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GIRO’21 1st. Breakdown: The Early Winners & Losers



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Race Breakdown: The 2021 Giro d’Italia started with a bang as Filippo Ganna stormed through the streets of Torino at nearly 60 kilometers per hour to take the first pink jersey. Spencer Martin ‘Breaks-down’ the weekend’s racing and looks at the implications for the next weeks in the Italian Grand Tour.

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First 2021 pink to Ganna

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Ganna scorched

The opening weekend of the Giro d’Italia is behind us and we have two impressive stage wins and a simmering GC battle. Filippo Ganna scorched the 9km time trial course to win the opening stage and take the leader’s jersey. This has given the home crowds the special experience to see an Italian rider don the leader’s jersey in their home grand tour.

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Merlier upsets

On Sunday’s stage 2, Tim Merlier of Alpecin-Fenix upset the bunch sprint favorites to get the biggest win of his relatively young road career. The Italian sprinting stars, Giacomo Nizzolo and Elia Viviani put up a valiant fight but couldn’t match the raw speed of the Belgian and had to settle for 2nd and 3rd on the day.

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Solid ride from Almeida

So far in the fight for the general classification, last year’s breakout sensation João Almeida has separated himself from the rest of the GC field with a great time trial performance. While he was handily beaten by Ganna in the TT, he finished 21-seconds up on Simon Yates, 22-seconds up on Egan Bernal, 24-seconds on Vincenzo Nibali, and a whopping 32-seconds on Mikel Landa.

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Is the team more behind Evenepoel

While Almeida is off to a great start, he isn’t guaranteed a protected leadership position inside his own team since his young Deceuninck – Quick-Step teammate, Remco Evenepoel, is sitting even with him in the GC classification at the moment.

GC Favorites Standings:
João Almeida +0
Remco Evenepoel +0
Aleksandr Vlasov +7
Domenico Pozzovivo +14
Pavel Sivakov +17
Hugh Carthy +21
Simon Yates +21
Egan Bernal +22
Vincenzo Nibali +24
Jai Hindley +29
Mikel Landa +32
Emanuel Buchmann +38

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A good showing from Vlasov

Stage 1 & 2 Major Takeaways:

Stage 1 TT Thoughts

  • Ganna absolutely crushed the time trial course and averaged 59km/hr throughout the course, which is absolutely absurd.
  • When he is dialed in, his marriage of raw power and aerodynamics makes him an unstoppable force in the discipline.
  • He proves he is in great shape and with so much talent, it isn’t a forgone conclusion that he will give up the overall lead anytime soon.

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Merlier – Giro suits his skills

Stage 2 Sprint Thoughts

  • Tim Merlier’s sprint win on stage 2 appears to come out of nowhere, but he proved earlier this year by winning Le Samyn that he can win major sprint finishes. Also, while he struggles in massive, straight-line bunch sprinters, the Giro’s more technical finishes, which are contested from slightly smaller groups, will favor his Cyclocross skills.
  • I mentioned it in the Giro Preview, but the Giro’s technical sprints favor Merlier, who is a former cross star but isn’t great at straight-line crowded gallops.
  • Caleb Ewan and his Lotto team succumbed to their bad habit of failing to get into proper position early enough and get absolutely skunked here. I’m not sure what happened that prevented them from close enough to the front to contest the sprint, but they have to get it sorted before their chances go up in smoke.
  • Groenewegen looked good considering his long layoff. Sitting up in the final few meters isn’t a great sign, but perhaps it signals he is here for stage wins and isn’t interested in podiums.
  • I was impressed with Nizzolo. With some harder sprint stages ahead of where Ewan and Groenewegen could struggle, I think he will get at least one stage win before the Giro is over.

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Bad boy Groenewegen still has it

Overall General Classification Thoughts

The Winners

  • Almeida emerges from the opening weekend as the winner from the GC favorites and almost more importantly, his Deceuninck – QuickStep team. By beating Evenepoel in the TT, he keeps his leadership status alive and gives himself a great chance to take the Maglia Rosa on stage 4.
  • Staying ahead of Evenepoel is key since Almeida is allegedly feuding his team management over a new contract, and the fact that they kept him off the Tour squad, a race that would suit him much better, shows there is some friction inside the squad and that the team will favor Evenepoel if push comes to shove.
  • This is what makes Evenepoel taking a two-second time bonus in a mid-stage sprint on stage 2 so interesting. He has now pulled equal with Almeida and signaled his intent to be the team’s GC leader.
  • Evenepoel appears to be riding extremely well after a long layoff following his broken pelvis in 2020. With his great TT on stage 1, he has thrown his hat in the GC ring, but keep in mind that he’s never raced a grand tour before in his career and doesn’t even have experience racing in the high Alps in a WorldTour race, so we really have no idea how he will go or if he is even a great climber. The closest comp we have is the Tour of Romandie in 2019 and he didn’t perform well there on the high mountain passes.
  • His fitness could be there, but these are just a lot of unknowns for a grand tour hopeful. If he were to win the race, he would become the first rider in modern cycling history to win their first-ever grand tour.
  • I imagine his DQS team management is aware of these unknowns and will try to placate both riders until the road decides who is stronger.
  • Aleksandr Vlasov is the other big winner. The Russian is a supremely talented climber, so putting time into the others in the TT is incredible. However, he is incredibly inconsistent, which doesn’t necessarily improve with age or experience.
  • The other young Russian, Sivakov, also has a great TT, is the best-placed Ineos rider and offers the team a great insurance policy in case Bernal’s back is an issue later on. I was the president of the Siakov and Vlasov Fanclub in 2020 before both of them went on to have incredibly disappointing grand tour performances, so I’m going to hold off on declaring the race for one of them just yet. A key issue is that both of them struggle with handling skills, which is incredibly important in Italy. But, keep an eye on them as we get into the first-week uphill finishes.
  • Pozzovivo gets a shockingly good result at only 14-seconds behind Almeida. The small Italian is a great climber, especially in Italy, but his TTs have held him back his entire career. He is flying way, way under-the-radar, but keep an eye on him when the race hits the bigger mountains.

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Surprisingly good ride from Pozzovivo

Holding Ground

  • I would lump Bernal, Carthy, Yates, and Nibali into the same bucket and say they had about as good of time trials as they could hope for. Nibali looked good considering he is racing with a broken wrist and Bernal looked strong considering the rumors of a flareup with his chronic back injury.
  • But remember, all of these guys lost around 2.2 seconds per kilometer to Almeida in the opening time trial. That isn’t good considering there is a 30km TT to finish the race and the same gaps would come out to over a minute at that distance. That puts them all at a significant disadvantage and puts the onus of them to put major time into Almeida whenever they can.

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Dark horse favorite Mikel Landa

The Losers

  • Last year’s runner-up Jai Hindley and my dark horse favorite Mikel Landa were the big GC losers over the weekend. They’ve both struggled with TTs throughout their careers and Saturday was no exception. With massive losses over less than 10km, it is difficult to imagine either of them defending a lead in that final 30km TT against Almeida, Vlasov, Siakov, or even Bernal.
  • I picked Buchmann as one of the top-four favorites, but he totally stunk it up and finished the worst out of every GC contender over the weekend. If we look at past Giros, this isn’t a nail-in-the-coffin, but it certainly is a bad sign.
  • The most important thing to remember is that while the time lost/won here is important since a second is a second, the bigger implication is form. If Landa, Buchmann, or Hindley were riding better in the TT, it would indicate they are in great shape, which would mean he would have a better chance of taking time back in the mountains. In short, these performances are correlated. If you lose loads of time here, you can’t just write it off as not your thing and that you will take time back in the mountains. The fact that you’ve lost time in the first place means you may not be able to take it back later.

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Hindley lost time

Looking Ahead:
My money is on Almeida to take the race lead on stage 4, which finishes on a 4.3km-long, 9.5% climb. He will be motivated to duke it out with his own DQS teammate Evenepoel for GC leadership, and if he can drop Evenepoel, a clear path to protected status will start to open up. But, on the other hand, don’t count Ganna out of anything yet. He has a massive lead in the GC at the moment and both Almeida and Evenepoel would have to either drop Ganna by 21-seconds, or take at least 10-seconds by the finish line, win the stage, and hope Ganna finishes outside the top 3 to take the race lead. With Ganna looking so strong, it is difficult to count him out of anything at this point.

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Ganna – Difficult to count him out of anything


# Spencer Martin is the author of the cycling-analysis newsletter Beyond the Peloton that breaks down the nuances of each race and answers big picture questions surrounding team and rider performance. Sign up now to get full access to all the available content and race breakdowns. #

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