As our "master of ceremonies" mentioned in this post, I will try to contribute with some discussions during the traditionally duller winter season. I recently started writing long(-ish) form articles on cycling so I could use the practice and the feedback. In return I hope to provide some interesting points of discussion while we’re deprived of high-level racing (sorry Tour of Venezuela). I’m writing here and at theperfectleadout.com so feel free to check it out.
With the introduction out of the way, I think it’d be interesting to write a bit about the 2022 Giro route that was unveiled this week.
The first thing that came to mind is that there are really only five stages that will be a factor in the fight for the pink jersey.
In my opinion, the Etna stage will not play a big role. The stage is very early on in the race and is relatively easy until the final climb. In 2020, there was less than a minute between Wilco Kelderman, the first of the favorites, and, for example, Jai Hindley, 19th on the stage. Ironically, eventual winner, Tao Geoghegan Hart (24th on the stage) was the most penalized, and still lost less than two minutes to Kelderman, which obviously didn’t hurt his general classification (GC) aspirations.
Stage 9, the Blockhaus. This is a behemoth. It will make differences. Regardless of how the stage is approached, the final climb is just too hard not to make a difference. The stage could be just 30 kilometers long and this summit finish would still make big differences. Last time the Giro finished on the Blockhaus, Nairo Quintana was victorious and claimed the pink jersey for a day, also on stage 9 of the 2017 Giro.
The momentum gained after stage 9 in the fight for the GC will be halted for a week. The next defining stages in the fight for pink are stages 15-17. I have no idea how these stages are going to play out but I think the way the 2022 edition of the Giro is going to be perceived hinges on these three stages. I could see these being three extremely exciting or extremely disappointing. I don’t have much faith in stage 15. The approach to the finish is very hard but the summit finish isn’t steep enough to make differences, especially after relatively easy stages the week prior. Getting to stage 15 with only one defining stage up to that point is a bit weird, but the best is definitely left for last in the 2022 Giro.
In my view, the profiles of stages’ 16 and 17 are excellent. I’m a fan of a bit of downhill to the finish after a big mountain top but I do admit that the lack of summit finishes might lead some climbers to hold back, minimizing the differences between favorites. On the other hand, the difficult approaches might also generate massive differences during the final ascents. As I mentioned before, I believe the way this Giro will thought of in the future is going to be defined on stages 15-17, especially 16 and 17.
And then there is the queen stage - stage 20. The Giro is no stranger to crazy final mountain stages and this one will likely not be any different. I believe this is where the pink jersey will be decided. Not a very ambitious prediction, I know, but I doubt that next year there will be a rider as dominant as Bernal was in 2021. Hence, I doubt the 1st place is going to be wrapped up prior to the penultimate stage. Additionally, I don’t anticipate big differences between the favorites going into stage 20. There are not enough difficult stages beforehand to make big differences but there are surely enough to tire everybody out to make the final showdown a can’t-miss affair.
Outside of the big mountain stages but still within the realm of the race for pink, it’s important to note that there are only 26.3 kilometers of time trial. That’s half of a proper time trial of which there should be two. But I understand that the TV viewers don’t share this sentiment so I wouldn’t even be opposed to just having one time trial to gain an extra stage somewhere. Anyway, the total length of the time trials won’t make much of a difference but, if stage 20 didn’t completely decide the pink jersey, everything is going to be decided in the final 17 kilometers, in a race against the clock.
Regarding the rest of the Giro, its first two weeks have some beautifully designed stages. However, the inclusion of Etna at such an early point of the race will surely take some of the excitement out of them. Sprinters or classics riders that could be in contention for the pink jersey during those early stages will likely be taken out of that fight by the Etna summit finish.
I am 100% behind having the pink jersey go to a sprinter after stage 1. I think this is a great source of excitement for the flat stages of the first week. I’m also totally behind someone other than the winner of a (usually) meaningless prologue taking the pink jersey on stage 1. I understand the prologue’s place in a Grand Tour but I’d rather sprinters or classics riders get the chance to fight for the leader’s jersey during the first week of a Grand Tour. Granted, a short time trial is right there on stage 2 but still. At least someone else will get the chance to wear the pink jersey, even if just for a day.
In the end, as usual, the riders will make the race. There is the potential for a great Grand Tour packed with hard climbs, and non-stop action during the classics-style stages the organization came up with. On the other hand, there is the possibility that stages 16-17 will flop because the riders will save their effort for the penultimate stage, in which everything will be decided. In this case, it is very possible that this Giro will go down in the history books as a forgettable race, with only the Blockhaus and the Passo Fedaia as its interesting points.