Covering the contenders for the Giro is like trying to preview the dessert course of a meal because the GC riders will be serving up their specialities late in the race, biding their time until the final week and the race’s final sweep across the Alps. Before then many will animate the race so here’s a look at some of the names likely to liven up the race in the coming weeks.
The Sprinters: there look to be seven opportunities for a bunch sprint but there’s a lack of sprinters. Neither Marcel Kittel nor Mark Cavendish ride and this sets off chain a self-fulfilling events. With no nailed on sprinter fewer teams have interest to chase all day and so the chance of a breakaway rises, in turn encouraging teams with a sprinter to ensure they place a man in the move and in turn reducing the chances of a mass sprint. Not that this negates all chance of a sprint, it just reduces the odds a touch. Giant-Alpecin and Lotto-Soudal can be counted on to chase.
André Greipel, Moreno Hofland and Luka Mezgec probably top the bill but this only indicates how wide the field is. André Greipel has experience, wisdom and a record of winning grand tour stages but that’s all in the past. Right now things aren’t so easy, he has just won a stage of the Tour of Turkey but got beaten on the other days and his win count is only three for 2015. A stage win is likely but maybe more won’t come so easily.
One rival is Hofland is the form pick having returned after injury and winning a stage of the Tour de Yorkshire, crucial because it shows his finishing speed but also the deeper fitness needed to get over the hills in order to reach the finish line. Mezgec by contast hasb’t been finding it so easy. The rangy Slovenian missed out in the Tour de Romandie but can count on a Giant-Alpecin sprint train.
The home crowds have plenty to cheer with Giacomo Nizzolo. He ran close several times last year but Nacer Bouhanni was superior. Team Sky’s Elia Viviani is very fast but an infrequent winner, although his chances are aided by the last minute inclusion of Bernard Eisel. Matteo Pelucchi rides his first grand tour but he’s already won World Tour sprints so if we don’t know how he fares over three weeks the opening week should be fine and he’s probably IAM Cycling’s most bankable chance of a stage win, helped by Roger Kluge and others. Sacha Modolo has played runner-up a lot this year and the Lampre-Merida could be more than a sprinter, he’s likes a tough day so watch out for slight uphill drags to the line. Alessandro Petacchi rides but this looks like a testimonial lap of Italy, he’s gone from being a sprinter to a lead out rider.
Movistar’s J-J Lobato is due a big win. He was briefly unbeatable in February as he made John Degenkolb look inferior but begun to fade in March. His form isn’t known but don’t be surprised to see his “phone home” celebration, especially on a hilly stage, like the one to Fiuggi. CCC-Sprandi’s orange Jersey should be visible thanks to Grega Bole on the hard days too. He lacks the raw speed for a pure sprint but has the grinta for tougher finishes although if he excels in many Europe Tour races the Giro is a big leap.
Tom Boonen rides the Giro for the first time. A retirement tour in the way some people try something while they still can? Perhaps but he also needs some riding in his legs after having his spring campaign ruined. What he’ll do is a mystery, he doesn’t contest many bunch sprints these days but still has it as we saw back Qatar. Etixx-Quickstep team mate Gianni Meersman is the sharper prospect for uphill finishes.
Is Michael Matthews a sprinter? This could be the subject of a demanding essay but the short answer is yes because the big majority of his wins come from overtaking others in the final moments. With Orica-Greenedge likely Stage 1 winners Matthews could enjoy a spell in the maglia rosa just like last year as he can win time bonuses on the flatter stages and then pull further ahead on a more selective stage.
The Poachers: now for a separate category of riders who can finish fast from a small group, especially in a short uphill run to the line. Diego Ulissi won two stages last year but then got suspended for a asthma medicine megadose which he claimed was accidental. It means he’s lacking racing and so could be puffing uphill thanks to the slope rather bronchiospasm. Still he’s got point to prove and his wins last year were strong, he left others trailing in uphill sprints. He’s recovering that kind of form.
Philippe Gilbert has made wearing the pink jersey a big goal of the season and he’ll find an opening week with several chances. His home Ardennes races were spoilt by a crash but he’s been back into training for some time. The form is unknown but let’s assume he’s not racing the Giro for training.
Simon Gerrans missed out on the spring classics with injury and misfortune. The Giro has smiled on him in the past, especially when he ditched a then unknown rider called Chris Froome to win outside Bologna. The route offers several chances and normally Gerrans doesn’t miss.
Bardiani-CSF come with several options. The Green team’s Enrico Battaglin has won stages in the last two Giri and he’s one of those versatile riders who can win from a hilly breakaway and many on the team can have their day too.
The Long Range Stage Tips: if the names above will pick off their rivals with flair others have to use force and guts and here are three tips for a stage win via a long range breakaway. Famous for riding grand tours Adam Hansen is also a very competent stage winner. His Giro stage win before taken in impressive manager as he broke his breakaway rivals one by one to solo away in a storm. He also took a stage of the Vuelta, brains and brawn again.
Alex Geniez a climber but with tree trunk legs and the FDJ rider has just won the Tro Bro Leon race, proof he can power along the flat. Still a bit of an unpolished diamond he’s already got a Vuelta mountain stage to his name and could bag something on a hard stage.
Stefano Pirazzi is one of those riders who seems to come alive for the Giro although he made the break in Milan-Sanremo earlier, his nickname should be “Rai” because he appears when the TV cameras start rolling. He won a stage last year and as been on the attack in previous editions. Most often his showy moves fail to land him a result but it means a lot airtime and thanks to the law of averages one move will stick.
The Neo Pros: there aren’t many neo-pros riding, especially once you thin out the wildcard teams. So let’s use the formal definition of a neo which applies to first and second year pros to include Cannondale-Garmin’s Davide Formolo. A refugee from the Cannondale side, he’ll be racing at home and finished in the top-10 of the Tour de Suisse last year, a massive result and then finished second to Nibali at the Italian championships. This year he’s quietly stood on the podium of a few early season races and the Giro is a big target.
Did you think Tiesj Benoot was good in the spring classics? Then meet first year rookie Louis Vervaeke of Lotto-Soudal who won a Tour de l’Avenir mountain stage last year, plus the GC the Tour du Pays de Savoie and the Ronde de l’Isard: he was basically the best mountain stage racer in the U23 ranks in 2014. This should be more about learning the trade than results especially as he has to shepherd Jurgen Van den Broeck but watch how long he lasts on the main climbs.