Three weeks to the Giro d’Italia and if the start itself feels like a stunt too far there’s still a race behind it so here’s a quick look at where the contenders are at. The Tour of the Alps runs from Monday to Friday next week and will give us a better look at their form so ahead of all of this here’s the chance to look back at results, issues, contractual concerns and more.
Defending champion always feels like the wrong term in cycling as there’s nothing to defend at the start of the race: everything is reset, everyone is back on the same time. Still experience and the victory count for Tom Dumoulin as he delivered a convincing win last year. Now he presents us with two contrasting scenarios. Remember if it wasn’t for that intestinal imbroglio on the Umbrail he could have won in Milan by three minutes; if he hadn’t lost Wilco Kelderman perhaps he could have done even better? He was the strongest rider and now returns to a race with a course that seems to have been designed for him with more steady ski-station climbs than usual plus two time trials stages totalling 44km which may not sound like much but remember today’s exchange rate where even short time trials open up gaps that the summit finishes often cannot. But the other story is one of pressure and expectation, a winter spent honouring too many commitments and then a start to the season where he’s been playing catch-up ever since… but he had a discreet approach this time last year too. He’s worked out that fructose and lactose cause him digestive problems so it looks like digestive concerns could be resolved. He won’t be riding the Tour of the Alps but will ride Liège. In the Giro he’ll be joined by the promising Sam Oomen.
Chris Froome is a bit like the Giro’s decision to start in Israel: you may prefer to talk about the racing but it’s difficult because of all the noisy peripheral issues. He’s generated more headlines linked to procedural matters than race results this year and is still in an awkward limbo following his Vuelta AAF: permitted to race but with unanswered questions. If readers of this blog know about salbutamol thresholds, adverse analytical findings the Italian public may not grasp such nuances and he’s now a harder sell than he was when unveiled as the star attraction when the route was unveiled late last year. But whether you have the WADA Code saved on your phone for easy reference or you’re the most casual fan nobody can explain why it’s taking so long, or at least will go public on this. Otherwise there’s not much to go on, he was amiss in Tirreno-Adriatico and the Ruta Del Sol where in each case his team mates performed better. But his approach to stage races has changed, in the past it involved winning the GC in each race he entered in the path to the Tour de France but last year he won the Tour de France after struggling in build-up events. Wout Poels rides too and we’ll see if he’s there for support only or as an alternative GC candidate, he looked in contention to win Paris-Nice before crashing out with a broken collarbone but has recovered and set to start the Amstel Gold Race.
Miguel Lopez took two stage wins in the Vuelta and and placed second and third on two more mountain stages. But can he be consistent? He lost time on other days in the mountains, notably on the Angliru. He’s had a steady start to 2018, effectively sharing the win in Oman with team mate Alexey Lutsenko. A podium would be a big success for the 24 year old.
Thibaut Pinot is among the few riders to have beaten Tom Dumoulin in a time trial in recent years and like Dumoulin this year’s route with its long steady climbs is suited to him. Pinot is not an explosive climber, see his stage win in the Tour de Suisse where he’d been dropped early only to winch his way back and then win. He’s got the raw talent for a podium, the harder part is the relentless focus needed to achieve it but he’s had a decent season so far with tenth overall in Cataluyna. He’s riding the Giro because he loves the race and his contract is up at the end of the year, does he renew with Groupama-FDJ which has more money and where he’s happy or does he think of a team that will let him ride the Giro again and again?
Simon Yates teams up with Esteban Chaves which is promising. The history of dual team leadership has been fraught in the past but especially when the leaders are defensive and worried about losing their status in the team rather than the actual race. Mitchelton-Scott seem more happy-go-lucky, able to seize their chances and besides the two are quite different riders. Simon Yates had a good Paris-Nice but not a great one, getting done over by Marc Soler’s audacity on the final day while Chaves is busy training back home in Colombia aiming to make the podium again like he did in 2016. He’s won the Herald Sun Tour which doesn’t mean much for the Giro save that it shows he showed up with a goal and delivered. He also has a contract until next year with the team unlike Simon Yates who’s deal expires this year.
If Dumoulin’s fructose aversion means he can’t eat apples, he says he’ll try kiwis instead. Maybe George Bennett will be difficult to digest. The 28 year old New Zealander is a bit of a late bloomer. He’s tried almost everything to tackle chronic side stitch problem, finally going for surgery during the off season which apparently – so far – has resolved the issue. On a good day he can climb with the very best but doing it for three weeks is a test, as will be the time trials so a solid top-10 and a stage win look more realistic.
Local hopes rest on Fabio Aru which must make the tifosi nervous if only because he is a genuine contender and so people rightly expect big things from him. Not for nothing did he win the first summit finish of the Tour de France last summer and later take the yellow jersey… but the speed with which he lost it also shows his fragility. He gave up three minutes to Chris Froome in the Logroño time trial in the Vuelta, even halving this to 90 seconds would be an achievement. He’s had an injury scare this spring after a crash in Catalunya but he’s over it and looked better in Tirreno-Adriatico, it certainly didn’t generate the panic headlines of spring 2017. The time trials will be a problem but mountain glory awaits as he returns to his home tour that he had to skip last year.
Among the others Bora-Hansgrohe bring Davide Formolo and Felix Großschartner, neither are headline grabbers but Formolo is still improving and Großchartner is a strong rider, the kind who can thrive on the diesel climbs of the Giro and hold his own in a time trial. Both might sign today for a top-10 overall. Michael Woods was top-10 in the Vuelta where the repeated steep climbs seemed ideal for him. This course isn’t so good for him but he’ll find some nice uphill stage finishes and should place well in the mountains. Rohan Dennis is where Tom Dumoulin used to be, a time triallist with ambitions for the GC. He looked wirier than ever at the Dubai Tour after winning the time trial but lost the overall lead on the Jebel Hafeet summit finish. The race will be a good test for him. Finally Louis Meintjes has moved to Dimension Data and is a curious rider, able to hang with the very best in the mountains but he hasn’t won anything since 2015 but perhaps his team will count on him to deliver UCI points which means riding steady again.