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Giro Stage One Preview: Early Fireworks

If you’re planning to win this year’s Giro, you’d better be ready from the gun

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Saturday sees the start of the Giro, the start of the 2019 grand tour season, and the start of all things mountainous for the year. We’ve had the classics, hope you enjoyed them. Now it is time for the long races, and we are starting with fireworks.

Bologna. Fireworks. Oh, shut up.
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As we’ve said in several of our previews, the first week is pretty quiet. Except, that is, for stage one. Stage one is lively. I’ve talked about it a reasonable amount in my look at the TTs. It even got a mention from Will, as the 27th toughest mountain in the race – he was ranking on difficulty, not significance. On significance it finishes much higher.

A reminder of the course:

Also, a reminder of that closing climb:

Finally, for those of you who like a little context, a map:

There’s one more vital piece to add to the puzzle – a look at Bologna’s weather. That seems… fine? I looked elsewhere and things got a bit more negative. The clue to the weather’s significance is in the phrase “possible thunderstorms.” It might be that we get away with a sunny day and can focus on the cycling and ignore the weather. The teams, though, who presumably have a more sophisticated forecast-gathering approach than “google ‘Bologna weather’, try and avoid AccuWeather because Michael Lewis says they’re evil, then click on the first link” method that I use, have decided to be worried about the possibility of storms.

Here’s your start list. All the big guys are going early. Tom Dumoulin will set a yardstick and the smart money says that few, if any, will go faster. There might be some research to be done on the impact on recovery of spending three hours in the hot seat. Primoz Roglic goes 12th, and Vincenzo Nibali, Miggy Lopez and Bob Jungels will all precede him. Basically all the big names are in the first thirty, except Simon Yates, who goes third from last, two hours and fifty-three minutes after Doom. Either Mitchelton Scott have a better forecaster than the other teams or they’re taking a heck of a gamble.

What does the weather mean? Well, given that most of the big names will get the same conditions, and the rain isn’t certain, it may mean nothing. It could cost Yates some serious time (or, I suppose, give him a huge advantage if the storms come early and then dissipate). It could even bring back memories of the Tour’s 2017 race-opening TT in Dusseldorf. On that day, plenty decided not to push their luck and finished a long way back on Geraint Thomas, but we also saw plenty of crashes, including race-ending prangs for Ion Izagirre and Alejandro Valverde. We all hope that won’t happen here but the teams are proactive in trying to look after their best guys.

Wet TTs - problematic
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Weather aside, it is time for me to put a £1 forfeit in the cliché box and say that you can’t win the Giro on stage one, but you can certainly lose it. This is true, by definition, with stage one of any race, but there’s some value in the cliché on this occasion. When I looked at this stage in my pre-race piece I commented on the similarity to the Basque Country TT. On that day, just 37 riders could finish within a minute of Buchmann (a grand rider, but not a chronoman in the same league as the favourites for tomorrow). For a rider like Bauke Mollema, a ninety second loss on day one was insurmountable.

Will the gaps be as big tomorrow? I think they’ll be bigger, simply because I expect both Dumoulin and Roglic to set an incredibly high bar, and because in poor conditions it’ll be harder for less proficient time triallists to maintain position and manage their bikes (and bike changes) in rain and potentially fluky winds. We might even see riders avoiding TT bikes altogether. This was always going to be a stage with serious gaps, but in bad weather they could be even bigger.

Who’s going to win?

Well, I’m happy with my prediction that the winner is Doom or Roglic. There are other notable TTers here (van Emden, Campanaerts, Jungels, Bohli) but none of them have the ability to combine proficiency on the flat with climbing prowess. The other climbers (Yates, Lopez, Landa, etc) will doubtless lose too much time in the early parts of the stage to climb to glory. I think we’ll see a few unexpected names in the top ten (and I’d tentatively suggest that Pavel Sivakov and Ben o’Connor will both exceed general expectations) and I think we’ll see at least one favourite a couple of minutes down, more if it rains. A winner? Primoz Roglic. Purely as a result of superior form, for now.

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