With the spring classics done and dusted it's time to start with the first Grand Tour of the year the Tour of Italy. The town of Napoli will be the host of the start of the 96th edition of the Giro. We start off with a short flat stage and not a time trial, which almost became a tradition the last years.
The Giro d’Italia organizers can certainly not be dissatisfied with the riders starting the race, despite the fact that the Tour de France will celebrate her 100th edition. Even more it looks like that the 100th edition is keeping riders away from France. The effect is likely to be amplified by the unexpected win of Ryder Hesjedal last year, as many riders in the sub top level now even more feel that they also have a shot at winning a Grand Tour.
The top favorite is Bradley Wiggins, the rider who dominated 2012. He won almost every stage race he started and won the golden medal in the Olympics ITT. This all resulted in a knighthood at the end of the year. 2013 however is not going as smooth as Wiggo might have wanted to. He didn't make it to any podium this year apart from a TTT win with his team in Giro del Trentino. However, Wiggins decided to make the Giro his main goal of the season far in advance and this could be a good explanation for his performance so far.
The defending champion Ryder Hesjedal will of course try to defend his title. His victory last year came out of nowhere and the question that remains is "can he do that again?" His 2013 season can be compared with last year but we must note that this year’s Giro lineup is better than last year. The general concensus is that the Canadian is now the third in line for this year's throne.
Second favorite is Italian Vincenzo Nibali, in his last two Giro’s he finished 3rd and 2nd so a 1st would be a logical addition to the list. Nibali lost last year's Tour to Wiggins but but the Brit is missing his best teammate in the mountains now, thus Nibali knows where to attack. Nibali's own support is outstanding, the Astana squad is going "all-in" on the Giro-win and sends a team containing Brajkovic, Kessiakoff and Tiralongo to guide Nibali across the mountains and to victory.
Cadel Evans must also be regarded as a favorite despite he never got back to the level he achieved when he won the Tour de France of 2011. He also claimed to do the Giro just as training but will he let go a chance on a good GC when gets it? Evans still came a bit short in the Giro del Trentino, however he remains a great rider and battler and must not be underestimated.
The following riders are hoping to do a trick similar to Hesjedal's last year. Robert Gesink, Samuel Sanchez, Robert Kiserlovski, José Rujano, Carlos Betancur, Beñat Intxausti and José Cobo are all outsiders for the win or podium in Brescia. In the same list we got a number of "home riders," Italians who might do just that bit more in front of their tifosi cheering at the side of the roads. Domencio Pozzovivo, Franco Pellizotti, Ivan Basso, en Mauro Santambrogio will have their shot, but all these riders can also target a different goal.
That goal would be the blue mountain jersey; this jersey is often won by a climber who attacks a lot during the race. It is no coincidence that the winner of the mountain jersey also tends to win the combativity classification in the last ten editions this happened seven times. So it could be rewarding to select some riders who like to be in the breaks for the points competition here.
I already named Carlos Betancur as GC contender and he's also the favorite for the young rider classification. He's in shape and thanks to a recent injury of Pozzovivo he can go his own way in the race. One of his rivals, Wilco Kelderman, does have to work for his captain but he might make that up with a better ITT. Other riders with free roles in their team and eligible for Young Rider are Darwin Atapuma, Stefano Locatelli en Rafael Majka. Last but not least I name Fabio Aru, he left a good impression in the Giro del Trentino by finishing third in GC behind his captain Nibali.
The final category is the sprinters category. This is the most complicated category. Not because of lack of top sprinters - as Mark Cavendish will start - but more because of the profile of the stages. Most of the so called "flat" stages have a difficult finale and will do big damage to the pure sprinters in the field. It’s best to look for Gianni Meersman and Peter Sagan type of sprinters. But they are not here. Men like Degenkolb, Goss, Bouhanni and Bennati are able to survive a hard finale when in top form. If the race is not aggressive enough the pure sprinters might survive and we can add names like Ferrari, Modolo, Viviani, Belletti en Nizzolo to the list of possible winners. If the course is really difficult we could end up seeing Marcato or Ventoso as winners. But to be honest the red jersey for the sprinting classification will not likely be won by a sprinter but a GC rider. Main reason is the 20 seconds of time bonus on the finishing line in every stage.
*** Bradley Wiggins
** Vincenzo Nibali, Ryder Hesjedal
* Samuel Sanchez, Cadel Evans, Robert Kiserlovski
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