Who Will Win The Giro?

Vincenzo Nibali wins Il Lombardia in 2015

Is Vincenzo Nibali in form? Can Mikel Landa limit his losses in the time trials? Will Alejandro Valverde prove consistent enough. Can Ilnur Zakarin carry the form from Romandie into the Giro and stay consistent for three weeks? Will Rafał Majka deliver the grand tour win he’s been aiming for? Is Rigoberto Uran back to his golden form of recent years? Six contenders in search of answers, it could be a Pirandello play but it’s the Giro d’Italia. This uncertainty is to be celebrated as it promises surprises between now and the end of the month.

Vincenzo Nibali holds all the keys. He’s won this race before, he’s won the Tour de France and Vuelta too and if winning the Giro was a job application he’d have the best CV. He’ll have a nation in support, not only is he a household name in Italy but he’s wearing the national champion’s jersey too making him a tricolore hero, a bicycling Maciste and especially a hero for the south of the country. If the crowd is worth an extra team mate then the other eight at Astana are very solid, so much that of late Tanel Kangert and Jacob Fuglsang were riding better than him in Trentino and are easily capable of the top-10 while helping Nibali and possibly the podium should the Sicilian falter, indeed Fuglsang is part of Astana’s plan to get two riders on the podium as they did last year. Nibali can also count on his Italian cell within Astana with Valerio Agnoli, Eros Capecchi and Michele Scarponi. So far so good but there’s internal pressure, an uneasy relationship with his Astana team and contract negotiations with talk of a Bahrain-backed team: the Giro will determine Nibali’s market value. More significantly there are doubts about his form, he was off the pace in the Giro del Trentino and getting upset with the TV motorbike that dwelt on his discomfort. Coach Paolo Slongo said his form is fine, that this happens when he comes back from an altitude training camp; but he would say that, wouldn’t he? Certainly Nibali went under the radar before his 2014 Tour de France win being dropped during the Dauphiné but when he won the 2013 Giro he stormed the Giro del Trentino weeks before with ease. Finally Nibali has won big but he’s often lost big too, attacking too much and paying the price for his panache. As such a pick for Nibali is a pick based on reputation rather than form, the promise of past performance rather than recent results.

Mikel Landa is tipped by many and it’s easy to see why, he was among the best last year and logic dictates that if he can improve his time trialling and has a team in his service then his overall performance will follow. The pride of the Basque Country, he appears to be an artisan among Team Sky’s auditors, a splash of orange among the black. You might remember him ignoring team orders to attack and win a stage of the Vuelta last year. Of course he was leaving the squad and this isn’t to say he’ll ignore Sky’s plans, just a sign that he likes to race his own way, to attack rather than sight tight. He might have to make his own moves too, he won the Giro del Trentino with the ease of a cat playing with mice but was isolated on the final mountain stage. Ian Boswell, Mikel Nieve, Nicolas Roche and Sebastian Henao bring help for the mountains but they’ve not Sky’s A-team so we’ll see how much Landa has to work for himself in the final moments of a mountain stage. Part of the team will be tasked with helping sprinter Elia Viviani too even if he’s likely to have to fend for himself a lot.

Alejandro Valverde rides his first ever Giro but is no novice having just turned 36. He won the Vuelta in 2009 and was on the podium of the Tour de France last summer and seems to win target races time after time. His weakness? It’s been consistency, especially in the high mountains of a grand tour and his ability in a time trial where cracking the top-10 has been rare. Instead he’s a skilled climber and a crafty racer who can take time by surprise and profit from the time bonuses thanks to his uphill sprinting ability. Movistar bring a strong team with Carlos Betancur a late inclusion, still seven kilos overweight so don’t rush to the bookmakers. Andrey Amador is back in form with some strong riding in Romandie but is likely to be working for Valverde rather than improve on his surprise fourth place last year. Giovanni Visconti meanwhile will probably have permission to get in the attacks and take a stage win.

Rafał Majka

Rafał Majka is a strong climber who has improved in the time trials. Third in the Vuelta last year, sixth in the Giro in 2014 in what wasn’t a great year for him, the Bison of Zegartowice is genuine podium potential even if few seem to be talking about him. He’s Tinkoff’s sole leader and has been riding the roads of the Troodos mountains of Cyprus to prepare for the Giro, his big goal before riding for Contador in July. Close your eyes and you can see Majka on the podium but you’d probably be dreaming to envisage him winning and standing above Nibali, Valverde and Landa. It’s still possible and and Tinkoff are a powerful team with some good riders, Paweł Poljanski is a mini-Majka, Contador’s mountain helper Jesus Hernandez rides while Jay McCarthy is a prospect for some uphill finishes too.

When Nairo Quintana attacked in the Tour de Romandie only Ilnur Zakarin could follow and if his response wasn’t immediate, the way he floated across the gap was impressive. The Russian is now aiming for his first grand tour podium, a venture as uncertain for him as he is unknown to the wider public. He rode the Giro last year but did not aim for an overall result, instead he took a stage at Imola à la pédale as he soloed away at the end of a hard stage. Churchill once said Russia was “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” and it seems appropriate for Zakarin. Few know who he is, even when interviewed in Russian he gives answers that are shorter than the questions and his media profile is as low as his flat-backed aero climbing position. Katusha are strong but don’t come full of support for the high mountains, Egor Silin is probably the best “Zaka” gets although Rein Taaramäe should be there on his good days too. It’ll be interesting to see how Gazprom ride given the two teams’ deep connections. Zakarin is the extrapolation pick, excellent performances in Paris-Nice and Romandie this year and the expectation he can carry this across into three weeks of consistency. Given his climbing and his time trialling it’s entirely possible he makes the podium.

Rigoberto Uran could well the steady performer, neither the best in the mountains nor the time trials but consistent everywhere. While others trade blows on the early mountain stages he’ll bide his time and start climbing up the GC as the others fall away. Not for him searing attacks or risky raids, he’s a regular rider who excels in the time trials too and, like so many Colombian riders today, a far cry from the stereotype Colombian climber that was introduced to the cycling world in the 1980s embodied by the likes of Luis Herrera and Fabio Parra. Uran has a good team with Joe Dombrowski on hand for the high mountains. Uran came close to winning in 2013 and 2014 and was a tipped as a top contender in 2015 only things didn’t work but if he’s back to past form he’ll like this course. Can Davide Formolo ride shotgun? The 23 year old Italian talent can make the top-10 but would this be thanks to the steady riding and even restraint at times or will it down to the more spontaneous riding we’ve seen before where he infiltrates a breakaway to take time, either way he’s an exciting prospect for Italian cycling.

Esteban Chaves

A darting Colombian climber who flounders in a time trial? It’s not just an eighties caricature cited above, there’s Esteban Chaves among others. Orica-Greenedge’s climber has had a discreet start to the season, his only top-10 performance was… in a team time trial and he’s struggled to make the front group at all other times. Yet last August we could have said the same only for him to storm the start of the Vuelta and breeze past Nairo Quintana and others on the first uphill climb. However he’s going to have to endure the opening time trial and a few unsuitable days before he gets to express himself in the mountains. As such a stage win and a top-10 overall are possible.

Would you spot Sergei Firsanov if he walked by you? Perhaps connoisseurs of the Baltic racing scene and Russian readers would but he’s a discreet rider who should not be ignored. The 33 year old won the Coppi e Bartali race this year and has just finished fourth in the Giro del Trentino and has been a successful rider with Rusvelo, now Gazprom-Rusvelo over the years in many Russian races. He’s a climber who will not enjoy the Dutch opening stages nor the Chianti stage but expect to see his name in the mountains.

Tom Dumoulin‘s become hot property following his rides in the Vuelta and Tour de Suisse. But his big goal is winning the opening stage and the Chianti time trial rather than winning the race outright. Of course everyone plays the deflection game when asked if they’re going to win. Dumoulin’s got a string of second places in time trials lately and he and his team will crave a solid opening start and he’s the kind of rider who can keep the maglia rosa for a long spell if he takes at on Friday.

Domenico Pozzovivo has the number one on his back. The piano-playing economics graduate crashed out last year but was fifth in the 2014 Giro, coping respectably with the time trials – ninth in the Barolo chrono – and using his punchy kick in the uphill finishes. A win? He’s joint leader of Ag2r La Mondiale not joint smoker but if he had a perfect race the podium is possible for “The Flea of Policoro”. Jean-Christophe Péraud (pictured) rides his first Giro, a career wish he wanted last year but his success in the 2014 Tour de France meant he had to return to the Tour only he was swept away but the consequences of his win and never got on top of his form, you might remember his Tutankhamen look as he lapped France wrapped in bandages. Now retirement looms for the Frenchman but he’s finally getting back into form and if anyone knows how to stick to Nibali’s wheel in the mountains it’s Jean-Chris.

Diego Ulissi

At pixel time Diego Ulissi was 300-1 with the bookmakers for the win and if you played the Giro 300 times it’s true he probably wouldn’t win but these odds still seem very long for a punchy climber who has won stages in the Giro and won mountainous stage races too. So he could well feature high on GC as he aims for mountain stages, he excels in the mid-mountain uphill finishes and his Ardennes campaign says the form is there too. Polish veteran Przemysław Niemiec was sixth overall in 2013, a probable career high but he was in form in the recent Tour of Turkey.

Now for some third week heros, those who seem to stay fresh while others fall stale around them. Steven Kruijswijk, the human coathanger, was a prime example last year and looks set to repeat after a strong but discreet performance in Yorkshire last weekend and it’ll be interesting to see how Slovenian recuit Primož Roglič climbs, the former ski-jumper sprung into third place atop the Alto da Fóia in the Volta ao Algarve, comfortably ahead of the likes of Pinot, Aru and Zakarin.

Ryder Hesjedal is another strong rider who will aim to rise up the GC during the final week, the 2012 winner seems unlikely to repeat that ride ever again but Trek-Segafredo team mate Riccardo Zoidl just won the mountain stage of the Tour of Croatia and has been a good stage racer in the past, taking time to find his feet in the World Tour. Of course the team will be delighted if Fabian Cancellara wins the opening stage and Giacomo Nizzolo wins a sprint.

Finally some more names to watch. Alexandre Geniez has carte blanche to repeat his top-10 ride from last year and is coming into form and like other FDJ riders he won’t fear the time trials. Lotto-Soudal’s Maxime Montfort won’t ever win but he almost deserves something, a domestique who prefers working for others he’s still placed in the top-10 in grand tours and other stage races before and could quietly pace himself into a decent overall position and will team mate Tim Wellens sit tight for the high mountains or is he after a stage. BMC Racing don’t have a team to match their budget and status but Darwin Atapuma is good value in the mountains and 24 year old climber Manuel Senni was among the best on the U23 scene a while back. Etixx-Quickstep’s Bob Jungels climbed well in the Tour de France; IAM’s Austrian eagle Stefan Denifl could target the mountains jersey; Wilier-Southeast’s Colombian Daniel Martinez is an ace climber in the making but aged 20 just finishing the race is a tall order.

Vincenzo Nibali
Mikel Landa, Rigoberto Uran
Rafał Majka, Alejandro Valverde, Ilnur Zakarin
Jacob Fuglsang
Pozzovivo, Chaves

81 thoughts on “Who Will Win The Giro?”

  1. Nibali
    Gazprom seem a very odd pick as a wildcard (would rather have seen Androni given the nod) – don’t do much outside Russia. And it seems like there is a very large chance of a conflict of interest with them potentially helping Katusha. Any ideas why they were chosen (he said not at all asking a leading question)?

    • J Evans – I think RCS was put off by Androni’s doping scandals and Gianni Savio’s attitude that his team deserved a wild-card invite, “just because”. He’ll be running his mouth on RAI TV this time instead of holding court from the seat of the Androni team car.
      The Gazprom guy, Sergei Firsanov might be the only guy I hate watching ride a bike more than Chris “Il Frullatore” Froome though he’s the reverse, grinding along like an ancient Fiat 500. And if Ilnur Zakarin gets on the podium I’ll be just as happy as when Dennis Menchov wore the Maglia Rosa. 🙁
      W Il Giro! Vai Nibali!

        • J Evans – the COMBINATION of the two issues is what I think put them off Androni since as you pointed out their replacement’s a little dodgy too. But I can remember when RCS let “Il Pistolero” race (and win) one year only to have his win taken away afterwards. I joked at that time they should take duplicate photos of Pistolero and whoever was 2nd holding the trophy so once the records needed amending they might have photos of the true “winner”. But it wouldn’t be the Giro d’Italia without some polemics even before a single pedal is turned, right?

          • I think your word ‘true’ might need inverted commas too, given that Scarponi was no stranger to doping suspensions himself.

      • Yes, hate to see the dirty Russians do anything but by all means I will cheer on Ferrari client and Astana rider Vincenzo Nibali.

      • As you say Androni were given a warning, it could have happened to Southeast too. Hard to explain why Rusvelo got the invitation, I expected to see lots of Gazprom banners and sponsorship of the race but it seems there’s been no deal. Some say the Russian gas giant has it’s Euro HQ near the start but it’s such a big company it’s got large offices in several Western European locations too.

    • Gazprom ride Colnagos and Colnago started sponsoring jerseys for the Giro Rosa, I guess that’s a reason why RCS went with them.

      Hope that’s what you wanted, I’m not sure what you meant by the leading question part…

      • Giro Rosa shouldn’t be related to RCS. Colnago sponsors it, among different and nobler motives, also as a “reparation” for a sexist ad that they happened to launch some time ago. It’s a pity that Cannondale, which presented – at least in Europe, as far as I know – a very similar ad (possibly even worse), wasn’t equally put to shame… perhaps we’d have had a little more money moving towards women’s cycling.
        That said, riding Italian bicycles or using other Italian products might be a plus, for sure, even if I’d be more inclined to think that a more direct economic contribution was perhaps implied. Pure conjecture, obviously.
        Some sort of vaster strategic consideration might also have been taken into account, but I’m afraid that this really borders wishful thinking on my part.

    • My guess would be politics… Russia/Italy are very close politically in energy with Gazprom having ties with ENI and other energy firms

  2. I want Landa to win. But I think the TT’s will hurt him and it will be catch up in the second half of the race. There are precious few seriously hard mountain top finishes that I can see (on which Landa would thrive) and so he will need to execute when it matters and without fail. I can easily see him on the podium but the top step? Its a toss of a coin.

    Nibali should sail away with this given his all-round skills. But there are two question marks: is he fit and is it up for it Nibali or can’t be bothered Nibali who is turning up?

  3. I’d put in a word for Valverde’s TT, he was 3rd at Burgos in the Vuelta beating TT specialists like Kiryienka, Coppel & Oliveira. He definitely used to be awful at them (2007?) but he seems consistently good now, and was Spanish champion 2014 (admittedly most of the opposition was Movistar teammates, but still). Feel like, especially with the strong team and recent form, he’s got to be 3rd or above barring an accident or a serious jour sans. Also seems more reliable form-wise than the other two to beat, Landa and Nibali. As for Uran Uran… I hope he’ll do well but we’ll see. Last year wasn’t pretty, especially his much-anticipated TT ending in disappointment.

  4. A word for Omar Fraile (Dimension Data) 2015 Vuelta Mountains Classification. Could be an interesting dark horse to keep an eye on.

  5. This may be off-topic a bit – but on that close-up pic it looks like J-C Peraud wears a wig. Is that real or my eyes are failing me? that must be super hot under the helmet.

  6. Nibali, Uran and Valverde are my emotionally driven hopefuls. Too bad only one of them can win.

    In the fantasy world of “who’s riding clean”; Uran is probably there, which is why he’s been relegated to Canondale, Nibali may be there, which is probably what Vino was referring to when he criticized him publicly a while back, and Valverde? Maybe, hopefully, he did his time and learned his lesson; I love the way he rides.

        • Funny, I would say Valverde is a pretty boring racer. He never attacks other than to sprint clear in the last 50 metres of short to medium length uphill finishes. He never needs to attack in those, he’s a slightly better uphill sprinter than Joaquin Rodriguez and that is enough. On longer climbs he seems to accept his fate as slightly inferior to Quintana/Froome/Contador and quietly drops away without ever trying anything.

  7. If Nibali shows up in top form it will be a heck of a turnaround or psychological game he’s played because he has looked way off the mark since winning that stage in Oman. Landa is laser focused. The most well-spoken psycho killer calm throughout every interview. He’s wanted this a long time and definitely showed last year he can do it. We’ll see if the winter tt work keeps him tight enough but he’s got the team. Boswell and Roche will be huge assets. And I really want to Dombrowski to be successful. Uran will need him and Formolo if he has any shot. Big fan of Majka but don’t think he has enough support. Landa wins this.

  8. I’d love to see Uran get the win – reckon he could have done it in 2013 had he been leader from the start instead of Sir Brad, and was unlucky to come up against a flying Quintana in 2014.

    Inrng – thanks from a longtime reader but rare commenter for the great preview. One small thing – Viviani may have to fend for himself rather than find for himself.

  9. Inrng’s interesting observation – how will Gazprom ride? In support of Zakarin and Katusha? I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case.

    • I don’t think they would do anything overt. Given the connection and this being the first “big race” they’ve been able to land, I don’t think they’d get many more chances if they abuse that privilege and ride in support of another team.

      At most, I see an illegal wheel change or two 🙂

  10. Can’t wait for inner ring’s Tour de France preview.

    Surely a pick for Froome will be a pick for reputation rather than form. Let’s be consistent.

    Wait. Nibali actually won a decent stage race this year. So not quite the same.

  11. What’s happened to Landa’s climbing domestiques? Intxausti with glandular fever, Henao’s blood being investigated and Konig disappearing from the sky ranks totally (injured perhaps?) It doesn’t bode well for his chances as the back-up mentioned in your preview doesn’t seem to be at the same level – although they’re definitely capable of stepping it up.

    • I had completely forgotten about Konig. Nothing on any English web sites but via google translate and a Czech website it appears he had a knee injury in Valencia in Feb and expects to be back at the end of May.

      Would agree Sky probably wanted the three you note to be involved but still a decent enough squad.

      • will be interesting to see how Boswell develops (vs Dombro now they have followed different paths – altho it sounds like they do most of their training together around Nice anyhow…)

  12. so if Chaves gets into the top 10… is that a better return for Orica than their usual mobbing of the first week – Ewan may struggle with Kittel, Greipel, Viviani, Modolo, Demare etc in attendance…

  13. “Ian Boswell, Mikel Nieve, Nicolas Roche and Sebastian Henao bring help for the mountains but they’ve not Sky’s A-team so we’ll see how much Landa has to work for himself in the final moments of a mountain stage.”

    If those 4 aren’t there in the final of a mountain stage, then none of the other team-leaders will have their helpers around either, surely?

    Would love Uran to win. I can’t see any of the lead 6 you mention in your opening paragraph riding away and putting serious time into each other, so it may well come down to the time-trials.

    • I think Nibali could have Fuglsang but whether the Dane is a helper or riding for himself or Astana remains to be seen but Scarponi could be there too. Valverde could have Amador and when Landa was by himself Ag2r’s Pozzovivo and Péraud were taking turns to attack and so on. As for Sky, they could have brought Poels, Inxuasti, Thomas, König, Kiryienka et al but haven’t, they have a good team but it’s not their best.

  14. What has not been discussed is how soon riders will ‘show’ themselves.

    Usually the first TT is seemingly left to TT experts. The top riders trade punches by coming ‘close’, but not winning the Maglia Rosa, or Maillot Jaune. Don’t lose time to your rivals, but don’t do too much to win the jersey. Only Lance in 99 was much different in that he won the prologue and the finished on the top step.

    • It’s not just about showing your hand too soon, it’s also a problem of form.
      Entering the race fresher but less fine tuned to grow stronger and stronger as stages goes by or being at your best from scratch to try and deliver some decisive blow (from a psychological POV, too) and then defend yourself.
      The Giro, with its often very heavy-loaded third week, makes the question especially relevant – and we’ve got several positive and negative examples with both approaches, hence I understand it might depend on the rider’s style and mindset, too.

  15. Actually Chaves is not terrible at TTs, he finished 20th in the 38km mostly flat TT at the Vuelta last year, and the uphill effort here will probably play to his strengths. Plus he’s on the right team for improving in the discipline.

    • No, really, until last year he’s been as terrible as he could be.
      The ITT you name, besides being his best result ever in an ITT (the second best being a 30th spot), was in the third week of a GT, which usually gives an edge to the GC men over the rest; moreover, that sort of “decent” placing is also due to the fact that a lot of guys who would probably overcome you are gregari, hence prefer to take the stage as a rest day.
      The fight is only among those four or five specialists who imagine they’ll get an actual chance to win, and do consequently push hard, plus the top ten or top 15 of the GC and maybe half a dozen or so of in-form riders who’re going fast out of pure form.
      Chaves did better than a tragic Purito, but he performed along the lines of Dani Moreno, Pozzovivo and Majka whose performances on the day were considered disappointing (for their not-so-high standard), and was left well behind by Aru and Quintana (who, on the contrary, were doing quite well, especially the latter). He lost more than one and half a minute to Valverde.
      Yet… yes, as you say the team he rides for is fine when improving such skills is concerned.

  16. Every year the OGE showing ‘sticks’ for a little longer. I’m hoping for an incremental improvement once again with both a sprinter and a climber this year…

  17. I really hope Tom Dumoulin does well on the GC, it adds another dimension to the race and forces the climbers to attack more. It may also encourage more races to have more TTs, I prefer a race which is best for all rounders and not just for climbers. This race has it all: Tom Dumoulin who will count on the TTs, Landa who will count on the mountains and Nibali counting on his overall ability.

  18. One mistake – “The Bison of Zegartowice”. Rafał comes from Zegartowice, indeed, but Łukasz Bodnar is the one who is called “Bison”. He has it painted on his frame.

  19. Regarding Betancur, in the link in the text is he not suggesting he has 7kg of fat (excess), which would put him at around 12% fat? In which case, he would be a maximum of 3 or 4kg overweight, so perhaps in better form than we might think?

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