Some races start with a prologue but the Giro has opted for a criterium-style opening stage on the Neapolitan seafront. But it’s no exhibition race, many riders will be sprinting for the stage win and the leader’s jersey that awaits.
To start the daily previews here’s Stage 1 with all the usual content such as the route, finish, TV timings and more, but also an overview of the sprinters in the race and where they can shine during the race.
The Route: A late change to the route means the opening stage is not the planned 10 laps of Naples, instead the opening stage of the Giro features just four laps of a long circuit with a climb before switching to a shorter circuit up and down the water front. These changes ensure the stage will be a treat for the sprinters. Four long laps take in the climb over Posillipo. The ancient Greeks called the place Pausílypon, meaning “respite from worry” and certainly the hills won’t worry anyone. The climb is wide and partially shaded by pine trees and not steep. It’s tackled four times but only the second and third ascents feature mountain points which should go to a powerful rider rather than a goat-like guy.
The Finish: the 8.1km circuit is flat and along the Neapolitan lungomare, the water front. The race manual says it is three metres above sea level and peaks at five metres somewhere. The finish line is long and wide and ideal for the sprinters.
The Scenario: A sprint finish seems inevitable. The flat route, the wide roads, everything suits the sprinters’ teams. Of course this is the Giro and many in the race will want to try their luck, to exploit a sharp corner or a moment when the pace eases.
Mark Cavendish should be the prime pick but he was not climbing well in the Tour de Romandie. The circuit’s flat but we’ll get the answer to his overall fitness and sprint speed soon enough. If not the likes of Matthew Goss, Nacer Bouhanni and John Degenkolb are likely picks, along with a horde of Italians. You’ll find a full list of sprinters and their chances for the whole race below, scroll down.
Note there are time bonuses at the intermediate sprint (6-4-2 seconds) and the finish (20-12-8 seconds). This means the 130km criterium has one of the sport’s biggest prizes on offer: the overall lead. Expect a wild sprint.
TV: Coverage will skip the early climbs and starts at 3.10pm Euro time. Don’t tune in too early for this one because all you’ll see is riders going up and down the seaside. Instead the speed will pick up for the last 30km with the intermediate sprint and its time bonus followed by the remaining 25km. The finish is expected between 5.00-5.20pm but don’t be surprised if the race speeds ahead of schedule.
Weather: A summer’s day in Italy. Light cloud and a warm temperatures of 29°C (84°F) will give the race the perfect start offering bright light for the waiting photographers.
Naples: The race hasn’t visited since 1996 when Mario Cipollini roared to another sprint in. It’s a long absence for Italy’s third largest city although Naples has never really embraced cycling and it’s hard to name a champion from the city or even the region. In recent years we had Salvatore “Totò” Commesso, a Tour stage winner and cartoon hero as well as Guiliano Figueras, the 1996 World U-23 champion who never lived up to the hype as a pro, presumably because the sport introduced a haematocrit test in 1997.
The stage showcases the best of Napoli which sits on a large bay. ay and helicopter shots will be sure to pick the impressive view of Mount Vesuvius across the water, the dormant volcano that dominates the scene. The city has underground forces of another type being a centre of organised crime and home of the Camorra. It’s sinister but a fact, a part of the city and the surrounding region. Visitors need not worry although aspiring gangsters start off by pick-pocketing and bag-snatching so be streetwise, just as you would be in any bustling city. It’s a fine place with architecture, opera music and more but not the destination for cycling as you have to ride out through some rough roads to reach the Campania region, a deserving area to visit.
Eat: Naples is the home of the pizza. It’s said the dish started as a means to use leftover food: use some old dough, then bake vegetables and cheese at high heat and you have a meal. Today it’s a dish in its own right and there are now moves to protect its origins, specify ingredients and rules on how to make it correctly. No chance for the cyclists though, the heavy dough and fattening cheese is often banned by team managers.
The Sprinters and The Sprints
There are four identifiable sprint stages in the race with their flat routes, Stages 1, 6, 13 and 21. In the Tour de France you can often pick out four sprint stages in four days and this scarcity means several teams will work hard to chase any breakaways rather than remain indifferent. It’s possible other stages end in a bunch sprint but hills on the route mean these aren’t certain.
Cavendish is the star name. He looked off the pace in Romandie but it’s often when people question his form that he wins with ease and besides, he’s won more races this year than anyone else in the race. His sprint train’s uncertain with Matteo Trentin as leadout and Iljo Keisse and Gert Steegmans are valuable too. But will he finish the race? He was in the points jersey last year but the lack of sprint finishes this year means the jersey is more likely to correlate with the overall leader rather than the best sprinter. So he might not finish the race faced with the clichéd tough final week.
Matthew Goss (Orica-Greenedge) has only had one win this year but comes with a full train which will help, especially as Leigh Howard is capable of sprint wins, in fact he’s won more than his captain. With the likes of Brett Lancaster and Luke Durbridge there’s some real firepower for the last five kilometres, plus there’s Svein Tuft for longer breakaway-chasing work.
John Degenkolb’s last grand tour was a hit with five stage wins in the Vuelta but his season so far has been a miss with not a win to his name. Argos-Shimano team mate Luka Mezgec was hired for his points but had a strong Tour de Romandie and could be a useful ally in the sprints. Degenkolb’s advantage is that he’s likely to soldier on during the race.
FDJ’s French champion Nacer Bouhanni had a bad crash in Paris-Nice but is fully recovered. He’s made a name for himself in the last 12 months and is a versatile rider, capable of winning bunch sprints but useful for uphill finishes against the puncheurs.
Next up comes a long list of names: Appollonio (Ag2r), Blythe, Oss + Phinney (BMC Racing), Viviani (Cannondale), Ferrari (Lampre-Merida), Ventoso (Movistar), Nizzolo (Radioshack), Bennati (Saxo-Tinkoff), Gavazzi (Androni-Venezuela), Duque (Colombia), Modolo + Colbrelli (Bardiani-CSF) and Chicchi (Vini Fantini).
There’s a mix here with Elia Viviani probably the fastest in terms of pure speed with Francesco Chicchi a close second. Ferrari switched Cavendish a year ago. Gavazzi used to chase different white lines but has overcome addiction problems and won the Giro della Toscana the other day, expect to see more of him especially as he can cope with some climbing. Normally I’d tip Daniele Bennati but he’s not finished a race since Milan-Sanremo. Phinney’s listed because he’s fast but will he contest the sprints?
This preview is coming out early and there will be daily previews of each stage of the Giro on the morning of each stage. For an overview of the whole race including the updated startlist, remember to bookmark inrng.com/giro or use the navigation bar at the top.