Despite lacking some of the global prestige of the Tour de France, the Giro D’Italia often produces more gripping racing. Last year’s race was outstanding, with epic mountain finishes, the emergence of new heroes such as Richie Porte, who wore the cherished Maglia Rosa in his first year as a pro, and perhaps most welcome of all, the absence of any high profile doping scandals. With an almost ludicrously challenging route, and several of the world’s greatest stage racers forgoing the Tour in order to focus on the Giro, this year’s race, beginning on Saturday 7th May, promises to be another thrilling edition.
Alberto Contador – Despite racing beneath the cloud of his ongoing doping case, Contador will be looking to secure the sixth grand tour of his glittering career, and looks the man to beat in his first Giro since winning the race in 2008. It could also be his last grand tour for the foreseeable future, with the Saxo-Bank team leader’s fate set to be resolved by the Court of Arbitration for Sport before the Tour de France in July. Any notion of him racing the Giro as preparation for the Tour can therefore be eliminated; Contador is truly racing for the win.
Vincenzo Nibali – One of the undoubted stars of last years race, Nibali was able to combine helping teammate Ivan Basso to secure overall victory with a stage victory and overall podium place of his own. Now racing as the undisputed leader of the Liquigas team, the winner of last year’s Vuelta Espana will be hoping to draw on home support, particularly when the race crosses into his native Sicily (see below), and is probably the most realistic challenger to Contador.
Joaquim Rodriguez – With most of the pre-race hype surrounding the likes of Contador, Nibali and Dennis Menchov, Rodriguez has been largely overlooked. Despite never having really challenged for the Giro, the Catalan was eighth in last year’s Tour de France and fourth in the Vuelta a Espana, and is in good form, with second place finishes in La Fleche-Wallone and the Amstel Gold Race this spring. Furthermore, as a pure, aggressive climber, Rodriguez is tailor made for the multitude of steep uphill finishes included in the route, whilst the relative lack of time trials will mask his obvious shortcomings against the clock.
The Key Stages
Stage 9 : Medina-Etna (15 May) – Most years, this wouldn’t be considered one of the crucial stages: the climbs are long but steady, limiting potential time gains, whilst it seemingly falls too early in the race to be of great significance. However, with the Sicilian Nibali sure to target the iconic climb up Mount Etna, this stage could be an early indication of the favourites’ form, and set the tone for the rest of the race.
Stage 14 : Lienz – Mont Zoncolon (21 May) – Mont Zoncolon provided the abiding image of last year’s Giro, with the Italian Ivan Basso breaking the stout resistance of world champion Cadel Evans to claim a decisive stage win. The final climb is absurdly steep, with sections reaching a gradient of around 20%, so any riders with genuine GC ambitions will need to be in the top few places to avoid potentially ruinous time losses. This stage could decide the Giro.
Mark Cavendish – Despite having been comparatively quiet in the early part of the season, “Cav” has a habit of peaking in big races, and holds the British record for Giro stage victories, with five. Whilst his focus on the tour means he probably won’t finish the race, he will be the man to beat in any of the first fortnight’s potential bunch finishes.
Adam Blythe – The 22 year old Sheffield-born sprinter managed one top five place in last year’s race, before abandoning during stage eleven. A rider of real promise with a string of pro victories to his name already, Blythe has been given a chance as the number one sprinter on the Omega-Pharma Lotto team, and will be targeting a stage victory.