HEY PEOPLE! Um, it’s May, apparently, not sure how that happened but here we are, and the first Grand Tour of the year is upon us – let the hype begin! As the final line-ups are confirmed, it’s time to take a closer look at a selection of the 176 riders who will take the start line for the Grande Partenza in Fossacesia and consider the main contenders, a few side bets, and some fun facts and figures.
As it’s the 106th edition of the race I have eschewed the ‘top 5’ format of last year and opted for a ‘top 6’ instead, which fits not only because of the race number but also because I (a) struggle with decision-making and (b) love to make extra work for myself.
Let’s begin with a few fun facts before we pitch into the serious business of working out who might take the pink jersey home with them, this year.
Top 6 Facts and Figures
- 56 debutants make their maiden appearance at the race – five of them are over 30 years old and the oldest is Toms Skujiņš of Trek-Segafredo at 31. 31 of the debutants are making their first ever appearance at a Grand Tour.
- That number again... 31 nations are represented at the race – two more than last year
- 1996 is the birth year with the most riders – 19 riders were born in this year, and will turn 27 this year, if they haven't already. Despite this, the average age of the Giro 106 peloton is 28.4 years.
- Only one previous winner is present – Tao Geoghegan Hart. The next best performer at the race is Rigoberto Uran, who has two second place finishes.
- The top 3 most prolific Giro riders are Domenico Pozzovivo with 16 starts (11 finishes), Diego Ulissi with 10 starts (9 finishes) and Salvatore Puccio with 9 starts – he has finished every Giro that he started. Now that's what I call reliable.
- This year’s edition of the Giro is 3,489.2km long, and contains a total altitude of 51,400m. After last year’s smallest number of time trial kilometres in 60 years, at 26km, this year features a whopping 70.6km and the discipline will significantly shape the outcome of the race.
BONUS NUMBER 6: there are 6 riders who can complete a trilogy of Grand Tour wins by winning a stage at this Giro: Mads Pedersen, Magnus Cort, Sepp Kuss, Bauke Mollema, Warren Barguil and Simon Clarke.
Top 6 GC outsiders
- Aleksandr Vlasov (BORA-Hansgrohe) – with his form improving at the Tour of the Alps, Vlasov’s dress rehearsal for the Giro has proven he’ll likely be ready to go for a top 5 spot at the Giro. Depending on how the team decides to approach the race Vlasov will have support from, or face a leadership challenge in the shape of...
- Lennard Kämna (BORA-Hansgrohe) – historically more of a stage hunter, Kämna provided the perfect foil for Jai Hindley at last year's race, picking up a stage for himself on Mount Etna along the way. The German is a strong time trialist though, so if he can put together a full three weeks of steady progress, he could well out-perform Vlasov. A nice problem for BORA to have.
- Jack Haig (Team Bahrain-Victorious) Bahrain have a similar problem to BORA of bringing a collective of strong riders, without a stand-out leader. In Haig they have a dependable, solid performer who has proven he can stay the course of a Grand Tour. In Santiago Buitrago, a talented climber, who is still growing into his long-term GC role, and in Damiano Caruso, a rider who’s performed well at his home race and is in decent form. All three could do well, but I can see Haig landing somewhere between positions 5 and 10 (another of their collective features later).
- Ben Healy (EF Education-EasyPost) – the stand-out performer from the Ardennes Classics, Healy heads to the Giro for the first time in a sparkling vein of form. It's the Irishman's first Grand Tour so he may struggle over three weeks, and he may also be tired from a strong classics campaign, but equally, there is every chance he could be up there and challenging with the rest of the GC contenders. One to watch.
- Lorenzo Fortunato (EOLO-Kometa) – the only rider from a non-World Tour team in this list, Fortunato has performed consistently well for a couple of seasons now and arrives at the Giro having just taken a stage and the overall win at the Vuelta a Asturias. A dark horse.
- Eddie Dunbar (Team Jayco-Alula) – very much an outside shout for a top ten spot, Dunbar acquitted himself well at the Tour de Romandie following the premature departure of Simon Yates, and if he is able to pace himself and has support from his team, he could sneak into the top ten.
Top 6 Stage contenders
Plenty of teams head to the race looking beyond the overall classification – some will go with sprint stages in mind, others looking to comprise the breakaway and put themselves and their sponsors in the spotlight, and yet more with a circle around a particular stage in the road book where they will aim to go for glory – here are 6 riders who I think have a great shot at adding a Giro stage to their palmares in 2023. Oh and just for fun, I predict which stages they will take.
1. Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo)
Mads is on for the Grand Tour triple, and he could become one of the quickest to ever achieve the feat if he wins a stage at this year’s Giro, having notched up his maiden Tour and Vuelta stage wins just last year, in 2022. It will give him added motivation, and without a GC contender following the withdrawal of Giulio Ciccone due to covid, he will have the support of the full Trek team, and will try his luck on the grittier sprint stages. He will win: stage 6
2. Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ)
In Pinot’s final season of racing, he may try for a decent GC spot, but it’s more likely that he will target a mountain stage, so he will have the chance to celebrate a big win in a race where he won just once before, in 2017. He will win: stage 7.
3. Victor Lafay (Cofidis)
The French climber is in good form, recently winning the Classic Grand Besançon Doubs, and riding for a Cofidis team who are likely to be stage hunting rather than focusing on GC he’ll be allowed the freedom to target some stages. He will win: stage 13.
4. Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost)
The irrepressible Dane is hard to look past when it comes to stage wins at any race. If he’s in good form he will animate the race and not only entertain but be a serious contender for a win. Like Pedersen, he’s on to complete a Grand Tour trilogy if he can win a stage at the Giro, so this added incentive may drive him onward. He will win: stage 10.
5. Jay Vine (UAE Team Emirates)
If it wasn’t for the knee injury he sustained early in the season, Vine would be vying for team leadership with Almeida, but as it is, his condition is uncertain. Having said that, if he’s able to ride himself into some good form in the first two weeks of the race, he may be allowed to go for a stage in the final week in the big mountains where he excels, depending on the situation in the GC. It's a lot of if's and maybes. But he's more than capable. He will win: stage 16.
6. Rune Herregodts/Intermarche-Circus-Wanty
The Belgian team started the season well but have had a quiet couple of months in terms of wins, and they will bring a team of stage hunters to the Giro. It’s difficult to predict which of them might actually win a stage, with former stage winner Taco van der Hoorn, Italian Lorenzo Rota and the man I've chosen for this list, perhaps a slight outsider but a breakaway specialist who will be hungry to succeed at his first Giro - Rune Herregodts. He will win: stage 4.
Top 6 sprinters
There are 8 stages on the 2023 Giro classified as flat stages, and though a few of them aren't particularly flat, they will be circled in the road books of all the teams who have sprinters among their ranks. Here are 6 of the best fast men in this year's race:
- Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) - as stated previously, the Dane will be up for completing his Grand Tour trilogy at whatever stage he can, bunch sprints included.
- Fernando Gaviria (Movistar) - fresh from a stage win at the Tour de Romandie, the Colombian is in good form and will challenge on all the flat stages.
- Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceuninck) - a rider who should be able to handle the rigours of days when flat doesn't necessarily mean flat, Groves' win at the Volta Limburg Classic shows the kind of form the Aussie is in this Spring
- Mark Cavendish (Astana Qazaqstan Team) - though he hasn't won yet this year, Cavendish will be hoping to secure a place in the Tour de France team for Astana for possibly his final shot at glory at his favourite race. The Giro is his chance to get off the mark and build confidence.
- Pascal Ackermann (UAE Team Emirates) - without a win in 2023, Ackermann has come close with a couple of podiums and will be keen to contend bunch sprints, to add to his one previous Giro win in 2019.
- David Dekker (Arkea-Samsic) / Alberto Dainese (Team DSM) - yes fine I'm cheating. Neither of these riders has had a great season so far but I feel both are due a good result - so they are my joint 6th place sprinters who might just sneak a win.
Top 6 Italian hopes
It comes as no surprise that the home nation is the most represented on the start list, with 54 Italian contenders – almost 3 times the next most populous nation represented (France with 20) and up on last year’s 45 by a full team’s worth of Italianos. So there’s plenty of choice when it comes to the most likely rider to achieve a win on home soil – including plenty of former stage winners. Which ones are MOST most likely, though? (NB I'm not including GC riders here - just stages).
- Filippo Ganna – with three time trials to choose from, the World Hour Record holder has not three chances to win a stage, but more ‘a chance to win three stages.’ He has to be the highest ranked Italian in terms of possible stage winners, and I’d be surprised to see him miss out.
- Filippo Zana – the Italian champion who rhymes with Ganna isn’t Italian champion for nothing. Keeping up with some serous talent at last week’s Tour de Romandie, a big WT win has to be on the cards for the 24-year-old, and what better place to score it than his fourth appearance at the Giro.
- Alberto Bettiol – defined by his inconsistency, it’s hard to know which version of Bettiol will turn up at the Giro, but after a lively early season campaign ended with a DNF at Gent-Wevelgem and a DNS at Flanders, he'll be chomping at the bit for some success. He was close to a stage win at last year’s Tour de France, and has won a stage at the Giro once before in 2021, though he’s only appeared at his home Grand Tour on two previous occasions.
- Andrea Vendrame – the AG2R rider is fond of a breakaway and in reasonably good form which could well manifest itself into stage-winning form in time for the Giro. Look out for him on medium mountain stages – he’s proven himself capable of winning on the biggest stages in the past.
- Simone Consonni – the sprinter for Cofidis has been lurking around the front of races a few times this season, and scored a win at the Saudi Tour. Of the Italian sprinters I see him as most likely to take a win.
- Alessandro Covi – with one of the most impressive solo stage wins of 2022, the versatile young climber from UAE Team Emirates proved he was capable of greatness when he took the stage on the Passo Fedaia. His form is more uncertain this year, but don’t rule him out – if he wins, he could win big once again.
Top 6 Oldest Riders
It’s not all that surprising that Israel-Premier Tech boast the oldest rider in the race, the veteran of the Giro Domenico Pozzivivo. Astana also have two of the top 5 oldest riders, with Mark Cavendish and Luis Leon Sanchez among their squad, and they lay claim to oldest overall team at the race, with an average age of over 30.
- Domenico Pozzivivo (Israel-Premier Tech) (40 + 157 days)
- Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana Qazaqstan Team) (39 + 163 days)
- Francesco Gavazzi (EOLO-Kometa) (38 + 278 days)
- Mark Cavendish (Astana Qazaqstan Team) (37 + 350 days)
- Jose Rojas (Movistar) (37 + 332 days)
- Mikael Cherel (AG2R-Citroen Team) (37 + 50 days)
Top 6 Youngest Riders
Almost 19 years separates the oldest competitor from the youngest, who ironically, also rides for Israel-Premier Tech. Matthew Riccitello is one of four 21-year-olds in the race, the other three all riding for French teams. The youngest team overall is Team DSM, with an average age of 25 years and 3 months.
- Matthew Riccitello (Israel-Premier Tech) (21 + 62 days)
- Alessandro Verre (Team Arkea Samsic) (21 +170 days)
- Hugo Toumire (Cofidis) (21 + 213 days)
- Alex Baudin (AG2R Citroen Team) (21 + 346 days)
- Edoardo Zambanini (Bahrain-Victorious) (22 + 15 days)
- Michel Hessman (Jumbo-Visma) (22 + 30 days)
Top 6 GC Contenders
OK I’ve kept you waiting long enough. This year’s overall classification has arguably two main favourites, and then a bunch of others who could challenge given the right form and circumstances going their way. Here’s a run-down of the riders I think will fill out the top 6 spots on Giro 106, along with an insight into their strengths and potential weaknesses.
Counting down in reverse from 6, because I’m pretending this is Top of the Pops in the early 1990s.
6. Geraint Thomas (INEOS Grenadiers)
With the veteran Welshman usually timing his form to coincide with a tilt at La Grand Boucle, it’s difficult to tell how Thomas will go at the Giro, particularly as it’s clear that as things stand, Tao Geoghegan Hart has to be considered the team’s leader. However, in a team of the strength in depth of INEOS, it’s always good to have a back-up, and there’s every chance the pair of them could both go deep in the race and try to get two in the top ten. G will likely ride himself into form over the course of the race and I can see him confidently landing somewhere between 4th and 7th spot – if he can stay upright, of course.
Strengths: his team, lack of pressure, time trial
Weaknesses: accident prone, may be second in command to TGH, may not have reached peak form yet
5. Damiano Caruso (Team Bahrain-Victorious)
The Italian came second in 2021 and has proven in recent weeks he’s ready to perform at this year’s Giro too. With a strong team that brings a number of GC hopefuls, his challenge may be proving that he is the pick of the bunch, but at last week’s Tour de Romandie he was able to do this, coming in ahead of the other leadership contenders Jack Haig and Santiago Buitrago.
Strengths: climbing, overall team strength
Weaknesses: time trial – in a year with Rogla and Remco at the top, time trialling will prove to be a weak spot for most of the other GC riders.
4. João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates)
The Portuguese national champion has performed really well at the Giro in past years, and comes this year with – hopefully – the full support of his team. Though without Pogačar at the helm the UAE ship is often an unsteady one, Almeida is highly capable of freelancing and knows his own abilities better than many riders. The sight of him returning to a group on a climb having been ostensibly dropped has become a hallmark of his riding style, so those hunting for a spot on the podium would be wise not to overlook him as he will undoubtedly ninja his way back into contention when we least expect it.
Strengths: pacing, resilience, ability to keep going
Weaknesses: team support/strategy, punchy finishes
3. Tao Geoghegan Hart (INEOS Grenadiers)
The only former winner in the race, the Londoner has been getting better and better so far this season, winning the Tour of the Alps a couple of weeks ago along with third place at Tirreno Adriatico, and a stage win earlier in the season at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana. He’s clearly confident, motivated and of course comes with one of the strongest teams in the race to support him.
Strengths: team, confidence, form
Weaknesses: time trial - again, Tao's a strong time trialist but is he one of the world's best? Not on the same level of Remco and Rogla. Even if he's able to keep up with them in the mountains, he'll lose time against the clock.
2. Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep)
It’s a two-horse race according to most of the experts, and I have to say I agree. Although I believe INEOS will put up a stern challenge, I think this year’s Corsa Rosa will be the Remco and Rogla show. And despite his incredible power and time trialling expertise, I can’t see how Remco will get past his Slovenian rival. He’s been working intensively at altitude to prepare for the longer climbs but although his climbing is likely to be the best we’ve ever seen from him, it’s going to take a great performance to outdo Primož Roglič and his domestiques on the long mountain stages. Remco will have to rely on gaining enough time against the clock and beating Roglič at his own game, trying to foil him when it comes to bonus seconds. Then it will simply be down to how much he can limit his losses over the long climbs in the final week.
Strengths: time trialling, power, team support
Weaknesses: long, sustained climbing efforts; showing his hand too early
1. Primož Roglič (Team Jumbo-Visma)
Topping the charts, at least as far as my expectations go, is Primož Roglič. The Jumbo-Visma man’s achilles heel is the Tour de France but he’s proven he can win Grand Tours, with 3 x Vueltas already under his belt. He has had the upper hand over Evenepoel once this season already at the Tour of Catalunya, where his young rival was unable to find an answer to the wily Slovenian. His team have the firepower to keep him on top and as long as he can stay upright, I don’t think any of his rivals will be able to find their way around him, that final climb on the final TT notwithstanding. His fans will experience a great deal of anxiety over that one which has echoes of the 2020 Tour, and if the GC is close at that point, it could be one of the most stressful days in cycling this year. He will hope to have enough of a gap by then for it not to be an issue.
Strengths: his team, time trialling, climbing, collecting bonus seconds
Weaknesses: might fall off. That final climb on the final TT…
STOP PRESS: this was written prior to the loss of Robert Gesink and Tobias Foss from the Jumbo-Visma squad due to covid. With Jos van Emden and Rohan Dennis in to replace them, I don't think Roglic will have as easy a time of it, particularly in the mountains. I still think he can do it - it's likely to come down to a head-to-head with Remco anyway.
This brings us to the end of our odyssey into the next three weeks of our lives. We will surrender our sanity, our social lives and our hearts to the beauty of Italy and the twists and turns of the three week Grand Tour storylines. It will be a gruelling test mentally, physically and emotionally. It'll probably be quite hard for the riders, too. Let's go - or should I say, ANDIAMO!
FINITO! If you've enjoyed this post, please consider buying me a coffee, I will need it if I'm to get through the next 3 weeks with my sanity intact. Speaking of which...