Giro d’Italia 2019: Report cards for the Big Five after phase one
With the first phase of the 2019 Giro d'Italia completed, our cycling correspondent Felix Lowe rates the Big Five rivals in the respective battle for pink and sprinter showdown. No guesses who comes out on top: take a bow, signori Primoz Roglic and Pascal Ackermann.
After the opening time trial in Bologna and the first road stage to Fucecchio, there was some remarkable symmetry in the standings of the nascent 102nd edition of La Corsa Rosa.
The 8km TT gave instant confirmation as to whom the Big Five protagonists were for the maglia rosa with Primoz Roglic, Simon Yates, Vincenzo Nibali, Miguel Angel Lopez and Tom Dumoulin – the five pre-race favourites – finishing in the top five of the stage in that order.
One day later, the five most hotly tipped sprinters – Pascal Ackermann, Elia Viviani, Caleb Ewan, Fernando Gaviria and Arnaud Demare – came home in that order, and have been the main protagonists in the flat stages since.
One from each of the group have packed their bags leaving the door open for aspiring gate-crashers..
Time to rank each of these Big Fives after the first nine days of action.
Primoz Roglic (Team Jumbo-Visma)
Bookending this opening phase with two time trial wins has put the Slovenian former ski [unmentionable] on track for a maiden Grand Tour victory. Sitting in second place on GC, the 29-year-old has 1'44" over his closest challenger Nibali and a huge 3'46" over Yates.
Roglic's only mistake in an otherwise flawless opening week came when he hit the deck and grazed his rump on the day he tactically conceded the pink jersey to Valerio Conti in stage 6. Had Roglic and his Jumbo-Visma team not felt so magnanimous, he could well have been in line to emulate Gianni Bugno's start-to-finish maglia rosa Giro from 1991.
And yet, Roglic has yet to finish on the podium of a Grand Tour and has lost one of his key lieutenants in Laurens de Plus. He may have won every stage race he had entered this year, but form will be thrown out of the window come week three which is when this Giro will be truly decided.
Verdict: 5/5 Roglic is on course, but still has it all to prove
Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain Merida)
Save for losing time to Roglic in both time trials – as could have been expected – the Italian veteran has not put a foot wrong. Nibali has avoided crashing and has yet to show any serious signs of weakness – and unlike the man leading him by 1'44" on GC, he knows exactly what it takes to win a three-week race.
Nibali will be hoping that his experience and strong support in the mountains will guide him to a third Giro win and he should be confident going into the second week. But he will also be aware that it's the riders who have had a quiet race so far – the likes of Mikel Landa (Movistar), Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) and Yates – who could decide the destiny of the pink jersey.
Verdict: 4/5 Solid if unspectacular start for the Shark
Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott)
When the British rider gambled with his start slot for the opening ITT and limited his loses to just 19 seconds on Roglic, it seemed like confirmation of Yates's growth not only as a time triallist but as a GC rider in general.
But all that went out of the window on Sunday when Yates, in his own words, had "a bit of a stinker". Suffering on the climb, Yates shipped over two minutes to Roglic and now has it all to do in the remaining two weeks.
If he had intentionally ridden this race conservatively – in stark contrast to last year's gung-ho start to the Giro – he now has it all to do, and will be required to put in the kind of brutal attacks that first saw him into the maglia rosa 12 months ago.
One good day for the Briton combined with an off-day for Roglic could see a swing that negates the current deficit of 3'46" and it could only take one of the five summit finishes to put a very different complexion on things. Yates nevertheless has a metaphorical mountain to climb.
Verdict: 3/5 Briton's rivals won't be changing their underwear just yet
Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana)
Everything was going well for the Colombian until Sunday's second time trial, where Lopez dropped to 4'31" behind Roglic on the 'virtual' GC. Before that, Lopez had successfully kept a low profile in his bid to build on his third place finish last year.
Conceding just 28 seconds to Roglic – and finishing level with Dumoulin – in stage 1 was encouraging, and while Lopez lost the white jersey on the same day that Roglic gave up the pink, there's nothing to suggest that the 25-year-old won't be in white come Verona. Whether he can be in pink is the more important question.
Lopez should come into his own with the five summit finishes on the horizon. But the bigger issue is closer to home: Pello Bilbao's excellent start to the race sees the Spaniard in 10th place and almost three minutes ahead of Lopez. Expect the Astana arsenal to come out all guns blazing this week – especially with Bilbao as a potential Plan B.
Verdict: 2/5 A stage win and big time gains are necessary to get things back on track for Superman
Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb)
Things did not look great from the off when the Dutchman could only finish level with Lopez – a far inferior time triallist – in the opening race against the clock.
Dumoulin always said he was coming into the Giro a little undercooked and the understanding was that the lenient opening two weeks would help bring him to the boil ahead of the final week fireworks.
Sadly, we'll never know how right that assumption was, given Dumoulin's knee injury and subsequent withdrawal after stage 4.
Verdict: 1/5 Dumoulin's race never got going and perhaps his DNF will be a blessing in disguise
Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe)
Onto the sprinters now, and we start with the revelation of the race – the German Grand Tour debutant Ackermann. The debate over Bora-Hansgrohe overlooking Sam Bennett for the Giro was put to bed at the earliest opportunity when Ackermann won in Fucecchio in stage 2.
Benefitting from a strong lead-out, the 25-year-old doubled up in sodden Terracina and now leads the maglia ciclamino jersey by over 50 points. Such is his domination, the next two margherita-flat stages look more likely to result in an Ackermann hat-trick than Viviani finally opening the floodgates.
Verdict: 5/5 Even Sam Bennett will be applauding the German's start
Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal)
The Australian took a while to get off the mark, but his win in Pasaro in stage 8 ended a two-year drought on Grand Tours and was just rewards for the hard-working Australian.
Ewan went too early in stage 2 and launched too late to reel in Richard Carapaz in stage 4; fourth place a day later in the rain was just as frustrating as him missing the Lotto train in Orbetello. But he made amends on Saturday and will be confident of doubling up over the next couple of days.
Verdict: 4/5 Could have been better, could have been worse. At least things are on the up
Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-QuickStep)
It's been a wretched race so far for the Italian champion, who saw his stage 3 'victory' in Orbetello overturned because of a dangerous deviation to the left. He's had a couple of second-places to remind us of what he's capable – but morale is low, demonstrated by his white-flag finishes in stages 4 and 5.
Still, start afresh after the rest day and last year's quadruple stage winner may yet top the podium twice this coming week – and still add a third in the final week. At least he's still in the race, too.
Verdict: 3/5 Italian needs to turn things round fast or risk a barren run
Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ)
The Frenchman is only second in the maglia ciclamino standings by virtue of his intermediate sprints and a withdrawal of one of his rivals. Three top threes and two more top 10s shows that Demare is getting in the mix in the sprints – he just doesn't have the speed to close things out.
The weakest of all the Big Five sprinters but, again, at least he's still there.
Verdict: 2/5 Elusive stage win looking unlikely
Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates)
Even the Colombian felt like he didn't deserve to be named winner at Orbetello – especially after his lacklustre sprint to fourth place the day before. Gaviria added another second in Terracina, but he's been largely a shadow of his former self on the wet roads of Italy.
On the day that his team-mate Conti moved into the pink jersey, it was perhaps fitting that UAE's future chances in the sprints were dealt a blow with the withdrawal of Gaviria because of knee pain. It's a concern that the 24-year-old had failed to finish the last two of his three Grand Tours.
Verdict: 1/5 A stage win by default but little else to write home about
Other riders worth a quick mention
Richard Carapaz (Movistar), Pello Bilbao (Astana) and Fausto Masnada (Androni Giocattoli) have shown their class with stage wins while Giulio Ciccone (Trek Segafredo) has made himself the outright favourite for the blue jersey and Nans Peters (Ag2R-La Mondiale) was emotional in taking the white jersey. But the biggest round of applause should go to the man who took the pink jersey in San Giovanni Rotondo and has successfully defended it since: Valerio Conti.
It's not all doom and gloom for the Dutch, with veteran Bauke Mollema (Trek Segafredo) acquitting himself well in both TTs to put himself in a good position on GC – albeit without having to ride up any Cat.1 climbs as yet.
Top 10 hopefuls Bob Jungels, Hugh Carthy, Davide Formolo and Rafal Majka have kept themselves on the radar, although Ilnur Zakarin and Mikel Landa have struggled and Ineos duo Pavel Sivakov and Tao Geoghegan Hart have yet to show their Tour of the Alps form. Belgium's Thomas De Gendt has yet to shine, pulling out of one break after deciding it was not going to be his day.
In the sprinting stakes, only youngster Matteo Moschetti of Trek-Segafredo – the rider cut up by Viviani in stage 3 – has threatened to end the Big Five stranglehold, with compatriots Davide Cimolai, Giacomo Nizzolo, Jakub Mereczko and Manuel Belletti yet to pose a serious threat.
Coming up in week two
Back-to-back stages for the sprinters are followed by a breakaway stage between Cuneo and Pinerolo which will have Fausto Coppi shaking his fist from his grave. Then we have the first two mountain top finishes of the race at Ceresole Reale and Courmayeur – stages that will help us see whether Primoz Roglic really is the man to beat.
The second week ends with another breakaway-friendly stage to Como where three spicy climbs should illuminate the final third on one of those days where – as the cliché goes – it will be hard to win the Giro, but possible to lose it.