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Giro d'Italia: Sprinters eye stage 2 as first chance for success

VILLAFRANCA TIRRENA, ITALY - OCTOBER 06: Arrival / Sprint / Michael Matthews of Australia and Team Sunweb / Davide Ballerini of Italy and Team Deceuninck - Quick-Step / Andrea Vendrame of Italy and Team Ag2R La Mondiale / Peter Sagan of Slovakia and Team Bora - Hansgrohe / Elia Viviani of Italy and Team Cofidis Solutions Credits / Arnaud Demare of France and Team Groupama - FDJ / Davide Cimolai of Italy and Team Israel Start-Up Nation / during the 103rd Giro d'Italia 2020, Stage 4 a 140km stage from Catania to Villafranca Tirrena / @girodiitalia / #Giro / on October 06, 2020 in Villafranca Tirrena, Italy. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images,)
The sprint on stage 4 of the 2020 Giro d'Italia (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The 2021 Giro d'Italia's first road stage on Sunday will give us a much greater insight into the current form of the race's sprinters after the briefest of glimpses at the GC riders' form in the opening time trial in Turin on Saturday.

The first of seven or possibly eight stages likely to end in a bunch sprint in the Giro d'Italia this year, stage 2 from Stupinigi on the outskirts of Turin to the town of Novara near Milan looks like a nailed-on certainty for a mass dash for the finish line.

Just one fourth category climb mid-race will interrupt what could be a relatively calm 179-kilometre stage running north-eastwards across the plains of Piedmont. The roads for most of the stage are reported to be largely good, the weather is expected to stay dry and no wind is forecast, meaning that despite the massively exposed terrain, with all teams at full strength and riders feeling fresh given this is the first road stage, it will be all but impossible to form any echelons.

Coming into Novara, the peloton will be speeding along roads that are described in the Giro d'Italia route book as wide, flat and largely straight. The last big bend is 1,500 metres from the finish, making it virtually impossible for a late attack to stay clear and although there is a roundabout 700 metres to go and some slight changes of gradient, that is not likely to present too much of a challenge. 

Although a late strikeout is always possible, with so many top sprinters present it's a moot point as to which of the fast men's team will take up the chase during the last kilometre dash for the line so the chances of a bunch sprint are seriously high.

The contenders

Although a late strikeout is always possible, with so many top sprinters present it's a moot point as to which of the fast men's team will take up the chase during the last kilometre dash for the line so the chances of a bunch sprint are seriously high.

Favourites, should a bunch sprint materialise, include Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma), Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates), Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos), Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix) and Elia Viviani (Cofidis). But with striking a successful first blow being so important for sprinters' self-confidence when it comes to taking repeat victories in a Grand Tour, and all the riders still very fresh in the first days of the Giro, Novara will likely be one of the hardest fought sprint wins of the entire Giro.

"The first stages are always important because everybody wants to have a good start," observed Gaviria, returning to racing after a long break following a bad crash and a broken wrist in the E3 Harelbeke this spring. "For me, I'll be looking to get a stage win in as early as possible, and then if things go well in the first half of the race, I can start thinking about the points jersey."

Much of the interest will centre on Groenewegen as the Dutchman disputes his first bunch sprint of the year in his Giro d'Italia debut. "I don't know how I will react," Groenewegen said, "but I intend to take part in the sprint, the team is ready to help me and I am looking forward to it."

Team Ineos rider Italys Filippo Ganna wearing the overall leaders pink jersey celebrates on the podium after winning the first stage of the Giro dItalia 2021 cycling race a 86 km individual time trial on May 8 2021 in Turin Photo by Luca Bettini AFP Photo by LUCA BETTINIAFP via Getty Images

It's unlikely a sprinter will be able to pull on the maglia rosa after stage 2 with Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) looking set to hold onto the overall lead for another day (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

But although taking a stage win in the Giro would be a prestigious prize in itself, one other possible benefit of victory in a Grand Tour's opening sprint will not be available this year in Novara.

Such was the scale of Filippo Ganna's time trial win on Saturday that even the best-placed sprinter on GC, Max Walscheid (Qhubeka-Assos), is 19 seconds behind in the overall classification and snaffling the pink jersey through time bonuses for a spell in the first week is not an option.

Even if the German took both the stage win and the ten-second time bonus, as well as the maximum of three seconds on offer in the one hot-spot sprint, he would fall four short of equalising Ganna's advantage.

That means that for at least the first two days, barring disaster, Ganna will remain as race leader and the burden of controlling the bulk of the stage will fall on Ineos Grenadiers' shoulders. But for the sprinters, in any case, the objective on stage 2 of the 2021 Giro d'Italia will remain exactly the same.