By David Hunter
A final tune up before the Giro, that’s what most riders are looking for out of this race. This year it has become even more popular as a preparation race, with many choosing to skip Romandie. As in previous editions the organisers have favoured flat/downhill finishes, the lack of a proper mountaintop finish frustrates me, but we often get exciting racing here, so maybe I’m in the wrong.
The opening stage is the easiest of the week. It ends with a circuit that features a climb of 4.2km at 5.9%, which is done twice, the final time crests with 18km to go. This should be some type of sprint.
The only uphill finish this week, but the actual finish is quite easy. The good news is the rest of the stage is very difficult. The cat 1 climb is tough, 7.2km at 9.4%, it crests with 22km to go. The rise to the line isn’t hard, but it does feature 800m at 10.3% with 5km to go.
The final big climb is quite hard, but it crests with around 50km to go, which normally puts riders of from attacking. We’ll have to see how the bunch race this one.
The Queen stage. The last climb is 7.9km at 8.1%, and it crests with just 9km to go. With over 4000m of climbing, this is going to be a big day.
It’s not that hard a stage, I doubt we’ll see gaps between the GC riders, it could be a good day for the break.
Ineos – they arrive with the strongest team, I think Sivakov and Martínez will be team leaders. The team dominated this race back in 2019, with Sivakov taking the race win from Tao Geoghegan Hart, can they do something similar this year? Having multiple riders at the head of the race is very important here, especially with the flat finishes. This will allow the team to rotate the attacks and put teams under pressure. Given their team strength, they have to start as the favourites.
Simon Yates – this season has been a bit of a slow burner for the Englishman. He was 10th overall in Tirreno, but only just missed out on winning the mountaintop finish. Just a week later in Catalunya his level seemed to have dropped a far bit, even though he did finish 9th overall. This year he’s attempting to do the Giro/Tour double, so he needs to be careful about planning his peak. This leaves me wondering just how strong he’ll be at this race. He has a fast sprint, which is needed to collect bonus seconds, and on paper he’s the strongest climber in the race. He can win the race, but it depends on him being close to 100%.
Hugh Carthy – 8th in Catalunya and 12th in the Basque Country, but he really impressed in the final stage. After a brilliant performance in last year’s Vuelta, Carthy will start the Giro as one of the big favourites. This is a race he likes, he raced it in 2015 and 2016 for Caja-Rural and 2017 for Cannondale as prep for the Giro, before going down the Romandie route in the last few years. He would prefer if the race had a proper mountaintop finish, but this is a big chance for him to test himself against the riders he’ll face in the battle for pink in May.
Aleksander Vlasov – the Russian had a brilliant 2020, and he’s started 2021 in a similar fashion. 2nd in Paris-Nice was a strong result, but he’ll enjoy the longer climbs in this race. This will be an important reference point for him with the Giro just a couple of weeks away, he’ll be expecting to challenge for the win.
Nairo Quintana – the first of the contenders who isn’t riding the Giro. 12th in Tirreno and 14th in Catalunya wasn’t great, but his winter was interrupted by double knee surgery. I would expect the Giro riders to be at a higher level than him, but we’ll have to see if I’m right.
Dan Martin – he’s looked quite far away from his top level so far this season. Interestingly, he’s here and not riding Fleche, a race he normally does well in, I think he needs more racing in the legs before the Giro.
Pello Bilbao – 6th in the Basque Country was a good result, especially as he was sick in the week leading up to the race. This is a rare chance to ride as team leader, can he deliver? He has a very fast sprint, he’s one of the few climbers who’ll be happy we don’t have a mountaintop finish.
Thibaut Pinot – he seems to be taking a long time to recover from injury, his level this year has been way below what we’d normally expect. The Giro is a big target for him, but I have no idea about his current shape.
Jai Hindley – 2nd in the Giro was a stunning result, but we’ve yet to see the best of him this season. He rode in support of Benoot in Paris-Nice, but he had to pull out of Catalunya with sickness. I think he’ll need this race in the legs before we see the best of him. DSM also have Romain Bardet as a strong alternative.
Ineos look like the only team who’ll have multiple riders in the front group near the end of the mountain stages, this will give them a significant advantage. I’ll take a win for Pavel Sivakov.
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