Ah the time of year when I dust down the coffee machine, plump the cushions and try to avoid doing absolutely anything between the hours of 13.00 and 16.30. Yes, its Grand Tour silly season in the world of professional road cycling. Whilst the general classification contenders have been preparing on some hors categorie climbs, I have been gorging myself on the Hors d’oeuvre’s of cycling’s seasonal menu. One day classics and short stage races have been a relative amuse bouche ahead of the full 21 course tasting menu of a grand tour.
There is nothing in the world of sport that is longer or warrants such investment than the Giro, Tour or Vuelta. As a result I, like you, I hope, have numerous ‘jours sans’. This usually involves a perfectly concocted TV montage set on repeat. The breakaway going hell for leather, the delightful landscape, an ambling peloton, the faint noise of the helicopter or motorbike engine… riders’ legs going up, and down, up, and down, up, and down….. Suddenly it’s the end of the stage and the top 10 for the day flashes up on the TV – I’ve missed the whole stage!!! Like a Bardiani-CSF rider aiming to get in the breakaway, I shall try again tomorrow!
So we come to the first of grand tour of the year the Giro d’Italia, perhaps confusingly for the uninitiated, starting in Ireland! The spaces and landscapes of the Giro never disappoint and the dash through the Emerald Isle will certainly match the vistas of Italy. It may even be capable of halting my usual mid stage slumber mentioned above! Judging by the stages planned the racing shouldn’t fail to satisfy either. The route starts with a team time trial around Belfast and finishes with a stage to Dublin, after which comes the 1st rest day for travel to Italy.
Giro d’Italia Route 2014
Ultimately the route this year is one primed for climbers – yet unlike recent years the profiles tend to build gradually rather than shoot for the hills right away. Stage 8 in the Apennines mountain range should bring the first shake up for the general classification. The Carpegna climb is back loaded towards the end of the stage and final climb at 13% should be a treat. A nasty trio, the Passo Gavio, Stelvio and the Monte Zoncolan are all attempted in the final week and the final mountain time trial will ultimately destroy some riders hopes.
Four previous Giro winners line up this year and the smart money suggests none of them will be in contention come Trieste. Ivan Basso and Michele Scarponi are the wrong side of 35, whilst Ryder Hesjedal and Damiano Cunego have not shown anything to date to suggest they can repeat their victories of 2004 and 2012 respectively. Of the old guard perhaps only Cadel Evans has a right to warrant a contender badge after a productive spring cumulating in GC victory at the recent Giro del Trentino.
So, roll up roll up how about a brand new grand tour winner? The bookies favourite, Nairo Quintana, looks a good bet to at least match his podium finish from last year’s tour. He has had a solid preparation in the run up, landing the win at the Tour de San Luis, second at Tirenno and 5th in Catalunya. This combined with his eminent climbing ability, solid time trialling and a world class Movistar line up ensures he certainly warrants favouritism.
Rigoberto Uran, 2nd last year has a good chance too. He has kept his powder dry this season with only a 3rd in GC at the Tour of Oman the only result of note. The Omega-Pharma quickstep team is built around him with no Mark Cavendish. If Thomas De Gent and Wout Poels and can provide suitable domestique support in the mountains he may have a shot. Joaquim Rodriguez, the Raymond Poulidor of our times, could at last win the general classification at a grand tour. This may be his last chance as he enters the last few golden years of his career and he probably missed his best chance in 2012. The time trial on stage 12 does him no favours. Daniel Martin, Domenico Pozzovivo, Rafal Majka, Nicholas Roche and Wilco Kelderman could all make a step up this year after showing glimpses of what might be. All must ride their luck and have the best of legs to usurp Quintana et al.
My Giro d’Italia Top 5:-
- Nairo Quintana
- Cadel Evans
- Rafal Majka
- Nicholas Roche
- Daniel Martin
Stage Win – Tim Wellens (Lotto Belisol)
Arguably the most spectacular and visually stimulating of the three Grand Tours the 96th edition of the Giro d’Italia has been described as a hybrid route which transcends the boundaries between a wholly climbers race and a TT specialist’s. Last year’s Giro was perhaps the most stimulating of all Grand Tours with a surprise but worthy winner in Ryder Hesjedal and this year’s looks to emulate that with a dramatic race from Naples to Brescia over 3405 kilometres.
The stellar cast of riders including last year’s Maglia Rosa, Tour winner Sir Bradley Wiggins, recent Giro Del Trentino victor Vincenzo Nibali and a host of other contenders for the General Classification including Cadel Evans, Ivan Basso(!), Michele Scarponi, Samuel Sanchez and Robert Gesink certainly whets the appetite for a fine race to Brescia on the 27th of May. This coupled with sprinters Mark Cavendish, Nacer Bouhanni, Matthew Goss, Sacha Modolo and Roberto Ferrari ensures that this will be a delight of a race from start to finish.
The ebb and flow of a stage race is perhaps no more in evidence than at the Giro. This coupled with the fantastic landscape theatre in which it is played out in, ensures that it is a delight to view. The stage profiles suggest the route builds through the first two weeks (as any good Grand Tour should) to the final few outrageous mountain stages over the Passo Gavia, the Stelvio and the Passo Giau. Stages 4, 7 and 9 are the ones to definitely tune in for early on the race with a nice mix of terrain to suit both puncheurs and overall contenders keen to steal an early march on their opponents. Stage 7 to Pescara and its important port and marina is sure to excite typical breakaway specialists but the terrain could promote a sprint at a push and is likely to stir John Degenkolb’s Argos Shimano and Nacer Bouhanni’s FDJ team into action.
The route of the 2013 Giro
The key aspect of the majority of the mountain stages, back loaded into the second and third weekend, is their relatively short length. Take for example Stage 15, Sunday 19th May where the race heads over the Mont Ceris and then the Telegraphe before the final, tougher ascent to the Col Du Galibier the opposite side to Andy Schleck’s 60km solo escape to win Stage 18 of the 2011 Tour de France; a stage which is only 149km long and will undoubtedly be raced rapidly from the off. By the start of stage 20 we may well already know whether Bradley Wiggins has coped with the steeper Italian ascents in comparison to the long steady climbs in the Alps and Pyrenees, and perhaps more importantly whether Team Sky’s mass on the front riding has worked to the extent that it has done in the past. So, as the road rises to Tre Cime Di Lavaredo a final nail may have been hammered into Wiggins’ coffin by messers Nibali, Betancur, Pozzovivo and Sanchez.
To finish; some (ill-informed and widely speculative) predictions. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Mauro Santambrogio going well in the GC, if only for a top 5 or top 10. Moving to Vini Fantini from BMC at the end of 2012 has reaped its rewards for the 28 year old Italian, with 7th at Tirreno Adriatico and 2nd at the Giro Del Trentino . Certainly his team isn’t as strong as the other overall favourites, his Grand Tour form isn’t spectacular, and I’m not convinced by his time trailing capabilities (76th and 54th in his two ITT’s this year), but the Giro more often than not throws up a surprise contender.
The changing of the GC guard is evident in the fact that old powers like Ivan Basso, Cadel Evans and Michele Scarponi aren’t getting any younger and in the early to mid stage of the decent of their careers. The nearly man Robert Gesink could go close if on top form and he avoids crashes and if not him or Santambrogio then certainly Benat Intxausti looks well placed for a Top 10 finish. Finishing 10th last year at the incredibly difficult Vuelta, perhaps marked a breakthrough for the 27th year old. Whether he will ride for JJ Cobo, the Vuelta winner of 2011 remains to be seen but certainly his form has been building nicely since an 8th in the overall at the Tour of the Basque Country and 4th at the Klasika Primavera de Amorebieta. He can time trial too, which could help limit his losses in the mountains.
Meanwhile, Wiggins’ form, although not as spectacular as last season, certainly looks solid with an ill-timed mechanical arguably the only difference between himself and Vincenzo Nibali at the Giro Del Trentino. He also looked comfortable on the steeper climbs that epitomize Trentino and his time trialing will have undoubtedly remained flawless. Ryder Hesjedal looked mean and lean in Liege Bastogne Liege although his prevalence as an overall contender opposed to last year could be his undoing.
As ever there will be Italians who emerge into the spotlight of the wild Tifosi as Matteo Rabottini did last year so spectacularly. Stefano Pirazzi is sure to be one to watch for attacking in the mountains along with the ever excitable Vacansoleil, the wonderfully entitled Vini Fantini and the other Pro Continental outfits of Team Colombia, Androni-Venezuela and Bardini Vavole – CSF Inox, who are sure to animate things from the off.
My Giro d’Italia Top 5:-
- Vincenzo Nibali
- Bradley Wiggins
- Ryder Hesjedal
- Robert Gesink
- Mauro Santambrogio
Stage Win – Stefano Pirazzi
White Jersey – Wilco Kelderman
Fingers crossed for a passionate, exciting and unpredictable Giro!