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Ten takeaways: Giro d’Italia stages 1-3

What we learned from the opening weekend in Hungary.

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The Giro d’Italia’s opening three stages in Hungary are a wrap and the peloton is en route to Sicily for the stage 4 ascent of the active volcano Mount Etna, which will serve as the first major general classification test, so it is a good time sit back and review exactly what we can take away from this early block. While it didn’t open any massive GC gaps, it provided a little preview of every type of parcours and gave us a preview as to what expect going forward in both the GC and stage win battles to come.

Stage Winners:

Stage 1: Mathieu van der Poel

Stage 2: Simon Yates

Stage 3: Mark Cavendish

GC Top Five:

1) Mathieu van der Poel +0

2) Simon Yates +11

3) Tom Dumoulin +16

4) Matteo Sobrero +24

5) Wilco Kelderman +24

Ten Takeaways from the Giro’s First Three Stages:

1) Simon Yates came to the Giro ready to win

  • The heavy pre-race GC favorite looked both dialed and strong when he won the stage 2 time trial. And remember, this is where he is supposed to lose time
  • Most impressively, he was the fastest on the flat section of the course and looked extremely slippery in his new cutting-edge skinsuit and time trial bike (BikeExchange switched from Bianchi to Giant over the off-season).
  • While his new TT bike from Giant and work with TT-guru Marco Pinotti has obviously helped, he was also faster than all serious contenders on the power-based final climb (Rick Zabel and Pascal Eenkhoorn beat him but slow-rolled the route in order to grab KOM points on the climb), which tells us that he is on incredible form.
  • Second-place stage finisher Mathieu Van der Poel averaged 470 watts for the entire course. For Yates to match that effort tells us he is on the absolute form of his life and came here ready to avenge his 2018 loss.

2) Mathieu van der Poel’s talents have almost no limits

  • The Dutch superstar rode the final climb on stage 1 perfectly. Despite a few promising attacks, he never panicked and stayed tucked into the back, only emerging with 150 meters to go to whip around runner-up Biniam Girmay.
  • His sole focus through the final climb on Girmay was risky, but it meant that he didn’t have to waste any energy, didn’t find himself too far forward like Ewan, and just had to worry about a single rider. This allowed him to simply follow Girmay’s initial acceleration and come around him before the line.
  • On stage 2 he put in a great ride to defend his Pink jersey and despite being beaten by Simon Yates, still finished ahead of former World TT Champion Tom Dumoulin. 
  • The depth and variety of his talents are extraordinary, but almost more impressive is the race-winning spirit that sees him rise to the occasion to defend grand tour race leads even when the course doesn’t suit him.
  • In two consecutive days, he put out career-best 10-minute power numbers (468 watts on Stage 2, 453 watts on stage1), and if he wants to keep his leader’s jersey through the first week, will have to continue to do so.

3) Tom Dumoulin is beginning to look back to his best

  • The former winner of this race looked exactly like his old self when he finished with the main GC group on stage 1 and then scorched the stage 2 TT course. While he didn’t win, his third place is nothing to scoff at, and most importantly, his visible disappointment and anger after he found out he lost the stage shows us he is here with the intent to win.
  • He looks both light and powerful, which should be a winning combination, but this hasn’t stopped him from being dropped on climbs earlier this season.
  • While he has passed these early tests with flying colors, we will have to wait and see how he climbs on Mt. Etna on stage 4 to tell if he will be a real contender here. But, if he can hang with the front group there, he will build much-needed confidence and become harder and harder to shake later in the race.

4) The other GC contenders will take note of Richard Carapaz’s struggles on the climb

  • The 2019 winner and pre-race favorite might have stolen a handful of time on stage 1, but on stage 2, he looked shockingly awful on the stage’s climb.
  • Highlighting this is that he came in 97th for the climbing segment of the TT. This is extremely concerning considering climbing performance will decide this race.
  • It is too early to panic, and he hasn’t lost any time that he can’t gain back in the mountains, but I was extremely surprised by this lack of pop during his ascent of the final climb and will be keeping my eye out for any signs of struggles on stage 4’s finish up Mt. Etna.

5) The Shark warnings should be going out

  • Vincenzo Nibali, who I fully expected to roll around losing time by the dozen over the early stages to give him the freedom to snipe breakaways, is riding better than I’ve seen in years and is sitting in a surprisingly strong position in the GC before we’ve arrived in the Dolomites, where he is known to lead daring race-winning raids.
  • He is still unlikely to win, but I will (and the other favorites should) be keeping an eye on Nibali and we should all remember that the old champion is too skilled, proud and talented to ever truly count out.

6) João Almeida struggled more than I expected

  • Almeida was my pre-race GC favorite, but just like with Carapaz, I was surprised with how labored he  looked over the TT course.
  • His 11th place, and the 18-seconds he ceded to Yates, will disappoint him and his team, especially since he was on a super-fast prototype Colnago TT bike.

7) Miguel Ángel López’s GC campaign is already taking on water

  • If anyone should be worried about Nibali’s resurgence, it’s his teammate Miguel Angel Lopez. Being 21-seconds down after two stages on his legendary veteran teammate is not where Lopez needs to be if he wants to have a clean run at the GC.
  • He has lost the better part of the minute in two stages with little opportunity for major GC gaps.
  • The big gaps are created in the mountains at the Giro, but this type of time leakage is a consistent issue for him and will almost certainly be the difference between a really impressive podium finish and yet another top ten.

8) Mark Cavendish won with more brains than brawn

  • At 36 years old, Cavendish keeps unveiling new skills, and his extremely long sprint today was a picture of technical perfection.
  • While he lacks the physical explosion that made him potent in his younger years, the combination of his QuickStep team’s well-drilled leadout and his technical perfection allowed him to beat a much younger and fairly star-filled field.
  • His decision to go for the long bomb was likely due to his new teammate Mauro Schmid failing to get himself in position to pilot the team into the final few kilometers, which meant that everyone in the train had to shift their turns and meant Cavendish had to fulfill the role of both leadout man and sprinter on the run to the line.
  • The confidence and ability to make adjustments on the fly show Cavendish is in is incredible physical condition and great headspace.
  • In many ways, this win was more impressive than his stage wins at last year’s Tour de France, since this field was full of some of the sport’s fastest sprinters, while that Tour featured a relatively weak field.
  • And if he keeps the wins rolling through these first two weeks, it is difficult to imagine him being left off his QuickStep team’s Tour de France lineup.

9) Biniam Girmay just continues to impress

  • The 23-year-old Eritrean won Gent-Wevelgem earlier this year, and in his first grand tour, finished a close second place on stage 1 and a very impressive 4th place on stage 1.
  • Considering Van der Poel’s power numbers on the first stage, Girmay’s performance to contest the win so closely is hugely impressive. And in the first stage of his first career grand tour, he came agonizingly close to becoming the first Black African rider to lead a grand tour.
  • His level-headedness, combined with the explosiveness that allowed him to be the only rider able to seriously challenge Van der Poel shows he will be a force in difficult opening Grand Tour stages for years to come.
  • And in the stage 3 bunch sprint, he had to freewheel twice inside the final 200 meters and still finished 4th in his first-ever grand tour flat sprint finish.
  • If he can polish this positioning slightly, it isn’t difficult to imagine him winning a bunch sprint later in this Giro.

10) And remember, none of the GC set pieces up to this point could matter following stage 4

  • While the final climb on stage 1 was thrilling, and it is fun to read far too much into these performances, we can’t really judge GC contenders on these super explosive climbs early in a grand tour.
  • The short stage 2 TT gave us a better hint, but these efforts will pale in compression to what the GC contenders will have to face on Tuesday’s stage 4 summit finish up Mount Etna.