For all the talk about how Astana?s Giro d’Italia call-up came at astonishingly short notice, at least one of the riders will be ready to take on this year’s race, starting on Saturday (May 10).

A planner as meticulous as Johan Bruyneel would not have discounted the possibility of his team being admitted at the last moment and he would have planned accordingly.

Although Alberto Contador may have been on holiday and Levi Leipheimer has been in the United States, Andreas Klöden has been training and racing and appears ready.

Logistically, once the team actually arrived in Sicily most of the obstacles were overcome. All the planning will have been done by the organisers. Astana will simply slot into the schedule in the place of team NGC, the squad they replaced. The stress will have been kept to a minimum.

And while Contador says he?ll simply do what he can at the Giro, it looks as if Klöden is primed to challenge.


Andreas Kloden

1 Andreas Klöden

Germany / Astana
Age 32

Giro experience None

Form Won the Tour of Romandie in commanding fashion.

In his favour A very, very strong team at his disposal. Klöden is the best time triallist in the race, he?s on form and he knows how to ride a grand tour in order to save energy for the key days

Against Astana?s inclusion has not gone down well. They may find themselves exposed to an ambush by a combine of other teams. The really high mountains have caused Klöden trouble in the past ? is there enough time trialling to cover for his shortcomings, or will he be praying for bad weather on one or two key days?

Unibet.com odds to win 4.00 (favourite)


Danilo Di Luca

2 Danilo Di Luca

Italy / LPR Brakes
Age 32

Giro experience
2007 ? 1st
2006 ? 23rd
2005 ? 4th
2004 ? DNS
2003 ? DNS
2002 ? DNS
2001 ? 24th
2000 ? DNF

Form Won Settimana Ciclista Lombarda leading an LPR one-two-three ahead of Paolo Savoldelli and Daniele Pietropolli

In his favour Tremendous determination. Willing to dig in despite all the attacks against him and in the face of his many detractors.

Against Other than Savoldelli, he has a weak squad. Has had relatively little top-class racing against really strong opposition this year. Dodgy reputation. A Di Luca win is nothing to be savoured.

Unibet.com odds to win 7.50


Gilberto Simoni

3 Gilberto Simoni

Italy / Serramenti Diquigiovanni

Age 36

Giro experience
2007 ? 4th
2006 ? 3rd
2005 ? 2nd
2004 ? 3rd
2003 ? 1st
2002 ? DNF
2001 ? 1st
2000 ? 3rd
1999 ? 3rd
1998 ? 58th
1997 ? DNF

Form A quiet build-up but Simoni is Mr Giro d?Italia these days. He?ll be ready.

In his favour For the first time in years he doesn?t have a mouthy, irritating, upstart team-mate (Ricco, Cunego) breathing down his neck, making life awkward for him. Apart from the 2002 incident with the sweets that contained cocaine (or was it a dental injection?) Simoni has been in the top four every year since 1999. That is a heck of a record.

Against Ageing legs, weak team. Knows this is his last chance. There are younger, stronger legs in the field and this may be a step too far.

Unibet.com odds to win 12.00


4 Vincenzo Nibali

Italy / Liquigas

Age 23

Giro experience
2007 ? 19th

Form Won the Giro del Trentino, tenth at Liège-Bastogne-Liège

In his favour Our man in Italy, Stephen Farrand, is convinced by Nibali and believes he?ll make the podium. Certainly he?ll go into the race in superb form and he has just about everything in his locker ? time trialling, climbing ability ? except a proven record in the very high mountains. Will be knocking on the door of the podium. Has a great team-mate in Franco Pellizotti and a string of classy domestiques (including Charly Wegelius) to help.

Against Inexperienced at this level. Ricco had all the bluff and bluster last year but proved how hard it is to crack into the top three or four at the first attempt.

Unibet.com odds to win 17.00


Riccardo Ricco

5 Riccardo Ricco

Italy / Saunier Duval

Age 24

Giro experience
2007 ? 6th

Form Has suffered illness and injury this spring

In his favour He?s got a stupid nickname ? the Cobra ? and a flashy website with some awful technopop ? www.cobraricco.it [how is that in his favour? – Ed ]

Against A pretty objectionable type. All mouth and not many wins at this stage of his career. Talks a good game and looked brilliant at times in last year?s Giro but then there was no pressure on him because he had Simoni as a team-mate to deflect the attention. Now he?s the number one. Can he cope?

Unibet.com odds to win 13.00


6 Franco Pellizotti

Italy / Liquigas

Age 30

Giro experience
2007 ? 9th
2006 ? 8th
2005 ? DNS
2004 ? 11th
2003 ? 9th
2002 ? 16th

Form Steady as she goes. Was third in the one-day Giro d?Oro, put his head above the parapet to get second in a stage of the Giro del Trentino.

In his favour Solid, dependable, unspectacular rider who can climb pretty well, time trial okay and get round a three-week tour in good shape. Has an excellent pedigree here, always in or around the top ten. Finished ninth while working for Di Luca last year. Will help Nibali this year but will have to shoulder more responsibility himself, hence our predicted sixth place finish.

Against Wacky perm that out Pozzatos Pozzato. One-paced. Can?t jump when it jumps. Seems to grind round in that anonymous fashion of grand tour riders who can finish eighth or ninth but never look like getting any higher.


7 Alberto Contador

Spain / Astana

Age 25

Giro experience None

Form Unknown. Hasn’t raced since the Tour of the Basque Country in early April – where he won two stages and the overall. Had dental surgery at the end of last month and was actually on holiday when the call to the Giro came.

In his favour Undoubted climbing ability – probably the strongest climber in the race. Astana directeur sportif Sean Yates has said he hasn’t seen a rider climb so effortlessly since Lance. When Astana named their team for the Giro Contador said he was not good enough to win and would ‘do what he could’. As the days have gone on, there seems to be more of an air of confidence coming out of the camp.

Against Haphazard preparation. Although the really key stages are still a fortnight away, there’s still a lot of racing to be done and Contador had not been training specifically for the Giro (or had he?). It’s a great game of bluff with Astana – are they good, are they ready? The team time trial and the hilly stages in the first week will give some clues.

Unibet.com odds to win 5.00

Note: David Arroyo of Caisse d’Epargne was initially tipped to finish in the top 10 but on the Thursday before the race he was out with team-mates training in Sicily. The crash happened at a crossroads. Arroyo was most seriously hurt, breaking his left arm.


Denis Menchov

8 Denis Menchov

Russia / Rabobank

Age 30

Giro experience None

Form Building slowly. A steady spring came to life with fourth place in the Tour of Romandie.

In his favour Lots of grand tour experience, a decent team, solid in the mountains, good against the clock. Everything he needs to make the top ten.

Against Dreadfully dreary to watch when he?s in the lead of a grand tour. Rides defensively and suffers at least one bad day per tour. Is this a real bid to win, or a more solid build-up to the Tour de France? Usually goes better in his second grand tour of the year, so likelihood is he’s using this to prepare for the Tour.

Unibet.com odds to win 10.00


9 Juan Manuel Garate

Spain / Quick Step

Age 32

Giro experience
2007 ? DNS
2006 ? 7th
2005 ? 5th
2004 ? 10th
2003 ? DNS
2002 ? 4th
2001 ? 20th

Form Solid seventh in Romandie on the back of sixth at Paris-Nice earlier in the spring

In his favour Has made the top ten at the Giro four times. Goes about it quietly but is in a privileged position at Quick Step as there?s no pressure on him. They tried to use him to the same effect in the Tour last year but it back-fired, so he?s back at the Giro and should make the lower reaches of the top ten almost by default.

Against No team back-up in the mountains. When it gets really tough he?ll be on his own, following. Could sacrifice a top overall finish by hunting stage wins.

Unibet.com odds to win Not listed


10 Evgeni Petrov

Russia / Tinkoff

Age 29

Giro experience
2007 ? 7th
2006 ? 57th
2005 ? 50th

Form Was 20th at Tirreno-Adriatico, 10th at the Giro del Trentino

In his favour Tinkoff are bound to get a man in the top ten and if so, it?ll be Petrov.

Against Was last year?s result a flash in the pan?

Unibet.com odds to win Not listed


KNOCKING ON THE DOOR?

Marzio Bruseghin
Italy / Lampre
Best Giro: 8th in 2007
Had a great race last year. Will lead Lampre in Cunego?s absence. Has lost Paxti Vila as support ? the Spaniard failed a dope test for testosterone.

Paolo Savoldelli
Italy / LPR Brakes
Best Giro: 1st in 2002 and 2005
Will work primarily for Di Luca. The big mountains are too much for him these days, at the age of 35, but a very useful man to have if a gap needs closing on a descent.

Leonardo Piepoli
Italy / Saunier Duval
Best Giro: 10th in 2000
Will ride for Ricco if the Italian is in any position to win or get on the podium, otherwise he?ll hit the climbs looking for stage wins.

Levi Leipheimer
USA / Astana
No previous Giro experience
A diesel who needs a detailed warm-up before a big tour. Has he had it? We don?t think so. Unlikely to feature overall but a very useful team rider.

Jose Rujano
Venezuela / Caisse d?Epargne
Best Giro: 3rd in 2005
Unknown quantity after his adventures with Quick Step and Unibet. Still trading on that remarkable third place and king of the mountains win. Needs to do something.

Vladimir Karpets
Russia / Caisse d?Epargne
Best Giro: 7th in 2005
Instinct said stick him in the top ten, but perhaps Plan A is to back Arroyo. Now Arroyo is injured, Karpets will be required to step up, as long as he is not too badly affected by the crash which ruled out Arroyo. The absence of Arroyo will also give Joaquin Rodriguez a chance to play his cards.

Christian Pfannberger
Austria / Barloworld
No previous Giro experience
Listed on account of his superb week in the Ardennes. He?s a good climber as his previous stage race results have shown, but his grand tour experience is non-existent.

Juan Mauricio Soler
Colombia / Barloworld
No previous Giro experience
King of the mountains at the Tour de France last year. Not expected to ride strongly for the whole race but may have a good day or two.

Tadej Valjavec
Slovenia / Ag2r
Best Giro: 9th in 2004
Can make the top ten if he?s on roaring form. Another of the faceless men who seem always to be in the first 15 or 20 without getting any further.

Emmanuele Sella
Italy / CSF Navigare
Best Giro: 10th 2005
Has finished in the top 12 three times. Could do so again.


THE SPRINTERS

With Alessandro Petacchi out, suddenly the sprints are wide open. The Giro hasn?t thrown up too many textbook chances for the fastmen this year because the stages are littered with hills designed to favour the breakways.

However, when it comes down to a gallop, these are the men to watch.
Alexandre Usov (Ag2r)
Dimitri Muravyev (Astana)
Enrico Gasparotto (Barloworld)
Maximiliano Richeze (CSF-Navigare)
Robert Forster (Gerolsteiner)
Mark Cavendish (High Road)
Andre Greipel (High Road)
Daniele Bennati (Liquigas)
Paolo Bettini (Quick Step)
Graeme Brown (Rabobank)
Robbie McEwen (Silence-Lotto)
Julian Dean (Slipstream)
Erik Zabel (Milram)
Alberto Loddo (Tinkoff)


WINNERS: THE LAST TEN YEARS

image2007
1 Danilo Di Luca (Italy) Liquigas

2 Andy Schleck (Luxembourg) CSC at 1-55
3 Eddy Mazzoleni (Italy) Astana at 2-25

2006
1 Ivan Basso (Italy) CSC

2 Jose Enrique Gutierrez (Spain) Phonak at 9-18
3 Gilberto Simoni (Italy) Saunier Duval at 11-59

2005
1 Paolo Savoldelli (Italy) Discovery Channel

2 Gilberto Simoni (Italy) Lampre at 28sec
3 Jose Rujano (Venezuela) at 45sec

2004
1 Damiano Cunego (Italy) Saeco

2 Serguei Gonchar (Ukraine) De Nardi at 2-02
3 Gilberto Simoni (Italy) Saeco at 2-05

2003
1 Gilberto Simoni (Italy) Saeco

2 Stefano Garzelli (Italy) Vini Caldirola at 7-06
3 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukraine) Landbouwkrediet at 7-11

2002
1 Paolo Savoldelli (Italy) Index Alexia

2 Tyler Hamilton (USA) CSC at 1-41
3 Pietro Caucchioli (Spain) Alessio at 2-12

2001
1 Gilberto Simoni (Italy) Lampre

2 Abraham Olano (Spain) ONCE at 7-31
3 Unai Osa (Spain) ibanesto.com at 8-37

2000
1 Stefano Garzelli (Italy) Mercatone Uno

2 Francesco Casagrande (Italy) Vini Caldirola at 1-27
3 Gilberto Simoni (Italy) Lampre at 1-33

1999
1 Ivan Gotti (Italy) Polti

2 Paolo Savoldelli (Italy) Saeco at 3-35
3 Gilberto Simoni (Italy) Ballan-Alessio at 3-36

1998
1 Marco Pantani (Italy) Mercatone Uno

2 Pavel Tonkov (Russia) Mapei-Bricobi at 1-33
3 Giuseppe Guerini (Italy) Polti at 6-51


RELATED LINKS
Giro d’Italia 2008 preview
Giro d’Italia 2008: The British are coming
Giro d’Italia on Eurosport: TV schedule