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Giro d’Italia Underdog Alert: Bardet, Thomas, and Dark Horses Lurking to Surprise Pogačar


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The Giro d’Italia ramps up in little more than a week, and the big question is can anyone stop Tadej Pogačar?

A quick glance down the preliminary start list reveals a relatively thin GC field.

Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) emerges as the top threat, but at nearly 38, will he really be able to go mano-a-mano with peak Pogačar? A third in the 2022 Tour de France saw him emerge as the best of the rest behind the Pogi-Jonas Vingegaard show.

A narrow loss last year at the Giro to Primož Roglič proves Thomas can still go the distance. With a very deep Ineos Grenadiers support crew, Thomas will be threat No. 1.

Who else?

Ben O’Connor (Decathlon-Ag2r) and Romain Bardet (DSM-firmenich-PostNL) stand out, but it’s been since 2017 that the proud Frenchman hit a podium, and climber O’Connor has struggled to repeat his breakout 2022 Tour when he won a mountain stage and finished fourth overall.

Wout Poels and Damiano Caruso headline Bahrain Victorious, but again, neither have ever shown they’ve been able to stay in the frame when Pogačar opens up the turbos.

What’s striking is how few of the peloton’s biggest names have decided to even race the Giro.

For the rest of the “Big 4,” the Tour is the eternal draw. Everyone’s hoping Vingegaard, Roglič, and Remco Evenepoel, who’s making his Tour debut, can all show up in Italy for the June 29 in full strength.

There are encouraging signs for Evenepoel and Roglič, but serious doubts remain about whether or not Vingegaard will be able to race the Tour. The horrific crash at Itzulia Basque Country is paying a heavy toll.

Is there a dark horse lurking?

Could Luke Plapp emerge as a surprise contender? (Photo: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images)

In a typical season, the Giro will usually draw a pretty solid GC field, but this year is different.

The presence of Pogačar might actually be steering people away from the Giro.

But there’s more to it than that.

Traditional grand tour powerhouses in Spain and Italy are riding threadbare these days.

Spain’s Enric Mas (Movistar) and rising star Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) are both committed to the Tour, while Italy does not have a legitimate grand tour contender.

There are some promising names, but if the 36-year-old Caruso is the top Italian GC contender these days, that reflects how thin Italy is right now. There hasn’t been a legitimate grand tour threat since Vincenzo Nibali retired a few years ago.

Teams that once were able to field GC contenders across all the major grand tours are fading.

With so much talent packed onto the “super teams” at Visma-Lease a Bike, Ineos Grenadiers, and UAE Team Emirates, other teams are having to do what they can with the leftovers.

Team Movistar, a traditional Giro performer across the decades, brings a mixed squad with sprinter Fernando Gaviria and aging former winner Nairo Quintana, who’s already said he’s in no condition to chase pink.

Could there be a surprise lurking somewhere in the bunch?

Daniel Martínez will see his chance to lead at Bora-Hansgrohe, while Hugh Carthy leads EF Education-EasyPost, but both need to ride above their podium-outsider status.

Luke Plapp or Eddy Dunbar could spring loose at Jayco-AlUla, always one of the scrappiest teams in the bunch.

Cian Uijtdebroeks headlines Visma-Lease a Bike, but no-one is expecting the banged up Dutch team to repeat its grand tour sweep of 2023 this year.

Pogačar’s most dangerous rival could be the Giro itself

Giro d'Italia
The Giro’s notorious weather, shown here at Gran Sasso in 2023, is always a factor. (Photo: Lorenzo Di Cola/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The Giro inevitably delivers surprises, and that could be the most dangerous rival for Pogačar.

Some bad luck, a tactical mistake, or a rouge breakaway could turn the GC plot on its head.

Of course, every team will be trying to break the Pogačar Code, and perhaps on-the-road alliances will form to rewrite what many view as a pre-ordained script.

There’s some buzz that Pogačar’s UAE support crew is relatively thin, and it’s true that some of the bigger names who might be at the Giro, such as João Almeida or Brandon McNulty, are not racing.

It’s a mistake, however, to write off the team as a “C-level” squad as some have suggested.

Mikkel Bjerg, Rafal Majka, and Vegard Stake Laengen are worthy Pogačar henchmen. Domen Novak, Felix Grossschartner, and Rui Oliveira will be there on the approaches, with Juan Sebastian Molano set to liven up the sprints.

What is missing is a clear co-pilot and wingman for the deep mountains, though Majka and Grossschartner should be able to deliver him to the key moments in the mountains.

It’s always dangerous to assume victory, and all indications within the UAE Team Emirates camp are that Pogačar and Co. will be lining up with full respect for the race and their rivals.

Is this Giro Pogačar’s to lose? Sure, but he also needs to win it.

Start list for 2024 Giro d’Italia

Giro d'Italia 2024 start list 1
Giro d'Italia 2024 start list 2

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