With 48 hours to go time for a look at the contenders for the 2014 Giro. Nairo Quintana seems to be everyone’s pick but a lot of this is based on his ride in the Tour de France, an event now 40 weeks ago and plenty has changed in his life since. After Quintana comes the in-form Cadel Evans with Joaquim Rodriguez and Rigoberto Urán as the main pretenders for the podium and behind them a longer list.
But predictions are there to be demolished. Last year nobody could predict the weather and the racing was varied and often dramatic.
First a quick reminder of the race route. There’s one team time trial, a traditional 42km individual time trial and a mountain time trial and six summit finishes, all with the steep slopes particular to the Giro. A route for the climbers. There are time bonuses with 10 seconds six seconds and four seconds for the first three on all non-time trial stages.
Nairo Quintana is prime pick, a deduction derived from last year’s Tour de France. Because if the Tour de France is the ultimate contest then Quintana is the best in the Giro given the absence of Chris Froome. Look back the Colombian was second in the Tour de France despite two big mistakes. The first was on Stage 8 to Ax-3 Domaines when he took off over the Port de Pailhères before being caught at the foot of the final climb where he promptly lost 1.45 to Froome; had he sat tight until the last climb the losses would have been smaller. Next he was too active on Mont Ventoux, attacking early only to crack and lose 29 seconds. Would all of this have changed the final result in the Tour de France? No and that is the point: he finished second overall despite losing time with risky moves.
Quintana is known as an ace climber but increasingly good in time trials, witness the Tirreno-Adriatico time trial where he was 20th on the pan flat course. Gabriel García Márquez wrote “wisdom comes to us when it can no longer do any good” but Quintana can defy his compatriot, he’s has accumulated enough wisdom by now. He can also call in full support from Movistar, even sprinter Fran Ventoso is merely a late injury replacement. Unsinkable? That’s what the shipbuilders of Belfast thought of the Titanic a century ago.
Today the big question mark over Quintana is his form. We simply don’t know what condition he is in because he hasn’t been racing. Instead he’s been at home and become a father in recent months, has this changed things? He started the year with a win in the Tour de San Luis, was second in Tirreno-Adriatico and fifth in the Volta a Catalunya. All solid but the momentum’s been in the wrong direction. And the Tour de France was 280 days ago. We’ll have to wait for Stage 8 to learn more.
Cadel Evans is my second pick and for all the contrary reasons to Quintana. If the Colombian is trading on reputation, Evans is the form pick thanks to his recent win in the Giro del Trentino. I had imagined the Australian would rise up the ranks during the three weeks through dogged consistency, much like he did last year. But his performance in Trentino was aggressive and incisive and it’ll have inspired even greater loyalty from his team. But can he beat Quintana? That’s the hard bit and he’ll have to fight for the time bonuses. As well as age – he’s 37 – a problem is the team. They’re very solid for the opening team time trial and the flatter days but come the high mountains and Samuel Sanchez seems to be the only certainty. The new recruit could be Plan B for the team in case the Aussie has a problem, this time last year he was an outsider for the GC.
Joaquim Rodriguez is the next choice. He’ll turn 35 next week and this is his time. The Spaniard was fourth in the 2011 Giro, second in 2012 and skipped the race in 2013. You sense he really needs to win this, coming second simply isn’t good enough any more after a string of near-misses in recent years.
Everything had gone well this year with a win in his home Volta a Catalunya and in classic style, he won the first mountain stage thanks to a powerful finishing kick but then came a crash in the Amstel Gold Race; we got reassuring noises he wasn’t injured but his results weren’t there. The other concern is his ability to lose a race: Rodriguez has finished nine times in the top-10 of a grand tour but has never won. 2012 saw him unable to distance Ryder Hesjedal ahead of the final time trial in the Giro and he was mugged by Contador on the road to Fuente De in the Vuelta. He can pull out a special time trial when needed but the problem for me is that everything Rodriguez can do, surely Quintana can do better? He’s got a good team and sidekick Dani Moreno is there for support in the high mountains and could make the top-10 too.
It’s hard to see Rigoberto Urán win outright but he can finish on the podium – just as he did last year despite riding the early part of the race in the service of Bradley Wiggins. Still 27, he’s been a pioneer and even the landlord for many of today’s Colombia escarabajos. He’s more Jagger than beetle but he’s just had the mullet shorn, a sign he’s serious. Plus he’s just finished fourth in the Tour of Romandie time trial. His problem is team support, he can count on help most days but will Wout Poels, Gianluca Brambilla and Thomas de Gendt be there in the high mountains? This situation should see him adopt the role of marking other moves and poaching stage wins, a pattern he’s exploited before with Team Sky.
Ag2r La Mondiale are having a great season. Can the piano-playing economist Domenico Pozzovivo supply more success? He was impressive in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, more so because he’d just finished second in the Giro del Trentino so going on form makes him the second pick. He’s got a solid team, they will lose time in Friday’s team time trial but afterwards should offer adequate support.
Astana won the race last year and return with a strong team but one where talent is spread across the roster rather than concentrated in one pair of legs. Nominally Michele Scarponi is tasked with leadership and bringing further glory to the Kazakh nation but they also have Fabio Aru waiting in the wings. Both have the potential to feature in the race but it would be more than an upset if they won again. The team is packed with stage racing talent notably Janez Brajkovič and Mikel Landa, a recent stage winner in Trentino.
By now we’re firmly into podium outsider territory. Garmin-Sharp come with Ryder Hesjedal, he’s won one stage race in his life: the Giro. Since his 2012 success the results have gone back to steady consistency. Dan Martin is racing and this could be his first real crack at the GC but he’s yet to make the top-10 in grand tour and past results suggest he’s better at winning big stages than riding steady for three weeks. The pair will be interesting to follow.
Tinkoff-Saxo bring the pair of Rafał Majka and Nicolas Roche. The Pole seems in better form and is aiming for a top-5 finish while Roche is a more punchy rider for stage wins, he’s moved up a gear as we saw in last year’s Vuelta. Lampre-Merida come with a top-heavy team with Damiano Cunego, Diego Ulissi and Przemysław Niemiec. Cunego reminded everyone he was still a pro during the Tour of the Basque Country but it’s Niemiec who represents the team’s best shot for the overall.
A year ago Team Sky got the top billing but how things have changed. Richie Porte lead and Sergio Henao’s got passport worries of the haematological kind. The result is a team that resembles a pirate ship with old hands and departing riders. They have hopes of a stage win and maybe a top-10 on GC. Dario Cataldo and the under-rated Kanstantsin Siutsou lead the charge.
Let’s skip through some more names. Trek Factory Racing’s Robert Kišerlovski is a good climber who could feature while, visa permitting, Julián Arredondo could shine in the mountains too and he’s got an explosive finish; Riccardo Zoidl‘s a potential top-10 candidate. Europcar’s Pierre Rolland made a late switch into the race. His abilities range from excellent climbing to a prodigious tendency to waste energy. Free from the pressure of expectant media he could shine with a stage win. Belkin bring two talents in Wilco Kelderman and Steven Kruijswijk and both need a result to translate promise into reality. Team Colombia come to animate the race and Fabio Duarte is their best bet for a stage win. Androni-Venezuala will look to do the same and Franco Pellizotti has reappeared on the form radar while young rider Diego Rosa is being tipped. Bardiani-CSF won a stage win in Trentino with Edoardo Zardini, a result that cannot be fluked so we should see him in the mountains. Cannondale have Ivan Basso but he’s only once been in the top-20 of a race all year. FDJ’s Alex Geniez took a great Vuelta stage last year and could repeat, cyclo-cross champ Francis Mourey is regular in this race too.
|Cadel Evans, Joaquim Rodriguez|
|Rigoberto Urán, Domenico Pozzovivo, Michele Scarponi
|Majka, Niemiec, Duarte, Martin, Arredondo, Aru|
Is the race lacking superstar riders? It depends on your point of view. Yes compared to last year when Bradley Wiggins and Vincenzo Nibali topped the bill and again because there’s no Chris Froome nor Alberto Contador this time. No if you have a longer memory and recall all the years the Giro resembled the Italian stage race championships and now many foreigners are targeting the race.
If celebrity spotting is your thing, wait for July but if you want a sporting contest, the proximity between the top contenders could make this a close race. Indeed a worry is Quintana proves too good: if last summer’s vintage has matured with age then we’d get a better contest in July.