It is time for the first Grand Tour of the year.
A day for the puncheurs. Very similar finish to the 2nd stage in 2020, in which Ulissi won ahead of Sagan and Honore.
A hilly time trial. We will see the first minor gaps in the GC.
This will be the first day for the sprinters.
Etna. The first time we will see the GC contenders go head to head uphill. It will likely end in a breakaway victory nonetheless. We could see the Maglia Rosa get a new owner here too.
One climb will give the breakaway hope, but I’m certain this will be the second sprint stage.
Another day for the sprinters. They will be racing near the coast, but we rarely see any crosswinds in Italy.
A day with 4600 climbing meters! The hardest climb comes with 70 km left, which means the breakaway should have a good chance of taking another stage win.
Despite only having 2200 climbing meters, it will be interesting to see which sprinter teams dare take up chasing the breakaway. It looks like a good stage for yet another breakaway win.
The first of three major GC stages. We will likely find out, who will not be fighting for the Maglia Rosa anymore.
The first 100 km are flat. Then it becomes more difficult. It is the day after a rest day, which means the sprinters likely will have their team chase it down since they are a bit fresh again.
400 climbing meters – this is going to be a sprint. Probably the longest home straight of the year, I recall one in UAE Tour being 70 km, this is even longer.
This will be another day for the sprinters.
Do not mind the steep gradient around km 40. Veloviewer has its problems whenever we see a tunnel. It should be another sprint.
A day that could be a GC or breakaway day. With 3200 climbing meters in 147 km, it will be a very intense stage.
A day for the breakaway, even though we have 4000 meters of climbing. Why? Look at stage 16. Furthermore, not a lot of damage can be made on the last climb.
The second big GC battle. 201 km 5100 climbing meters. There will be valleys to recover. The second big descent of the day will be challenging for some.
More tunnels. A coinflip between a breakaway win or a GC battle. I’m opting for the latter, the last two climbs are difficult.
This is your typical “it should end in a sprint” stage. It will depend on how many sprinters are still here, otherwise the breakaway will win.
A day for the breakaway. 3200 climbing meters and the GC riders will likely wait for the last big battle the next day.
The third and last big GC battle in the mountains.
They are bringing back the Verona TT. Haga won here in 2017, it will be about who has anything left in the tank.
It will be impossible to predict the weather for the next three weeks. It is likely we will have horrendous weather once they hit the Alps – I even hope for it.
The outcome will most likely be found in three key stages; Stage 9, Stage 16 and Stage 20. You could add stage 17 too. I have read a few comments from DS, who said it is not your typical “it will be decided in the third week” – I think that will be the most important week.
Carapaz – the big favorite. I think it is a very good race for him. He is very consistent and he has the strongest team here. Riders for the flat, riders for the hills and riders for the mountains. He has not raced for six weeks, which is a concern. However, he rarely performs very well outside Grand Tours.
Almeida – we will have to see how well he can manage the most demanding stages, something that cost him the overall in 2020. Last year, he could have been doing a lot better if QS did not insist on riding for Evenepoel. I think he showed in the Giro last year he has improved on longer efforts – but the team strength is a big concern.
Yates with mixed signals in Vuelta Asturias. Two stage wins and a day in between where he blew out the back. He has poor support from the team as well. He is not very good at timing his form, but he will be very difficult to drop if he managed to spend his energy wisely. He was one of the strongest in the last week of the Giro last year.
Landa & Bilbao – with Landa as the spearhead. Two riders who should both finish within the top-10, which means they will be able to play multiple cards. Landa has looked eager this year and I think the route suits him well compared to Bilbao. With Poels and Buitrago, they have quite the team.
Lopez – he will like this route. I think it is the correct decision by Astana to send a strong team here to support him. I think the climbs on the important GC stages suit him, they are quite long and steep. He has not finished a GT since 2020, but he is normally very consistent. I think he will finish on the podium.
Bardet is in very fine shape. He crashed out of LBL but he was very quick on his feet. He will be fighting for the podium, but I can not see him winning with his poor team – it looks to be only Arensman and potentially Tusveld able to help him in the mountains.
Foss & Dumoulin, it is not an optimal route for either of them. I hope to see Dumoulin back to his best, but I would be surprised if he is. As for the Norweigan, I have high hopes for him. He was 9th overall next year at the Giro, something he will likely be able to redo.
Sosa – will enjoy the few, but hilly TT km. I am excited to see how well he will manage to fight for the GC over three weeks.
Martin – will be fighting for a top-10.
Kelderman – will be fighting for a top-10. We will see how much help he will get from his teammates, Bora-Hansgrohe arrives with a very strong team.
Carthy – we will have to see if he can steadily get better as the race goes along. The climbs suit him well in the last week but he has a weak team to support him and the form is not quite there yet.
Who will win?
He is the best Grand Tour rider and he has the strongest team. Richard Carapaz.