If you are British,it is now apparently obligatory that you are aware of the Giro, currently being marketed in the press as Italy’s answer to the Tour de France, despite being a mere six years younger. Of course, The Giro has oft been the ‘hipster’ cycling race of sorts – its the one that shows you’re a bit more nuanced if you know about it, at least thats what those who know about would have you believe. Essentially, just because the Tour gets all the coverage, the Giro has been the preserve of those who enjoy a bit of romance and the less globalised, sanatised world of Le Tour. This is after all the race which started the trend for umpteen uphill finishes, super steep mountains and even netting on descents to catch riders who might fall off the edge (they didn’t go down in the end).
So a brief history. The Giro is the second oldest instruction remaining in Italy, after the Catholic church, and has been going since 1909 when it was founded by La Gazetta Dello Sport, the newspapaer which still has its name on the famous magila rosa. That is the leaders jersey, which takes its pink colour from the pink of the newspaper. The Giro really is quite special to Italy – it is almost a May festival, reproducing history with nods to famous roads and riders, helping to ritualise and mythologise the traditions and mystique of the country. It has been of great political significance, being used to symbolise the unification of the country in more ways then one, with riders once being sent to the captured town of Trieste to show it was part of post-War Italy. This year will be the 96th edition, which was last won by Canadian Ryder Hesjedal.
And Hesjedal is back again to defend – an odd thing these days, when the Tour is seemingly everything. More intriguingly, so is the Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins, as well as the man the will be seeking revenge for last years Tour – Vincenzo Nibali, the home favourite. So, who are the men to watch, and how will they win?
TIME BONUSES – Seemingly forgotten and a big help to those hoping to limit TT losses are time bonuses, which return to the Giro this year.Every stage but those against the clock thus rewards 20, 12 and 8 second bonuses to the top three riders.
TIME TRIALS – The Giro has never like time trials much recently unless they went up a hill, and as such, one of the ones this year follows that trend. However, a 55km test is something you’d expect to see in the Tour, and tips the balance back in the favour of the chrono-men.
MULTIPLE MOUNTAINS – Unlike the Tour, the Giro likes tomake riders ride over4 or 5 passes in a day.As a result, a team controlling the race is extremely taxing, if not impossible, and if someone tries, they will have to let their guard down at some point. Summit finishes are also more numerous.
The Big Three
Best Grand Tour results: 1st, 2012 Tour de France,3rd, 2011 Vuelta a Espana, 4th, 2009 Tour de France.
Best Giro Result: 40th, 2010
How will he win? Wiggins has support from team Sky that would glady be taken by any other squad as a Tour de France line up – Uran, Sivstov, Pate, Henao and Knees are a formidable mountain set up. Sky have as good as announced their plans for the race – use the two long time trials to buffer out Wiggins’ lead, taking the pink jersey in the first stage eight time trial, although they’d surely want it at stage two in the TTT, then lease it back the next day. Wiggins will then hope to repeat his Tour winning tactics and ride a team time trial over all the mountains, to demoralise and destroy his opposition.
How will he lose? The Giro isn’t the Tour – and more specifically, isn’t last years Tour, which was by comparison to most years rather easy, with just two summit finishes. Wiggins will have to cope with considerably more this time around, and Sky will have to be impregnable for the tactics to work, especially as any chink will be leapt upon by rivals, who will be desperate to isolate Wiggins. When he is isolated on a climb, Wiggins has never looked good unless he’s mano-o-mano – if he’s in a group of three or more, he could be in trouble. Sky havent brought much of a time trialling core for stage 2’s TTT either, although at only 17km, it shouldnt matter too much and they should be up their anyway. He’s also left his rivals an open goal by telling them he hopes to take pink in the time trial – basically a way of saying ‘attack before the time trial.’ Of course, he doesn’t have the best record for mechanicals either…
Season so far: Unlike 2012,Wiggins hasn’t won anything this year,instead being beaten by Nibali and having mechanicals. Instead, his biggest battle hasn’t even involved a pedal being turned – the verbal one he’s having with Chris Froome over leading at the Tour. Still, he looks good, and even attacked in the mountains at Catalyuna.
Summary: Like the Tour last year, this is the easiest the Giro will get for Wiggins, as it’s never been big with Time trials – now he has 70odd Km to buffer his lead. The Sky train is surely going to get derailed at some point though, and when and where that is will surely decide if Wiggins can compete.
‘The Shark from the Strait’
Best Grand Tour results: 1st, 2010 Vuelta a Espana, 2nd, 2011 Giro d’Italia, 3rd, 2012 Tour de France
Best Giro Result: 2nd, 2011.
How will he win? Nibali doesnt have the strong teamWiggins has, although Astana always seem to punch above their weight a bit. His strength is his jack of all trades ability – he can climb, time trial reasonably and boy can he descend when he wants to. His penchant for the spring classics, with podiums in Milan San-Remo and Liege-Bastonge-Liege, show that he has the punch and the panache to produce exciting, attacking racing, and this is what he will need to draw on to triumph. Unpredictability is his great weapon, as he goes by his instincts. Couple that with a simmering hatred of Team Sky and the favorite status in his homeland, and he’ll hope to restore an Italian to the top step of the podium for the first time since 2011(Scarponi doesnt count!)
How will he lose? Nibali isnt great at time trialling, although he has been working on it all winter. In a TT heavy Tour, that could be an issue, especially if he loses 2 minutes to Wiggins on the first day. However the bigger issue is that he isnt always the most consitent man in the world, and if he’sjust a fraction below his top level, it will quickly be obvious, and exploited.
Season so far: Nibali has been good, winning Tirreno-Adriatico and Giro del Trentino with aggressive moves, and beating strong Sky teams as well. His classics season was ruined by the weather at San-remo and tiredness at Liege, but Nibali is peaking at the right time.
Summary: Lots of people want Nibali to win, partially because he’s not Wiggins and he’s Italian, but also because he’s entertaining and a throw back to the good old days. If he does win, Nibali will be be venerated as a great champion for beating Wiggins on such a varied course, but if he loses, there will be questions as to if he has what it takes to get onto the top step of a race, given he has podiumed in all three.
Best Grand Tour results: 1st, 2012 Giro d’Italia, 6th, 2010 Tour de France, 17th, 2011 Tour de France
Best Giro Result: 1st, 2012.
How will he win? Hesjedal is a master of consistency, who can climb and time trial well, and has the extra punch to keep with the best for a long time. He can even attack, as he showed last year, and his early season has showed his power is still there. He didn’t win a stage last year, and probably won’t this year either – but that’s the way he rides, like Indurain in a way, who is the man he’ll be trying to emulate in being the first to win 2 Giri back to back.
How will he lose? To be honest, I struggle to see Hesjedal winning – last year he flew under the radar for a while, and by the time he was being taken seriously, it was already too late. Hesjedal was the superior time triallist last year, but he was up against Rodriguez, Basso and Scarponi- hardly men you’d consider masters against the clock. Up against Wiggins and Nibali, this will be an Achilles heel, then you just can’t see where he’s going to get away from them. Still, like last year, he’ll use surprise – just this year, it’ll be ‘he can’t do that again…can he?’
Season so far: Just like last year really – unnoticeable. And given he won on the same preparation, he’ll be pretty pleased with that.
Summary: Hesjedal will want to get on the podium at least, and should, but the top step is a big ask considering the quality of the oppositon this time round. In 2013, we’ll see if Hesjedal really is as good as Vaughters makes out he is.
Best Grand Tour results: 8th, 2012 Giro d’italia, 9th 2008 Giro d’Italia
Best Giro Result: 8th, 2012
How will he win? Lightweight Pozzovivo, who weighs just 53 kilos, is an obvious man for the mountains, and has made a habit of stage wins in recent years. Having moved to Ag2R, the team may encourage him to go for mor consistency then his all out style, although he’s generally done well by losing time, getting it back in a break, then hanging on. Still, an entertaining throwback to better days when climbers where pure, not lanky beanpoles with SRMS.
How will he lose? At 53 kilos, his time trialling is an obvious problem. Luckily for him one of them is up a mountain, but the 55km one will be purgatory for him. Ag2R might end up favouring Carols Betancur, whilst Pozzovivo will hope the Colombian is sent to get a stage win to ease the pressure on him.
Season so far: Pozzovivo’s season is the Giro. He doesn’t show up otherwise.
Summary: A man to have fun watching – if we’re being realistic he doesnt stand a chance of the podium, let alone the win, but still we can dream.
Best Grand Tour results: 1st, 2011 Giro d’italia, 4th, 2010 & 2012 Giro d’Italia
Best Giro Result: 1st, 2012.
How will he win? Scarponi is a climber, and can keep up with the best, but at 33, his best years are surely behind him now, and it’s unlikely he’ll keep up with the boys in black at Sky.
How will he lose? He can time trial better then he’s given credit for, but still not well enough to limit his losses. So he’ll be dropped everywhere, but probably still be second Italian.
Season so far: None-existent
Summary: The ex-Fuentes client who is a ‘winner’ thanks to Contador’s DQ has never looked too likely to repeat that feat, and wont either. Good value for a stage win though.
Best Grand Tour results: 7th, 2012 Giro d;Italia, 23rd, 2011 Tour de France, 29th, 2012 Vuelta a Espana
Best Giro Result: 7th, 2012.
How will he win? When Wiggins decides to go and prepare to lead in the Tour/falls off (just kidding, Wiggo devotees), Uran is the man to lead Sky. An Olympic silver medalist in London, Uran has somewhat of a habit of coming second, but if Wiggins stays in the race could act as the Chris Froome 2012 character, hauling him up the slopes and staying with his leader to maintain a high finish.
How will he lose? Mainly by working for Wiggins. Not the most adept TT rider either.
Season so far: Strong form in helping Wiggins and as part of a Colombian double trouble with Sergio Henao. Has looked good in one day races as well.
Summary: An excellent back up option for Sky.
‘The Bushfly of Varsseveld‘
Best Grand Tour results: 5th, 2009 Tour de France, 6th 2009 and 2012 Vuelta a Espana
Where to start with Gesink. He has developed a knack of finishing just outside the top placings, which given the hype he’s had from a very young age, has made him look poor and unable to deliver on his talent. Despite seemingly being around forever though, he’s only 26, and so still has plenty of time to improve. He’s also finished in the top 7 of 4/5 of the Grand Tours that he has finished – not back for a 26 year old. However, he’s also not finished 2, and limped home in the 2011 Tour due to a penchant for falling off, perhaps something to do with his lanky build. He can still time trial and climb well though, and if the stars finally align for him, he can step onto the podium, although no one would bet on the top step due to his ‘bad day’ – something he always seems to suffer at some point.
Best Grand Tour results: 1st, 2011 Tour de France, 2nd, 2007 & 2008 Tour de France, 3rd, 2009 Vuelta a Espana, 5th, 2010 Giro d’Italia
Is Evans past it? That seems to be the consensus. He certainly threw his hat into the Giro ring very late in the day with a mildly contradictory statement about ‘not riding it for training, but to improve his form’. Evans still seems transfixed with the idea of winning a second Tour, but he aknowledged in 2010 that riding the Giro left him tired for July, even if a broken elbow ruined his chances then. You can’t really see a good scenario for Evans – even if he wins, unlikely given his rocky form, BMC will surely then just use this as confirmation that Van Garderen should lead in July given he’ll be fresh. There’sno question Evans has the weapons to win, but there is one as to whether he still possesses them – we all said 2011 was his last chance to win the Tour, and frankly, it looks like the slow tick of time has blunted the edge he once had. Top 15 if he finishes, though that’s a bit conservative, but much more likely he pulls out after a couple of weeks.
Best Grand Tour results: 2nd, 2009 Vuelta a Espana, 3rd, 2007 Vuelta a Espana, 3rd, 2010 Tour de France.
Sanchez is now 35, a bit too old to match the men in their late 20s/earlier 30s who have the kick to get away. In his prime as Olympic champion, Sanchez had all the skills Nibali does now, if perhaps not quite to thesame level, but will probably be more interested in a stage win to give him one in all three Grand Tours rather than a high placing. He could certainly get one if he tries though.