Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A look ahead to the first Grand Tour of the year:

The 96th edition of the Giro d’Italia gets underway May 4th in Naples and will traverse 3405kms to ultimately end on May 26th in Brescia.

Giro d'Italia 2013

Typically, the Giro is a climber’s delight, but this year’s edition has nearly 90kms of time trials to spice things up a bit. This includes a 17.4km TTT, a 55.5km ITT on Stage 8, and a mountain ITT on Stage 18. Those who enjoy the high hills, however, need not worry—with 7 mountain finishes, there are still plenty of opportunities for the climbers.

Another change for this year’s edition is the return of time bonuses. The first three finishers on all non-time trial stages will be awarded 20, 12, and 8 seconds respectively. This could be significant for both the climbers and the sprinters. Sprinters will also be potentially delighted with the addition of a second intermediate sprint on flat stages (whereas typically there has only been one).

Giro 2013 stages

This year’s race was also already interesting in terms of the team selection. At the start of the season, given the problems with Team Katusha’s licensing, 22 teams had been selected for the Giro without Katusha. After the Russian team successfully appealed to CAS over losing their ProTour status, the decision was made to allow Katusha to ride the Giro. Rather than revoking one of the other teams already promised a spot, Katusha will simply be the 23rd team to compete. This means over 200 riders will take to the start. These teams are:

Ag2R; Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela; Argos-shimano; Astana; Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox; Blanco; BMC; Cannondale; Colombia; Euskaltel-Euskadi; FDJ; Garmin; Lampre; Lotto-Belisol; Movistar; Omega Pharma-Quick Step; Orica-GreenEDGE; RadioShack; Katusha; Saxo-Tinkoff; Sky; Vacansoleil; and Vini Fantini-Selle Italia.

In terms of the route itself, the Giro starts with a 156km sprinter’s stage in Naples. The TTT from Ischia to Forio the next day, however, could potentially see the maglia rosa change hands. From there, the riders will have 4 mountain stages, 2 flat stages, and an ITT before their first rest day. Then, four more mountain stages and 2 flat stages will keep the riders sore before their next rest day. Of these, Stage 15 on May 19th is one to not miss—it ends on the Col du Galibier! The riders will then have three mountain stages, a mountain ITT, and 2 flat stages, ending with laps around Brescia.

Though the start list of riders is still being finalized, some of the names currently slated to start could prove to bring an interesting dynamic to the race.  First, Domenico Pozzovivo lit up the slopes of the Giro last year, winning Stage 8.  This year, he has transferred to Ag2R, so it will be interesting to see if he has an opportunity to attack for another stage win or possibly the climber’s jersey.  Another potential stage winner who could also vie for the climber’s jersey is Robert Gesink (Blanco), but his inconsistent form over the years may hinder his confidence.  Last year, Taylor Phinney (BMC) took the first leader’s jersey in the 2012 Giro, becoming just the third American to do so.  He could potentially time trial to another stage victory or claim the leader’s jersey on Stage 2 of this year’s Giro.  Sammy Sanchez (Euskaltel) is another great climber when he is on form, and with so many mountain stages in this year’s race, he could also be a contender for the climber’s jersey or a stage win.

Not all the stages are uphill though, of course.  So between additional intermediate sprints and several flat stages, a sprinter could potential take the points jersey of the Giro.  This year, I see four serious contenders for a flat stage win at the very least:  Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Matthew Goss (Orica-Greenedge), Filippo Pozzato (Lampre), and 2008 winner of the points jersey, Daniele Bennati (Radioshack).

For many people, however, the most important question is who is going to win the overall.  There are quite a few former winners taking to the start this year:  Ivan Basso (Cannondale) who won in 2006 and 2010; Denis Menchov (Katusha) who won the overall and points jersey in 2009; 2011 overall and points winner Michele Scarponi (Lampre); and defending champion Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin).  Defending Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins (Sky), however, is also set to start, and with the bountiful time trials, this could prove to be a course to suit his talents.  But, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Cadel Evans (BMC) could both also walk away the overall winner.

Ultimately, this year’s Giro is set to be an exciting one.  From a tough course, rule changes, and so many strong contenders lining up in Naples, it will be interesting to see how the first Grand Tour of the year plays out. 

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