A wide-open race in which upwards of a dozen riders could win, writes Jack Houghton, who advises a small bet on Hugh Carthy to begin a wider portfolio...
"As the betting market suggests, this Giro is wide open..."
What's the route like?
Back to 21 stages after last year's truncated affair, the route is nonetheless its typical arduous self. Starting out in Turin, riders take a meandering route south, before heading back up to the summits of the north for a brutal final week. Officially, there are eight days in the mountains, with five summit finishes, and five flat stages. But even those supposed flat stages have their complications: there will be no easy days for the sprint-train teams.
The route is topped and tailed by time trials: a short 9km on Stage 1 to a flat 29.4km on the final day. So although the General Classification will be won by a climber, they'll likely need to be able to put in a strong performance against the clock as well.
Other notable features of this year's route are the possibility of crosswinds on Stage 7, gravel sections on Stage 9 and 11, and a brief foray into Switzerland on Stage 20.
Who are the favourites?
Egan Bernal and Simon Yates share favouritism at around 4.804/1, and a valid case can be made for both. Bernal has ridden well in the recent week-long stage races of Tour de la Provence and Tirreno-Adriatico, but has perhaps been most impressive in the one-day Strade Bianche and Trofeo Laigueglia, where he demonstrated a punchier side to his riding than many expected he was capable of. His team, Ineos Grenadiers, have been the most successful so far this season, and provided Bernal is able to manage the scoliosis that has marred his recent form, he will be hard to beat. There remains that doubt, however.
Yates still has demons to exorcise at the Giro after his epic crumble on Stage 18 in 2018, but he has subsequently won the Vuelta, and his form in the recent Tour of the Alps was imperious. That wasn't the strongest of fields, though, and if his earlier season form is a reliable indicator, he has a bit to find with the likes of Bernal.
For many, the most exciting entrant is wunderkind Remco Evenepoel, at around 5.805/1. As a 19-year-old neo-pro in 2019, Evenpoel began winning top level races, demonstrating a rarefied versatility of talent. He won everything he entered in 2020, including the Volta ao Algarve and Tour of Poland, before spectacularly crashing at Il Lombardia and breaking his pelvis. Slightly bizarrely, the Giro, which will be his first grand tour, will also be his comeback race from those injuries. Recent history tells us that youngsters should be feared in top races, and Evenpoel may well be the most talented of a raft of exciting newbies, but there is a lot for him to overcome to make his odds attractive.
Who are the most likely outsiders?
As the betting market suggests, the Giro is wide open, and whilst those favourites are the most likely to wear pink in Milan, a reasonable case can be made for upwards of a dozen riders.
Jai Hindley (40.0039/1) was second last year and showed good form in the recent Tour of the Alps before crashing out. He won't have Tao Geoghegan Hart to compete with this time around, and will likely relish the climbing again, but his weakness in the time trial makes him vulnerable.
Alexander Vlasov (16.0015/1) was another who showed form at the Tour of the Alps and rode well in the first week of last year's Giro before departing with illness, but much like Hindley is yet to convince when riding against the clock. It's hard to see him winning.
Hugh Carthy (20.0019/1) was a surprise podium finisher in last year's Vuelta, looking largely unbreakable on its brutal climbs and demonstrating that time trialing was not the weakness that everyone expected. He has shown quietly solid form in build-up races this year and, of all the outsiders, is perhaps most likely to have the ruggedness to be competing into the final week here.
Carthy certainly looks more solid than the likes of Mikel Landa (18.0017/1), Vincenzo Nibali (50.0049/1) and Joao Almeida (25.0024/1). Landa will likely excel on the longer days in the mountains, but has so far failed to deliver on the promise he showed as a super-domestique for Team Sky in previous seasons and may well be challenged for team leadership by Pello Bilbao (100.0099/1), who has twice finished high in the general classification in Italy and was the next best behind Yates in the Tour of the Alps.
In recent seasons, it has felt as if Vincenzo Nibali will pop up unexpectedly at some point and steal a grand tour from less experienced rivals, and his form as recently as 2019 suggests he retains the ability. Recent surgery on a broken wrist sustained in training likely means this Giro won't be the event he delivers that surprise in, though.
As for Joao Almeida, he may well have spent most of last year's race in pink, but from the outset last August, there seemed an inevitability to him eventually losing it: he just wasn't strong enough on the more difficult climbing days.
There are a host of other possible contenders, too. Dan Martin (150.00149/1) will likely be prominent on some stages, but has yet to show the consistency to challenge over three weeks. Marc Soler (100.0099/1) likewise. And Romain Bardet (100.0099/1) - who has had a quiet preparation for his new team - is interesting at a big price, but would need to build a large enough cushion to sustain the inevitable losses he will incur in the time trials.
In this open race, the list could go on. For example, a case can be made for Emmanuel Buchmann (40.0039/1) and another youngster, Jefferson Cepeda (200.00199/1), could cause an upset. And if Bernal exits early, then teammate Pavel Sivakov (40.0039/1) will enjoy the advantages of the full support of Ineos Grenadiers. All of which suggests that a hesitant approach to betting in the General Classification is the wise strategy at this point.
On that basis, a small interest in Hugh Carthy at 20.0019/1 is recommended, with the intention of reassessing the market after the potentially pivotal opening time trial.
What about the sprinters?
Considering how brutal the parcours is, the sprinting field is stacked with talent. Caleb Ewan, Elia Viviani, Fernando Gaviria and Giacomo Nizzolo will all contest the rare opportunities they will have at this year's race, but of most interest are Tim Merlier, who has made his name in cyclo-cross but has looked hard to beat in some of the sprinting one-day races earlier this year; and Dylan Groenewegen, who returns from a nine-month suspension amidst continuing animosity from fellow riders and fans.
Check back here daily for detailed stage previews.
*Odds correct at the time of writing
Daily Offer - Get a £5 Free Bet on Multiples
Place £20 worth of multiples over the course of a day, and, after the bets have settled, you'll get a free £5 to use on multiples. Bets must settle before 23:59 on the day they're placed. No opt-in required, T&Cs apply.