‘The Shark’ will be there. Vincenzo Nibali’s participation was in doubt until the last few days before the Grande Partenza of the Giro d’Italia in Turin (8 May). It was disorienting to imagine the star-studded peloton lining up for the first three-week race of 2021 without its two-time winner and iconic champion, who fractured his right wrist in a training accident mid-April.
“It was a race against time and I'm very happy that I’ve won it”, Nibali announced on Monday. “I want to say it clearly: it's useless and impossible to say if I'll target the general classification or I'll aim for stage wins. I want to try to leave a mark on the Giro, but I'll only understand how to do it along the way.” With a hungry Shark willing to display all his racing craft, the many General Classification (GC) riders aiming for the Maglia Rosa know they won’t be offered respite until they reach the finish line in Milan on 30 May.
Yates and Bernal to reshuffle their Italian history
Over the years, Vincenzo Nibali has embodied Italian cycling genius in many ways. He was already there in 2011, the last time the Giro started in Torino. As the organisers were celebrating the 150th anniversary of Italian unification, Nibali climbed onto the final podium for the second time of his career, two years before his first overall victory (the second was in 2016).
Riding his tenth Giro d’Italia, Nibali, who has seven stage wins to date, will find other experienced riders in his way, including his compatriot Domenico Pozzovivo (Team Qhubeka Assos), who also participated in the 2011 Giro d’Italia, and Grand Tour winners as young as Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers). The 24-year-old Colombian will ride the Giro for the first time - he was due to make his debut in 2019 but withdrew due to a training crash.
Bernal is already familiar with the Italian roads and races, where he developed as a young rider fresh from Colombia discovering European cycling. His strong performance and third place in the Strade Bianche earlier this season served as a remarkable recon ahead of stage 11’s gravel sections leading to Montalcino. After a 2020 season troubled by back pains, Bernal will be eager to make the most of his climbing abilities on venues as iconic as the Monte Zoncolan (stage 14) with the support of his compatriots Ivan Sosa and Daniel Martinez as well as the Russian Pavel Sivakov.
Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange) is also eager to return to Italy and settle his account with the roads of the Giro, where he confesses to have suffered a few “heartbreaks” over the years. The winner of the 2018 Vuelta a España recently won the Tour of the Alps in a dominant fashion, showing he’s ready to battle with other established contenders such as Bahrain-Victorious’ Mikel Landa (3rd in the 2015 Giro and winner of the mountains classification in 2017), Israel Start-Up Nation’s Dan Martin (five top-10 finishes in Grand Tours) or Bora-Hansgrohe's Emanuel Buchmann (4th in the 2019 Tour de France).
Autumn promises and Tokyo dreams
With a Grand Tour season back in full swing just a few months after the delayed 2020 editions the heroes of last autumn head to Turin full of hopes and ambitions for the spring. Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech) and Hugh Carthy (EF Education Nippo) enjoyed Spain in November and now want to shine in May. The last Giro saw Jai Hindley (Team DSM) get his first taste of the Maglia Rosa, only for a day, before losing it to Tao Geoghegan Hart on the final stage. The young Australian, who turns 25 this month, returns to Italy with Romain Bardet by his side.
Even younger than Hindley, João Almeida (22) held on to the Maglia Rosa for significantly longer last time around: 15 days between the Etna and the Laghi di Cancano, where he lost it three days before reaching Milan fourth overall. The Portuguese talent will once again enjoy strong support from Deceuninck - Quick-Step with the likes of Fausto Masnada and James Knox.
Above all, he’s ready to light fireworks with Remco Evenepoel, who was already set to race the 2020 Giro d’Italia before his crash in Il Lombardia. The young Belgian champion returns to competition with high expectations after his stellar performances since he began his rise through the ranks of cycling.
Evenepoel wants to shine in Italy and then focus on the Olympic Games in Tokyo, at the end of July. By Nibali’s side, Bauke Mollema also comes to Italy with the idea of performing in Japan in the summer, and he’s not the only one. “I dream to be Olympic champion”, Davide Formolo claims as he gets ready to lead UAE Team Emirates’ ambitions in the Giro.
"Doing the Giro rather than the Tour offers up some great things for me – an opportunity to get a great result [at the Giro] and a far better run into the Olympics,” George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) recently told VeloNews. The Kiwi climber has already finished in the top 10 of the Giro d’Italia (8th in 2018) after having attended the race for the first time in 2013… That year, the Shark won.