We rate the chances of the big movers and shakers of the 2011 Giro d’Italia, which starts on Saturday, May 7, in Turin.
Last year’s winner, Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) has elected to concentrate on the Tour de France in July rather than his home Tour this month.
There’s no shortage of contenders, with a selection of existing Grand Tour winners mixing it up with some, er, new blood.
Team: Saxo Bank-Sungard
Contador has again proved this year that he can climb and time trial with the best – it’s almost enough to make you suspicious. With the local restaurants serving pizza and pasta instead of Spanish beef, the 2008 Giro winner may have to rely on carbs to help him maintain his 100 per cent record in the Italian race. With seven mountain-top finishes and the straightforward final day time trial around Milan, the race almost seems tailormade for the Spaniard. We’ll be cheering him on enthusiastically, of course – provided he’s allowed to start the race.
Nibali finished third in the Giro 12 months ago, having been race winner Ivan Basso’s super-domestique. As Basso is targeting the Tour, Liquigas have avoided an internal battle that last year’s Vuelta winner Nibali would have inevitably lost. He wore the maglia rosa briefly in 2010, and took a fine stage win into Asolo after a devastating attack on the Monte Grappa. If Liquigas can work as well as they did for Basso last year, Nibali could take his second Grand Tour win.
Country: Czech Republic
Despite riding for an Italian team for five years, Kreuziger has never ridden the Giro. Having joined Astana over the winter, the Czech will make his debut in the race, and will hope to surpass two consecutive ninth places in the Tour de France. He can time trial and climb well, but will need to perform at a level we’ve rarely seen if glory is to be his.
Scarponi is targeting this year’s Giro, having finished fourth in the 2010 race. On paper, the route suits him. He climbed well last year, winning the stage to Aprica just days after finishing third on the Zoncolan, and fifth in the Plan de Corones uphill time trial bodes well for stage 16, the 12.7km test to Nevegal. Scarponi has visited Etna to prepare for that stage, but his visit hit the news for the wrong reasons after he was visited by Italian police. He insists they found nothing, but he has been banned previously for doping.
There’s always a surprise or two in the Giro; think Richie Porte in 2010 and Tadej Valjavec the year before. Could Team Sky’s lone Swede be that man this time around? Placing 17th in the Tour last year (and 25th in the 2009 Giro), his climbing abilities are fast improving and he’s always been a good time triallist. It also helps that we’ve worked out how to spell his name.
Having led for nearly half the race, the only way Menchov was going to lose the 2009 Giro was by hitting the self-destruct button. True to form, the Russian lived up to his ‘what has he done now?’ style by hitting the deck with less than a kilometre of the race remaining. He held on to win and, as his Geox-TMC team missed out on a Tour wildcard, this may be the biggest race he could triumph in this year – provided he stays upright.
After losing a podium finish on the penultimate stage of the Tour last year, the Spaniard must be having nightmares about the final-day time trial in Milan. Luckily, the Giro features seven mountain-top finishes, which allows Rodriguez the chance to show off his climbing skills. Stage 19, which finishes in Macugnaga, ends with a hill that may be perfect for Rodriguez, especially if he needs to put time into those rivals who can put seconds – if not minutes – into him against the clock.
Also watch out for…
Stefano Garzelli (Italy – Acqua & Sapone)
Carlos Sastre (Spain – Geox-TMC)
David Arroyo (Spain – Movistar)
Marco Pinotti (Italy – HTC-Highroad)
Yaroslav Popovych (Ukraine – Radioshack)
Christophe Le Mével (France – Garmin-Cervélo)
Giro d’Italia 2011: Related links
Giro d’Italia 2011: Start list
Giro d’Italia 2011: Cycling Weekly’s coverage index