After all, the young Briton never won a stage race in his career until the Giro and he set out on domestique duty for Geraint Thomas. The leader of INEOS Grenadiers crashed out before the team re-invented itself along the way. Filippo Ganna won four stages, Jhonatan Narvaéz one, and Geoghegan Hart himself took two. Furthermore, he moved into the pink jersey on the last day of action.
Thomas crashing in the neutral zone of stage 3 and abandoning the race with a fractured pelvis is just one of the unforeseen events on last year’s Giro. Other pre-race favourites Steven Kruijswijk and Simon Yates were withdrawn after testing positive for COVID-19, while young Joâo Almeida wasn’t even supposed to start the Giro, and ended up delivering a 15-day run in the maglia rosa.
What to expect of this year’s Giro d’Italia?
Given his past performances – notably on the 2018 Giro -, Simon Yates would be the rider to watch. Winning three stages and delivering a two-week run in pink, he looked imperious that year. But then Chris Froome launched a lethal attack in stage 19, over the Colle dell Finestre, and Yates cracked. In retrospect, he mentioned that his aggressive racing style may have contributed to his collapse. He learned his lesson though, and he took a commanding overall triumph on La Vuelta that September.
In 2019, Yates returned to Italy to show the world he was ready to win Italy’s Grand Tour. But no. After a bland race he finished eight overall, almost 8 minutes down on race winner Carapaz, while his 2020 performance was obscured by COVID-19.
As they say, revenge is a dish best served at the finish line, and Yates returns to the Giro d’Italia to finish off what he forgot to do in 2018. Recently, he used Tour of the Alps to indicate he was on form as the Giro approached. The Briton won the mountainous race ahead of a number of his Giro rivals, such as Sivakov, Dan Martin, Vlasov, Hindley, Carthy, and Bardet.
A rider with a huge question mark hovering above his head is young Remco Evenepoel. Last year, he outperformed other Giro GC-contenders on the Vuelta a Burgos and Tour de Pologne, and he was ready to take on his first Grand Tour before he fell into a ravine in the Tour of Lombardy. Now, the 2021 Giro d’Italia will be his first Grand Tour. In fact, it will be his first race after his injury.
Evenepoel’s remarkable sequence of stage race success in 2020 – pre-corona, he also won the Vuelta a San Juan and Volta ao Algarve – would normally catapult him into the top favourite position, yet, he’s been out of competition for nine months, so the only fair thing to say is that it will be interesting to watch how he will fare on his first Grand Tour.
A question mark is hovering above Egan Bernal’s head as well. The Colombian won the 2019 Tour de France, but was plagued by back pain throughout the 2020 season. Recently, he told Gazetta della Sport: “My objective for the Giro this year is to get back to being the Egan who likes to attack, the Egan who isn’t afraid of getting dropped.”
The most important test ahead of the Giro was he Tour of the Alps. Simon Yates was in a class of his own, winning the GC 1 minute ahead of Pello Bilbao and Aleksandr Vlasov. His dominant style of racing was another important factor. Although Egan Bernal, Remco Evenepoel, João Almeida and Mikel Landa were not participating in the Alps, the Briton must be pleased with the confidence boosting triumph.
Earlier clashes of Giro pretenders were the Tirreno-Adriatico and Volta a Catalunya, while Aleksandr Vlasov was the only Giro contender who was active in Paris-Nice. The Russian was the runner-up behind race winner Max Schachmann.
Mikel Landa finished in 3rd at the Tirreno, Bernal in 4th, while João Almeida, Romain Bardet, Vincenzo Nibali and Simon Yates rounded out the top 10. Soler finished 11th, and the performances by Giulio Ciccone, Pello Bilbao and Davide Formolo were unremarkable.
In the Vuelta a Catalunya, João Almeida, Hugh Carthy and Simon Yates finished 7th, 8th and 9th. Dan Martin was also racing in Spain, but hardly visible. The only Giro GC contenders in the Basque Country were Pello Bilbao, Mikel Landa and Hugh Carthy, who finished 6th, 8th and 12th, respectively.
Favourites 2021 Giro d’Italia
***** Simon Yates, Egan Bernal, Remco Evenepoel
**** Aleksandr Vlasov, Hugh Carthy, Mikel Landa
*** Romain Bardet, Emanuel Buchmann, João Almeida
** Bauke Mollema, Pello Bilbao, Jai Hindley, Giulio Ciccone
* Vincenzo Nibali, Daniel Martin, Davide Formolo, George Bennett