The Giro d’Italia starts May 9th in Belfast, Northern Ireland, a potentially cold, wet start for a peloton anxious for some post-Classics warmth. Stage 1 is a team time trial (TTT) through Belfast. Stage 2 rolls north from the capital city up along the coast, with the potential for high wind chopping up the group. Nerves are always taut in the first week of a Grand Tour, so keep an eye out for crashes on this one. After Stage 3 from Armagh to Dublin, the race takes a transfer day before restarting on the Adriatic coast, just north of Bari.
Key stages include the Stage 12 ITT. This one will give the non-specialist climbers a chance to put time into contenders like Nairo Quintana (Movistar) who will spend an hour trying to limit their losses. Whatever equalization comes out of Stage 12 sets up the end of the race which tilts hard back toward the skinny men.
Stage 19 is a mountain ITT to Cima Grappa with maximum gradient of 14%, and Stage 20 finishes on the legendary Monte Zoncolan. Coming so late in the race, these steep stages will likely determine the overall winner and also challenge many who just hope to finish the race with fast cut off times.
Possible GC winners include Michele Scarponi (Astana), Ivan Basso (Cannondale), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), Pierre Rolland (Team Europcar), Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo), Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quickstep), and Cadel Evans (BMC)
There are three former winners in this group: Basso twice (2006, 2010), Hesjedal (2012), and Scarponi (2011, after Alberto Contador’s disqualification), and Evans finished third last year. He and Basso are both long in the tooth, but experience counts for something. My pick is Quintana, the purest climber in the race and a rider coming into the peak of his career.
The Giro represents the hard shift from Classics season to Grand Tour season, and in recent years it has grown in prominence as clever course design and close GC battles have helped it outshine its imposing French cousin. It’s a beautiful race with relatively few helicopter shots of chateaus to distract from the heated racing.
This week’s Group Ride asks, who do you like for the win? One of the old dogs? Is there a dark horse I haven’t mentioned? Will you be watching, or do you save your daily race slavery for the Tour de France?
Image: Fotoreporter Sirotti