Special Preview: Giro D’Italia, Centesima Edizione

These things only come once a century, and the first centenary brings the big celebrations. The Giro turns 108 this year, but with breaks for both World Wars, we had to wait a couple more years for the 100th edition. The organisers of the Giro have really put all their eggs into one basket, promising us a huge celebration of cycling with some of the best racing the Giro has seen. This year brings a route that truly embraces the spirit of a Grand Tour across the country. The riders depart from Alghero in Sardinia, head back to the mainland, travel up the coast before a final stage time trial into Milan – truly taking in almost every corner of Italy. Most of the big names are riding, and it’s probably going to be the race of the year, so let’s get right into it!

Overview of Teams

Bahrain-Merida

Key Rider: Vincenzo Nibali
Squad: Vincenzo Nibali, Valerio Agnoli, Manuele Boaro, Enrico Gasparotto, Javier Moreno, Franco Pellizotti, Luka Pibernik, Kanstantsin Siutsou, Giovanni Visconti

Nibali gets to bear the #1 this year, after emerging victorious from an amazing three-way battle in the Alps last year. The Bahrain team have brought a team full of domestiques for Nibali. While main man Ramunas Navardauskas is out with illness, The Shark (who is 32 but feels like he has been around forever) will have a full team behind him. Siutsou, Pellizotti and Moreno will provide valuable protection on the hills, while Agnoli and Boaro will be great on the flats. Gasparotto and Visconti come as the team’s stage hunters and sprinters, but I can’t see either of them getting up in a sprint early on. Both have pulled larger wins out of the hat though…

My prediction for Bahrain at the Giro is a podium for Nibali, while Gasparotto could possibly get a stage win in Bergamo. Nibali will miss Navardauskas dearly, and while I would normally predict an Italian to win in Italy, I don’t see the team doing enough work for him.

AG2R La Mondiale

Key Rider: Domenico Pozzovivo
Squad: Domenico Pozzovivo, Julien Berard, Francois Bidard, Clement Chevrier, Hubert Dupont, Ben Gastauer, Alexandre Geniez, Quentin Jauregui, Matteo Montaguti

Pozzovivo gets to ride his home GT for the year, which means Latour and Bardet can go f**k off to France to prep for later in the year. And while Pozzo personally would want to ride the Giro, he hasn’t really been in tip top shape this year. At the Tour of the Alps, everyone was expecting some form of explosiveness, but he just rested on his laurels and was very reactionary. Dare he do the same here, because he will fail. Chevrier will probably target the breakaways – he did that in the TDU with relative success and he could be in with a sniff of one of the points jerseys. Matteo Montaguti, hot off a win at the Tour of the Alps, will be hoping to get a stage win in a sprint or punchy finish. The rest of the team revolves around fulfilling one of these ‘win conditions’.

My prediction for AG2R this year at the Giro is…not much. Pozzovivo is a top 10 chance, Chevrier is a jersey chance, Montaguti is a chance of a stage, but it would take a truck full of luck for either one of these to happen. But that’s the magic of cycling, isn’t it?

Astana Pro Team

Key Rider: Luis Leon Sanchez
Squad: Dario Cataldo, Pello Bilbao, Zhandos Bizhigitov, Jesper Hansen, Tanel Kangert, Luis Leon Sanchez, Paolo Tiralongo, Andrey Zeits

Riding one rider short in memory of Scarponi, it would be mean to criticize Astana’s squad at the Giro. But, one can’t just sugar coat how it looks on paper. They definitely have a stage hunter squad – Sanchez will definitely have freedom in the mountains, Kangert can work some magic while Cataldo performed strongly in support of Scarponi at the Tour of the Alps. Bilbao finished 6th in the punchy Champery finish at Romandie, but there aren’t many similar stages this year in Italy. The two Kazakhs in Bizhigitov and Zeits will provide assistance to the bigger names of the team, while Hansen provides a bit of a wildcard – he can go in the break and not really seem threatening but could get a cheeky win.

But there are a lot of ‘coulds’ and ‘maybes’ in my preview of Astana, and that’s because it’s really hard to see how they will ride. They could pull a superhuman effort and take stages left right and center for Scarpa, or they could flop. I can’t see them going for GC, so any stage win will be their goal. It’ll be the best win of the year to see, that’s for sure. But, I’m not convinced they’ll come to play.

Bardiani-CSF

Key Rider: Stefano Pirazzi
Squad: Stefano Pirazzi, Vincenzo Albanese, Simone Andreetta, Enrico Barbin, Nicola Boem, Giulio Ciccone, Mirco Maestri, Lorenzo Rota, Nicola Ruffoni

One of the four wildcard teams to get an invite this year, Bardiani will be aiming to get their brand on telly like most wildcards. The thing with Bardiani, though, is that they have a big chance of pulling something off. Pirazzi will definitely be targeting the Mountains classification, and would be one of the favourites for it. Ruffoni won two sprints in Croatia two weeks ago, and also took the points jersey. Ciccone can make something happen on a hillier section of the race, and Boem has won a stage before in 2015.

Predictions for Bardiani? Pirazzi will go top 3 in the mountains classification, but their goal will be getting their name on telly. Lots of time in the break, and attacking the KoMs and sprints means that they’ll keep their sponsors happy while keeping the fans happy with exciting racing – and that’s what a good wildcard team does.

Side Note: Ruffoni and Pirazzi have tested positive on the eve of the Giro. Will update later.

BMC Racing Team

Key Rider: Tejay Van Garderen
Squad: Tejay Van Garderen, Rohan Dennis, Silvan Dillier, Ben Hermans, Manuel Quinziato, Joey Rosskopf, Manuel Senni, Dylan Teuns, Francisco Ventoso

The ‘Jay goes solo in a GT, with Porte focusing on the TDF. Dennis has been on smoking hot form all year, and the same can be said for Hermans early in the year and Dillier/Teuns in the classics season. BMC are honestly on fire this season all around, and they are expected to go strongly here. Quinziato, Tejay and Dennis will all be hoping for wins in stages (TT, mountains or otherwise), while Hermans could win on one of the punchier stages.

I expect lots from BMC this year. Tejay should top 5, Dennis should win one of the TTs, and throw a dart at a stage and they have a rider who could contest it (except the sprints, Ventoso is too old for that nowadays, and the others are probably second tier sprinters). I’m going to say Dennis will win the Montefalco TT, while Tejay will pick up a podium along the way.

Bora-Hansgrohe

Key Rider: Patrick Konrad
Squad: Jan Barta, Cesare Benedetti, Sam Bennett, Patrick Konrad, Jose Mendes, Gregor Muhlberger, Matteo Pelucchi, Lukas Postlberger, Rudiger Selig

Jan Barta comes as the wearer of #51 for Bora, but Konrad is the in-form man for them. Jose Mendes also performed very strongly at the Tour of the Alps before pulling out for LBL. But, Patrick Konrad started his season strongly in Mallorca, continued it through Abu Dhabi and Pais Vasco, did pretty well in the Ardennes and will be hoping for a good performance at his first Giro. My favourite support duo of Muhlberger and Postlberger return, while Pelucchi and Bennett spearhead a strong sprint line-up.

This isn’t a full strength Bora squad though, and while they have proven this season that they don’t need Sagan to ride well, a rider like Majka, Konig, Burghardt or Bodnar will be solemnly missed here. Bennett and Pelucchi will probably take a stage out of the race, but I don’t see Konrad or Barta breaking the top 10.

Cannondale-Drapac Pro Cycling Team

Key Rider: Pierre Rolland
Squad: Pierre Rolland, Hugh Carthy, Joe Dombrowski, Davide Formolo, Alex Howes, Kristijan Koren, Tom-Jelte Slagter, Davide Villella, Michael Woods

Some teams are setting themselves up for a stage hunting squad. Cannondale (or, as I like to call them sometimes, Cannotdale, because they can’t win) are the polar opposite, bringing GC firepower up the wazoo. Rolland, Woods, Dombrowski, Howes, Carthy, Formolo. All of these riders are established GC riders or up and coming youngsters. It’s truly a team made for being up there in the final standings, but given the quality of riders at this years race, and my lack of faith in the Argyle, I’m doubtful that they will succeed. Koren, Jelte Slagter and Villella round out the team; but I can’t see any of them succeeding in the sprints and will be used to protect the main men of Rolland and Woods.

What I hope for Cannondale: top 10 for Rolland and Woods. They both have the potential to be up there, and with a bit of luck from other teams bombing out they can sneak it. What I expect: another 24 days of ‘what could have been’. If their GC aspirations fail, a stage win is very much on the cards in the later stages, but that’ll just be a little sweetener to a bitter tour.

CCC Sprandi Polkowice

Key Rider: Jan Hirt
Squad: Jan Hirt, Marcin Bialoblocki, Felix Grosschartner, Lukasz Owsian, Maciej Paterski, Simone Ponzi, Branislau Samoilau, Michael Schlegel, Jan Tratnik

One of the most trivial decisions of this year was the Giro inviting CCC ahead of other Italian teams. I’m still furious over it, and I’m not going to give CCC much focus in this, because I don’t expect anything of them. They’ll be hoping to finish at best, and while Jan Hirt is coming off a podium in Croatia, the rest of the team is much more subpar. Ponzi could get a stage top 10 somewhere, but the rest of the team are just along for the ride. Shame that Androni, Nippo or another Italian team didn’t get this spot.

FDJ

Key Rider: Thibaut Pinot
Squad: Thibaut Pinot, William Bonnet, Matthieu Ladagnous, Tobias Ludvigsson, Rudy Molard, Steve Morabito, Sebastien Reichenbach, Jeremy Roy, Benoit Vaugrenard

More to come! Will be finished Friday night.

5 Key Stages

There are so many good stages in this year’s Giro, that if I decided to review all the key stages, there would be 21 of them. So here are my 5 key stages of the Giro.

Stage 4: Cefalu > Etna (181.0km)

The first true mountain stage of the Giro, the riders will come back fresh after a rest day to tackle two huge climbs. The Portella Femmina Morta (literally “Dead Women’s Climb”) is a 32.75km slow drag up a 4.7% average climb. If you aren’t a climber, this is going to be a slow, sad hour of climbing. It doesn’t get better from the climbing-averse riders, with the stage finishing on Mount Etna, last climbed in 2011. It’s great seeing a mountain top finish 5 days into a race. Etna is a pretty harsh climb, averaging around 6.5% over the 18km. There is a downhill section at Casa Torre 6km in, and the finish is relatively flat (2.5%), but it maxes out at 12% and isn’t really where you want to be finishing a stage as a sprinter. One for the mountain goats of the peloton.

My Pick: Geraint Thomas in a solo attack.

Stage 9: Montenero di Bisaccia > Blockhaus (149.0km)

It’s not the biggest climb the Giro has this year, but it’ll be one of the most decisive early on. The Blockhaus stage really only features the climb right at the end, although some lumps at Vasto and Chieti provide the sprint points for the stages (both on uphills). The climb at the end is 13.7km long with an average in excess of 8%. It maxes out at 14% around 9km into the climb, while the finish is on a 2.4% gradient. Probably another jersey change will happen here, if the wearer from Etna doesn’t lose it before now.

My Pick: Domenico Pozzovivo edging out Nairo Quintana.

Stage 16: Rovett > Bormio (222.0km)

The second longest stage of the race, after the last rest day, with three insane climbs. Sounds like a fun day on the bike! The Mortirolo (12.6km at 8.3%), Stelvio (21.1km at 7.5%) and Giogo di Santa Maria (13.5km at 8.6%) in one stage! It’s insane! Not to mention the finish into Bormio is downhill until the last 1km off the back of the Giogo. Dare I say anymore?

My Pick: Vincenzo Nibali, solo break on the back of the Giogo.

Stage 18: Moena > Ortisei/St. Urlich (137.0km)

I am a fan of short mountain stages, because the action starts from kilometer 0 and not just at the final climb. 5 categorised climbs on one day, and a profile which looks like the spine of a stegosaurus. That is a pretty good stage to me! While the first few climbs might be more neutralised, the final Pontives climb into Ortisei will be a great fight to see. The categorised climb finishes 4km out from the finish line, but the finish line has a 13% kicker 400m out and finishes on pave. Brilliant! This is all packed into a bite-size 137km stage too, so there will be high paced racing!

My Pick: Nairo Quintana to secure the Pink here.

Stage 21: Monza > Milano (29.3km)

Instead of a usual victory lap into an Italian city, the last stage of the Giro this year could be the make or break stage for the GC leader. The almost 30km time trial starts on the Monza Autodrome, which as an F1 fan too is pretty cool. Once out of Monza though, it’s a pretty flat and straight ride into Milan, with a few technical turns here and there. This will be a raw power time trial, and maybe someone like TVG or Pinot can gain time on Quintana. While I would love to see the pink won in the mountains, who doesn’t love a bit of last stage drama?

My Pick: Rohan Dennis.

Predictions for Jersey Winners

Maglia Rosa – The Pink Jersey

The jersey everyone wants to wear on the podium in Milan. Donning Pink during this Giro will be a special moment, and imagine the scenes if its on the shoulders of an Italian most of the time. This year’s lineup is stacked for riders all wanting a piece of the Rosa, here are the main contenders.

Nairo Quintana definitely comes in as the bookies favourite. While there are two TTs, which aren’t his strong suit, a huge amount of climbing will suit him nicely. It’ll be like home to him, and that entire 2nd half of the Tour looks made for him. He’ll probably wait to make his move so he doesn’t have to defend Pink the whole time, but who knows what the Colombian will do. He is head and shoulders above the rest.

In the next tier of favourites, Vincenzo Nibali will be wanting to take home one for Italy. The defending champion will have to deal with some more competition this year, and barring another bout of bad luck, that competition will be harder. In a similar vein, Domenico Pozzovivo loves a hard, long climb and could see himself getting up there on a few of the mountain stages.

The world’s unluckiest cyclist, Steven Kruijswijk, will still probably be raw from last year’s crash and wanting redemption. He comes here with a strong team of Lotto domestiques to reach his goal, although his form hasn’t been great. Tom Dumoulin will be wanting to prove his new training schedule helped immensely to reach his GT goals, and he might snag a podium! Bauke Mollema also provides another Dutch hope – although it is unsure if he will have much support as Trek’s team is split between stage hunting for Nizzolo and Stuyven and Mollema’s GC aspirations.

Ilnur Zakarin was another bad luck recipient of last year’s Giro, breaking his collarbone on a descent while placed 5th overall. Descending is definitely a weakness of his, and in a Giro where there are lots of climbs, what goes up must come down. BMC’s Tejay Van Garderen is probably hoping to try and reclaim his position as BMC’s main GT rider, and a strong performance here will do that. He could definitely top 5, although a few more TT miles and a few less climbs that suit the pure climbers would suit him better. Adam Yates of Orica is on hot form after a 4th place in Catalunya and a strong LBL, and while his brother tore up Romandie, he will want better last year’s TDF performance and truly affirm himself as Orica’s go to GT rider.

And you can’t go talking favourites without mentioning Team Sky’s co-leaders Mikel Landa and Geraint Thomas. While I am not a huge fan of the dual leader squads (looking at BMC…), it could work out. I’m skeptical – on paper Landa is better but Thomas is on form – but it allows them to attack for each other and they could really fight it in a two-headed way.

There are so many guys I didn’t mention. I gave Cannondale a pretty big talk up in my team preview of them, they have a lot of fire power. Rui Costa could get a top 10, Jan Barta for Bora and Jungels for Quickstep will want to be in pink this year not white. But, there’s only one guy for me this year…

My Pick: Nairo Quintana, by about 3 minutes.

Maglia Bianca – The White Jersey

I can see only a two way battle for this. The white jersey wearer is often a GC hopeful for a team who brought two riders, but two teams brought their GC hopeful as their team leaders, so that makes it an easy to pick from, but hard to pick between.

First, in the blue corner, Bob Jungels of Quickstep, who has already been mentioned above, won the Maglia Bianca last year in a very successful Giro campaign for Quickstep. After an 8th place at Romandie, another white jersey win at Tirreno and half-decent Ardennes performances, he will be coming in eyeing off pink but happy with white in the end.

Next, in the slightly darker blue corner, Adam Yates of Orica comes in as sole leader after brother Simon pulled out after Romandie. Everyone will remember his 4th place at the TDF last year, and this year he has struck more form, with 3 top 5s at Tirreno, 4th on GC at Catalunya, a win at GP Industria and 8th at LBL. He is in a bit of good form, but hasn’t had the amount of prep as Jungels. Jungels also just finished Romandie, and with a relatively quick turn around, Jungels’ freshness will also play a part. In the end though, it’ll be tight.

My Pick: Toss a coin. Heads, Jungels. Tails, Yates.

Maglia Ciclamino – The Sprint Jersey

The course this year is so harsh that I would be surprised if any sprinters made it to Milan. And in saying that, the Sprint Jersey at this year’s Giro is going to be a breakaway jersey in my opinion. Usually there are a few teams who target these kinds of jerseys: PCT teams, Dimension Data, Astana, and the other ‘lower’ WT teams, so I’m going to be targeting those mostly.

Omar Fraile is coming off the back of a great Tour de Yorkshire, and you could almost pencil him into every break this Giro. He is bound to win one of the jerseys – he is a good climber but also a good puncheur. Riders like Davide Villella and Marco Marcato, who are great puncheurs might be targeting this too.

Sprinters wise, I can only see two sprinters possibly staying in the whole race: Giacomo Nizzolo and Sacha Modolo. I can see the latter definitely making a move for the Sprint jersey, he took two stages at Croatia recently as well as the points jersey. Speaking of people winning points jerseys, Nicola Ruffoni won the Sprint jersey at Croatia and is racing here too for Bardiani, while Alex Edmondson came third in the race for Green at Romandie and after some brilliant time trialling will be looking to help the Orica boys (but I can’t see him going for the points jersey).

From the wildcard teams, Filippo Pozzato could be in with a chance, but I doubt it. Simone Ponzi of CCC probably won’t make it to the finale in Milan, while Gazprom will probably put all their eggs into the Firsanov GC basket for the race. I’m torn between two riders for this, but I think one’s form is better than another’s and I think he can last longer.

My Pick: Omar Fraile…just.

Maglia Azzurra – The Mountains Jersey

This will go the mountain goat escapees of the peloton, or one of the GC riders. Given the number of climbs in the race, I wouldn’t be surprised if it went to a GC rider who is trying to attack and make up time. Focusing on riders I haven’t covered though:

Paolo Tiralongo of Astana is a veteran of the peloton and a great climber. Given that Astana have free will over the whole Giro, I would love to see him target the GPMs and try and go for the jersey while in the break instead of the GC leaders sucking up all the points. In a similar vein, Jeremy Roy of FDJ does find himself in the break quite a bit and does have good climbing ability. It’s hard to see anyone outside these two contesting the GC leaders for the mountains jersey though, but I think one of them will win it.

My Pick: Paolo Tiralongo – for Scarpa.


Anyone else ready for the next 24 days? Sure as hell I am! Starting after the first rest day, I’ll be doing daily previews for every stage, which will be posted here, on Reddit, Twitter and FB. Be sure to keep up! For now, I’m out.

~The Cycling Raven