Who is going to win the Giro d’Italia? It’d be boring if we all knew today and hopefully the race brings a few surprises along the way. Here’s a closer look at the contenders for the maglia rosa ahead of the start on Friday.
Tom Dumoulin wasn’t the obvious pick a year ago but finished the Giro as the uncontested winner, able to stop for a break during a crucial mountain stage and still stay in control. He returns to a course that suits him well because if there are fewer time trial KMs than last year there are also more gradual climbs. He’s got a stronger Sunweb team with Laurens ten Dam and Sam Oomen bringing support in the high mountains although they’re hardly Sky or Astana and will piggyback off the bigger squads. There are questions over the Limburger’s form, he said his winter was too hectic with sponsorship and media commitments and he’s had a start to the season more notable for mechanicals and crashes than results or just reassurance although 15th in Liège was something for supporters to cheer. Anyway he was discreet until the Blockhaus last year too so it leaves us to judge him based on last year’s race, the ability is there, the course suits and the team is better than ever but only time will tell what he does.
Chris Froome comes not so much with baggage but small print, to cite him is to mention the still unresolved matter of his excess salbutamol test from the 2017 Vuelta, a Damoclean sword hanging by a procedural thread. The case could be heard in the coming weeks and were the verdict to go against him he could be plucked out of the Giro mid-race; or if he finishes with the case unresolved then there’s a “pending” asterisk given WADA rules say normally an athlete loses all results following the date of the positive test although there’s some grey area wording in the clause too, adding a new meaning to the Giro’s Trofeo Senza Fine or “trophy without an end”. We get into procedural matters of molecules, milligrams and the WADA Code rather than talking about form, the course or the strength of his team. None of this deters Froome much, he may not have big charisma but seems to have a steely heart… but we’ll see how the lungs cope in pollen season. He was strong in the recent Tour of the Alps where he matched the others on the climbs. This has become his modus operandi: it’s in the time trials that he won the Tour de France and Vuelta last year, conceding seconds in summit finishes, gaining minutes in the time trials. Sky bring a strong team to a race they’ve long struggled to master. Wout Poels should be a Plan B but after returning to racing following his Paris-Nice crash he looked well off the pace in the Ardennes but unless he’s ready Sky surely won’t have picked him while Sergio Henao is another capable of the top-10 but likely to ride for Froome.
Miguel Ángel López only recently turned 24 and leads Astana. That’s quite some promotion but he deserves it, he won the Tour de Suisse aged 22 and rode the Vuelta last year, completing his first grand tour, taking two stages on his way to eighth overall, salvaging a season ruined by breaking his leg the previous winter and then his hand mid-summer. Two stages and another top-10, ideally a top-5 look very achievable this May and he was strong in the recent Tour of the Alps. He’s an aggressive rider, a ball of muscle rather than the old stereotype of a Colombian waif but all the same he’s at a disadvantage in the long time trials, something he’ll address with time but not this month. Astana bring a very strong team in support, not the kind to flood the top-10 overall but capable of stage wins if they get a ticket to ride for themselves but combined they could try an ambush or a hold-up.
Thibaut Pinot has just won the Tour of the Alps and returns to the Giro looking to improve on last year’s fourth overall with a stage win. He’s the compromise pick, often better than most of the pure climbers in the time trials and possibly superior to the likes of Froome and Dumoulin in the mountains although can he be consistent across the three weeks? The opening stage is crucial, we’ll quickly learn if he can keep sight of Dumoulin and Froome while distancing the pure climbers. Like Froome he’s down for the Tour de France and probably like him he just wants to win this and worry about July later on. In recent years he’s progressed a lot in time trials – national champion in 2016 – but struggled in the Giro’s two chrono stages last year. The course suits him, excepting the Zoncolan, as some of the long climbs allow him to distance his rivals and time trial away. He’s got a sprint in his legs sometimes too which can help harvest time bonuses, this helped him win the recent Tour of the Alps and has the full Groupama-FDJ team in his service.
Fabio Aru is the national champion and local hope. Third in the 2014 Giro, second in 2015 and winning the Vuelta later that year but since his career trajectory has stalled, he’s only taken three wins since, albeit including a Tour de France summit finish but too often has been the victim of events rather than their master. How can he win the Giro? He struggles in time trials and past performance suggests could easily surrender 2-3 minutes across the two TT stages to Froome and Dumoulin. But this gives him room to jump away on the summit finishes for stage wins and if he can’t conquer the race he can win over the public who will be missing the exploits of Vincenzo Nibali. UAE-Emirates bring a team of stage hunters with Valerio Conti and Diego Ulissi looking for their own chances.
Esteban Chaves is another who hasn’t built on a previous podium finish after finishing second in 2016; the death of a close friend hit him hard mid-summer last year. This lack of results mean he’s off the radar more than he should be but there’s not much to go on and having been away training in Colombia he’s facing a Giro with a route that rarely strays beyond 2,000 metres above sea level. Like others he’ll pay a price in the time trials and if he was tenth in the Paris-Nice TT this was up a long climb, down and then up a sharp climb with only a short flat section at the end so it’s not comparable to the Giro’s courses where turning a 56T chainring counts.
Mitchelton-Scott bring a second leader in Simon Yates who’s a more steady option, more conservative: less likely to soar on a summit finish but with a faster sprint from a group even if he’ll lose time in the time trials too he’s had a more reassuring path to the Giro this year, losing out in Paris-Nice and fourth overall in the Volta a Catalunya. If all goes well either is a plausible podium finisher but it’s the combination of the two that’s interesting, it raises their chances of a stage win plus the inevitable office politics as the media try to establish the pecking order. Jack Haig has the makings a valuable lieutenant in the mountains for this May and more for the future and Roman Kreuziger, still only 31, was strong in the Ardennes.
Rohan Dennis is still in the pupal stage of metamorphosis from a track and time trial specialist to a grand tour contender. As we saw in Romandie he’s getting closer but still a little short on the climbs but better already than Dubai earlier this year. With BMC Racing’s future unknown he could win the opening stage and enjoy a spell in pink but we already know he can do this, the real test is to see how he fares across three weeks and in sequential mountain stages. Here’s a course to suit with steady ski station climbs rather than riding for Richie in July or tackling the Vuelta’s irregular goat paths in September. Nicolas Roche is aiming high for GC too and can ride steady but is in his 14th season as a pro and his win rate is low.
Michael Woods leads EF Education First-Drapac and finished a good seventh in the Vuelta last year, all while his team’s future was in doubt. His was a triumph of consistency with only three top-10 placings during that race. Liège-Bastogne-Liège showed us he’s coming into form so if all goes well he’ll top the Vuelta and could take a stage win either on a big summit finish or just on one of the steep walls on a transition stage. The team bring Joe Dombrowski and Hugh Carthy both valuable to pace Woods but also outsiders for mountain stage wins in the third week if they can save energy along the way.
On his day George Bennett can climb with the best, his problem has been doing it consistently during a grand tour. The New Zealander has 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. A solid top-10 and a stage win look more realistic than an outright win while Robert Gesink is going for stage wins these days.
Bora-Hansgrohe bring a mixed team with Sam Bennett for the sprints but Davide Formolo, Patrick Konrad and Felix Großschartner all capable of featuring in the mountains with Formolo, already a stage winner, probably the most able pick while Konrad is an able rider, 7th in Paris-Nice and 10th in the Basque Country this season.
Domenico Pozzovivo is a Giro specialist visible in May and if all goes well should be in the top-10 by Rome, maybe with a stage win too and after years at Ag2r he’s with Bahrain-Merida who are an Italian team under the bonnet. He’s allergic to the time trials though.
Louis Meintjes has climbed with the best in the Tour de France only he’s looked off form of late and has been struggling to get his form back this year but if he can turn things around then another top-10 awaits. Veteran Igor Anton hasn’t looked sharp of late either but could be valuable as a sherpa for Ben O’Connor who rides after winning a stage in the Tour of the Alps and who form-wise looks like Dimension Data’s best rider.
Finally among others Ag2r La Mondiale’s Alexandre Geniez has made the top-10 overall and aims for more of the same but can sprint well from a group. Bardiani-CSF’s Guilio Ciccone – a past stage winner – has been climbing well but has crashed hard and pictures on social media show him sporting a cast on his wrist. Trek-Segafredo hope for a top-10 with Gianluca Brambilla who is chasing his form form from 2016. Tim Wellens (Lotto-Fixall) wants to test himself in a grand tour and should be fun to watch along the way as long as he’s not gone stale after a long spring campaign. Movistar are sending their A team to the Tour de France but Carlos Betancur has been great in the Giro in the past while Ruben Fernandez and Richard Carapaz are promising too.
|Chris Froome, Tom Dumoulin
|Miguel Ángel López, Esteban Chaves
|Simon Yates, Fabio Aru
|Poels, Woods, Pozzovivo, Bennett