My favourite Grand Tour (and I hope your’s too) starts this Friday in Israel for its 101st edition. In 2017 we saw Tom Dumoulin avoid a toilet scare to take the overall win, his maiden Grand Tour success. If it wasn’t for the two minutes he lost to the eventual podium finishers Quintana and Nibali on that famous day, then his lead at the end of the race would have been more commanding/comfortable.
Dumoulin is here to defend his title but with so few race days to his name so far this year, does he have the form to do so?
As I’ll be doing daily stage previews I’m not going to go into anything too in depth here about each stage, instead, I’ll just highlight the stages where we might see some GC action or time gaps.
Although the opening TT is only 9.7km long, I would expect to see some time gaps between the stronger TT GC riders compared to the purer climbers. The slightly rolling course should in theory mean that the gaps are smaller but in a similar length of TT back in the 2016 Giro, Dumoulin took 30 seconds out of Chaves. Nothing too crazy, but it still will give some an uphill battle from the start.
The first mountain top finish of the race sees the peloton climb Mt Etna for the second year in a row, but this season they approach the peak from a different side. At an average of 6.5% for 15kms, it isn’t too tough by Giro standards but it will be a rude awakening for anyone hoping to save themself during the first week. Let’s just hope we don’t get a headwind like last year.
Stages 8 & 9.
I’m grouping these two together because they’re very similar with both having mountain finishes but neither of them are that difficult gradient wise. Both have lesser average gradients than Etna but on Stage 9 the final 4km of the climb does average north of 8% with ramps much steeper than that. They also do climb a Cat-1 climb just before the final climb as well. If we haven’t seen much action before that day then it could be a good stage for a “lesser” GC threat to sneak away and take a win or with the double ascent, it could be our first GC showdown. It all depends on how it is raced.
I hope you’ve got this one booked off work, it is the infamous Zoncolan day! I’m sure the riders would have hoped for a nice easy day in the saddle before tackling one of the toughest climbs in the sport. Instead, the organisers have cruelly added in several short but steep climbs to test the legs before the final ascent. Monte Zoncolan averages 11.9% for just over 10kms, need I say more?
With yesterday’s efforts already in their legs the riders will have to face what I would call a typical Giro stage: lots of Cat-2 climbs packed into the last 50kms. The sawtooth profile looks perfect for a classic Astana a la 2015 raid, but if everyone expects it, can it still happen?
After the last rest day comes arguably one of the more important GC stages with a mainly flat 34km ITT. Riders often react differently after a rest day so we might see some surprising results but expect the likes of Froome and Dumoulin to put some big time into their rivals here.
What everyone would have wanted before the Zoncolan, instead they get it before Pratonevoso. Pretty much a flat day out aside from a few hills here and there, this is all about the final ascent. At an average of 6.9% for 13.9kms, we could see some of the climbers who lost time on the TT set their sights on gaining it back here.
Cima Coppi day as the riders tackle the famous Finestre with its many kilometres of gravel roads. Expect plenty of Italians to be in the break hoping to crest it first but depending on the GC situation, we could see a full-out war here. Will anyone be bold enough for a long-range attack on the Finestre? With the 7kms at 9% average final climb of Jafferau someones title bid might come of the rails here.
The last day for any GC action to happen and it is a stage back loaded with climbs: three cat-1 ascents in the last 85kms to be exact. From that 85km to go mark the road only goes up or down, with very little flat valley road in between to offer respite. This should be a cracker, it is just a shame we don’t have Nibali here to try something crazy. A last roll of the dice for those wanting to improve their overall position.
A Two-Horse Race?
According to the bookmakers there are two riders who head the order: Dumoulin and Froome.
Last year’s winner, he’s been lightly raced so far this season with only 12 days under his belt so far with his latest appearance at Liege being the only race he’s competed in for a month. It didn’t seem to go too badly for him though as he finished a respectable 15th place – not a bad way to blow off the cobwebs. It is hard to judge where his form is at though given his little racing but he wouldn’t be coming to the race if he wasn’t prepared for it. Sunweb must have a plan and I wonder if they hope he can ride himself into the race to be stronger in the final week. It’s a bold strategy with a few important stages coming in the first half of the race but it is one we’ve seen work well in the past for plenty of riders. His team is ok but there will be a lot of pressure on Oomen to stay with him as long possible, something I think the youngster is capable of. Dumoulin managed perfectly fine without Kelderman last year after he crashed out so some added help here will be pleasing for him. However, the only reason he managed well last year without Kelderman is that the first of the longer TTs came on stage 10 so he held a commanding 2:23 lead over second-placed Quintana after that day, meaning he could ride more conservatively and rely on other riders protecting their own positions. With the TT coming later in the race this year, I’m intrigued to see what effect that has on everything.
Let’s get round to the elephant in the room then…He’s here and as much as I don’t think he should be, I’m just going to have to get over it like everyone else.
Going for an historic 3 GT titles in a row with only Merckx holding all three in the same order before. This will be the Brit’s first participation at the Giro since he was DQ’d back in 2010 for holding onto a motorbike to help get up the Mortirolo climb – he has certainly came a long way from then. From his season so far it is hard to judge exactly where he is as he hasn’t exactly lit up the races he has attended, although that did change a bit at the Tour of the Alps when we saw him spin up the washing machine cadence a few times to no avail. If this was 2016 I would say he has no chance, but we saw last year that no real results before a big race doesn’t mean he won’t deliver: an underwhelming 4th at the Dauphiné was followed up with a win at the Tour. Not bad, bearing in mind he most definitely had one eye on the Vuelta and was undercooked a bit for the race. This year he just happened to finish 4th at the Tour of the Alps – will something similar happen?
The Three Waiting in Line
Just behind the two at the head of the market, the bookmakers have three other riders who are all priced under 10/1: Lopez, Pinot and Aru.
Miguel Angel Lopez.
I’m a big fan of Superman, so much so that I boldly backed him for GC at his first Grand Tour (the Vuelta) last season. He didn’t win, but he managed a very respectable 8th place and picked up two stage wins along the way. So far this year he has produced some strong showings in Oman, Abu Dhabi and the Alps finishing on the GC podium at each of those races. Astana are flying here and they bring a stupidly strong squad with them that is very reminiscent of their 2015 armada, I hope we see some fireworks in the last week. Lopez should be able to match and in theory go better than Dumoulin/Froome in the high mountains but he will lose a good chunk of time in the TT. Can he claw enough of it back? My one concern with him is that he only had 40 race days last year due to him missing the first 5 months of the season after a crash. This season he has already competed on 25 days so he will pass all of last year’s total before the end of the race. Will fatigue catch up with him?
The winner of the recent Tour of the Alps, the Frenchman looked strong in the race managing to close down a lot of attacks once he was isolated. Once thought of as a decent GC TT rider, he had an absolute mare of an effort against the clock last year which cost him a podium place – he will need to improve on that this season if he wants to go better. He’s one of those riders that I would love to see go well but he always seems to just have one bad day which costs him a great result. If he has gotten over that then he is a real danger for the title. Interestingly enough, you have to go back to 2013 for the last time someone won both the ToTA (was called Trentino then) and the Giro: that rider was Nibali. Can he break the duck?
The UAE rider has had a bit of a stinker this season so far with his 6th place on GC at the recent Tour of the Alps his best performance. None of that matters though as Aru is only ever really good in the Grand Tours and it is impossible to predict when he’ll go well outside them. For example, he has 9 pro wins to his name of which 7 have been at a Grand Tour, including the overall title at the Vuelta in 2015. He hasn’t seemed the same rider since he burst onto the scene in 2014 and 2015 and I just can’t help but think he will struggle here as well. He just lacks the consistency. One day he will be flying then the following day he will needlessly lose time. This is the Giro though and things can change so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him even take the lead of the race at some point but no matter how good he is, the TT will be his undoing.
The Italian rider seems to have found a new lease of life with Bahrain and has had a very consistent start to his year, with three top 15s in a row on GC at WT level stage races. He then followed that up with a lively performance in the Alps before a solid 5th place in Liege. The one thing that impressed me most in the Alps, aside from his climbing, was his descending. This is a guy who had a very serious crash at this race back in 2015 while on a descent but he seems to be over that and riding without fear. Like a few others the TT will probably let him down but he should put on a show over the three weeks. A dark horse for the podium if others falter.
After a terrible 2017 compared to his incredible 2016, the Colombian can blame some personal issues for that, he still hasn’t returned to anywhere near his best so far this season with a win in the Herald Sun Tour his best result. Apart from that, he has been very poor. He is a classy bike rider so he could turn it around, it just depends on where his mind is at. He has been over in Colombia training at home which will certainly have helped – after he did that in 2015 he came and blew the Vuelta away in the opening week. I’m sure everyone watching the sport will just want to see him smiling again! I can’t see him competing for the title or even the podium here.
I do think his team-mate has a chance though as an outside podium shot. Yates has finished 6th and 7th at the Vuelta and the Tour in the past but this is his first attempt at the Giro. An attacking rider, he has performed well so far this year in Paris Nice and Catalunya taking stage wins at both races and finishing with a strong GC position too. I always forget that Yates was a former trackie and product of the British Cycling academy so his ability often surprises me. Like Pozzovivo, I think he will be there waiting for others to falter.
George Bennett – He’s came on a lot of the past few years and is a strong top 10 candidate but despite a good showing in the Alps, I just can’t see him competing for a podium place or even top 5.
Rohan Dennis – This is a big year for him in terms of his GC plan. He looked lean and strong in Romandie but does he have the consistency for three weeks? I’ll wait and see.
Wout Poels – Do Sky have a plan B? If so, I imagine it would be either the Dutchman or De La Cruz but given Poels’ previous performance in GTs then he is the safer option. Had a blistering start to the year but was halted due to a crash in Paris Nice. Has he recovered enough from that injury? It will be interesting to see if Sky to keep someone else high on GC or will they do the usual and let the mountain goats rest over the first week and lose time.
Louis Meintjes – We’ll see him in his usual position, collecting tickets at the back of the pack as riders fall back. I’ll be shocked if we see him attack more than two times throughout the race. Nonetheless he’s consistent so 9th place awaits him.
Tim Wellens – Will he go for GC or not? If so he could be like the Jungels surprise from 2016. Capable of a top 10, it just depends on his weight or ambition.
Davide Formolo – Lively in Liege, he should be another rider that will finish in or around the fringes of the top 10.
Michael Woods – Does he go for GC or target stage wins or another competition? Time is against the Canadian but a second place in Liege shows he has good legs at the moment.
Tough one to call, as are all Grand Tours due to the length of them and the fact that anything can happen over the three weeks. However, I think the TT will be very decisive and I just can’t see anyone pulling off a successful raid in the final week to disrupt anything too much, it will need either Froome or Dumoulin to crack.
Therefore, it pains me to say it, but Froome to win.
Even though Sky have had terrible luck at this race in the past I think that will change this year. They bring an incredibly strong mountain squad with them to protect Froome and control the race as much as they can. Froome will match Dumoulin closely in the TT and he will go better in the high mountains than him. I also think they’ll keep Poels relatively close in contention to counter any craziness from Astana or to give them a second option if Froome falters.
Dumoulin will still take home second with Yates a surprising third.
Buy Me A Beer (Coffee)
After floating the idea around on Twitter of charging for tips or previews and getting inconclusive results back, I’ve decided that I’m most happy with just keeping everything free at the moment. However, this means that throughout the Giro I am going to be selling my soul by shamelessly promoting the “Buy Me A Beer” donation link on my blog. So if you want to support me and the countless hours that I put into doing research and writing the blogs themself (not only for the Giro but the rest of the season), then I would be over the moon if you were able to Buy Me A Beer (I’ll probably use it for coffee) through the following link https://www.paypal.me/JamieHaughey/3.50 .
As for antepost bets for the Giro, I’m not a massive fan of betting on GC outright due to the unpredictability of a three-week race. I am tempted to break that rule by backing Yates but I’ll leave it. However, I am interested in backing Poels for a top 10 finish.
3pts Poels Top 10 @ 2/1 with William Hill. (Would take 6/4 elsewhere).
As for anything else, I tweeted out that I was backing Ruben Fernandez for KOM at 200/1. That price quickly disappeared but I still think he is value at his current price. Movistar bring a team without a GC leader so will be on the hunt for stages and other competitions so I think the gifted climber and former Tour de l’Avenir winner is worth a punt.
0.25pt EW Fernandez for KOM @ 200/1 with Bet365 (Would still take the 80/1 available now)
Also, William Hill have some interesting group betting for the race and Yates has caught my eye in the group below.
2pts WIN Yates @ 5/2.
That’s everything for just now and I’ll be back tomorrow with a stage 1 preview.
Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think is going to take home the crown come the end of the month? Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.