Giro d’Italia 2024 contenders - Does anyone have hope against Tadej Pogačar?

Analysing the key contenders for the Italian Grand Tour – outside of the man everyone is looking at

There is no avoiding that this year’s Giro d’Italia, most likely, will not provide the close-fought and exciting racing that many cycling fans are yearning for after a spring filled with long-range, dominant attacks. One man’s name sticks out on the Giro start list so much it might as well have lights around it: Tadej Pogačar. The two-time Tour de France winner is the overwhelming favourite for La Corsa Rosa, with majority of the riders who can usually challenge him in Grand Tours not starting the race – think Primož Roglič, Jonas Vingegaard or Remco Evenepoel. Add in the fact that the parcours of the Giro are incredibly well-suited to Pogačar, with a Strade Bianche-style stage and two time trials, and it’s hard not to see this as a one-horse race.

However, the reality remains that there will be 174 other riders standing on the start line in Venaria Reale, and each team will have to construct their own plan on how they can beat the UAE Team Emirates rider. They have no choice but to try. Squads like Visma-Lease a Bike, Ineos Grenadiers, Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale Team, Bora-Hansgrohe and Team DSM-Firmenich PostNL all bring team leaders who have performed well at the Giro d'Italia before. Can they do enough to beat Pogačar? The probable answer is no, but at the same time, no one is immune to the chaos that the Italian three-week race can throw up.

With this in mind, if illness or injury plagues Pogačar, or if he’s simply not on the form people are expecting of him, there are plenty of riders waiting in the wings for a chance of the maglia rosa on their shoulders. We analyse those who could have a shot – albeit a long one – at winning this year’s Giro d’Italia.

Geraint Thomas

After his close second place finish in last year’s Giro, Geraint Thomas has to be considered as one of Pogačar’s key competitors. The Ineos Grenadiers rider only narrowly lost out to Primož Roglič in a dramatic final time trial on Monte Lussari after leading for much of the race, proving he is still competitive at the highest level even in this late stage of his career. Thomas appears motivated to have another crack at pink in 2024 and has pointed out himself that all eyes will be on Pogačar, which gives the Welsh rider more freedom. He’s also promised an “aggressive” approach from the Ineos Grenadiers, which will definitely be needed if they want to put Pogačar under pressure. Thomas will be supported by a strong line-up from the British team with the likes of Thymen Arensmen (who could also perform well on GC himself if things go his way), Tobias Foss and Magnus Sheffield.

Geraint Thomas at Giro d'Italia 2023 (Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)

It’s true that Thomas’ form so far this season doesn’t instil much confidence in his ability to outclimb a rider like Pogačar, but the 37-year-old has a history of surprising people, and knowing exactly when to time his peak. Very few expected Thomas to win the Tour de France in 2018, or be in contention for the pink jersey in last year’s Giro, so it would be unwise to completely count him out this year. Regardless of his performances, anyway, we’ll undoubtedly at least get some good podcasts episodes out of him.

Romain Bardet

It was hard not to feel the emotion when Romain Bardet secured his second place at Liège-Bastogne-Liège behind Pogačar a few weeks ago. That result in the Belgian one-day race was a clear signal that Bardet is back to his best, and he even commented afterwards: “I've never felt so strong on the bike, it's just that my rivals are even stronger than they once were. I'm just taking advantage of my form.” The Team DSM-Firmenich PostNL rider will hope to continue taking advantage of that form as the Giro rolls round and, as one of the strongest climbers and most experienced riders in the peloton, Bardet is one to watch.

(Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)

The 2024 Giro d’Italia will be Bardet’s 16th Grand Tour and the Frenchman has finished on the podium twice at the Tour de France. His record in the Giro is not quite as illustrious, but he did finish in seventh place in the Italian race in 2021. In 2022, Bardet once again showed real promise in the Giro, finishing second on the stage to Blockhaus before he ultimately was forced to abandon the race due to sickness. Bardet has rarely exhibited such form so early in the season as he has in 2024, and this bodes well for his attempt to challenge the likes of Pogačar at the Giro. It’s still going to be a tall order for the French rider to get the better of his Slovenian rival (Pogačar finished almost two minutes ahead in Liège), but Bardet will undoubtedly be a big part of the fight for the ‘best of the rest’ at this year’s Giro.

Ben O’Connor

It has been four years since Ben O’Connor last started in the Giro d’Italia. When the Australian rider joined Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale Team (then AG2R Citroën Team) at the start of the 2021 season, his focus shifted primarily to the team’s home race: the Tour de France, and the Giro was rendered relatively insignificant from the 28-year-old. However, 2024 has, so far, been a year of change for AG2R with new bikes, new kit and a forward-thinking approach to races. This freshness has also been breathed into rider’s race calendars, with O’Connor given the opportunity to try his hand at winning the maglia rosa for the first time as part of his current team this season.

(Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)

O’Connor’s results have been impressive so far in 2024: he narrowly missed out on an early season victory at the UAE Tour after winning the stage to Jebel Jais in commanding fashion. He then went on to secure a fifth place overall in Tirreno-Adriatico and a second place finish in the Tour of the Alps. O’Connor is a rider that seems to get better as races get longer – he’s able to capitalise on the fatigue of others and make his moves in the latter stages of three-week races. With this in mind, O’Connor could be a dark horse for the Giro this year, though the long time trial could be a challenge for him. Still, Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale have proved themselves to, collectively, be a force to be reckoned with in races so far this year and the high morale within the French squad will undoubtedly be giving O’Connor extra motivation to perform next week.

Dani Martínez

Bora-Hansgrohe’s main trump card at this year’s Giro d’Italia is their Colombian climber Dani Martínez. This is one of the first times that Martínez will have the opportunity to ride for his own GC ambitions at a Grand Tour, and we can expect him to grab the chance with both hands. Both of his teammates who have won the Giro before – Jai Hindley and Roglič, are focusing on the Tour de France instead, which should mean that Martínez goes into the Giro relatively unchallenged when it comes to a leadership role within his team.

Image: Getty/Tim de Waele

The 28-year-old climber has performed well in Grand Tours before, riding the Giro d’Italia twice in the past and finishing fifth on GC in 2021 when he was part of the Ineos Grenadiers. Martínez thrives when the roads kick up – the majority of his best results come on mountain top finishes, so he’ll have his eyes on climbs like the Passo Brocon and the Sappada which come late on in the race this year as opportunities where he can make his mark. Martínez has performed well so far this season, winning two stages in the Volta ao Algarve and finishing second overall behind Remco Evenpoel before a knee injury forced him to pull out of Tirreno-Adriatico early. The Colombian is said to be recovered and fighting fit for the Giro, so he’ll be one to keep an eye on in the Italian hills.

Cian Uijtdebroeks

The only debutant on our list of Giro d’Italia contenders is Visma-Lease a Bike’s Cian Uijtdebroeks, who will start the race for the first time in 2024. In fact, this is only the second Grand Tour of the Belgian rider’s career after he rode the La Vuelta a España last season where he finished in a formidable eighth place overall. With Wout van Aert missing the Giro following his crash in Dwars door Vlaanderen, Uijtdebroeks will step up as Visma’s key GC leader for the next three weeks in Italy and it’s going to be interesting to see how the 21-year-old manages with such pressure on his shoulders.

(Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)

So far in 2024, Uijtdebroeks has proven that he was every bit worth the fight that Visma-Lease a Bike had to put up for him to be released early from his contract at Bora-Hansgrohe last year. He supported Jonas Vingegaard to victory in O Gran Camiño and also took seventh at Tirreno-Adriatico a few weeks ago, before a stomach bug sidelined him at the Volta a Catalunya. Uijtdebroeks has not raced since then, so his form is relatively unknown going into the Giro d’Italia, but there is no doubt that Visma-Lease a Bike would have had the young rider on a meticulous training plan to prepare for the three-week race. The main obstacle for Uijtdebroeks could be his lack of experience in Grand Tours and he will need to follow the advice of his more experienced teammates to ensure that he gets through the race without any sickness or debilitating fatigue, though the Vuelta a España last year will give him some confidence.

Outside bets

Although almost everyone is an outsider at this year’s Giro d’Italia compared to Pogačar, there’s plenty of riders on a similar level below the Slovenian which will make the fight for podium positions intriguing. Bahrain-Victorious have got a chance with Damiano Caruso, their Italian climber who finished in fourth place at the Giro d’Italia last year. Caruso is yet to exhibit the same type of form in 2024, but Bahrain also have other options with Wout Poels and Antonio Tiberi – the young Italian impressed with third overall at the Tour of the Alps and eighth overall at the Volta a Catalunya.

(Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)

While Tiberi finished on the podium at the Tour of the Alps, the man who eventually won the week-long French stage race is also starting in the Giro d’Italia this year: Juan Pedro López. The Lidl-Trek rider had an impressive Giro in 2022, finishing second on the stage to Etna and wearing the maglia rosa for nine stages afterwards. He’ll be hoping for a repeat performance in 2024, and his form in the Tour of the Alps gives him a good chance.

Eddie Dunbar is another rider who has a happy history with the Giro d’Italia, finishing seventh overall last year after solid performances on mountain top finishes, including fourth place on stage 16 to Monte Bondone. He’ll be Jayco-Alula’s joint GC leader this year, with Australian champion Luke Plapp also coming into the Giro in fine form – Plapp is one of the few GC riders outside of Pogačar and Thomas who will be looking forward to the long time trial in la corsa rosa this year.

(Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)

Conversely, two riders who will not be looking forward to the 40km test against the clock in the Giro are Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar). Both riders have an impressive history in Grand Tours and could be contenders for the Giro if they find the form that they have been missing so far in 2024. The same could be said for Mike Woods of Israel Premier-Tech who starts the Giro having only competed in one stage race this year – the Volta a Catalunya where he finished outside of the top-50 on GC. A rider with Woods’ results shouldn’t be counted out for the Giro, though it remains to be seen if he will target stage wins or the overall classification.

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