Giro preview: Riders to watch

The 97th edition of the Giro d’Italia has been described as one for the climbers but it also contains over 90km of time-trialling, starting on Friday in Belfast with the 21.7km team time trial. So who will be in the mix and fighting for the pink jersey?

Main men

Let’s start with La Gazzetta dello Sport‘s top five picks.

Everyone’s favourite seems to be 2013 Tour de France runner-up, King of the Mountains and best young rider, Movistarlet Nairo Quintana. A man with a sweet enigmatic smile who can soar with ease on steep climbs and be on song come the final brutal week. This year he has shone in the Tour de San Luis and illuminated the queen stages of Tirreno-Adriatico and the Volta a Catalunya. The remainder of the time he’s been training at altitude back home. He’s coming with strong support and Plan B in the form of ex-Euskaltel rider Igor Anton, a very able wingman.

Can Quintana add pink to polka dot? (Image: ASO)

Can Quintana add pink to polka dot? (Image: ASO)

In the final week, he’ll likely be going head-to-head with Catalunya winner Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), a man of immense consistency but lacking a grand tour wins on his palmares. Hopefully he has recovered from his spills in the Ardennes classics. However, the individual time trials, particularly the 41.9km jaunt around the vineyards on stage 12, may once again prove fatal to his ambitions. Maybe those seven summit finishes will allow him to put enough time into the opposition. As usual, Purito has his southern European posse riding in support, including the all-important Dani Moreno.

Another Colombian who will be challenging for a podium place is last year’s runner-up, Mick Jagger lookalike, Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), a man who fares better in time trials than many fellow Colombians, as witnessed by his recent performance in the Tour de Romandie closing time trial, where he finished fourth. He’s even had his signature mullet trimmed. Whether this will streamline his efforts or lead to a Samson-like collapse we’ll have to wait and see, but if it does he has Thomas De Gendt, third overall in 2012, waiting in the wings.

Last year’s third-place man and former Tour de France champion Cadel Evans (BMC) is seemingly in great form with his recent win in the Giro del Trentino. He’s a man who’s adept at clawing himself back up climbs to limit losses and putting time into his featherweight rivals in the time trials. This year he has added ammunition in the form of teammate Samuel Sanchez.

With limited team support, will Cadel play it safe? (Image: Danielle Haex)

Can Cadel repeat his podium finish from last year? (Image: Danielle Haex)

The uber-elegant Ivan Basso (Cannondale) has won the Giro twice before. The tifosi will be rooting for him, and he’s been keeping his powder dry this season. Finally free of niggling injuries, he’ll be hoping to take a third title on home soil. Should he falter, Moreno Moser is riding his maiden Giro to keep the home fires burning.

Providing they stay on their bikes, out of trouble and get to Trieste, these are the guys I think will occupy the top five slots. Of course, there’s plenty of talent waiting to slip into their shoes including Irish relatives Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) and Nico Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo), Lampre’s Przemyslaw Niemiec and the pocket-sized Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale).

The fast men

There are a whopping eight categorized stages for the sprinters in this year’s race and the race organiser has changed the points system for the sprint jersey to favour the sprinters. This means there are now 50 points for the winners of stages two, three, four, seven, ten, 13, 17 and 21.

Giant in name, giant in talent - Kittel dominates (Image: Dubai Tour)

Giant in name, giant in talent – Kittel dominates (Image: Dubai Tour)

There’s no Mark Cavendish (OPQS) or Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) this time. Instead we have a number of riders on form: the glorious quiff of Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano), pugilist Nacer Bouhani (FDJ), track star Elia Viviani (Cannondale), the wonderfully named Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida), Ben Swift (Sky) and Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) all battling for the red jersey.

But it might be the mountains which have the final say in the fate of the points jersey and the last two named riders can both climb well.

Honourable mentions

With a back-loaded Giro, many of us were looking forward to a South American showdown on some of the race’s iconic climbs, particularly since the event is honouring Marco Pantani on the tenth anniversary of his untimely demise. But we could be doomed to disappointment with so many riders caught up in visa snafus.

However, I’m hoping that a number of the younger promising riders seize their opportunity to animate or even win stages. Riders such as Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo), Wout Poels (OPQS), Fabio Aru (Astana), Tim Wellens (Lotto-Belisol) and Wilco Kelderman (Belkin).

Majka was seventh overall last year and second in the best young rider competition. Can he improve this year? (Image: Wikipedia)

Majka was seventh overall last year and second in the best young rider competition. Can he improve this year? (Image: Wikipedia)

Hopefully this has given you some food for thought when constructing your fantasy Giro teams. Let battle commence!

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