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Philippa York's Giro d'Italia favourites

Trofeo Laigueglia 2021 58th Edition Laigueglia Laigueglia 202 km 03032021 Egan Bernal COL Ineos Grenadiers Clement Champoussin FRA AG2R Citroen Team photo Dario BelingheriBettiniPhoto2021
(Image credit: Bettini Photo)

The start of the 2021 Giro d'Italia is now just one day away, with the 8.6-kilometre opening time trial in Turin lying in wait for the peloton as the first sort-out of the race on Saturday.

We're almost at the conclusion of our pre-race analysis, which has included an in-depth look at the route, key stages, sprint contenders, GC men, and more. The teams and riders, too, will be well-prepared as they wait to hit the road to start 21 days of racing around the Peninsula.

The grand prize of the maglia rosa – now in its 90th year – and the Trofeo Senza Fine lie in wait for one man in Milan, and there are plenty of riders who could walk away with both at the end of the first Grand Tour of the year.

We've asked our resident expert Philippa York, who finished second winning the penultimate stage and the mountain classification at her only Giro d'Italia participation in 1987, for her view on the men most likely to taste success at the Giro.

Here are Philippa York's Giro d'Italia general classification favourites.

★★★★★

Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange)

Of the three Grand Tours winners present at this Giro d'Italia, the Briton is the only one who comes into the race without any question marks over his condition. Unlike Egan Bernal and Vincenzo Nibali, there are no aches or pains to contend with and the BikeExchange leader has further enhanced his status by winning the recent Tour of the Alps in a dominant fashion.

His climbing abilities have never really been under scrutiny, but the way in which he seemingly dispatched his rivals in the Tour of the Alps with ease certainly impressed.

After his experience of 2018 where he led the race until being rudely overthrown by Chris Froome in the final days he and his entourage won't be making the same tactical errors or wasting energy when they don't need to. As a sole leader, well supported Simon Yates lines up with everyone looking at him.

Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers)

CASTELFIDARDO ITALY MARCH 14 Sergio Andres Higuita Garcia of Colombia and Team EF Education Nippo Egan Arley Bernal Gomez of Colombia and Team INEOS Grenadiers during the 56th TirrenoAdriatico 2021 Stage 5 a 205km stage from Castellalto to Castelfidardo 175m Rain TirrenoAdriatico on March 14 2021 in Castelfidardo Italy Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

Bernal on the attack at Tirreno-Adriatico, where he finished fourth overall (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The 2019 Tour de France winner comes to the Giro at the head of an Ineos Grenadiers team that is stacked with talent. After a promising start to the season which hinted that his previous back problems were almost resolved he has had a bit of a relapse and comes to the Giro with no recent racing to give an indication of just where his form is.

However, given the resources available at Ineos you can be sure that the Colombian wouldn't be on the start line if they thought he wasn't going to be competitive and that brings me to just how dangerous a rider he can be. Whereas most GC leaders will stick to a predetermined way of riding Bernal has the ability to attack from distance or play his cards in the final kilometres.

A number of things add to his five-star rating – the high mountains crammed in the final days, the relative lack of time trialing, and the fact that he has always been his strongest in the third week, and the Ineos Grenadiers foot soldiers. Though foot soldiers is hardly an accurate description when you consider half of them could be leaders in their own right and the other half are race winners when given the opportunity.

★★★★☆

Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious)

The Spaniard has had a revival of fortune at Bahrain. I have to admit that I thought he was eternally condemned to be chasing back the time he always lost in the opening stages of all his previous Grand Tours but he seems to be a reformed character. Witness his fourth place at last year's Tour de France and no needless loss of precious minutes due to inattention.

He has begun this season with some solid performances and then also he's another who gets better as the Grand Tours go, much the same as Bernal.  Since there's not much suffering on a time trial bike, his diesel engine will appreciate the long climbs that will probably decide the outcome.

Back up from Pello Bilbao and Damiano Caruso should remove a bit of the pressure he'll be under when the first few selections are made. Definitely one to watch.

Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo)

PIEVEDIBONO ITALY APRIL 22 Hugh Carthy of United Kingdom and Team EF Education Nippo attack on breakaway in Boniprati mountain 1163m during the 44th Tour of the Alps 2021 Stage 4 a 1686 to stage from Naturns to Valle del Chiese Pieve di Bono TourofTheAlps TouroftheAlps on April 22 2021 in Pieve di Bono Italy Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

Hugh Carthy is fresh off a fifth place at the Tour of the Alps (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The rising GC star of EF stepped to the next level of performance with his podium place at the 2020 Vuelta a España and comes to the Giro will real chances of repeating something similar.

He falls into that category of climbers who don't cope well with the big accelerations but he's strong and even more importantly he's patient and rides to his strengths. When he's in the front group you know he's someone you can't give too much leeway and added to that he isn't afraid of striking out from distance.

Respect will be given to the young Lancastrian, who recently signed an extension at EF, as he's been slowly but surely building his form for this race. Support comes from Simon Carr, reigning blue jersey Ruben Guerreiro, and 2020 stage winner Jonathan Caicedo.

Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana Premier-Tech)

Third at the Tour of the Alps, the Russian was the only man able to stay with Simon Yates when he accelerated on stage 4 even if he was among those left behind by the Briton two days earlier.

Before that, the young Astana rider was runner-up at Paris-Nice and the best young rider so he has to be considered as a serious contender for a top-five spot along with a number of other rivals who have similar results. In his favour he has an explosive ability that some of those GC rivals don't but that is tempered by slightly less endurance.

He'll need patience as he'll have team manager Alexandre Vinokourov shouting in his ear and that will be as difficult to deal with as some of the climbs. With his climbing talents, he may well end up heading up the mountains classification but there's still a fragility to his pedigree after his early Giro exit last year and parts of the Vuelta too.

Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep)

LAGUNAS DE NEILA SPAIN AUGUST 01 Remco Evenepoel of Belgium and Team Deceuninck QuickStep Purple Leader Jersey during the 42nd Vuelta a Burgos 2020 Stage 5 a 158km stage from Covarrubias to Lagunas de Neila 1872m VueltaBurgos on August 01 2020 in Lagunas de Neila Spain Photo by David RamosGetty Images

Evenepoel at the 2020 Vuelta a Burgos, one of four stage races he won last season (Image credit: Getty Images)

He hasn't raced since last October, but don't let that fool you because when Evenepoel turns up to race you just know he'll have an influence on proceedings. His rehabilitation from the crash at Il Lombardia may have taken longer to recover from than he wished but given that Deceuninck-QuickStep have come with a team totally devoted to the GC cause tells you everything you need to know.

Usually, the Belgian-based squad would have a sprinter and the associated lead-out train to provide stage victories, any GC ambitions were a bonus if they happened. Now the full squad is behind Evenepoel with João Almeida, James Knox and Fausto Masnada all riding.

As with the emergence of Almeida last year, it might be the young prodigy's first Grand Tour but expect to be astonished some days. Last year he won every stage race he entered – the Giro is a different beast but he can't be ignored.

João Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep)

After his exploits in the maglia rosa at the 2020 Giro, it would be easy to expect further improvement in the young Portuguese racer's level, and they may well have happened, but he can no longer rely on being an unknown quantity when it comes to riding for GC.

Deceuninck-QuickStep has the option to allow Almeida the freedom to follow moves or even instigate them and have Evenepoel profit from any situations that may develop.

There a question mark over how Almeida will cope with the really high passes of the final week – where he lost the race lead last year – but then that will be the case for everyone, and not all his rivals will have the same courage or determination.

★★★½☆

Jai Hindley (Team DSM)

SESTRIERE ITALY OCTOBER 24 Jai Hindley of Australia and Team Sunweb White Best Young Rider Jersey Tao Geoghegan Hart of The United Kingdom and Team INEOS Grenadiers during the 103rd Giro dItalia 2020 Stage 20 a 190km stage from Alba to Sestriere 2035m girodiitalia Giro on October 24 2020 in Sestriere Italy Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

Hindley battling with eventual winner Tao Geoghegan Hart at Sestriere last year (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

So far this year the DSM rider hasn't shown the form that saw him fighting for the overall victory with last year's Giro winner, Tao Geoghan Hart. It may seem a harsh verdict to place him slightly below rivals who have similar capacities but he hasn't troubled the front of any the races he has started.

With the high level that the peloton is riding at you need to be at your very best and he just hasn't appeared at there yet. It may be how they have planned things and it might be everything is to come good in the last week. However, in terms of confidence it's never great to be left behind when you are expected to be at the pointy end of affairs.

I can see one or two glimpses of form, however there are some seriously strong riders who look in better shape. Romain Bardet, Chris Hamilton and Nicholas Roche accompany him in Italy.

Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation)

This Giro has all the ingredients to be an epic edition where there's going a number of major sort outs and big battles just when everyone least expects it. Think of Chris Froome's Finestre raid when he deposed Simon Yates with an epic solo ride in 2018.

In those situations Dan Martin often finds himself on the wrong side of the split which, given his finishing capacities in the mountain top sprint finishes, is understandable. He's more known for his explosive bursts than long raids with a number of climbs to negotiate.

It's not a criticism as everyone has to ride to suit their talents but I can see the third week turning into a slog contest and the Israel Start-Up Nation rider may well suffer from the sustained efforts and quite possible some really bad weather, even if he says he feels stronger than ever. His ISN team is lighter on climbing support than some of his rivals, too.

★★★☆☆

Vincenzo Nibali, Marc Soler, Dani Martínez and more

TURIN ITALY MAY 06 Vincenzo Nibali of Italy and Team Trek Segafredo Gianluca Brambilla of Italy and Team Trek Segafredo during the 104th Giro dItalia 2021 Team Presentation at Castello el Valentino girodiitalia Giro on May 06 2021 in Turin Italy Photo by Stuart FranklinGetty Images

Vincenzo Nibali will race the Giro with a fractured bone in his wrist (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The 'might or might not' grouping. Those who have struggled, are coming back from setbacks, lost sight of where they had been or always have a disaster day.

I'm tempted not to put Marc Soler in here, but Movistar have a habit of undermining their leaders by hedging their bets and not fully supporting best chance.

Romain Bardet, Vincenzo Nibali, Bauke Mollema (yes, I know he'll grind out a result), Emanuel Buchmann (too many climbs over 2000 metres), Giulio Ciccone, Davide Formolo, Pavel Sivakov and George Bennett all fit into this category for a couple of reasons.

These men have either lacked a bit of sparkle this year thanks to form or injury, or they will likely be riding in more of a super-domestique support role rather than battling with Bernal, Yates et al.

The dark horse that nobody is mentioning, though, is Daniel Martínez. Don't be surprised if he comes to the fore in the event of an faltering on the part of official Ineos leader Egan Bernal, because the other Colombian on the team didn't win the Dauphiné by chance.

The full list

★★★★★ – Simon Yates, Egan Bernal

★★★★☆ – Mikel Landa, Hugh Carthy, Aleksandr Vlasov, Remco Evenepoel, João Almeida

★★★½☆ – Jai Hindley, Dan Martin

★★★☆☆ – Marc Soler, Romain Bardet, Vincenzo Nibali, Bauke Mollema, Emanuel Buchmann, Giulio Ciccone, Davide Formolo, Pavel Sivakov, George Bennett, Daniel Martínez