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How logic could steal the Giro d'Italia from Simon Yates once again

In-depth
4 May 2021
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Defying logic cost Simon Yates the Giro d'Italia three years ago and it could cost him the Maglia Rosa this May too

Words: Joe Robinson Photography: Well Offside and Chris Auld

Three years ago, Simon Yates would have become Giro d’Italia champion if it had not been for logic.

Yates raced the 2018 Giro how every fan dreams a Grand Tour will be raced. Every time the road pointed towards the sky, Yates was on the attack. This bucaneering attitude profited him three stage victories and 13 days in the pink jersey, plus the hearts and imaginations of those watching. It was truly remarkable to watch.

However, it did not earn him overall victory, which is ultimately the only thing that matters. That’s because logic dictates you cannot race a Grand Tour in that way. Grand Tours are too hard, too long and there are too many factors out of your control for you to be on the front foot from Stage 1 through to Stage 21. Logic dictates that Grand Tours are always decided in the third week. I mean just look at Chris Froome, the eventual winner of that race. Yates provided one of the most breathtaking performances in a Grand Tour in modern memory and yet he only managed 21st overall because he ignored logic.

He learned quickly, however, burying those pink demons sharpish and winning his first and so far only Grand Tour at the end of the 2018 season at the Vuelta a Espana. He won in a pragmatic, logical style so different to his approach at the Giro earlier that year.

In top form

Yates has returned to the Giro both years since his 2018 heartbreak and on both occasions has been hindered from replicating his previous heroics but this year, he returns as the man to beat. Imperious at the recent Tour of the Alps, he sideswiped most of his upcoming Giro competition without breaking a sweat. Of all those dreaming of pink, he is the only one to have really laid down a marker.

There is no such thing as a formality in sport but this feels as a close as you can get to one. Right now, Yates’s rivals are not on his level.

On paper, his biggest rival is Colombian Egan Bernal. The 2019 Tour de France winner spearheards an expectantly strong Ineos Grenadiers team that sticks true to its new ‘entertain at all costs’ mantra with the likes of Pavel Sivakov, Jhonatan Narvaez and Dani Martinez by Bernal's side, all riders that offer a different flavour to that of the mountain train robots of yesteryear.

It has always felt like Bernal is well matched to the Giro with its high mountains, unexpectant weather and unpredictable racing. He even made his name at an Italian ProTeam, Androni Gicattoli. Yet Bernal has not pinned on a race number since 16th March, the final stage of Tirreno-Adriatico, where he finished fourth overall in one of the most torridly tough week-long stage races ever.

Rather than remain racing, he returned to Colombia to train at altitude. When he rolls off the Turin start ramp for the Giro’s opening day time-trial this Saturday, it will have been his first taste of competition in 53 days. That’s some gap.

Bahrain-Victorious’s Mikel Landa is in fine form, has a superb supporting team surrounding him and is a grizzled veteran of the Giro. But such is the tragedy attached to Landa’s career, the closest he will likely get to victory will be the ironic logo emblazoned across his jersey. Hugh Carthy took huge steps last year. Third at the Vuelta and a memorable stage victory on the Angliru confirmed his place in cycling’s new elite. But the top step of the Giro podium? That feels like a future project.

Jai Hindley is the only rider from last year’s Giro podium returning to Italy. The Australian was a revelation in last year's race. Like Carthy, he proved capable of world-class climbing performances, but is yet to replicate that in 2021 so far. Alongside Hindley is his new Team DSM sidekick and Cyclist favourite Romain Bardet, a man we would be foolish to ignore.

George Bennett is being afforded a rare opportunity to lead Jumbo-Visma as their Tour de France infatuation continues. The title of underdog suits Bennett and he sure knows how to fight, but it might be a stretch to expect him to do so  for 21 continuous stages.

Then there’s the shark, Vincenzo Nibali. You should never rule him out and he has the full support of his Trek-Segafredo team. But with a recent fall seeing him fracture his wrist and age no longer on his side, it’ll be quite the task for the last Italian winner of the Giro to repeat such heroics in 2021. For Nibali to win pink again, you feel as if everything would have to go right for him and everything wrong for the rest.

Among this roll call of contenders, there is only one rider I believe will be striking true fear into Yates.

Who needs logic?

The biggest obstacle standing between Yates and the Maglia Rosa, the one rider he will be most fearful of for the next three weeks will be a 21-year-old who has not raced since 15th August 2020. A rider that had his career almost ended before it had even really begun by a heartstopping crash at last year’s Il Lombardia. A rider who has yet to race longer than a week, let alone three. A rider on his Grand Tour debut.

Remco Evenepoel, a rider who defies logic.

Logic dictates it should be a journey of lessons learned, of metaphorically ‘getting his head kicked in’ by former Grand Tour winners, capitulating spectacularly in the third week, plummeting down the classification quicker than Nibali can descend the Stelvio.

But Evenepoel’s talents are such that you cannot apply logic on him. Because logic dictates a 20-year-old should not have won every stage race he entered last year, but he did. Logic dictates he should not have won the Classica San Sebastian in 2019, solo, having already been dropped and yet he did. Logic dictates he should not be making his Grand Tour debut as a 21-year-old having not raced in nine months and yet he is.

Nobody knows how Evenepoel will perform at the Giro. Not Yates, not the rest of his rivals, not his Deceuninck-QuickStep teammates or sport directors, not even Remco himself. The next three weeks will be a journey into the complete unknown for him. But he is talented, he is unpredictable, he is fealess – three attributes that have always gone a long way at the Giro.

And what’s weird is that there is a general acceptance that if in three weeks time Evenepoel is stood atop a podium in Milan wearing the Maglia Rosa, draped in the Belgian tricolour, holding that golden trophy above his smiling babyface, on his Grand Tour debut, having spent nine months away from racing, it will not be a surprise.

We should have all seen it coming, obviously, because the logic that applies to Yates and the rest does not apply to him.