The Giro d’Italia is now less than 24 hours away, and earlier this afternoon our Giro coverage team of Tim, Kitty and Sheree celebrated at VeloVoices Towers by cracking open the Friday drinks trolley. They chewed the fat over their long-standing love affair with the Giro and their thoughts and hopes for this year’s race. The highlights of their chat are reproduced below. [Jack is celebrating his birthday today and then away on non-VeloVoices business this month. He doesn’t like to talk specifics, as it involves import/export, you know the sort of thing. The name is Sargeant, Jack Sargeant – Ed.]
While Tim was off raiding the good stuff from the wine cellar, the ladies started off by discussing why they love the Giro so much. Kitty, ever the great romanticist, went right for the heart of the matter.
Kitty: I love the Giro because it’s so … Italian!
Sheree: Isn’t it, though? The Giro is glamorous, unpredictable, swashbuckling, exciting and above all innately Italian. La Gazzetta dello Sport says “It’s the hardest Tour in the most beautiful country in the world.”
Kitty: It’s hard to disagree with that. The Tour has razzle-dazzle, while the Giro has elegance. And the promoters really know how to do theatre. When the final time trial in 2010 ended in a ruined amphitheatre and Ivan Basso was showered with hot pink confetti – now that is theatre. [Literally – Ed.]
Tim returned at this point with a bottle of young and fruity New Zealand pinot noir which, it must be said, was rather scrumptious. As our resident analyst and statistician, he couldn’t resist joining the dots.
Tim: You mean the Arena in the Piazza Bra (the central square) in Verona. It’s a magnificent building, and still used regularly as a night concert and theatre venue today. The Giro’s back there this year for the team time trial [next Tuesday – Ed], which finishes on the doorstep of the Arena.
Sheree: So what do you love about the Giro, Tim?
Tim: The Tour runs almost too smoothly sometimes, like a perfect machine. What I love about the Giro is that, while still extremely professional, it’s never far away from being a glorious shambles either. Being in May rather than July, adverse weather plays more of a role. And the organisers like to tear up the formula more than the Tour: long stages, very short stages, the Strade Bianche dirt roads. Who can forget the Montalcino stage from the 2010 Giro, when Cadel Evans won in an old-school mud-bath? The Tour used the Paris-Roubaix cobbles that same year, and although that stage had similar drama, what it lacked was the heart of its Giro equivalent. The Tour is cycling’s biggest commercial event, but the Giro is its most spiritual one.
We found this photo montage from the Montalcino stage on YouTube. It captures it perfectly:
The conversation turned to the race itself. Tim has already previewed the five likely race-defining stages elsewhere, but the team started talking about the personal highlights they are most looking forward to. As our Cote d’Azur-based correspondent and intrepid Franco/Italian/Spanish interviewer, Sheree will be monitoring the ‘local’ media for the prevailing moods.
Sheree: Favourite stages? I’m looking forward to all of them! It’ll be La Gazzetta dello Sport every day for me for three weeks instead of L’Equipe.
Tim: As ever, I’ll be cheering on Mark Cavendish in the sprints, but aside from that I’m really looking forward to the team time trial, a discipline I love to watch. The route in Verona has a lovely mix of long, straight, power/aero-heavy stretches and a tough, technical middle section. There’s even a hill to tackle at about one-third distance. Not big – it looks to be about 3% for 3km – but just watch it blow some teams apart. And, of course, it finishes in the shadow of the Arena – so proper theatre!
Kitty: I’m looking forward to it all too, but in particular the Stelvio [the final climb of stage 20, with its summit at 2,757 metres – Ed]. It’s like the Zoncolan, so iconic and the weather is so unpredictable, you just never know what’s going to happen on these fabulous climbs. It’s also where I’m hoping Ivan Basso wins his third Giro, because that’s who I fancy for the win.
We like nothing better than a prediction, and the openness of the field in this year’s race makes it a pundit’s paradise – or nightmare, depending on your point of view. The debate about who’s going to win gets quite lively at this point.
Tim: Basso? Really? This is the same Ivan Basso who can barely finish a sentence this year, let alone an actual bike race?
Kitty: (shrugs) I’m not wildly confident about that, but I would love him to win. Like the Giro, he’s elegance incarnate.
Sheree: I’m going to stick my neck out and predict Basso, Scarponi, Kreuziger for the final podium.
Tim: Now Kreuziger I like – enough that I’ve backed him each-way.
Sheree: Oh yes? How much?
Tim: A fiver. He’s such a strong all-rounder and amazingly consistent for his age. I keep forgetting he’s still only 25, but he was fifth last year and has a couple of top-tens at the Tour. I really think he might spring a surprise.
Having penned our preview on the key contenders for the maglia rosa, Tim then started to trot out statistics on all the top riders, but fortunately Kitty was able to top up his glass and quickly change the subject onto who is most likely to provide the biggest surprise over the next three weeks. This proved to be a harder question to answer than first thought.
Sheree: Frankly I have no idea, and in a way that’s part of the charm of cycling. Someone will do something we hadn’t anticipated. I do so love it when fortune favours the brave. Personally, I’ll be urging on all the Basque riders, not just those riding for my beloved Carrots! [Those Euskaltel-Euskadi boys again – Ed.]
Tim: I’m looking for Euskaltel’s Mikel Nieve, a stage winner last year, to really animate things on the big climbs. I think he might spring a surprise by finishing ahead of Joaquim Rodriguez as the highest-placed Spaniard on GC. Also, lost in all the excitement of the big summit finishes, I think we’ll see some fantastic racing on the medium mountain stages mid-race. Look for the Ardennes Classics specialists to shake things up and put some favourites into genuine distress.
Kitty: I think the surprise of the Giro is going to be the BMC team.
Both Sheree and Tim performed a synchronised almost-falling-off-the-sofa manoeuvre (degree of difficulty: 1.9) at this point.
Sheree: BMC – a surprise? Explain please. And have some more wine.
Kitty: Don’t mind if I do. I think they’re feeling a bit misunderstood and bruised with everyone already writing them off this season. Taylor Phinney is getting a lot of buzz to do something magnificent – and his showing in Paris-Roubaix makes me think he will win a stage at least, but maybe even get into the top ten overall. Thor will want to make a statement of some kind and the lovely Marco Pinotti is quietly putting together a good season. I don’t expect him to outsprint Cavendish but I think he could be a consistent presence. So I think there’s going to be a lot of black and red jerseys in the mix throughout.
Tim: Hmm. One final prediction from me, and you two aren’t going to like half of it! Before we hit the high mountains – in fact, let’s say by the end of stage 12 – one of the two big favourites, Scarponi or Basso, will have lost so much time already that they abandon and start talking about refocusing on the Tour. [Quick, everyone, run out and back them to finish one-two – now! – Ed]
Kitty: Oh, no, no, no. You are not having the last word this time. My final prediction is that Jack will stroll back into the office just as we’re wrapping up the race and casually request a vodka martini, shaken not stirred.
Sheree: Now that’s a prediction I’ll drink to. Cheers!
And on that note, Tim, Sheree and Kitty decided it was time to knock off early for the day. But do not fear – they will be back tomorrow, as VeloVoices’ daily coverage of the Giro begins in earnest. Watch out for short, sharp recaps every day here on the blog, full previews and reviews of the key stages, and our usual array of quick hits, pics and vids over on our Facebook page. We will also be on Twitter throughout the race, where we will be live-tweeting updates from as many of the stages as we can.
Giro d’Italia preview
Contenders for the maglia rosa
Link: Official website
Excellent round-table folks! I’m missing being involved! Still, better get back to my ahem…business. *Taps nose*