Who’s the favourite for the 2019 Giro d’Italia?

Primoz Roglic (via YouTube)

The Giro d’Italia starts on Saturday. It’s the first of the three Grand Tours and often the most interesting. If you’re in the UK, you can watch it on Eurosport or catch the highlights on Quest (a channel that you think you don’t get, but probably do).

The favourite to win this year’s race is…

Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma)

Strange but true. I was going to do a big thing about the Slovenian being overlooked, but apparently he’s the bookies’ favourite. While the cycling world’s had its eyes on the spring one-day races, Roglic has been quietly hoovering up stage race victories. He finished fourth in last year’s Tour de France, but by the end of that race he was climbing as well as anyone and descending like the mad former ski jumper that he is.

Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb)

Dumoulin won the Giro in 2017 and is the strongest time-trialist in a race that features three of the things. He tends to give entirely logical but utterly brutal assessments of his rivals mid-race but gets away with it because he does it so politely. Had to stop for a shit in that 2017 race and still won.

Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott)

Yates led last year’s race for about a fortnight and looked like he’d win easily until stage 18, where he lost about 30 seconds. On stage 19, he lost 39 minutes and then on stage 20 he lost about the same again. He made up for this spectacular implosion by winning the Vuelta a Espana a few months later. He can definitely last three weeks, although the Giro has a tendency to be the most uncommonly brutal of the three Grand Tours.

Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida)

Often looks ever-so-slightly inferior to his rivals, yet his record is vastly superior. He’s won all three Grand Tours, but is he past his best?

Miguel-Angel Lopez (Astana)

The kind of rider who always seems to attract the word ‘punchy’. Third at both the Giro and the Vuelta last year, you’ll see plenty of the Colombian in the mountains towards the end of the race. (This year’s Giro basically gets more and more mountainous as it wears on.)

Mikel Landa (Movistar)

After two pointless years at Sky, he’s now in the second of two seemingly pointless years at Movistar. A third place in this race in 2015 remains his best result. At his best he can ride up mountains about as well as anyone.

Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha)

Everyone forgets Zakarin because he doesn’t speak English and no-one bothers trying to interview him and then he pops up in the third week, gangling up some long slog of a mountain or other, 10 per cent of a Mr T’s worth of necklaces flapping annoyingly round his neck.

Bob Jungels (Deceuninck-Quick Step)

Bob Jungels is 100-1 to win the Giro, but I want to mention him because (a) his name’s hilarious, and (b) he’s a young rider who’s finished in the top ten of this race twice before, so surely he should be shorter odds than that. He time trials brilliantly and last year he won the hilliest one-day race there is, Liege-Bastogne-Liege. This year he’s raced strongly on the cobbles. You’d think that would impress people, but in cycling it’s more likely to make people think that you’re too muscly and powerful to do well in a three-week race.

Someone or other from Team Sky (Ineos)

You’ll notice that there are no Team Sky riders listed above. Two reasons for that. (1) They’re not Team Sky any more, they’re Team Ineos after Britain’s richest man took over the sponsorship. (2) Their team leader, Egan “The Future of Stage Racing” Bernal, crashed and broke his collarbone earlier this week. This has left Ivan “Who” Sosa as the Ineos rider with the shortest odds and Pavel “Who” Sivakov as their nominal team leader.

Sivakov won the Tour of the Alps recently and second-place in that race went to another Ineos rider, Tao Geoghegan Hart, a ginger lad from Hackney who’s just been promoted to joint team leader. Although a lot of people have been talking about how promising he is for the last couple of years, I hadn’t actually realised that Geoghegan Hart was considered a stage racer.

The relative outsideriness of the Ineos leaders is probably good for the Giro but it’s shocking for the Tour de France where Bernal is now expected to line up as a nice fresh support rider for Geraint Thomas, who won it last year, and Chris Froome, who has won it most other years.