Who’s going to be the Richie Porte of this year’s corsa rosa? We look into our bargain-basement crystal ball and make our picks.

Words by Andy McGrath

Less formulaic, arty-farty and meaningful than its July cousin, there are always a few surprises to be had at Giro.

In a Giro edition of such diabolical difficulty that even pre-race favourite Alberto Contador has expressed fear – and not just about his CAS hearing – might there be fewer revelations? Sometimes that’s a good thing, if you get my Jose Enrique Gutierrez-circa-Giro-2008 drift.

It’s time to look into my Argos crystal ball – blame them if I’m completely wrong – and predict who will be the Richie Porte or Jose Rujano of this year’s corsa rosa.

Tiago Machado (RadioShack)
“Tiago Machado can surprise in the Tour of Italy,” the latest release from RadioShack’s stating-the-bleeding-obvious PR department crowed.

Since transferring from Portuguese domestic obscurity to the Shack in 2010, Machado has been collecting stage-race top tens with the regularity of Johan Bruyneel’s book royalty payments.

If Radioshack has a future – and I like to imagine a giant, dramatic Doomsday clock sat in their headquarters, ticking down the time until their sponsorship contract expires – perhaps it’s Portuguese-speaking, rather than the Tex Mex-eating, hook-em-horns-wearing Captain America the sponsors would prefer. They’re running out of time, though.

The only thing working against Machado is inexperience: this is his first Grand Tour and as far as baptisms of fire go, he’s being dropped straight into the seventh circle of Hell at the Giro.

Alexander Kristoff (BMC Racing Team)
On a practically prepubescent BMC team, probably under threat of being sent to the naughty step lest they mention “Mantova” to the press, Kristoff can be the pleasant surprise. As opposed to the recent less-agreeable revelations printed in the Gazzetta dello Sport.

Comparisons to Thor Hushovd are all too easy – burly, brusque, Norwegian, check, check and check – but that doesn’t make them wrong either. Kristoff really is a rough and tumble Scandinavian sprinter.

But with a growing collection of middling placings – like fourth place at the Hamburg Cyclassics – you didn’t really notice him before. Time for that to change: Kristoff has the talent to break out of the C-list sprinter compound at the Giro.

And lord knows, BMC could do with relying on someone else other than Cadel Evans to win races – any races – for them.

Russell Downing (Team Sky)
He’s waited a decade to break into the big time. To British fans at least, it seems ludicrous that this will be Downing’s first Grand Tour. This is justice served, his rightful place.

I reckon Downing’s going to make up for lost years, racing with the determination and ferocity of a pack of bulldogs let loose on a squeeze-toy factory.

Several Giro stages are made for his style of riding, with a few colline slipped into the stage finales.

He’s a dangerman from a breakaway or depleted-bunch sprint. I reckon “Fonzy” Downing won’t be Team Sky’s best kept secret after this race.

Adam Blythe (Omega Pharma-Lotto)
That may be two Englishmen in a row, but it’s not blind, chest-thumping jingoism prompting us to put Blythe in. This Briton’s got talent.

Last October, he suddenly turned into André Greipel, picking up four wins in the space of a fortnight.

Blythe raced the first opening ten days of the Giro last year, wisely withdrawing before he physically expired, but not before bagging a fifth place finish.

The Becks of the peloton – his “Posh” partner is Garmin-Cervelo rider Lizzie Armitstead, dunchaknow – is a year older and a year stronger, and still only 21.

On a similarly-junior Omega Pharma team without a clear helmsman, he’ll be the one getting all the support from his spotty teammates – and the laughs too, if he carries on cavorting like this: http://twitpic.com/4tev2l

Dario Cataldo (Quick Step)
It’s the Giro d’Italia. Like ordering a cappuccino after noon in Milan, not mentioning a homegrown hope would be very remiss.

Rather than play eenie-meenie-miny-mo with the Colnago-CSF Inox team sheet to pick which one of their nobodies will win a stage, it’s better to go for a bona fide hopeful.

Ever since he won two Tour de l’Avenir stages in 2007, I’ve had my eye on Cataldo. Yet the former Baby Giro winner has remained stubbornly on the fringes, someone who can climb and sprint a bit, but not well enough to trouble the best.

Last year’s Giro is a case in point: second to Evgeni Petrov on the epic stage to L’Aquila, ninth on Plan de Corones, fourteenth on the Zoncolan.

It’s time for him to step up and really put the Cataldo among the pigeons [you’re fired – Ed].

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