And so here we are, day one of the first grand tour of the year: the 195-kilometre first stage from Budapest to Visegrad. That’s right folks, the 105th edition of the Giro d’Italia kicks off later today and Telegraph Sport is all present and correct and reporting for duty.
Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that today’s stage – and the subsequent two days of racing that make up the grande partenza, or ‘big start’ – takes place in Hungary, which in years to come may not look to have been the wisest of moves from race organisers RCS. Whatever the rights or wrongs the Giro getting under way in Hungary, the three-week race should be a cracker. It almost always is.
Despite not having two of the biggest names in grand tour racing on the 176-man start list, the absence of Tadej Pogacar and Primoz Roglic should make the Giro an open and fiercely contested race. Unlike the Tour de France which can, at times, feel a little predictable and, dare I say it, formulaic, its younger Italian cousin is a little rougher around the edges. Chaotic, anarchic and often unpredictable, the Giro is unquestionably the most beautiful stage race in world cycling.
Comprising 21 stages and contested over 3,437.6 kilometres – that’s 2,136 miles in old money – which is an average of 163.7km (101.7 miles) per day (see below for the complete 21-stage profile). Although race organisers have this year included fewer climbs that go high above 2,000m than usual, the race features 50,610 metres (166,043 feet) in altitude gain. The highest point in the race – la cima Coppi – comes on the penultimate day of racing, during the Dolomites stage when the riders crest Passo Pordoi.
Three former winners start – Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo, 2013 and 2016), Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma, 2017) and Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers, 2019) – but there are plenty of others who will be hoping for a crack at the general classification.
Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco) is Britain’s best hope and, for me, is probably second favourite behind Carapaz who has a slightly stronger support team. Yates, 29, who wore the maglia rosa, the leader’s pink jersey, for 13 days in 2018 before his dramatic collapse on stage 19 when Chris Froome memorably took the overall lead, arrives in fine form having won two stages at last week’s Vuelta Asturias. Speaking in the days counting down to the race, Yates explained his love of the race that he starts for a fifth time today, while outlining his ambitions.
“There are many things that keep bringing me back,” Yates said. “It’s just a race I enjoy racing. We have a lot of Italian staff on the team, our service course is [in Varese], and I really enjoy the atmosphere in the team when we all come together and try to win the Giro. I think it’s a race that suits me well, it’s a very difficult race with lots of climbing.
“I think I’ve learned patience. You need to be quite calm. The race is three weeks. You can always go back to 2018 where we really went after it in the first and second weeks and then fell apart in the third.
“But even last year I had some problems with my hamstrings in the first week but still came good towards the end, managed a stage and arrived on the podium. You’ve got to have an eye on the big picture, be patient and wait for the race to come to you.”
Yates, however, refused to be drawn on whether he will take home the maglia rosa, saying: “I’ll let you guys make that decision. I think the riders are just anxious to start. There are others who will be competitive. Take it back to last year. I’d won the Tour of the Alps [ahead of the Giro] and I kept reading I was a massive favourite. Romain Bardet won the Tour of the Alps this year and I’ve heard nothing about him so I think there’s a few guys flying under the radar.
“I feel good,” he insisted. “I won two good stages and the sensations are good. The second day was my first exposure to some really hot conditions and in the past I’ve had some difficulties with my first exposure of the year. But I’m not worried. We’ll see once the race starts.”
Aside from Carapaz and Yates, there area a handful of other general classification riders who will be eyeing the Trofeo Senza Fine (the swirly trophy awarded to the overall winner) and, of course, the fabled pink jersey. Joao Almeida (UAE Team Emirtaes), Miguel Angel López (Astana Qazaqstan) and Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) are probably the next group of favourites, while Romain Bardet (DSM), Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) will also have designs on a podium finish in Verona a little over three weeks from now. I would not be surprised if Tobias Foss ended up leading the Jumbo-Visma team as I am not too sure about Dumoulin’s form, while Hugh Carthy, one of three Britons in the EF Education-EasyPost team, could leave his stamp on the race. Enough of the idle speculation, what does today’s stage look like?
Featuring two intermediate sprints, the long and flattish looking stage appears, at first, relatively benign. But there is a sting in its tail. After what is expected to be a fast approach, the finale includes a short 5km climb with an average gradient of five per cent, though it nudges up to eight per cent in places. Likened by some as Poggio-esque climb, but without the descent over the other side, we could see a varied field of riders challenge for the stage win and, of course, the first pink jersey of the race.
Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) is one of the favourites, but the powerful Dutchman will be gifted nothing from his rivals. Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux), winner of Ghent-Wevelgem in March, would make cycling history this afternoon as the Eritrean aims to become the first black African to win a stage in a grand tour.
Depending on how the stage is raced, a sprinter like Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) may even prevail – the Australian can hoik himself over these type of climbs with relative ease – while Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates) or team-mate and Italian compatriot Alessandro Covi may also fancy a crack. I suspect Hungarian rider Attila Valter (Groupama-FDJ) will also be keen on challenging.
Today’s racing starts at 11.40am (BST), while our live coverage gets under way at 1pm.