It was a long cold winter, but now the signs of spring are here…including the pro peloton embarking upon their first grand tour of the season! While many familiar faces, like Lance and Levi, will instead race the Tour of California in June there are still intriguing names riding the Giro – including 4 former winners.
Last years champ Denis Menchov will sit out this year opting to focus on his July aspirations in France. Menchov’s top lieutenant Robert Gesink will also be absent. Seems Rabobank is banking on the Tour de France. The rest of last years Giro podium Di Luca and Pellizotti (ahem) will also sit out. High profile spanish riders Alejandro Valverde and Sammy Sanchez will also skip the Giro. Others key riders sitting out are Frank and Andy Schleck, Fabian Cancellara, Mark Cavendish, and of course the white elephant in the room Alberto Contador.
We will, however, be treated to seeing current world champion Cadel Evans ride the Giro for the first time since 2002. He’ll be rivaled by likes of Italians Damiano Cunego (former winner), Ivan Basso (former winner), and last years King of the Mountains Stefano Garzelli (former winner). Former TDF winner Carlos Sastre will also ride to win. Other interesting names are last years TDF surprise Bradley Wiggins riding for Team Sky and recent Liege and Giro del Trentino winner Alexander Vinokourov. Linus Gerdemann, Vincenzo Nibali,Christian VandeVelde and Marzio Bruseghin also bear watching. Former winner Gilberto Simoni also returns to the Lampre squad for one final run at the pink jersey before retirement.
The riders will climb such key mountain passes as the Mortirolo, the Gavia, Monte Zoncolan, and a time trial up the brutal Plan de Corones.
Here they are…my total guess work predictions (I reserve the right to change these of course )
1. Cadel Evans – He’s the strongest rider in the race, and although I suspect he’s riding in Italy to prepare for July in France, Evans says he’s riding to do well. He wore the Maglia Rosa in the 2002 Giro before blowing up and losing the jersey and race. Time has shown that he’s better when he does 2 grand tours back to back so if he does well in Italy watch out in France. He’s showing more aggressiveness in his climbing of late and he’ll win the Giro in the Time Trials.
2. Carlos Sastre – Sastre wants to win the Giro. Its not simply a TDF tune up for him – in fact, he’s not even sure he’ll ride the TDF this year. He’s still strong enough to ride away in the mountains as we learned with 2 stage victories in last years Giro and as we learned in his TDF victory a couple of years ago, he can ride a strong enough Time Trial to hold on. He still feels the disprect he was given at last years TDF in the midst of the Armstrong-Contador fued. He won’t be able to lose Evans more than once in the mountains though.
3. Alexander Vinokourov – I’m going out on a limb here. I know he’s making a comeback from his doping suspension – I know most of us don’t want to see a doper do well, but he’s looking simply awesome lately. He won Liege. He won Giro del Trentino. Turns out the “clean” Vino is still among the best.
4. Basso – won’t time trial well enough, with the exception of the Plan de Corones, to keep up. Turns out the “clean” Basso is also still very good.
5. Wiggins – training ride for the Tour de France
6. Garzelli – King of the Mountains again.