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It’s time for the first Grand Tour of the season. The 98th edition of the Giro d’Italia starts this Saturday and with a strong field and a very interesting course, we should be in for quite a show over the next three weeks. Mikkel Conde prepared this preview.
Like last year, the 2015 Giro opens with a team time trial which will create 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 for the next two 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 starts heating up on stage 14, which is a very tough individual time trial of nearly 60km. We can expect to see huge time differences here; a bad day will ruin a rider’s chances of overall success.
The majority of the remaining seven stages are for the climbers. Only once more before Milano will the sprinters have a chance to shine.
The Cima Coppi (highest point) of the 2015 Giro d’Italia comes on the penultimate day of racing at the top of the 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 elusive Giro-Tour double in 2015 Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) has been the number-one favourite for the Giro d’Italia (last year’s winner, Nairo Quintana, is not taking part this year). Contador has already won all three Grand Tours; now he wants to finish his career doing what nobody has been able to do since 1998 when Marco Pantani won the Giro-Tour double.
Contador is without a doubt the best and most successful stage-race rider of the past decade. If anyone can pull off a Giro-Tour double, it’s probably him. But first he needs to win the Giro. It won’t be easy but at the same time, it would be a surprise not to see Contador on the 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 at altitude on Tenerife, doing almost the same amount of climbing in two weeks as the riders face in the three weeks of the 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 (Sky), who has been doing better than ever this season. The Tasmanian has done five stage races in 2015, winning three of them (Paris-Nice, the Volta a Catalunya and the Giro del Trentino). Of the five stage races Porte has done this year, he has won the queen stage in four of them and in the fifth (the Volta a Catalunya) he finished second and dropped Alberto Contador.
The Giro is Richie Porte’s big goal for the 2015 season. He’s among 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 a top performance in the Giro.
All that said, 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 posting a great GC result 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 will this improve Porte’s chances of beating the Spaniard, but they’ll also be keen to make sure Contador won’t arrive at the Tour de France as fresh 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 (Astana) had an amazing season last year, reaching the final podium in the Giro and finishing fifth overall at the Vuelta a España after winning two stages. Now, he hopes to repeat last year’s Giro performance and make the top three once again.
Due to a stomach virus, Aru wasn’t able to take part in the Giro del Trentino nor the Tour de 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 time trial bike this winter, trying to improve against the clock. If he can minimise his losses 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 (Etixx-Quick-Step). The Colombian has finished second overall for the last two years. He won the long ITT last year and is among the favourites to win stage 14. Compared to last year’s race, the parcours of this Giro d’Italia should suit Uran much better.
Uran is also in good form — he has finished in the top five overall in all three stage races he has done this year. He wasn’t on top of his game at the 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 top five overall is Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale). Last year, the Italian started out the Giro very well but then faded at the end of the race, finishing fifth overall. The competition is much stronger this year but the final outcome will probably be the same.
On his best days, Pozzovivo is among the best climbers. The steeper the climb, the better he gets. Despite his weight of just 53kg, Pozzovivo has also proven to be very strong in the time trials. He won’t be able to match the top favourites on stage 14 but he should be able to minimise 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 top-five finish is definitely within reach for Domenico Pozzovivo.
Riders like Jurgen van den Broeck (Lotto Soudal) and former winner Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) are also strong candidates for the top five overall, while Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo), Franco Pellizotti (Androni Giocattoli), Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Vini Fantini) and the Polish veteran Sylwester Szmyd (CCC Sprandi Polkowice) will be fighting for a spot in the top 10.
So will riders like Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani-CSF), Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), Sebastien Reichenbach (IAM Cycling) 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 its hat. Recently, there seem to be no limits to their performances.
Personally, I have very high expectations for Damiano Caruso (BMC). 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-triallist 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 the top 10 at least.
There are six or seven 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. All of the sprinters are on a similar level. Sure, Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) may stand out on the list but he hasn’t been as strong in 2015 as in previous years. Furthermore, the other sprinters are getting better and better.
With the likes of Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Factory Racing), Juanjo Lobato (Movistar), Luka Mezgec (Giant-Alpecin), Elia Viviani (Sky), Moreno Hofland (LottoNL-Jumbo), Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida), Gianni Meersman (Etixx-Quick-Step), Matteo Pelucchi (IAM), Alessandro Petacchi (Southeast), Nicola Ruffoni (Bardiani-CSF) and Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge), it would be very foolish to say there is one rider above the rest.
For the more undulating stages, fast riders like Enrico Battaglin (Bardiani-CSF), Sonny Colbrelli (Bardiani-CSF), Oscar Gatto (Androni Giocattoli), Grega Bole (CCC Sprandi Polkowice ), Heinrich Haussler (IAM) and Fabio Felline (Trek Factory Racing) join the list of possible winners.
And don’t forget Simon Gerrans. With him and Matthews, Orica-GreenEdge has two very strong candidates for the flat and medium-mountain stages in this race.
How to watch the race
For Australian viewers, SBS will broadcast every stage of the Giro live on free-to-air TV. Broadcast times vary from day to day — see here for details. For broadcast details outside of Australia, visit Steephill.tv.
You can also join the conversation on Twitter by using the official hashtag #giro.
Who’s your pick for the 2015 Giro d’Italia?