The Spring classics are over and the first Grand Tour of the year is upon us. The Giro is a race favoured by many fans across the World; some cycling hipsters even proclaim it as the best Grand Tour. From a personal standpoint, I think it can provide some of the most exciting and un-predictable racing of the year. Let’s hope for more of the same from this year’s edition!
As with all Grand Tours, there will be a total of 21 stages, with this year’s edition covering a total of 3,383km. Like usual, the Giro will be tailored towards the climbers, with 4 “High” Mountain stages and 7 “Medium” Mountain stages. However, this year there will be 3 Individual Time Trials totalling 61.1km. This means that those who want to challenge for the Maglia Rosa by the end of the race will need to be strong against the clock. While the remaining 7 stages are categorised as sprint stages.
This first preview will look at those riders who have a chance of wearing the Maglia Rosa on the final podium in Torino.
Who will be pretty in pink?
The GC field here is both one of the weakest and strongest in recent memory in my opinion. In terms of out and out world-class riders, only Nibali is here from the Big 4 (5 if you want to include Aru). However, it is stacked with lots of second tiered GC riders who will want to step into the limelight and challenge for victory. This should hopefully result in an attacking style of racing.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ Nibali is the bookies favourite and rightly so. He is the only one in the field with proper Grand Tour pedigree, having won all three! This will be his first return to the Giro since 2013, the year in which he won it. Although not on great form this year, he is a master of peaking in time for his targeted event so his early season results shouldn’t be too much of a worry. If he turns up and stays safe throughout the race, no one will beat him.
⭐ ⭐ The most likely contenders are Team Sky’s Mikel Landa and Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde. Landa was third here last year and was the winner of the traditional Giro warm up, the Giro del Trentino last week. He looks like Nibali’s main challenge and will be favoured by many. Could Sky follow their first monument with their first Giro?
Valverde at the ripe old age of 36 makes his Giro debut. Always strong and very consistent, he could be a threat if the other two slip up. However, he’s not the best in the long Alpine-style climbs, and this could be his downfall. His TTing outside of Spain isn’t that great either…
⭐ A quartet of riders is close to the top 3 but just not there in terms of quality. Ilnur Zakarin will be targeting GC this year after stage hunting in this race in 2015. It will be very interesting to see how he copes with needing to be competitive on almost every stage. It could be too much for him, there’s a big difference in competing in one-week races compared to Grand Tours. However, in saying that, I think he’ll go well and should be around the top 5.
Rigoberto Uran (who’s finished 2nd here on two occasions) seems to be peaking nicely for this race and could challenge the top 3 if the others falter. He was climbing well in Romandie, but his TT was terrible. Maybe he had a mechanical? If not, that will be of huge detriment to him during this race, especially the rolling TT on Stage 9. However, he should surmount some kind of tilt at the title/podium.
Rafal Majka managed to get his first Grand Tour podium at the end of last year at the Vuelta, finishing in 3rd place. He rode that race after having to support Contador at the Tour so it was a very impressive feat. This year he is targeting the Giro specifically and he is definitely not one to be underestimated in the final week, as he is one of those riders who appear to get stronger as the going gets tough.
The final member of the quartet is Tom Dumoulin. He was the surprise package at last years Vuelta: leading the GC until he capitulated in the final mountain stage. A lot of people are talking him up for this race but I just can’t see it. If he is seriously targeting the TT at the Olympics in the summer, then he can’t peak fully here. He will go well in both the TTs, but I think some of the mountains will be too much for him.
BOLD PREDICTION: He won’t finish in the Top 10.
There are a whole plethora of other riders who will challenge for Top 10, potentially the Top 5 and with a serious bit of misfortune for those above, one of them might even sneak onto the Podium.
Domenico Pozzovivo is probably the strongest of these and could easily be included in the quartet above. A year on from his terrible crash here, it would be nice to see him go well! Esteban Chaves, Jean-Christophe Peraud, Jakob Fuglsang also have semi-decent chances according to the bookmakers and no doubt Kruijswijk and Hesjedal will make appearances at the front of the peloton in the final week.
Of the longer odds, I’m going to keep a close eye on Gazprom’s Sergey Firsanov. He’s had a great start to the season and will be their GC hope. He is a potential Top 10 bet but that will all depend on how good the odds are!
In terms of betting at this moment in time, I wouldn’t advise you to back anyone for GC. So much can happen in a Grand Tour that it is not worth the risk at this stage of the race. The odds will change slightly, but not drastically by the time we get to Stage 9 (the 40km ITT). It is at this point that if you wanted to back a rider I would suggest doing so, unless of course they are a poor TTer then wait until after that stage and you’ll get better odds! By this point a few unfortunate crashes or crazy crosswinds during the Dutch stages may have taken some riders out of contention. And with one mountaintop finish in Roccaraso (Stage 6), we should be able to get a feel of who will be competitive in the second half of the race.
However, in terms of an overall prediction I find it hard to look past Nibali. It’s the easy pick but he is head and shoulders above everybody else in terms of Grand Tour pedigree. This is his main focus this season, and with it being his last year with Astana, I’m sure he (and they) will want to go out with a bang. His team is the strongest in the race (only challenged by Sky) and I wouldn’t be surprised if we got a repeat performance of the Astana mountain train à la the Giro last year, dominating the race and putting everyone out the back.
“We provoke a shark every time we enter the water where sharks happen to be, for we forget: The ocean is not our territory – it’s theirs.” (Peter Benchley)
The Giro is Nibali’s territory and this Shark will pack the strongest bite.
Hope you enjoyed that (shortish) look at the GC favourites. I should have the Sprints jersey preview released tomorrow (same time – 6:30 p.m. GMT), then a look at the KOM competition and other competitions the following day. With the Stage 1 preview coming out on Thursday! As I said on Twitter, I plan on doing daily previews for the Giro (that’s why I’ve not really focussed on the route here) so hope you all enjoy them. As usual, any feedback would be great, thanks! Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.