British duo Geraint Thomas and Simon Yates are among the big favourites for the maglia rosa this – checks notes – October but which rider has what it takes to win the rescheduled 107th edition of La Corsa Rosa?

Both Welshman Thomas and Englishman Yates have unfinished business with the Giro, Thomas having crashed out when given a leadership role for Team Sky in 2017 and Yates coming close to winning one year later before imploding on the day a resurgent Chris Froome rode into pink.

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Thomas leads a solid Ineos Grenadiers team in Italy this month following his Tour de France snub by Dave Brailsford, while Yates, despite the coronavirus disruption, has elected to stick to his original plan for 2020 and ride the Giro for Mitchelton-Scott. As such, the pink jersey has become the prime focus for both riders' seasons – whether by design or circumstance.

Simon Yates celebrates general classification victory at the Tirreno-Adriatico ahead of Geraint Thomas (L) and Rafal Majka (R)

Image credit: Eurosport

The pair are not the only British riders at the Giro. In fact, with six others taking to the start in Sicily, this will represent the highest number of Brits to appear at the Giro since nine featured in 2009.

Joining Thomas and Yates are Ineos duo Ben Swift and Tao Geoghegan Hart, Israel Start-Up Nation veteran Alex Dowsett, Deceuninck Quick-Step's James Knox, and Lotto Soudal Grand Tour debutants Matt Holmes and Jonathan Dibben.

While Holmes famously ended Richie Porte's run on Willunga Hill in the Tour Down Under at the start of the season, none of the additional six Britons should be a big factor on GC, although Geoghegan Hart will look to build on his 20th in last year's Vuelta and Knox will have hopes of a top 10 finish after coming eleventh in the same race, while Dowsett will no doubt have circled the three time trials in his calendar.

But, realistically, Thomas and Yates are where British hopes lie. Which one has a better shot of glory along the road to Milan? Felix Lowe takes a closer look at all aspects of the race and weighs up the chances of the Welsh wizard and the Bury biker…

Simon Yates - Giro d'Italia

Image credit: Eurosport

Three time trials

With 65 individual time trial kilometres on the menu, it's a surprise Bradley Wiggins didn't come out of retirement for this one. Ineos Grenadiers will reckon they have the next best thing in Thomas, for whom the three TTs will have be Puccini to his ears.

Yates has improved against the clock in recent years, there's no doubt, but he conceded 22 seconds to Thomas over 10km in Tirreno-Adriatico, which equates to a potential swing of 2min 23sec in the Giro.

One thing's for sure: the presence of two TTs bookending the race, and another slam-bang in the middle, will affect the way both riders go about their business in October.

Advantage Thomas

Geraint Thomas Wales of The United Kingdom / during the 93rd UCI Road World Championships 2020

Image credit: Getty Images

Six mountain-top finishes

If Yates wins the Giro, it won't be because of his time trialling but his climbing. But by the same token, Thomas won't win simply by beating the clock alone; on his day, the Welshman has proved to be one of the best climbers in the businesses – exemplified by his back-to-back Alpine stage wins en route to winning the Tour in 2018. But that was two years ago now; the sport seems to have changed dramatically since the era of Thomas in yellow.

The route of this Giro includes no fewer than six summit finishes, the first of which comes on Etna just three days into the race. This will force the GC favourites to show their hands early – but will Yates be wary of a repeat of 2018, when he swashbuckled to three stage wins and a long stint in pink, only to burn out three days from the finish?

After Etna, the mountain-top finishes come at Roccaraso (Stage 9), Piancavallo (Stage 15), Madinna di Campiglio (Stage 17), Langhi di Cancano (Stage 18) and Sestriere (Stage 20). As such, in spite of that early Sicilian summit meeting, it's a back-loaded course; it's safe to say that the man in pink heading into Stage 4 probably won't be in it ahead of the final time trial into Milan.

Does Yates have the patience to curb his uphill enthusiasm and go for the stage wins which could retrospectively save his race in the event of him not eventually winning? It's a catch-22 situation for which no one, especially in this unprecedented and unique of seasons, will have the answer until it plays out. And then, of course, it will all seem so obvious.

All we can say right now is that Simon Yates is climbing better than Geraint Thomas – and has the wins to prove it – since the Welshman's last uphill triumph.

Advantage Yates – just

Simon Yates storms to Stage 5 Tirreno-Adriatico victory in style

Potential ambush days

Of course, Grand Tours are not always won on the key summit finishes – and there are a couple of days with scope for a Formigal-style ambush*.

Stage 12 to and from Cesenatico includes eight punchy climbs, five of which are lower category, ahead of a fast finish on the Adriatic coast which could see riders fall foul if not of the gradients then of potential crosswinds.

Stage 16 from Udine to San Daniele del Fruili includes three categorised climbs before a closing circuit that takes the riders up and down the leg-sapping Monte di Ragogna three times before the finish; a mechanical or crash at an inopportune moment could spell out disaster.

For some reason, a rider like Thomas always seems more susceptible to booby traps of this nature – after all, his 2017 Giro was thwarted before it really got going by that badly parked police motorcycle on the approach to Blockhaus.

*An attack from the gun by Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador ended Chris Froome's hopes of Vuelta glory in an enthralling Stage 15 in 2016 on what seemed like an innocuous day in the red jersey battle.

Advantage Yates

Simon Yates during Tirreno-Adriatico 2020

Image credit: Getty Images

Motivation

There'll be no questioning the motivation of either rider – although you could understand it if the 34-year-old shoulders of Thomas slump should he come up against a barrage of pressure given the journey he's endured so far this season.

Missing out on his first Tour de France for Ineos/Sky since 2012 clearly hurt the Welshman, who initially seemed utterly uninspired by his revised season programme when Brailsford made the controversial call.

But now the dust has settled, Thomas will surely realise that he has a golden chance here at becoming a double Grand Tour winner – opening up a possibility of completing his grand slam in the twilight of his career next year in Spain. Thomas will want to set the record straight and prove he still has what it takes to lead Ineos in a major three-week stage race; he should take this opportunity with both hands.

Geraint Thomas ‘looking good’ to challenge for Giro d’Italia title – Sean Kelly

As for Yates, the Giro also reeks of unfinished business. Two years ago, he looked unbeatable in pink as he romped to three stage wins and held on to the maglia rosa for 13 days before seeing his hopes go up in the dust of the Colle delle Finestre.

Yates buried his demons by going on to win the Vuelta that year, but failed to get the Italian monkey off his back when he stuttered to eighth in last year's Giro before saving his season with a brace of wins on the Tour. Win this October, Yates can turn a page and finally target the yellow jersey on the Tour to complete the last piece of the puzzle – a jigsaw made easier by the impending departure of his brother Adam to Ineos in 2021.

That said, Thomas, five years Yates' senior, clearly needs a good result in the Giro more than his compatriot. Whether that will act against him is another matter entirely…

Advantage Thomas

Simon Yates against the clock at Tirreno-Adriatico 2020

Image credit: Getty Images

Form

Yates is in good nick having won Tirreno-Adriatico off the back of victory in the queen stage to Sassotetto, in which he crossed the line 35 seconds clear of second-place Thomas.

For his part, Thomas recently finished fourth in the world time trial championships and put an encouraging shift in Tirreno, finishing runner-up to Yates but bettering him by 22 seconds in the time trial. It is evenly poised.

Advantage Yates – just

Highlights: Simon Yates beats Geraint Thomas to overall victory at Tirreno-Adriatico

Teams: Ineos Grenadiers vs Mitchelton-Scott

The absence of defending champion Richard Carapaz from the Ineos squad eliminates any doubts as to who their leader really is, and like Yates at Mitchelton-Scott, Thomas will be very much the main man.

Ineos have sent a strong team to Italy with Jonathan Castroviejo and Tao Geoghegan Hart mountain lieutenants, Filippo Ganna and Rohan Dennis powerful engines for the flat, Salvatorre Puccio and Ben Swift the experienced road captains and the in-form Jhonatan Narvaez a free spirit. It's a balanced and versatile mix which should serve Thomas well. And with Ganna and Dennis there, the only regret will be the absence of a team time trial...

For Yates, mountain support will come from Jack Haig, Brent Bookwalter and Tirreno stage winner Lucas Hamilton, with experienced Australians Michael Hepburn, Cameron Meyer and Damien Howson adding steel across the board, and Italian TT specialist Edoardo Affini making his Grand Tour debut.

Both teams are solid. While Ineos looks, on paper, the strongest, they also have, perhaps, the larger scope for implosion in the face of adversity and misfortune. Neither team seems to have a valid Plan B, although Dennis and Geoghegan Hart could feasibly take the reins should the Plan A falter early on.

Advantage Ineos – just

Geraint Thomas - Tirreno-Adriatico 2020 - Getty Images

Image credit: Getty Images

Shift in dates

The Giro's usual dates in May often throw up the possibility of adverse weather affecting some of the high mountain stages in the Alps – and that will be the case in October, too, with snow already falling on the Stelvio, which is due to be scaled in Stage 19.

But the reality is that southern Italy could well still be very hot in the early autumn in the same way that it can already be hot in the late spring – just as the bad weather could play a similar role in the north in both seasons.

Advantage no one

Verdict: Thomas... just

Well, it's a tie with the scores level on 3-3 in this highly unscientific look at which of the two Britons stands a better chance of Giro glory. That's probably a fair assessment, with Yates needing to – and likely to – take time out of Thomas in the mountains, time which the Welshman will claw back in the three races of truth.

All things considered, it's delicately poised. Either rider could add a second Giro win in three years for Great Britain but, if push comes to shove, I'll opt for Geraint Thomas coming out on top of Simon Yates in this particular battle. The Tour snub would have hurt and Thomas knows that time is running out for him. He needs a strong result in Italy more than Yates.

Geraint Thomas in action for Ineos Grenadiers

Image credit: Getty Images

Of course, this whole feature is rather blinkered for it only looks at the chances of the two leading riders from Great Britain. Thomas' and Yates' biggest opponents may not be one another but rather one of the other leading contenders, who include Denmark's Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) and the Italian two-time winner Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo).

And judging by the way 2020 has gone so far – with debutants, youngsters and outsiders enjoying the run of the green during the Tour and elsewhere – it would be folly to rule out an upset from a rider in the mould of Norwegian Carl Fredrik Hagen (Lotto Soudal), Austria's Patrick Konrad (Bora-Hansgrohe) or, most appealingly, the Russian tyro Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana). But that is a subject for another preview...

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