The Giro cycling “a message of hope” in strange times for Italy

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Palermo (Italy) (AFP)

A tantalizing Giro d’Italia comes to life with a time trial around Palermo on Saturday marking the start of a 3,497 km race through valleys and mountains, from the south of the country to the north, culminating in front of Milan’s Duomo cathedral on October 25.

Originally scheduled to start in Budapest in May but postponed due to the pandemic, the Sicilian start offers a tantalizing aperitif for the 102nd edition of the three-week bike race. It includes the first four stages and includes a volcanic arrival on the slopes of Etna.

Twenty-two teams of eight riders each are set to embark on what race organizer and director Mauro Vegni has described as “a message of hope across Italy”, the nation that locked itself in the first lockdown of Europe when it was hit hard by the first wave of Covid-19.

The lead among the contenders is Geraint Thomas of Ineos, a team looking to bounce back from a rare disappointment in the Tour de France, a race the Welshman won in 2018.

“Races in Italy are always special, whether it’s May or October,” Ineos principal Dave Brailsford said Thursday.

“It will go down to the end of this last grueling week,” he predicted a race marked by three individual time trials and five finishes at the top.

Thomas was taken out of the Tour de France roster and seems to have something to prove in Italy.

“I lived here, I raced for an Italian team, and I was lucky the last time I came to the Giro. I am determined to correct this problem this time around, ”said the 34-year-old. said this week.

Australian time trial specialist Rohan Dennis is also on the list of Ineos, who could snatch the leader’s pink jersey on stage one. With two more time trials on the schedule, he could be a contender.

Dutch team Jumbo Visma are also looking to redeem themselves after a painful Tour de France where, after wearing the yellow jersey for so long, Primoz Roglic suffered a heart attack in the last time trial.

Their veteran climber Steven Kruijswijk may have the advantage over Thomas on the high peaks.

– High altitude races –

The dark horse is said to be Englishman Simon Yates, who won the recent coast-to-coast race, the Tirreno Adriatico.

The slender climber has been surrounded by mighty rollers and hopes to make a difference in the mountains.

“I’m proud to have won the Adriatico, but my main goal is the Giro,” said the man who gave Chris Froome a big lead here in 2018.

Whoever wins will have to deliver or survive a tough third week of climbing, competing in high altitude races above the clouds on the infamous Stelvio at 2758m and Agnello at 2745m.

One man adept at this field is House prospect Vincenzo Nibali, who has won the Giro twice and is the sport’s most cunning tactician.

“It’s a strange year with a strange season with all these unknowns,” says the pilot of Trek-Segafredo, a master sowing doubt in the minds of his rivals.

Astana’s Jakob Fuglsang is a solid all-rounder and has the support of Colombian climber Miguel Angel Lopez.

There are also six sprints in this Giro with three-time world champion Peter Sagan keen to add to his honor roll as he takes part in his very first Giro.

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