The Giro Contenders

Friday, 4 May 2012

It’s hard to pick a clear favourite for the Giro d’Italia. There’s no obvious star name. Instead there are several contenders on a similar level and then a collection of outsiders, mainly mountain specialists who could also shine. To make forecasting even harder many of those taking part have not had the best run of results recently which makes it tougher to judge their form.

But if these reasons make predicting the outcome even harder, all the better. The uncertainty should make for a more open race where riders could be battling to win seconds, as opposed to Alberto Contador’s victory lap of Italy in 2011.

Michele Scarponi is the defending champion after Alberto Contador was stripped of the win. The Lampre-ISD rider was the best runner-up but remember 2011 was a very different race with Contador determining the tactics whilst the others followed. But he’s not passive, Scarponi can be an aggressive rider capable of gaining time on steep climbs. But in assessing his abilities I keep referring his efforts in seasons past rather than gauging him by results this season. Eighth in Liège-Bastogne-Liège was probably the best sign so far but he knows how to prepare for big events.

Damiano Cunego is also another rider with a past. The winner of the Giro in 2004, his reputation precedes him. But he’s been looking stronger this year. Even extrapolating recent results is hard given the Giro will be decided in the final week. Cunego looked very strong in the Giro dell Trentino but the key stages of the Giro are a month later. In his advantage, I think he could play well with team mate Scarponi. Don’t forget he has a punchy sprint for a climber, useful for those time bonuses.

Ivan Basso is another rider in the club of contenders. But the Liquigas rider wasn’t sure about racing until the Tour de Romandie reassured him. Perhaps his SRM device provided him some good numbers but outsiders will see his best performance during the week as 33rd on the main mountain stage, hardly stinging form. In the key test of fitness, the uphill time trial, he was a mediocre 53rd place. Again he can ride himself into form and is normally able to climb and time trial. He also comes with a strong team at his service, indeed Eros Capecchi and Sylwester Szmyd could find themselves promoted to team captain if Basso bows out.

It’s almost now or never for Roman Kreuziger. Long touted as grand tour contender, he was the best young rider in the race last year but it’s a leap to swap the white jersey for the pink one. But he is in good form and over all the contenders, he is the one who has seemed the strongest this year with the best results. We’ll see if he can swap the “hope” label for the real deal. He can climb and time trial and if anything his weakness is his aggression, he can be prone to attacking early on a climb, only to get swamped by the others.

Fränk Schleck was a late entrant to the race, but this didn’t worry Contador in 2008. Indeed in a race lacking the star factor, the elder Schleck brother is a more recognisable name. Third in the Tour de France last year is proof of his abilities but then again he hasn’t finished higher than 12th place in the last three months. Perhaps the limits are mental, is he happy to be in the race and confident about winning or does he have July on his mind? If he wants to win the race he has a decent chance but it could mean forgoing fresh legs in the Tour de France.

Ryder Hesjedal is being tipped by the English-speaking media. He looked stronger and stronger during the classics but the Canadian quit the Tour de Romandie. One of those steady diesels who could finish high thanks to consistent riding, I think he’d settle today for a podium finish.

The Climbers
Next we have several specialist climbers who could thrive in the Giro thanks to the repeated use of steep climbs and contest the overall lead. My first pick is Joaquim Rodriguez of Katusha. He’s been in form for the spring classics and has won mountain stages in many stage races before, able to win time bonuses on the steeper stage finishes and also to ride away in the high mountains.

José Rujano was the only rider who could follow Alberto Contador last year. But he’s an erratic rider who seems to have good and bad years, we’ll see if he’s strong again this year. Some riding with the front group in the Giro dell Trentino says he can and his darting accelerations can quickly acidify the legs of Basso or Scarponi. If this isn’t enough, the Androni Giocattoli team come with more climbing aces with Emmanuele Sella and José Serpa whose name means “sherpa” as in mountain helper.

Domenico Pozzovivo is one of those Made in Italy riders, the kind of rider without a passport because they seem only to shine in their home country. A pure climber from the far south of Italy he was untouchable in the Giro dell Trentino. But he’s never shone in three week races, prone to lose time but win stages perhaps.

John Gadret was third last year but nobody in France seemed to notice. The Ag2r rider has been consistent in the Giro in the last few years; he prefers the irregular and steep climbs of the Giro to the more regular climbs of the Tour de France. Without much pressure on his shoulders he could again do well and comes with a decent team with Hubert Dupont able to offer support in the mountains. Gadret’s main worry is health, he’s returning from an ankle injury.

The Outsiders
Next there are few more names to mention, riders who might need a lucky breakaway. Movistar come with a strong team with Benat Intxausti and Nairo Quintana but more as riders capable of stage wins than the overall although they’ve had high finishes in stage races. Team Sky come with Rigoberto Uran, a proven climb who could be more consistent with Sky’s management to guide him. Euskaltel are lining up behind Mikel Nieve who is a talent but yet to win big.

Wild Guess Time
The race has yet to start and the weather forecast for the weekend in Denmark is uncertain so trying to predict the result of the race three weeks in advance is impossible. More so since the last week of the Giro counts double meaning a rider in form in April could go off the boil by late May.

But for the fun of it here is my podium for Milan and the reasons why:

  • 1st: Ivan Basso. His attempts at success in the Tour de France haven’t quite worked in the last two years but he’s riding in his home race with a team wholly in his service. The form isn’t quite there but his experience and legendary calm mean he’s able to play it steady.
  • 2nd: Fränk Schleck. He finished third in the Tour de France last July, a level nobody else in the race can dream of. A late call up, he’s got time to build for the final week so long as he stays focussed… and upright. He’s a binary pick: if the Fränk of last summer shows up then expect powerful climbing but if his heart’s not in it then he fizzle out mid-race with talk of rebuilding for July.
  • 3rd: Roman Kreuziger. The in-form rider of the season, the Czech rider has been aiming for this race and he is able to climb and time trial. His team looks capable of supporting him so he’s a full package.

The best thing is that these three are still uncertain, there are many question marks. Hopefully the answers slowly fall into place during the next three weeks.

InTheGC May 4, 2012 at 9:13 am

Good preview of the contenders, we seem to be reading from the same song sheet this time which gives me confidence for my podium picks! Time to twiddle my thumps untill stage 14…

Alex May 4, 2012 at 9:38 am

According to the RSNT website, Andreas Klöden is not riding the Giro.

The Inner Ring May 4, 2012 at 9:48 am

Fixed, thanks. He was on my long list and such a quiet rider that I didn’t know if he was in or out.

jackseph May 4, 2012 at 9:59 am

I just love watching Jose Rujano. He looks like a kid on an adults bike, but man can he climb.

Patrick May 4, 2012 at 10:13 am

It will be good to see how Sergio Henao also fares in his first Grand Tour.

BoboFett3 May 4, 2012 at 6:45 pm

I’m totally picking Hey Now for young rider. Which is either going to be the best pick ever, or the worst.

Playvelo May 4, 2012 at 6:51 pm

I like Henao too. He has had a solid spring so far with 3 Top 10 finishes at the Tour of Basque and a 14th at Flèche Wallone. 8-12th place seems like a possibility.

Roadie61 May 4, 2012 at 7:54 pm

Henao and Uran, the Colombian dynamic duo! Their first GT together, these two riders climb like
mountain goats, Henao is a featherweight at 61kg. With JA Flecha also a consistently strong climber, SKY should perform very well.

Uran could win the Giro outright, but don’t think he’s quite there yet this season…a podium spot wouldn’t surprise me, though…we’ll see how his form looks in the high mountains.

The Inner Ring May 4, 2012 at 8:03 pm

I’ll look forward to watching Henao but note 61kg is not featherweight in pro cycling. Look to Pozzovivo and Rujano who, I think, weigh about 50kg… 110lbs in Americano.

Roadie61 May 4, 2012 at 11:02 pm

My mistake, after all these years, still having trouble with kg vs lbs. Henao is 1.69m tall, which is
5′ 5″ to us Americanos — short stature and short legs, but thighs like Sagan. It’s amazing that he climbs so well as his body-type isn’t like a typical GC climber, but then he lived/trained/raced above 9,000 ft (2743 m) in Colombia for most of his life.

Jan Ullrich May 4, 2012 at 11:09 am

“2nd: Fränk Schleck. He finished third in the Tour de France last July, a level nobody else in the race can dream of. A late call up, he’s got time to build for the final week so long as he stays focussed… and upright.

Would you say a third place in the Tour is better than a win in the Giro?

The Inner Ring May 4, 2012 at 11:14 am

Personally I prefer to watch a rider aim for the win and I prefer the win to the podium. But if we reverse things, feww could imagine Cunego, Basso, Kreuziger or Scarponi on the podium of the Tour de France, there’s just an extra high level of competition with a bigger cast of contenders. Schleck Senior had done it but like I say above, it depends which version shows up, the winner or a rider bumped into the race to make up the numbers.

Jan Ullrich May 4, 2012 at 11:59 am

I would agree, but do you not think that could partially be due to the way the routes of the Giro complements those riders in the Scarponi/Basso climbing model with the very steep climbs like the Mortirolo or Zoncolan, while the big Tour climbs, like the Tourmalet, are less steep so favour the accelerating climbers like the Schlecks and Contador, to which riders like Basso find hard to respond to quickly?

Bundle May 4, 2012 at 4:08 pm

I’ve some doubts as to what Fränk can achieve without his brother around. His respectable 5th in 2010 Vuelta could be a good indicator.

Champs May 4, 2012 at 6:07 pm

Support on the road won’t be the reason Andy’s absence weighs on Fränk. He’ll be keeping his powder dry for the Tour, if he can find some way onto the squad.

Khalid May 10, 2012 at 8:54 am

Basso has finished on the podium of the tour though, 2 years in a row.

Winternet_ May 4, 2012 at 11:17 am

Just a reminder that Contador late entry to the Giro was in 2008 and not 2009.

The Inner Ring May 4, 2012 at 11:18 am

Fixed, thanks.

Winternet_ May 4, 2012 at 11:27 am

Frank Schleck riding the Giro is the best news all year. Finally we will be able to see both brothers ride a GT without the other one there (unless Frank doesn’t go for the win on the Giro, which looks like a bad idea). Frank can also be part of the Tour but he will be in no decent capacity to do much contending.

Also, I can’t see Basso win it. My “money” is on Kreuziger and the trio of climbers Rodriguez, Rujano, Pozzovivo. And I think we may either see plenty of surprises and a lot of contenders in the mountain stages or everyone waiting for the last 2km to make the move.

brettjmcc May 4, 2012 at 11:40 am

@Inrng – I appreciate the Schlecks seem to be only focussed on the Yellow jersey, but surely even if one of them managed a GT jersey (not counting Andy’s promotion), then it may remove some psychological pressure off them both? The longer it doesn’t happen the more they create the monkey on their own back. I personally don’t get it.

My example is someone like Nabali. He may not have won the Giro or the Tour, but now people appreciate he knew how to close off a GT and get the jersey… therefore he will always be viewed with a degree of wariness – the longer the Schlecks don’t the more they become known for lacking that ‘killer instinct’

Ronan May 4, 2012 at 12:43 pm

You say Nieve has never won big but he took the Queen stage in last year’s Giro.

I think Rodriguez has a great chance this year. His TT seems to have improved (6th in the Basque country’s final stage) and he’ll be up there on the climbs.

The Inner Ring May 4, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Yes, Nieve did a great ride last year but I’m undecided if it was a just well-time long range attack or the sign he’s got what it takes to hang with the big names in the front group.

Rodriguez is a good pick. Choosing three was very hard and he could equally do well. I just wonder how long he can hold his top form?

Bundle May 4, 2012 at 3:54 pm

I have some expectations about Nieve, who made the top 10 in two GTs in the same year, and has won queen stages in both the Giro and Vuelta (and God, Gardeccia was not a normal mountain stage by today’s standards). He’s a “gran fondo” guy, but he’s shown no acceleration capacity. He should be extremely happy with a top-5 and perhaps a stage win.
Purito is not so much “gran fondo”. He could certainly win if he’s as good as in País Vasco (although that TT was all about cornering and accelerating, and shouldn’t be taken as an indicator), but I think he will show weakness on the way to Cortina, and if not on the Stelvio. But, hey, last year, after Zomegnan’s “gruelling” Giro, he was by far the best climber in the Dauphiné, showing that he can keep his form for more than a month. So go figure.
I would at any rate be surprised if Nieve and Purito are together in front in any stage.

MiglooTeacher May 4, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Thor? Not even a mention? I think he wants to win this Giro. Stomach of anger style fire built up inside.

I think he’s a good chance.

The Inner Ring May 4, 2012 at 1:03 pm

A stage win is possible and he could wear the pink jersey in the first week if things go his way. But his thunder thighs mean he can’t climb in the high mountains.

Ken May 4, 2012 at 4:00 pm

I wonder. Thor’s been getting better and better on the hills. What’s his weight this year?

Roadie61 May 4, 2012 at 11:54 pm

@Ken: Thor’s weight is 83kg, big and tall Norwegian — they don’t call him “God of Thunder” for nothing, but must agree with INRNG and InTheGC, no way he’ll win the Giro…may lay down a decent time in the Prologue and wear Pink before the real climbing begins, but he’s not a GC contender for the Giro or any GT with roads that tilt way upward.

He’s a thoroughbred road racer with a good uphill sprint and can drive a pace like almost no one else, but he’s too heavy for the big mountains.

InTheGC May 4, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Not a hope I’m afraid.

aahmadhu May 4, 2012 at 6:34 pm

i’ll take this as a joke. if the statement was serious then something was wrong somewhere.

C Grade Cyclist May 4, 2012 at 1:12 pm

I’ve got the same top 3 but in a different order –

1. Kreuziger to finally breakthrough for his big GT win
2. Basso – his experience will tell, and I think his form will build in the first week
3. Schleck – the best of the rest. Arguably the best climber, but also the worst time-trialler, and I still do question his tactical nous (although I think no ANdy there is a positive).

Roadie61 May 4, 2012 at 8:23 pm

I know it’s nuts to try and pick a podium, but fun to try anyway…

1. Scarponi – wants to win the Giro outright, has strong team support and jumpy attacks
2. Kreuziger – Basso says Roman is biggest rival; coming in with strong Spring results + Astana
3. Basso – could ride into form and has really solid team support; can he match the quick
accelerations and then hang onto those wheels?

Alternate Picks:

– Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin) – very solid year, great team support, but not quick to match puncheurs
– Rigoberto Uran (SKY) – the race will reveal his form; with Flecha and Henao, these riders have
what it takes to podium, but Uran is my dark horse pick

* Don’t think F. Schleck has the mental strength with all the disagreements with Bruyneel +
Andy’s public unhappiness. Also think he’ll save some for Andy in the TDF, if he makes the roster

** Remember Wouter Weylandt as we all watch this year’s edition, RIP dear friend**

Simma May 4, 2012 at 6:27 pm

1. Kreuziger
2. Scarponi
3. Gadret

I’m expecting mistakes from basso and schleck every week, although i do expect frank to take at least 1 stage in the final week.

Big Mikey May 4, 2012 at 6:44 pm

Man, I’m still shaking my head as to how Scarponi managed to finish 2nd in a GT and eventually first.

Not a scintillating group of riders there; definitely a tough call as to the winner. If he’s got form, this is Frank Schleck’s time to shine. Tons of experience, and a clear role as team leader.

The Inner Ring May 4, 2012 at 6:48 pm

Same with Scarponi but I saw a pic of him today and he’s extra lean, going to help for the moutains.

It all makes the racing more open, at least until the first few climbs.

Chris May 4, 2012 at 7:23 pm

With all those flat stages it’ll be interesting to see who inevitably gets knocked out by crashes and such

Ablindeye May 4, 2012 at 10:32 pm

I’ve decided to not even take a stab at a top 3 given how open things are. I look forward to sitting back and enjoying it with an especially keen eye on Sky and Henao in particular. I’ll also be interested to see how Rodriguez goes given the amount of and severity of the climbs. The Giro must represent as good a chance as any for a decent GC performance for him but for whatever reason he never seems to translate his ability to anything more than a top 10 (I think one top 3 at La Vuelta).

Ablindeye May 4, 2012 at 10:53 pm

Btw I appreciate there have been more demanding and mountainous routes in recent years but am referring to the typical Giro when compared with the Tour with regard to Rodriguez. Anyway roll on tomorrow!

Ian May 4, 2012 at 11:09 pm

Isn’t it great though how everyone is saying how open it is which should make for great racing as more have a chance to win. Fortune may well favour the brave so I’m going to stick my neck out and go for:

1. Rodriguez
2. Hesjedal
3. Cunego

Don’t all laugh at once :-)

JimW May 4, 2012 at 11:50 pm

I’m very interested in the Colombian performances.
Very excited to see some big racing.

Thanks for the awesome primer!

Toadie May 5, 2012 at 11:00 am

Quintana wasn’t included in Movistar line-up. I’m curious how will Intxausti and Henao fare in a 3-week race. The latter has 1st & 4th place at ultra-tough Vuelta a Colombia which runs 13 stages, but arguably its a much different kind of racing than in Europe.

Rider Council May 5, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Scarponi extra lean? Like never ever before! He looks deathly, ghastly especially when you consider the camera adds a kg or two. He has to look wretched in reality. Is there a limit to how low they can go? Should there be a limit? Like limiting the whips a horse can get in a race? Anyway it’s written on the jawbones of his face that he knows the only way he can win the Giro is to fly even faster up the mountains. But it looks like now he will be struggling to get down them! Nonetheless, for that reason alone I would still put him on the podium before Schleck or Kreuziger simply because he has the right nut and balls combination. To walk around looking like a decaying corpse in Denmark surely is a sign he really means business this time.

GatorGene May 6, 2012 at 4:03 pm

1. Scarponi – to prove he can win one by standing on the top step of the podium in Milan.
2. Purito – held back by TT limitations.
3. Kreuziger – because he would consider a podium spot a victory.
Dark Horses:
Gadret – won’t catch anyone unawares.
Hesjedal – because dozens (or hundreds) of ‘experts’ can’t all be wrong.

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