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.
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.
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.