The 102nd Giro d’Italia starts on Saturday evening New Zealand time and the list of riders absent as well as the list of riders present makes for a very interesting race to predict. There’s every possibility of a brand new grand tour winner in just over three weeks’ time. Here’s our top tips of riders to watch.
Chris Froome of Team Ineos is absent, the defending champion appearing adamant that the allure of joining the famous-five club at the Tour de France is his focus this season. BORA-Hansgrohe’s Sam Bennett is absent, arguably the best sprinter of 2019, in possibly controversial circumstances given his form compared to favoured sprinter Pascal Ackermann. There are a long list of stars of the season so far not present for stage 1 in Bologna but the list of riders who will be there makes for a tantalisingly unpredictable race.
Vincenzo Nibali – Bahrain Merida
Top of the list is the two-time winner, and for good reason. Vincenzo Nibali is one of the most accomplished riders in the world and boasts a palmares that so far features four grand tour victories; one in each of the others plus the two Giros. The ‘Shark of Messina’ comes to the Giro in . . . interesting form though. When Nibali last won the Giro in 2016 he did so having taken wins in the Tour of Oman, 6th in Tirreno-Adriatico and having taken a TTT stage at Giro del Trentino. This year it’s taken him until the Tour of the Alps for him to show the kind of form we’d come to expect; with Tirreno-Adriatico and the UAE Tour seeing him go by relatively unnoticed. His one-day racing has been strong this year at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Milan-San Remo, but he’s yet to win in 2019. But there’s no better stage to right that record than in his home grand tour right?
Bob Jungels – Deceuninck-Quick Step
Although most eyes will be on Elia Viviani for the Giro, and rightly so given that four of his five stage wins here came in last year’s race, we reckon the wolf pack’s best GC hope is the best young rider of 2017. Jungels has been more reserved in 2019, like Nibali, but he was strong in Paris-Nice where he finished 8th overall; and he’s been consistent through the classics. The month off could well have been just what he needed to be ready for Italy and although he can’t rely on mountain support in the same way as a number of the other GC threats, Jungels has the race smarts to hang tough with the best.
Pascal Ackermann – BORA-Hansgrohe
It was made public long ago by the powers that be at BORA-Hansgrohe that it would be Pascal Ackermann, not Sam Bennett, who would be starting the Giro d’Italia; a bold call given the three stages that Bennett brought home for the team last season. Ackermann has to live up to the trust placed on him by his team, and he’s certainly capable of doing that. Three wins under his belt this season already, most notably at the start of the month at Eschborn-Frankfurt, puts him level on wins with Caleb Ewan of Lotto Soudal. However, Ackermann has never started a grand tour, this will be his first BIG stage and he’ll be eager to impress.
Primoz Roglič – Jumbo Visma
The favourite for a first Slovenian grand tour triumph, and the in-form GC contender of the season. At 29 years old Roglič has one of the most mature cycling brains on his shoulders, and this year so far he’s not put a single foot wrong. Three races, three wins at the UAE Tour, Tirreno-Adriatico and most recently at the Tour de Romandie where he came away with three stage wins. There was a sense in Romandie that the Slovenian was just unstoppable, but has he peaked too soon? He’s got a good team around him, a team that is lacking the likes of Robert Gesink and George Bennett, but features the likes of Koen Bouwman and Sepp Kuss.
Simon Yates – Mitchelton-SCOTT
The term ‘unfinished business’ applies to no one stronger than possibly Simon Yates. And that’s not because he had a race to forget last year at the Giro; quite the contrary. He brought the Giro d’Italia to life in 2018 with three stage wins to his name and two weeks in the Maglia rosa; only brought to an end by Chris Froome in stage 19. Since then he’s more than picked himself up, and become a grand tour winner in his own right at the Vuelta a Espana. There aren’t many who can do the double of holding two grand tours in succession, but Yates has the power and penache . . . and the team support; to do it this time. He was strong early in the season at Ruta Del Sol and Paris-Nice; but quieter in Catalunya.