09 May - 31 May 2015
It’s time for the first Grand Tour of the season. The 98th edition of the Giro d’Italia starts this Saturday. With a strong field and a very interesting course, we should be in for quite a show within the following three weeks.
Like last year, the race opens with a team time trial to make the first time differences in the general classification. The following two stages should end in a sprint, while stage 4 might give us the first fight between the GC riders with a tricky finish in La Spezia. If the GC fight doesn’t come on stage 4, it most definitely will happen on stage 5 with the first mountain top finish in Abetone. The sprinters will have their say the following days before another uphill finish awaits the riders on stage 8. The next five days are a mix of flat and undulating stages. Despite having done more than half of the race already, this year’s Giro d’Italia really first starts on stage 14, which is a very tough time trial of nearly 60 km. We can expect to see huge time differences here. A bad day will ruin your chances of overall success. The majority of the remaining seven stages are for the climbers. Only once before Milano, will the sprinters have a chance to shine. The Cima Coppi of Giro d’Italia 2015 comes on the penultimate day of racing at the top of Colle delle Finestre. The stage finishes on Sestriere, which serves as the last chance for the riders to improve their position in the general classification. Anything but a bunch sprint on the final day in Milano, will be a huge surprise.
Ever since announcing he would attempt the famous Giro-Tour double in 2015, Alberto Contador, has been the number one favorite for Giro d’Italia this year. The Spaniard has already won all three grand tours multiple times. Now he wants to finish his career doing what nobody has been able to do since 1998. Contador is without a doubt the best and most successful stage race rider within the last decade. If anyone can pull off a Giro-Tour double, it’s probably him. However, first of all he needs to win this race. It won’t be easy but on the other hand, it would also be a surprise not to see Contador on top of the podium in Milano. Every race he has done this season has been to fine-tune his shape ahead of the Giro. Recently he spent two weeks of altitude training on Teide, doing almost the same amount of meters of climbing as the riders face in the whole Giro. He’s ready. Tinkoff-Saxo sends a very strong team to support him. In Roman Kreuziger, Ivan Basso and Michael Rogers, Contador won’t be short of assistance in the mountains. The team should also be able to do very well in the opening team time trial, making sure Alberto Contador won’t lose much - if any - time to his rivals on the first day of racing.
The biggest threat to Contador is his former teammate Richie Porte, who has been doing better than ever this season. The Tasmanian has done five stages races in 2015, winning three of them (Paris-Nice, Volta a Catalunya and Giro del Trentino). Porte even won the queen stage in all five races except of the one in Catalunya, where he - despite dropping Contador - only finished 2nd on the stage. Giro d’Italia is the big goal of the season for Richie Porte. He’s amongst the best riders uphill and against the clock, which is very important this year, with the long time trial on stage 14. Porte will be able to put minutes (!) into some of his rivals that day. Looking at his results this year, everything points to another top performance in the Giro. However, it’s important to remember that Porte is still to do a Grand Tour without having an off day. If you want to fight for the overall win, you can’t afford to miss out on a single day. It will be very interesting to see if he can be consistent for three weeks. Luckily for Richie Porte, he can count on one of the strongest teams in the race with riders like Vasil Kiryienka, Mikel Nieve, Kanstantsin Siutsou, Sebastián Henao and Leo König to support him. König might even end up making a great GC himself just by staying with Porte in the mountains for as long as possible. We can expect Team Sky to make the race very hard for Contador. Not only to improve Porte’s chances of beating him, but also to make sure Contador won’t arrive to the Tour de France as freshly as Chris Froome.
On a level below the two top contenders, we’ll find last year’s number two and three in the general classification. Fabio Aru had an amazing season last year, making podium in the Giro and finishing 5th overall in Vuelta España after winning two stages. Now, he hopes to repeat last year’s performance and make top3 once again. However, due to a stomach virus, Aru wasn’t able to take part in Giro del Trentino nor Tour of Romandie. Instead, he’s been training in Sestriere with his teammates, hoping the lack of race days won’t hamper his chances of overall success. The young Italian is an extremely gifted climber. One of the best in the race. His weakness is the time trial. Therefore, Aru has been training hard on his ITT bike this winter, trying to improve against the clock. If he can minimize his time loss on stage 14, he should be able to fight for the podium again this year.
One rider who won’t have any problems in the demanding time trial is Rigoberto Uran. The Colombian has finished 2nd overall for the last two years. He won the long ITT last year and is amongst the favorites to win stage 14. Compared to last year’s race, the parcours of this Giro d’Italia should suit Uran much better. He has finished in top5 overall in all three stage races he has done this year. He wasn’t on top of his game in Tour de Romandie last week, but he still did much better than last year. I’m sure Rigoberto Uran is ready to fight for the pink jersey again this year.
The way I see it, the best candidate to join the four riders mentioned above in the top5 overall is Domenico Pozzovivo. Last year, the Italian started out the Giro very well but then faded at the end of the race, finishing 5th overall. The competition is much stronger this year but the final outcome will probably be the same. On his best days, Pozzovivo is amongst the best climbers. The steeper the climb, the better he gets. Despite his weight of just 53 kg, Pozzovivo has also proven to be very strong in the time trials. He won’t be able to match the top favorites on stage 14 but he should be able to minimize his time loss compared to the other pure climbers. The big goal for the pint-sized Italian is to finish on the overall podium. I think it will be extremely difficult with this year’s route. However, a top5 place is definitely within reach for Domenico Pozzovivo.
Riders like Jurgen van den Broeck and former winner Ryder Hesjedal are also strong candidates for top5 overall, while Steven Kruijswijk, Franco Pellizotti, Damiano Cunego and the Polish veteran Sylwester Szmyd will be fighting for a spot in top10. So will riders like Stefano Pirazzi, Diego Ulissi, Sebastien Reichenbach and probably one of the strong Movistar riders like Beñat Intxausti, Ion Izagirre or Ruben Fernandez. Don’t be surprised if Katusha pulls another rabbit out of the hat. Recently, there seems to be no limits to their performances.
Personally, I have very high expectations for Damiano Caruso. I have had so for many years, but his former teams have never really given him the support he deserved. Now, with BMC, the Italian finally has a chance to prove his worth. He’s not the best climber and he’s not the best time trialist but he’s very strong and very consistent. He rarely has an off day, which is very important in order to do well in the general classification in a stage race. With Darwin Atapuma at his side in the mountains, I’m confident Caruso will be able to achieve a great overall result. Without any bad luck, he should have no problems making top10 at least.
There are about 6-7 stages for the sprinters in this year’s Giro d’Italia and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they all had a different winner. The levels of the sprinters are very equal. Sure, Andre Greipel, may stand out on the list but he hasn’t been as strong as in previous years. Furthermore, the other sprinters are getting better and better. With the likes of Giacomo Nizzolo, Juanjo Lobato, Luka Mezgec, Elia Viviani, Moreno Hofland, Sacha Modolo, Gianni Meersman, Matteo Pelucchi, Alessandro Petacchi, Nicola Ruffoni and Michael Matthews, it would be very foolish to say there is one rider above the rest. For the more undulating stages, fast riders like Enrico Battaglin, Sonny Colbrelli, Oscar Gatto, Grega Bole, Heinrich Haussler and Fabio Felline join the list of possible winners. Not to forget Simon Gerrans. With him and Matthews, Orica-GreenEdge has two very strong candidates for any flat or medium-mountain stage in this race.
Daily stage previews
Once again, I will be doing daily stage previews throughout the race. Each preview will be online the evening before the upcoming stage. You can already check out all the interactive stage profiles now by using “click to select other stages” at the top. For detailed information about the climbs and the finishes, simply mouse-over the area on the profile. For additional news and thoughts, make sure to follow me on Twitter at @mrconde.