The 2013 edition of the Giro d’Italia gets underway at the weekend. It’s only appropriate to take a look at the upcoming three week race, the first of 2013’s Grand Tours.
If you are unsure about the significance of the Giro d’Italia in the Pro cycling circuit, then be assured that it is categorically ‘a big deal’. Trumped only by the Tour de France, the Giro is a less uptight and perhaps even slightly cooler Grand Tour. At the risk of stereotyping an entire nation, it is in that sense, distinctly Italian.
The relaxed atmosphere that permeates the race is encouraged by the sense that the athletes are competing in an event where the fans are interested in pure cycling, and pure cycling only. The Tifosi were short changed a little last year, when the Giro started in Denmark (?), but the fans are getting treated to an Italian job this year. The race starts in Naples and only make one foray into foreign territory with a few days spent traversing the French Alps.
Jersey wise, the Maglia Rosa (that’s the pink jersey if you prefer not to have a crack at those tongue bending continental languages) will be worn by the overall leader. Other than that, it is the red jersey for the points, blue for the King of the Mountains and good old familiar white for the Best Young Rider classification.
As said, this year sees the Giro start in Naples. The first week is made up of a couple of flat stages for the sprinters to have a crack at, book-ended by team and individual time trials – Stages 2 and 8 respectively. There are a few hilly stages thrown in as well, but nothing too troubling. There is perhaps a chance that one of the overall contenders might be able to spring a surprise on one of their competitors, but it seems unlikely.
There are a couple of stages that will be key. It is not groundbreaking to suggest that the overall win will be decided by a combined good showing in the time trials and mountain stages. Stage 8’s long 54.8 km Time Trial from Gabicce-Mare to Saltana will be very important in the overall context of the race, with it suiting race favourite Bradley Wiggins down to a tee. He can use it to climb into pink and then mark everyone else in the mountains.
Stage 18 is a much shorter 19.4km Time Trial from Mori to Polsa, but it is uphill all the way. With the business end coming up, its outcome will be crucial.
In terms of mountain stages, all are likely to have an impact. There are a series of back to back hilltop finishes. In particular it is Stage 15 with a summit finish on the Galibier that will have fans licking their lips and sprinters crying into their handlebar tape. Stages 19 and 20 are neatly placed for some serious drama. Stage 20, the penultimate stage, will decide the winner of the race. With both coming directly after the 18’s Time Trial, GC contenders who lost time will be provided with one final opportunity to try and erode the leader’s advantage. Hopefully it will be attacks aplenty from all the big names.
1) Sir Bradley Wiggins (Sky)
Wiggo’s season has been rather low-key so far, but to say he is anything other than a favourite is very silly indeed. He looked very good in his most recent outing, the Giro del Trentino, a mechanical hindering his chances of victory. It is worth remembering that his team is not as strong as it was in France last year. He will, however, be flanked by the formidable climbing talents of the Colombian pair Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Henao. Winner of the 2012 Young Rider’s jersey, Uran is no slouch when it comes to hills Henao has had a brilliant season so far. Up until his mechanical at Trentino Wiggo looked as strong as he has ever been at climbing, and when you consider that Stage 8’s Time Trial is perfectly suited to him, he looks very good for the overall win. It should be acknowledged that Wiggins stated in an interview with The Sunday Times at the weekend that he is not discounting himself from a shot at the Tour de France. He sees the Giro both as an amazing race he has been training to win, and as an indicator of form prior to July’s three week French epic.
2) Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)
There is something fantastic about a home rider winning a Grand Tour, and that is what Nibali will be trying to do for the Italian tifosi. Nibali has had a good season so far, getting in a lot of racing. He has looked strong in the mountains, and he will need to rely on his explosive power to shake Wiggins out of the Maglia Rosa. He has some time trialling ability, but won’t be able to match Wiggins when it comes to the race against the clock. His only hope is sticking time into Sir Brad in the mountains which means he will have to be aggressive. He’ll be desperate to win in front of a home crowd. This desire and a need to attack will surely force him to come up with some of his best racing. He is more than capable of getting himself the pink jersey.
3) Cadel Evans (BMC)
It seems a long time has passed since Cadel Evans stood on the podium at the Champs Elysees and accepted his winner’s yellow jersey. It was 2011 – only two years ago – but the ageing Australian rider has not had a good time of it since. The 36 year-old had a poor TdF in 2012, and Tejay van Garderen is now being mooted as BMC’s real leader this year. To write the yellow jersey winner off is a foolish move however. Evans has been cycling’s Mr. Consistent in the mountains and in time trials, so to see him go head to head with Wiggins and Nibali in both will be interesting. Evans is capable of plugging away and being in the mix come the final few stages. If he does so, he will surely give BMC team bosses a headache.
4) Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin Sharp)
Defending champion Ryder Hesjedal is up against some stronger competition this year, but he is still certainly in with a chance of overall victory. He will want to defend his well deserved 2012 title, and that can bring out some of the best riding from an individual. Not that Hesjedal needs to bring his best riding out. Those who watched this year’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege will have seen the sort of form he is in, first putting in a convincing solo break, before taking a monster turn on the front to aid his teammate Dan Martin to victory. That victory showed Garmin-Sharp to be an extremely canny outfit, and perhaps that is where Hesjedal will have to wrestle an advantage from the likes of Wiggins and Nibali. He is a good time triallist, and as last year’s victory shows, an impressive climber. If he plays a tactically astute game, and keeps his himself there or thereabouts, he will definitely be in with chance. Whilst the others are looking at each other, he could just nip off and get himself some seconds in the mountains. His defence is not clear cut, but with current form behind him, he is certainly up there to make it two in a row.
5) The Others
This is not to take anything away from the other contenders, but a couple of guys are in with a shout of victory or podium places if they ride good races. Ivan Basso (Cannondale) has had a shocker of a season so far, but you can never say never when it comes to the experienced rider. Robert Gesink (Blanco), the new hope for Dutch cycling, will be hoping to put his arm up for Blanco and try and secure them some more sponsorship for next season. He’s a capable climber and time triallist and Blanco are a strong team. A word too for the superb Samuel Sanchez (Euskatel-Euskadi) – the 2008 Olympic Gold medallist is a fabulous all rounder and could feature heavily. Finally, Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) could be a bit of a wildcard for victory. He has had an inconsistent season so far, no doubt not helped by the three month ban he received in the off season for fraternising with the sinister cycling spectre, Dr. Michele Ferrari. He could grab some time in the first week, but his time trial is a little wanting. With these guys thrown into the mix with the hot favourites, there is bound to be some wonderful cycling.
The Giro d’Italia starts on Saturday 4th May.