The opening grand tour of the year is fast approaching and excitement is building. The riders head to Ireland for the first 3 stages, and if the riders under-estimate the difficulty level they could lose a lot of time. Both stages 2 and 3 are on roads where wind could cause havoc and if a team wants to put others into difficulty, this will be there opportunity.
Once back in Italy we have no stages that will split the GC riders, until 8 and 9. It’s the final week of the race, where we’ll see the main action. Stages 14-20 feature 1 sprint, 5 very hard mountain stages and a very hard ITT. The riders will have to carefully manage themselves, so they can hit top form in this week.
Away from the GC battle there are plenty of stages to keep the sprinters interested. The route also seems to give opportunities to riders who like to sprint from a reduced peloton. The organisers seem to have found a good balance for the race and designed a route that has something for everything.
We have some iconic climbs to keep the purists happy: Plan di Montecampione, the Stelvio and the mighty Zoncolan. Expect some serious time gaps on these stages!
The GC battle looks like being a battle between youth and experience. In the old corner we have Joaquim Rodriguez and Cadel Evans. In the young corner we have Nairo Quintana.
Cadel has had a mixed season. He started very well in the Tour Down Under, then he was rubbish in Tirreno, before returning to top form in Trentino. He has all the experience necessary and knows what it takes to win a grand tour, but has he hit his peak too soon? Can he maintain his form from Trentino into the 3rd week?
Rodriguez hit top form in Catalunya, beating Contador and Froome to claim the title. A crash ruined his Ardennes campaign and he didn’t look good in LBL, but there is plenty of time for him to get his form back. He is also very experienced, although hasn’t won a grand tour before.
Nairo Quintana was the revelation of 2013, finishing 2nd to Chris Froome, in the Tour. This season he won in San Luis, was 2nd to a brilliant Contador in Tirreno and was 5th in Catalunya, where he was recovering from being ill. He has been away preparing in Colombia and has to be the favourite for the race. He is the best climber of the race, and Rodriguez couldn’t live with him in the 2013 Tour. He arrives with a strong team, ready to support him, but can he cope with the pressure of winning his first grand tour?
There are a number of riders who could threaten the podium: Pozzovivo, Uran, Scarponi, Majka and Niemiec.
The little Italian has a great chance of getting his first podium in the race. He has been excellent this season, with many high places. He couldn’t beat Evans in Trentino but that isn’t a massive concern for the Giro, as he might have timed his form just right.
Despite starting the season strong in Oman, Uran has not had a great 2014. He looked short of form in Romandie, but delivered a very encouraging TT. He is another that knows how to manage himself to peak in the 3rd week and is a very dangerous rider.
The Polish pair, Majka and Niemiec, were excellent in 2013. They should easily make the top 10 and could threaten the podium, especially if Evans starts to falter.
Scarponi looks like he’s slowly building his form. He hasn’t finished outside the top 4 in the Giro, since 2009. He loves this race and will again be a big player. How far can he go?
The list of potential top 10 riders is enormous: Dan Martin, Basso, Hesjedal, Aru, Duarte, Pellizotti, Kelderman, Landa, Anton, Cataldo, Roche, Rolland, Kiserlovski, Zoidl, Moreno, Arrendondo, Geniez, Cunego, Pirazzi, Rosa, Santaromita, Bongiorno and Pirazzi.
Dan Martin – has serious questions to answer about his 3 week capability. He’s not done the Giro since 2010 as allergies usually hit him hard, but with the start in Ireland he wasn’t going to miss it. Can climb with the best but prone to a bad day!
Basso – in horrible form.
Hesjedal – not the same rider that won in 2012.
Aru – very talented young Italian that arrives as 2nd leader, behind Scarponi. Still learning but capable of great things.
Duarte – finished a brilliant 2nd to Nibali on the big mountain stage in 2013. Still doubts about his capabilities over 3 weeks.
Pellizotti – it was very interesting to see him hitting form in Trentino. Never underestimate Franco, he’s a brilliant rider and very wise!
Kelderman – 17th last year and has focused a lot on his return. Can he cope with the long, difficult climbs?
Landa – brilliant in Trentino but will have to work for Aru and Scarponi.
Anton – here for Quintana
Cataldo – 12th in 2011 and 2012 before he became a Sky domestique! Will not cope well with the really steep climbs.
Roche – brilliant in La Vuelta, finishing 5th, but his season has been disrupted by injury. Once he loses time, he’ll have to work for Majka.
Rolland – a rider with a proper grand tour pedigree. He’s finished 8th and 10th in the Tour, but wasn’t great last year after a “health scare”. This is his 1st Giro.
Kiserlovski – after years of working for others, he has his big chance. Can he live up to the expectations?
Moreno – here for Rodriguez, but always capable of staying with him till the end of the stage.
Arredondo – claims not to be bothered about the GC. Amazing climber but might lose time to free him up.
Zoidl – great climber but first grand tour. Is bound to feel the pain in the 3rd week.
Geniez – FDJ have high hopes for the Frenchman. With a stage win from La Vuelta in 2013, under his belt, it’s time to get serious and ride for GC.
Cunego – really? I can’t see it.
Pirazzi – has focused his whole season around challenging on GC, instead of going for the KOM jersey. No form yet this season.
Bongiorno – very talented young climber, who could end up being team leader for Bardiani. Will break into the top 20, but anything else will be a big ask.
Rosa – the young man from Androni was 23rd on debut last year. Not hit the heights yet in 2014 and might have to continue learning from Pellizotti.
Santaromita – the current Italian champion really wants to honour the tricolour and perform well for Orica. He will benefit from the TTT, but might get found out in the 3rd week.
There are so many talented riders here it is very hard to pick between them.
The podium will probably be a battle between Quintana, Rodriguez, Evans, Uran, Pozzovivo and Scarponi. With Majka and Niemiec looking certain for the top 10, it only leaves another 2 places for the other riders to fight for. It’s going to be very hard to make the top 10 this year.
Who Is In Form
This season we have seen great rides from Evans, Pozzovivo, Rodriguez, Quintana, Uran, Duarte, Niemiec, Arredondo and Landa. Remember, some riders know how to peak exactly at the right time. This means that form isn’t everything.
After a lot of thought here’s my podium:-
The 3rd week really needs riders that can manage their body well, so I go for Scarponi over Pozzovivo, just!