

One of three NTT riders: NTT comes to the race with three riders capable of reaching the top 10 overall: Domenico Pozzovivo, Ben O’Connor and Louis Meintjes. Pozzovivo has been top 10 on six occasions in the past (including fifth in 2018), Meintjes has two top 10s at the Tour de France, and Ben O’Connor was frustratingly close to the top 10 two years ago when he crashed out.

None of these three will win the race, but one of them should be able to land in the top 10 if all goes well.

The sprinters

By my reckoning there are somewhere between four and seven stages that should end in a sprint at this year’s Giro. Stages 4, 7, 11 and 19 look almost certain to be decided by the fastmen but stages 6,8 and 10 are less clear due to some climbing along the way. As ever, it will depend on how these stages are raced, who gets dropped, and who’s applying pressure when they do.

As with the GC battle, the sprint field is perhaps one or two big names away from a blockbuster line-up, with the likes of Caleb Ewan, Sam Bennett and Wout van Aert opting for the Tour over the Giro.

Here are the sprinters at the race that should be in the hunt for a stage win.

Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ): Demare’s 10 wins for the year are the most of any rider. Of those 10, eight are sprint victories and two are GC victories as a result of his stage wins.

The French champion won a stage at last year’s Giro and is likely to take another in 2020. He’s arguably the rider to beat on the pure sprint stages.

Stage 10 of last year’s race ended in a bunch sprint, with Arnaud Demare taking his first win at the Giro.

Fernando Gaviria (UAE-Team Emirates): Gaviria has six sprint wins for the year, the most recent of which came at the Giro della Toscana in mid September. Five career Giro stage wins should become at least six over the next few weeks.

Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe): The three-time world champ comes to the Giro after a very frustrating Tour de France where he missed out on the green jersey for the first time in years, and finished inside the top five on six occasions without a win. In fact Sagan is yet to win a race at all this year — quite remarkable for such a prolific winner.

This is Sagan’s first Giro d’Italia, which is surprising given how long he’s been around for and the fact he raced for an Italian team for several years. Hopefully his debut Giro brings the stage win he’s been after for so long. And if gets one, perhaps more will follow.

It will also be interesting to see if Sagan goes for the points classification after missing out at the Tour …

It’s been a tough year for Sagan.

Elia Viviani (Cofidis): Speaking of sprinters who are off their game, Viviani looked a long way from his best at the Tour, with a fourth, a fifth and a sixth his only results of any real note. In fact, his move to Cofidis at the start of the year hasn’t returned a single win yet — something that will certainly frustrate the passionate Italian.

But, what better way to return to form than a stage win at your home grand tour? He’s got five Giro stage wins already; if Cofidis can help get him into good position during the Giro he’s a good shot of nabbing another.

Michael Matthews (Sunweb): Matthews has posted some good results in 2020: victory at the Bretagne Classic, third at Milan-San Remo (fastest in the bunch sprint) and seventh in the Worlds road race (he won that sprint too). He’s a two-time Giro stage winner and he’ll be a good chance of getting another, particularly on those days where the pure sprinters are distanced on the climbs.

Matthews winning the Bretagne Classic in August.

Other riders of note

Here are some of the other riders that are worth following throughout the race.

Rohan Dennis and Filippo Ganna (Ineos): Ineos could well win all three time trials in this year’s race. In addition to Geraint Thomas, the British squad also has newly crowned ITT world champ Filippo Ganna and two-time former world champion Rohan Dennis in attendance. Both will play a role for Thomas during the road stages, but should be let off the leash in the ITTs. Ineos must be disappointed there’s no TTT in this year’s race …

Guilio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo): The Italian was excellent at last year’s race, winning a stage and taking home the KOM classification. His team will be focused on Nibali’s overall chances, but the same was true last year for Bauke Mollema so expect Ciccone to get his own chances along the way. He comes in with solid form too, headlined by a fifth at Il Lombardia.

Ciccone taking a memorable stage win in the rain last year.

Ilnur Zakarin (CCC): The Russian broke a rib at the Tour and has said he’ll struggle to begin with at the Giro, but expect him to be up and firing by the second week. He took a solo stage win in the mountains last year and another is very possible in 2020.

Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal): With no Caleb Ewan to look after at the Giro, De Gendt will likely have more freedom than he did at the Tour. Expect to see him up the road plenty. Another stage win is a definite possibility.

How to watch the Giro

If you’re in Australia your best bet is to check out Eurosport and its associated platforms. Eurosport is a good bet in the UK as well as in many parts of Europe. In the US or Canada you’ll want to check out or FloBikes.

Who’s your pick to win the 2020 Giro d’Italia?

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