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Who does the route suit? Analysing the 2021 Giro d'Italia contenders

The Frecce Tricolori fly over the peloton
(Image credit: RCS Sport)

The Giro d’Italia organisers announced the 2021 route this week, revealing a course bookended by two time trials - one only 9km, the other 29.4km - but with six mountain finishes, seven other mountainous days of racing, and a total of almost 47,000 meters of vertical gain.

The route also includes a tough stage to Montalcino that takes in the white gravel roads made famous by Strade Bianche, a massive stage 16 with three high-altitude climbs, and an arduous third week of racing that ratchets up the pressure, culminating in another tough mountain finish on stage 20.

Cyclingnews considered the route and assessed its suitability for 10 possible general classification contenders.

Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers)

At first glance, this route looks perfect for Egan Bernal and helps justify his decision to target the Giro d'Italia rather than the Tour de France this year. It’s a climber-friendly parcours, with the kind of huge final-week mountain passes where he won the 2019 Tour de France, and there are only 38 kilometres of time trialling to test his potential vulnerabilities against the clock.

However, the big question mark hanging over the Colombian this season is how well he can manage the lingering pain of the back injury that derailed his 2020 season. Bernal has spoken of the pain as something that he will just have to live with. Even at the Tour de la Provence earlier this month, where he finished second overall and looked like his old self, he confessed to still feeling it. 

The extra rigours of this Giro route, with its long stages and lack of any easy days, might expose problems kept hidden in shorter stage races.

Suitability: 3 / 5

Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep)

Remco Evenepoel leads the Vuelta a Burgos

Remco Evenepoel leads the Vuelta a Burgos (Image credit: Getty Images)

One major advantage the prodigious Evenepoel already holds over his much more experienced, senior rivals is a time trial ability that is already one of the best in the world, so he’ll be disappointed at the paucity of kilometres against the clock at this year’s Giro. 

The length of the final stage in Milan means his pink jersey rivals will need to have gained a lot of time over him beforehand to be confident of not being leapfrogged, but the lack of a similarly long time trial stage earlier in the race denies him the chance to gain a significant overall lead early on to defend.

What might end up being more in his favour, however, is how back-loaded the route is. Depending on how his injury rehabilitation goes, the 21-year-old may need time to ride himself into the race, and the relatively straightforward first half of the race could allow him to get away with not being in top form from the off.

Suitability: 3 / 5

Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ)

Team GroupamaFDJ rider Frances Thibaut Pinot C lies on the ground after a crash during the 1st stage of the 107th edition of the Tour de France cycling race 156 km between Nice and Nice on August 29 2020 Photo by AnneChristine POUJOULAT AFP Photo by ANNECHRISTINE POUJOULATAFP via Getty Images

Pinot on the deck on the opening stage of the 2020 Tour de France (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

A fit and on-form Thibaut Pinot would relish the climbing awaiting the riders during the final week, and he has mostly overcome problems with time trialling and descending that bothered him earlier in his career.

Instead, what has tended to topple Pinot from so many promising positions in Grand Tours over the last few years has been a vulnerability to health problems, and in this respect, the 2021 Giro route offers cause for both hope and concern. The earlier starting date of May reduces the chances of the kind of high temperatures he has struggled with in the past, but the flip side of that is the potential for very cold conditions, especially on the high-altitude mountain visits, and therefore a danger of succumbing to illness — which is exactly what ended the Frenchman’s race the last time he rode the Giro in 2018.

Suitability: 4 / 5

Alexander Vlasov (Astana)

Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana)

Vlasov won the Giro dell'Emilia last year (Image credit: Getty Images)

Vlasov is still a young man and has only recently broken through as an elite rider, but he already looks as though he could be the complete package. He’s an excellent climber who won on Mont Ventoux and finished second on the Angliru, has produced some solid time trial performances, and has also excelled on the hilly terrain of one-day classics like Il Lombardia.

As a Grand Tour contender, however, Vlasov remains unproven, and this route will pose questions that he has not yet had to answer. Although a slow start rather than weakness towards the end of the race prevented him from pushing for a higher place on GC than 11th at last year’s Vuelta, the final week of that race was nowhere near as difficult as the mountain-filled endgame of this year’s Giro, which could be his downfall. The dirt roads of the Montalcino stage will also be new to the Russian.

Suitability: 3 / 5

Romain Bardet (Team DSM)

Romain Bardet Team DSM training camp 2021

Bardet is now riding for Team DSM (Image credit: Team DSM)

Bardet’s nationality has contributed to his delaying making a Giro d’Italia debut until now in favour of concentrating on the Tour de France, but his attributes as a pure climber and specialist descender mean the Italian Grand Tour has always been a race that would suit him. 

Remembering how brilliantly he rode in the mud to finish second at the 2018 Strade Bianche, the fact there are almost as many kilometres of dirt roads on stage 11 as there are in time trials across the whole race is another thing that should certainly play in his favour.

The main concern with Bardet is his declining form in recent years. A rider once characterised by his consistency, he hasn’t finished in the top 10 of a Grand Tour since 2018. But if he can rediscover his best legs, he has a very real chance of finally winning a Grand Tour for the first time in his career.

Suitability: 5 / 5

Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious)

LARUNS FRANCE SEPTEMBER 06 Mikel Landa Meana of Spain and Team Bahrain Mclaren Richie Porte of Australia and Team Trek Segafredo Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia and UAE Team Emirates Breakaway during the 107th Tour de France 2020 Stage 9 a 153km stage from Pau to Laruns 495m TDF2020 LeTour on September 06 2020 in Laruns France Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

Landa will relish the heavy climbing (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Time trials have long been the Achilles heel of Mikel Landa and are one of the main reasons he hasn’t finished on a Grand Tour podium since his breakthrough third-place finish at the 2015 Giro, so he’s another rider who will be grateful for the lack of them in this year’s race.

Despite a recent run of high overall finishes at Grand Tours (including fourth at last year’s Tour and fourth at the 2019 Giro while helping teammate Richard Carapaz to victory), Landa hasn’t been talked about much as a potential winner and could fly under the radar. That would suit the Spaniard, particularly if he’s able to slip away unmarked on one of the long climbs that precede several of the mountain top finishes in the final week. The tendency towards long and steep climbs over short and punchy efforts throughout the three weeks will also play in his favour.

Suitability: 4 / 5

Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange)

Giro dItalia 2020 103th Edition 3rd stage Enna Etna 150km 05102020 Simon Yates GBR Mitchelton Scott Tony Gallopin FRA AG2R La Mondiale photo Luca BettiniBettiniPhoto2020

Yates' last Giro bid was ruined by COVID-19 (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Yates’ long stint in the pink jersey during the 2018 Giro d’Italia was founded on a series of attacks on punchy uphill finishes during the first two weeks of the race. Such an approach might be more difficult this time. Although the first half of the race features a few uphill early finishes, they're generally not difficult enough to make the kind of time gains he did three years ago.

Still, the steepness and severity of the later mountain top finishes should also play to the lightweight climber’s strengths - he did, after all, finish second on Monte Zoncolan the last time the Giro visited in 2018. But the brutal final week in store this year won’t ease lingering doubts regarding the 28-year-old’s susceptibility to late collapses such as the way he lost the pink jersey at the Giro that year.

Suitability: 3 / 5

Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo)

Trek-Segafredo's Vincenzo Nibali climbs the Passo dello Stelvio during stage 18 of the 2020 Giro

Nibali on the Stelvio at last year's Giro (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

In years gone by, a route defined by little time trialling, lots of climbing and descending, and one that saves most of its most difficult days until the final week would have suited Vincenzo Nibali down to the ground, and he'd go into the race as a clear favourite. But the way he faltered in the final stages of last year’s race suggests that Nibali, now 36-years old, may no longer be capable of matching the younger climbers on the toughest slopes.

Instead, if the Italian is to win his home Grand Tour for the third time, he’d need to be clever and gain time in unexpected places. Unfortunately for him, there isn’t much room for tactical nuance on mountain top finishes as tough as these. The descent to the finish on stage 16 looks like the kind territory he’d typically launch an ambush, but chances like this are few and far between.

Suitability: 3 / 5

Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe)

Bora-Hansgrohe’s Emanuel Buchmann takes victory at the Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana at the 2020 Challenge Mallorca in Spain

Buchmann placed fourth at the 2019 Tour (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Despite now being 28-years-old and with seven Grand Tour appearances under his belt, Emanuel Buchmann is still a bit of an unknown quantity as a Grand Tour contender. His one major GC challenge remains the 2019 Tour de France, where he rode consistently and attentively to finish fourth overall, and that performance was impressive enough to suggest he is capable of an overall victory.

What characterised that ride was how Buchmann had no obvious strength, but, crucially, no obvious weakness, as he managed to complete the whole three weeks without enduring a single bad day. It’s difficult therefore to assess exactly what kind of a route would best suit the German, but his all-round ability should hold him in good stead in what looks to be a mostly orthodox Giro d’Italia.

Suitability: 3 / 5

João Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep)

LAGHI DI CANCANO ITALY OCTOBER 22 Joao Almeida of Portugal and Team Deceuninck QuickStep Pink Leader Jersey Passo dello Stelvio Stilfserjoch 2758m during the 103rd Giro dItalia 2020 Stage 18 a 207km stage from Pinzolo to Laghi di Cancano Parco Nazionale dello Stelvio 1945m girodiitalia Giro on October 22 2020 in Laghi di Cancano Italy Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

The youngster had a long stint in pink this year (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Like his teammate Remco Evenepoel, Almeida will rue the reduction of time trials in this year’s route. The young Portuguese held the pink jersey from stage 3 last year largely thanks to a second-place finish on the opening day time trial, then significantly extended his lead during the next stage against the clock in the second week, and only lost it after the race reached the serious climbing in the Alps.

He still managed to ultimately finish fourth overall despite all the time lost during the final stages but may struggle to repeat that performance with 25 fewer kilometres to ride against the clock this year compared to last. He is still a quality climber and has plenty of room to improve at such a young age, but perhaps a Tour de France debut would instead be a preferable option for the next stage of his development.

Suitability: 2 / 5