2021 will herald the 104th Tour of Italy – or the Giro D’Italia, to use its proper name. Only six years younger than the Tour de France, it’s every bit as tough, unpredictable and beautiful as it’s French cousin. The challenge of wearing the Maglia Rosa the leader’s jersey of the Giro, and the honour of lifting the winner’s golden spiral trophy aloft, at the traditional finish in Milan, is just as great.
The Giro is just hard because of the distance and the challenging terrain, the race is prone to bouts of very unpredictable weather, thanks to its May slot in the calendar. The riders in the Giro peloton have to expect stages that can range from the blazing heat of the southern regions, to ice-cold hail and snowstorms, as the race takes in Italy’s northern alpine regions. To win this Grand Tour, you have to be tough and resilient, as well as fast.
Who can win the Giro? Well, as the Giro features every type of terrain over three-weeks, from pancake-flat sprint stages on the Adriatic coast, to the rolling Umbrian hills topped by stunning rustic villages, to desolate high-alpine passes, like the Stelvio, Gavia, Mortirolo and the mighty Monte Zoncolan, the rider will have to be like a genuine ‘all-rounder’ to be crowned winner.
The Zoncolan above all, is a true beast of a climb, one that truly strikes genuine fear into the hearts of the riders. This year, the Zoncolan will be a mountain top finish on stage 13 (May 14th), and will sort the men from the boys ahead of the final week of action.
The ascent of the Zoncolan has only been included in the Giro route since 2003, since it was previously considered un-raceable. Its unrelenting gradient, of up to 23 percent, can force open cracks in a rider’s armour, equally, for a blessed few, it can also be a place where their legend, as a Giro superstar, can be forged into eternity.
The Giro also has another trick hidden up its pink sleeve. Unlike the mountains that can be seen, this enemy is invisible. The Giro usually features a decent amount of time trialling – for the 2021 race, the opening (prologue) stage is an Individual Time Trial (ITT), as is the final stage into Milan. The ability to do a strong individual ITT – mastering the art of being small on the bike, cheating the wind – the invisible enemy, while cranking out enough watts to boil a family-sized pot of coffee – is always a big part of winning every Giro. The 2021 edition will be no different. Riders who can do a strong ITT can force open the door of opportunity to create further GC drama, just like in 2020, when the race was won in the final ITT, by Briton Tao Geoghegan Hart (Team Ineos) pipping another first time Giro participant, Australian Jai Hindley (Team Sunweb) into second.
The stats say the headline battle for the 2021 Giro, should be between three teams; Ineos Grenadiers, Jumbo Visma and UAE Emirates, but the race is, as ever, something of a three-week lottery. The Giro has, over the years, gained the reputation of defying the predictions of experts, with form, the weather and terrain, all having a say in the final result. The winner could (and does) sometimes come from riders with longer odds, as in 2020.
Here’s what we do know for sure about picking the winner of the 2021 Giro D’Italia: All bets are off!