After a thrilling classics season, the first Grand Tour of the 2015 cycling season will start on Saturday. The 98th Giro d’Italia, commences with a 17.6km TTT on a coastal bike path from San Lorenzo al Mare to San Remo.  3481kms of intense racing later, including multiple mountain finishes , 6 sprint stages, and a long ITT, the riders will finish on Sunday, May 31st in Milan.

17 UCI World Tour teams and 5 wildcard teams will send 9-men squads to vie in this competition. The teams involved are: Ag2R; Androni Giocattoli; Astana; Bardiania-CSF; BMC; Cannondale-Garmin; CCC-Sprandi-Polkowice; Etixx-Quick Step; FDJ; IAM Cycling; Giant-Alpecin; Katusha; Lampre-Merida; Lotto-Soudal; LottoNL-Jumbo; Movistar; Southeast Pro Cycling; Nippo-Vini Fantini; Orica-GreenEDGE; Team Sky; Tinkoff-Saxo; and Trek Factory Racing. 


The 198 riders in the Giro will all have different goals and roles, but there are four different jerseys for which they will be competing:

First, the overall leader is awarded a pink jersey.  This is determined by adding each cyclist’s finishing times on each stage.  In the Giro, there are also time bonuses for the first three finishers on mass-start stages.  At the end of the three weeks, the person who has completed the course in the least amount of time is the overall winner and will walk away with the pink jersey…and 115,668 euros prize money. 

Second, the points classification competition will award the most consistent finisher of the stages with a red jersey.  Whereas in the Tour de France, points are gained on “sprint stages,” in the Giro, points are awarded to the top-15 finishers on every stage.  They receive 25 points for first place, 20 points for second, 16 for third, 14 for fourth, 12 for fifth, 10 for sixth, and a point fewer for each of the remaining stages.  There are also intermediate “sprint” points available, though these often get gobbled up by breakaways. 

The third competition is the mountains classification.  The leader in this category each day will start with a blue jersey.  Similar to the Tour de France, climbs are ranked based on difficulty: first, second, third, or fourth category.  The climbs deemed more difficult earn the first riders to summit more points.  This year, the unpaved Colle delle Finestra will be the Cima Coppi, the race’s highest point.  This is worth the most mountain points in the entire Giro. 

The fourth and final jersey is the white jersey awarded to the best young rider in the race.  The wearer of this jersey is determined by who is the highest-placed on GC of all the riders born after January 1, 1990. 

One of the unique aspects of the Giro is that there are also two awards for teams to compete for.  The Trofeo Fast Team classification is earned by being the team who’s top three cyclists on GC have the fastest combined time.  The Trofeo Super Team classification is based on a points system where the top 20 placed riders on each stage earn points towards this competition (20 for first, 19 for second, 18 for third, etc).  So, the team with the most total points wins this prize. 

So what do the stages look like? As aforementioned, the first stage is a unique bike-path ridden TTT of 17.6kms long.  The first rider from the fast team to cross the line will be the first to don the pink jersey.  The second stage runs 173kms from Albenga to Genoa and is considered a flat stage.  Three mountain stages follow before two flat stages, including the longest in the Giro on Stage 7—263kms from Grosseto to Fiuggi.  The first “mountain stage” will be on Stage 8, then the riders have a medium mountain stage from Benevento to San Giorgio del Sannio.  After those nine days, they will have a well-earned rest day on May 18th! Stage 10 will test how well the riders used that rest day, however, with a 195kms flat stage before two more medium mountain stages.  A short 153kms flat stage will benefit the sprinters before the long 59.2kms ITT on Stage 14 from Treviso to Valdobbiadene.  A tough 165kms mountain stage on May 24th will test the riders once more before the second rest day.  Yet another mountain stage on Stage 16 will be another tough test for the riders who by now will be quite exhausted.  The flat stage on May 27th will be a welcome sight for sprinters and any break away artists who have yet to meet with the success they wished to obtain.  A medium mountain stage will greet those left in the race on Stage 18 before two incredibly hard mountain stages.  Finally, the race will conclude in Milan with a 185kms route, including circuits around town. 

There are quite a few interesting facts about this year’s Tour.  First, since the race’s start in 1909, it has traveled enough kilometres to come close to reaching the moon! This marks the fourth time the Giro will start in Italy’s northwest costal region of Liguria, lastly in 2004.  There 43,000 meters of vertical climbing in this year’s edition, including summit finishes on Aprica, Cervinia, Abetone, Campitello Matese, Vicenza (Monte Berico), Madonna di Campiglio, and Sestriere.  Of these, the highest point in the Giro will be at 2178 metres in Stage 20 to Sestriere.  This is also known as the Cima Coppi in honor of Fausto Coppi, five-time winner of the Giro. 

In terms of riders, there are always so many interesting individual stories.  A lot of attention will be placed on Alessandro Petacchi (Southeast) who, at 41, is the oldest rider in this year’s race.  Thus far, he has won 22 stages, and as he has announced this to be his final Giro, he will certainly seek to go out on a high note.  Interestingly, the youngest rider in this year’s edition, 21-year old Rick Zabel (BMC), is the son of Erik Zabel, Petacchi’s former rival and teammate. 

Speaking of family relations, Dayer Uberney Quintana Rojas (Movistar) will be taking the start, although brother and defending champion Nairo is not currently slated to participate.  There are, however, four former champions scheduled to start:  Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin); Ivan Basso and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo); and Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Vini Fantini). 

There are quite a few riders, however, to keep an eye on for various prizes.  Now what usually happens here is I make predictions as to who will win the different categories…and inevitably, within a week, all of my predictions have been nullified by crashes, roster changes, and illness.  Being somewhat superstitious, I am hesitant to “curse” any of the riders.  However, I do want to list some riders I will be paying attention to for various reasons (how’s that for trying to circumvent luck?!). 

For Ag2R, Domenico Pozzovivo is usually a very good climber in the Giro, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him fairly aggressive once the roads turn uphill.  Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana), Philippe Gilbert, and Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling) will probably be in a coupe of dozen breakaways….each.  I’m excited to see Rick Zabel (BMC) go against sprinters like Tom Boonen (Etixx-Quick Step), Andre Greipel (Lotto), and Alessandro Petacchi (Southeast).  I would like to see Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling) also once again be a factor in the sprints.  He and Simon Gerrans (Orica) may try to be more crafty, though, and instead choose to go for the more rolling stages that disrupt true sprints.  They need to keep an eye out for Gent-Wevelgem winner Luca Paolini, however, as we saw him demonstrate great form this classics season! I have soft spots for Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-Quick Step), Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto), Igor Anton Hernandez (Movistar), and the Cannondale combination of Ryder Hesjedal and Tom Danielson.  But ultimately, I think there are two exceptionally strong teams to keep an eye on: Sky, with Richie Porte, Vasil Kiryienka, Bernhard Eisel, Elia Viviani, and Kanstantsin Siutsou, and Tinkoff-Saxo with Alberto Contador, Ivan Basso, Roman Kreuziger, Sergio Paulinho, Michael Rogers, and Matteo Tosatto.  The depth and experience of these two teams could make this a “battle royale.” 

But, who knows? That’s what makes cycling so fun to watch!! In a blink of an eye, everything can change.  To win, you need a good team, good form, good tactics, good support staff…and GREAT luck.  So who will walk away in pink at the end of May? Let’s wait and see….