With the long-awaited Hungarian grande partenza just days away, it’s time to weigh up the main contenders for the maglia rosa in the 105th edition of the Giro d’Italia. Having already looked at all the teams and their star riders and Giro goals, we home in on the principal protagonists for the pink jersey in the latest of our previews for La Corsa Rosa.

The favourite: Simon Yates

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Whisper it quietly, but it’s now or never for the 29-year-old from Bury to get the Giro monkey off his back. Yates has ridden every edition of the Giro since his eventful debut in 2018, when he came within two days of taking the overall win – only to collapse spectacularly on the Colle delle Finestre.
Since then, Yates has not only seen compatriot Chris Froome take his pink jersey but also had to watch from isolation on the sofa as another Briton, Tao Geoghegan Hart, took the surprise spoils after Covid-19 forced him to abandon in 2020.
Yates struggled for form for eighth in 2019 but secured a career-high third place last year. And now he’s ready for one last tilt at the title before mixing up his programme and shaping his season around the Tour – the only of cycling’s major stage races whose leader’s jersey has so far eluded him.
Two stage wins in the Vuelta a Asturias last week shows that Yates has the legs – although they came either side of a collapse that recalled his 2018 nightmare. What Yates will show up this May? The one who soloed twice to glory last week, who won the final stage of Paris-Nice earlier this spring in style, and who won the Vuelta a Espana in 2018 – or the one who shipped 12 minutes in the heat in Asturias?
But with a strong BikeExchange-Jayco team who have not brought a sprinter and who shares the same goal, Yates must be the outright favourite heading into Friday’s opening stage.

Highlights: Yates wins Stage 8 as Roglic survives in yellow jersey

The former winners: Tom Dumoulin and Richard Carapaz

The Ecuadorian 2018 champion Richard Carapaz failed to finish his first three stage races of the season but picked up a win and second place overall in a return to form and fitness at the Volta a Catalunya back in March. That was over a month ago, though, so a huge question mark hovers over Carapaz’s name ahead of the Giro, for which he spearheads a strong Ineos Grenadiers team.
If you include Carapaz – whose victory in La Corsa Rosa came in his last season at Movistar – Ineos possess the last three winners of the Giro, plus they took the spoils in 2018 through the now-departed Froome. Should Carapaz falter, the British team have France’s Pavel Sivakov as back-up – but you sense that all the eggs are going into the Olympic champion’s bucket.
If Carapaz’s condition is an unknown, then the same can be said for the 2017 champion Tom Dumoulin, who leads Jumbo-Visma at a Grand Tour for the first time since his move from Sunweb over two years ago. A lot has happened since then – most significantly an enforced sabbatical from the sport following injuries sustained in the 2019 Giro and the 2020 Vuelta.
After skipping all Grand Tours in 2021, the 31-year-old Dutchman is back – but with only 11 race days in his legs all season, and zero wins to his name. It would be a huge ask for Dumoulin to pluck the maglia rosa from this inauspicious backdrop and you sense that his participation is more about rediscovering his mojo and repairing some psychological damage rather than putting in a genuine push for pink.

'Just look at his face!' - Tears of joy for Carapaz as he claims his first Grand Tour title

The mercurial talents: Mikel Landa and Miguel Angel Lopez

Never before did Mikel Landa have a better chance at winning a Grand Tour than in last year’s Giro, which he entered looking lean and mean, and in the form of his life. A crash in the opening week put paid to all his hard work and opened the door to teammate Damiano Caruso’s unexpected second place on GC. With the Italian veteran focusing on the Tour this July, Landa has another chance to improve on his only Grand Tour podium to date – his third place in the 2015 Giro.
A teammate of Landa’s back from his Astana days, Miguel Angel Lopez has also never finished above third place in a Grand Tour. After a run of six finishes in the top 10, the 28-year-old Colombian enters the Giro on a sequence of three DNFs – most notoriously last year’s Vuelta, where his hissy fit on the penultimate day sounded the death-knell for his brief stint at Movistar and paved the way for his hasty return to Astana Qazaqstan.
A classy climber capable of great things, Lopez is also a hot-head prone to implosion and sudden gaffes. His meltdown in the Vuelta came just two days after his victory on the fearsome Altu d’El Gamoniteiru – when he was lying in third place on GC.
Lopez’s history with the Giro is mixed: he finished third in 2018 but was lucky to avoid disqualification a year later after he swung a punch at an over-zealous spectator who accidentally knocked him off his bike during Stage 20; in his last appearance in 2021 he didn’t even complete the opening day time trial after bizarrely crashing out on the home straight.
Like Landa, Lopez struggles against the clock – and so the paltry total of 26.3 time-trial kilometres should play into their hands this May. Provided both riders can stay upright and out of trouble, they could well be in with a shout of a podium finish in Verona. But you always sense that however hard Bahrain pave the way, Landa is not capable of pulling the trigger.

Miguel Angel Lopez ‘spat the dummy like a spoilt child’

The veterans: Vincenzo Nibali, Alejandro Valverde and Domenico Pozzovivo

It’s been a while since the ‘Shark of Messina’ won the second of his two Giro titles – six years, to be precise – but Vincenzo Nibali hopes to mark his eleventh, and likely final, appearance in his home tour with a stage win and a top 10 finish.
Whether Nibali targets GC or not depends on his legs and the form of his Astana teammate Lopez; although he finished runner-up in 2019, there’s little to suggest that the 37-year-old is capable of nailing down a podium in a three-week race anymore.
The same can be said for fellow veterans Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Domenico Pozzovivo (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert). The latter has, in fact, never finished above fifth place in his 21 Grand Tours to date, while Valverde did finish runner-up in the 2019 Vuelta – a decade after his stand-out victory in his country’s tour.
It’s now been three years since Valverde’s last stage win on a Grand Tour, a run that stretches back an entire decade for Pozzovivo. Like Nibali, they are both riding what is expected to be their last Giro. For Valverde, who is admittedly in a rich vein of form, it’s only his second appearance in the Italian race, while for Pozzovivo it will be an emotional farewell to a race he had graced on 15 previous occasions.

‘Oh crumbs!’ – Valverde wins on comeback, then crashes

The consistent climbers: Joao Almeida and Pello Bilbao

Portugal’s Joao Almeida enjoyed a long stint in pink during his debut Giro in 2020, eventually finishing fourth. A year later, he was forced to ride in support of teammate Remco Evenepoel as the Belgian made his eagerly anticipated Grand Tour debut – with Almeida taking an impressive sixth following Evenepoel’s crash and subsequent withdrawal.
Having swapped Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl for UAE Team Emirates, the 23-year-old now gets a chance to push for a podium as a team leader. While he picked up a win in Catalunya earlier this season, he hasn’t raced in over a month, so he will need to find his feet quickly ahead of the early GC showdown on Mount Etna in Stage 4. Otherwise, like last year, he’ll be coming from behind.
Spain’s Pello Bilbao starts his sixth Giro in the knowledge that, given teammate Landa’s track record, he could well end up being top dog at Bahrain Victorious. The 32-year-old is in fine fettle after stage wins at Itzulia Basque Country and the Tour of the Alps; his fifth place in the 2020 Giro remains Bilbao’s best Grand Tour result to date – but there’s good reason to believe he could improve on that this May.

‘Looks like he could be in real trouble’ – Leader Joao Almeida cracks on Stelvio

The Italians: Davide Formolo and Giulio Ciccone

It’s highly improbable that a home rider will win the 105th edition of the Giro. But if one does, it’s more likely to be one of these over the two-time champion Nibali.
Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates) has twice finished tenth in the Giro and took a stage win in La Spezia back in his debut in 2015. Fifteenth on his last two appearances, the 29-year-old is capable of a higher place on GC but has habitually ridden in the service of others. Should teammate Almeida falter, he has the consistency to step up as a Plan B.
A far better chance of making the top five is the Italian climber Giulio Ciccone, who leads Trek-Segafredo although carries the unfortunate burden of failing to finish his previous three Grand Tours. Ciccone won the blue jersey in 2019 and has two Giro stage wins to his name – including a scalp on the Mortirolo. With a bit of luck, he could play an important role this May – he just needs to stay on his bike and ride to his strengths.

Ciccone wins fascinating Stage 16 as Mortirolo wreaks havoc on 2019 Giro GC standings

The Colombian tyro: Ivan Sosa

A lot was expected of Ivan Sosa when he joined Ineos Grenadiers back when they were still known as Team Sky in 2019. Sosa picked up the odd win – including the overall titles at the Vuelta a Burgos and Tour de la Provence – but he failed to leave his mark in the Grand Tours and joined Movistar over the winter.
So far, so good for the 24-year-old, who won the Vuelta a Asturias last week to very much elevate himself to outsider status for the Giro. With all eyes on his teammate Valverde, Sosa could benefit from going under the radar – but he’s unproven at this level and so even a top 10 finish could be unrealistic.

Romain Bardet passing through Valle Spluga - Alpe Motta mountain

Image credit: Getty Images

The Frenchmen: Romain Bardet and Guillaume Martin

The pensive French duo will enter the Giro with varying targets and expectations and it will be fascinating to see how they fare. Guillaume Martin, cycling’s answer to Descartes, hasn’t won a race all year but will see the Giro as a prime opportunity to open up his Grand Tour stage account for Cofidis. Failing that, he’ll get some vital thinking time while in the saddle.
After years in the ostensible wilderness, Roman Bardet (Team DSM) seems to be hitting the right notes ahead of his second successive Giro appearance. Bardet came close to a stage win last time round in his debut and will hope to go one better this May. His victory in the Tour of the Alps has had some tout the 31-year-old as a potential dark horse for pink – although that could be a little premature: Bardet’s last Grand Tour podium came five years ago in the Tour.
Still, there’s no reason why Bardet cannot improve on his seventh place from last year, while taking the stage win that will see him enter the elusive club of riders with victories in all three of cycling’s major tours.

The teammates: Wilco Kelderman, Jai Hindley and Emanuel Buchmann

Dutchman Wilco Kelderman was on course to win the 2020 Giro d’Italia until he was usurped by his Sunweb teammate Jai Hindley, who in turn was pipped to pink on the final day by Tao Geoghegan Hart. Now Kelderman and Hindley find themselves back on the same team after the Australian made the same move to Bora-Hansgrohe one year later after a frustrating final term at Sunweb.
Hindley, 25, has failed to hit the same highs as his Icarus-like rise in 2020 and will find himself behind Kelderman in the Bora pecking order after the 31-year-old took a solid fifth place in the Tour last summer. But both riders may find themselves ultimately destined to sing from Emanuel Buchmann’s songsheet as Bora field their answer to the infamous Movistar trident.
The 29-year-old German is far from guaranteed leadership status: Buchmann has not managed to build on his breakthrough fourth place in the 2019 Tour, and DNF’ed his last outing on the Giro. He enters the race in pretty average form and it could well be a case of letting the road decide when it comes to which rider Bora back this May.

Wilco Kelderman (in pink) and Jai Hindley of Team Sunweb during the Giro d'Italia 2020

Image credit: Getty Images

The outsiders: Hugh Carthy, Pavel Sivakov, Wout Poels, Sam Oomen and Attila Valter

Now we come to the riders who are not expected to be a factor but who could have a say in things should they hit the right stride and benefit from internal machinations on their teams.
Dutchmen Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious) and Sam Oomen (Jumbo-Visma) will start the Giro as mountain domestiques for their respective leaders. But should Landa and Bilbao, on the one hand, or Dumoulin, on the other, struggle, then their understudies could step up.
Poel’s best days are behind him but he finished sixth in the Vuelta in 2020 and won the Vuelta a Andalucia earlier this year. Oomen’s form is patchier – and he’s only ridden 14 race days this year – but the 26-year-old is a solid climber who made the top 10 in his debut Giro back in 2018.
Pavel Sivakov (Ineos Grenadiers) also finished ninth in his debut Giro, one year later, and the French 24-year-old will hope to avoid the kind of spills that have hampered all three of his Grand Tour appearances since. Also under-raced this year, Sivakov will need to build up his strength and confidence while riding in support of teammate Carapaz.
One rider who’ll be extra motivated by the grande partenza in Budapest is Attila Valter of Groupama-FDJ. The Hungarian finished 27th in his debut Giro for Groupama-FDJ in 2020 and rose to 14th last time round. While the team’s focus will be on delivering Arnaud Demare to some sprint wins, the 23-year-old climber will hope to continue his progression towards the top 10. The highlight of a solid season so far was fourth place in Strade Bianche.
Finally, let’s take a look at Hugh Carthy, one of three British riders in EF Education-EasyPost’s squad alongside Simon Carr and Owain Doull. Eighth last year, Carthy has struggled to replicate the form that saw him win on the Angliru and secure third place in the 2020 Vuelta. Having crashed out of the Vuelta last year, the 27-year-old climber from Lancashire will hope to bounce back into the big time this May.
A top ten finish in the Tour of the Alps was encouraging and a stage win is not beyond Carthy. But the only pink he’ll wear is that of his team’s kit once EF revert to their usual colours after donning the above limited edition offering for the Giro.
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