Thursday, 3 May 2012

Giro d'Italia 2012: The Contenders


 
The first of this years three week long Grand Tours kicks off this Saturday in Denmark. The Giro d'Italia is a formidable race, second only to the Tour de France in prestige though for its unpredictability and (usually) notoriously difficult route many seasoned cycling fans prefer to watch the Giro. This years addition features arguably the weakest field of competitors in recent years, though don't let this dampen your enthusiasm, as the lack of a major race favourite will only serve to make the spectacle more exciting and less predictable. Many a career has been forged and indeed invented here and this year seems perfect for any young riders looking to make a name for themselves. The route is very top heavy, with the first 2 weeks being predominantly flat and the final week frighteningly mountainous which should make for a spectacular finale and leave us guessing as to who will be crowned the winner right until the finish. For an in depth preview of the race featuring profiles of all of the stages, see The Inner Ring Instead I will focus on the Contenders...

The Favourites

Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale)
Following a very slow start to the season Ivan Basso has been confirmed as leader for the Liquigas-Cannondale at this years Giro. He is yet to have any results this season and looked to be carrying a little extra weight in the Giro del Trentino a couple of weeks ago and though nowhere near the current condition of teammate and Tour hopeful Vincenzo Nibali, Basso has shown signs of life in the Tour of Romandie though I still wouldn't consider him Giro fit. He may ride his way into fitness in the first two weeks, after all they are predominantly flat and if anybody is to turn up without form this year, this is where they will come good in time for the Dolomite's in the final week. Ivan Basso does however have a strong supporting team. Liquigas have been exceptional in the early part of this year with a cool mixture of youth and experience. Teammate Sylvester Szmyd has looked good this year and may be invaluable to Basso when it comes to the steep stuff...

Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD)
Last years winner by default following the ban on Alberto Contador, Scarponi has ambitions to 'win it on the road'. He has been quiet this season, though not in the same way as Basso - Michele has ridden well this year but kept himself away from the limelight - a useful pressure saving measure. Finishing 7th in Tirreno-Adriatico and 8th over all at Liege-Bastogne-Liege it looks as though Scarponi is in fairer condition than Basso going into the race. Scarponi will ride as Lampre-ISD team leader with help from an in form Damiano Cunego. A previous Giro winner himself this could turn into a two-pronged attack and if Cunego is feeling better come the mountains there is a possibility that Scarponi could end up working for him. 

Frank Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan)
A surprise late entrant, Frank Schleck has been drafted in to replace injured Jakob Fuglsang as RadioShack-Nissan team leader having not ridden the Giro d'Italia since 2005. Frank, like brother Andy, is yet to find form this year and put a result on the board which has caused all kinds of friction behind the scenes at Radioshack-Nissan. With management keen to separate the brothers in an attempt to get the best out of their abilities, It will be interesting to see Frank Schleck compete in a Grand Tour without babysitting his brother and taking on a sole team leader role himself. I suspect this could well be a turning point in Frank's career if he plays his cards right. Being rushed into a 3 week stage race without specific preparation isn't ideal and he will undoubtedly be playing catch up in the first week or so, but we know how good Frank can ride and I'd suggest it's better than most of the bigger names in this years Giro.

Roman Kreuziger (Astana)
Astana have had a tremendous start to the year, none more so than Roman Kreuziger. Still finding his GC feat at the tender age of 25 Kreuziger looks to be the most in form rider lining up at the start in Denmark. He looked strong in Romandie and previously finished third in both the Giro del Trentino and Tirreno-Adriatico stage races. He's been out in Italy this week already to ride the finish of the first significant stage, stage 14, so he's clearly well prepared. All of his riding this year has been in preparation for the Giro which he has labelled as his main target for the first half of this season. Although an all-rounder he does perform well in the mountains and with in form riders like Paolo Tiralongo providing support I can see him placing better than his 5th overall last year. Former Liquigas teammate and current Ivan Basso teammate Vincenzo Nibali has labelled Kreuziger as Basso's biggest threat, and with good reason.

The Chasers

Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Katusha)
Another Inform contender who finished 5th here last year Rodriguez is a podium hopeful. Recent results include a win at Fleche Wallonne, 2nd overall at the Tour of the Basque Country and 6th in Tirreno-Adriatico. I was reluctant to put him in with the Favourites as he has a habit of falling just short in the Grand Tours. Although a good climber he is really strong on the short, steep slopes but tends to trail off on the longer climbs.

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD)
Ive mentioned him already in his support role for Michele Scarponi but Cunego is a GC contender in his own right. A previous Giro winner and a very strong climber Damiano is capable of putting in a big performance and landing on the podium this year. This year alone he has finished 2nd in the Giro del Trentino, 4th in the Basque Country and 6th in Catalunya putting him in arguably better form that lampre-ISD team leader Scarponi.

John Gadret (Ag2r-la Mondiale)
Ag2r are the only WorldTour team without a victory in 2012 so will be looking to change that before the sponsors become restless. With Nicholas Roche on Tour duty the Giro is left to team leader John Gadret who finished third here last year. He's 32 now and that Grand Tour victory has alluded him. We haven't seen much of him this year and he hasn't placed in any race yet so there is nothing to judge his form on. He's a slim outside bet.

Domenico Pozzovivo (Colnago-CSF Bardiani)
Pozzovivo is a man on fire. We watched as the 30 year old Italian terrorised the field in the Dolomite mountains at the Giro del Trentino to take the overall and King of The Mountains jersey. Pound for Pound this man is probably one of the greatest climbers in the world this year so expect to see plenty of him in the final week. His downfall however is his size, at 53kilos and 5 ft 5 in tall Pozzovivo has always struggled to keep up with the leaders on the flat or in arduous conditions. If it's windy at during the first three days in Denmark and Domenico isn't well protected by his team, he could be blown out of the race.

Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
The Spaniard will line up at the start hoping to build on his relative success of last year where he finished 10th in both the Giro and the Vuelta a Espana. As Euskaltel team leader the pressure may be on to go for stage wins and the overall to secure valuable extra UCI ranking points and airtime to secure the future of the team, especially with the loss of Igor Anton to a broken collarbone. A good climber but lacking in experience, I wouldn't rule him out of a podium place.

Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda)
Garmin's contender and a favourite of mine is Ryder Hesjedal. Long been there or thereabouts he's never quite managed to find the legs to make a GT podium. A top ten finish at the Tour de France in 2010 and a top 20 in 2011 Hesjedal looks to be in decent form this time around for the Giro. He was up there on nearly every day of the recent Tour of Romandie and placed well at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, I really hope he can do well.

Giovanni Visconti (Movistar)
The former Italian national road race champion is more of a puncheur than a mountain specialist but on home turf here in the Giro he looks to be leading the Movistar team. The Giro always seems to bring the best out of the Italians, Visconti is an outsider.

Thomas De Gendt (Vaconsoleil)
Falling into the puncheur category rather than a mountain specialist, much like Visconti, the Belgian rider famously finished 19th on the Alpe d'Huez with a collarbone fracture last year so he does have climbing legs. He may be riding in support of Matteo Carrara who will no doubt lead the team as an Italian, but looking at form I would favour De Gendt as the rider to perform.

Rigoberto Uran (Team Sky)
Though the Sky team is heavily weighted in the support for Mark Cavendish department for this years Giro the late addition to the team Uran could be a threat to the GC come the final week. The young Colombian can certainly climb but we are yet to see what he can do when let lose from his role in supporting Sky's bigger names in the mountains. There is support for him also in the form of Sergio Henao, Geraint Thomas and Peter Kennaugh (who starts the Giro having race a whopping 7km on the road this year).

Conclusion

There are plenty of names that could be thrown in the mix, others who's form is a relative unknown and may pop up to surprise us and some who no doubt we will not have even heard of until they put their faces in the wind in Italy. What's also clear is that many a WorldTour team is lining up at the Giro with completely different ambitions to that of the General Classification. Teams such as Orico-Greenedge and Rabobank will be there purely for stage victories. Other team's will turn up without a 'real' general classification rider of any pedigree and will hope to invent one along the way or simply just hope for the best to get something out of what they have. Its not necessarily the fault of the teams, a condition of holding a WorldTour licence is that teams participate in all three Grand Tours. As I said at the start of this post though, there's plenty here to get excited about, many of the unknowns surrounding this years Giro will be what creates a great and more importantly, competitive race.

1 comment:

  1. Another really nice and informative post - better frankly, in my opinion, than the stuff one reads in magazines and their associated websites. I'd not followed the Giro before - my dilettante's interest in cycling was previously confined to the usual three weeks in July - but this year, and largely thanks to the interesting and intelligent offerings here I am taking a much broader interest in things.

    It does seem as though this year's edition will offer some golden opportunities for lesser lights to get out from under the big names, forge their own identities and (maybe) start great careers.

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