Despite the weight of public opinion that says Levi Leipheimer is going to win the Giro d?Italia, it?s actually extremely difficult to see an outstanding favourite from a short list of unconvincing contenders.

Every name that comes to the fore has a significant question mark of some kind or other over them.

For once Lance Armstrong?s statement that he is not in good enough condition to contend for overall victory looks like a fair appraisal, rather than an attempt to play mind games with his rivals. He may win a stage, while helping his team-mate Levi Leipheimer challenge for the podium, but that?ll be it.

This is the Centenary edition of the Giro, and Armstrong?s presence was supposed to add to the celebratory theme.

But on closer inspection it seems the race for the pink jersey will be contested by the usual array of fired-up Italians and a sprinkling of Tour de France contenders at 85 per cent of their form.

With many of the eye-catching mountain stages being removed or watered down, plus a monster 61-kilometre time trial, the race looks suited to a rouleur rather than a climber. For that reason, the Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre doesn?t make our list.

So, cyclingweekly.co.uk has stuck its neck out to predict the unpredictable. Of course, we?ll be proved wrong when an unknown Xacobeo Galicia rider grabs sixth place and there are three Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni riders in the top 12, but at least we?ve had a go?

CW?S GIRO TOP 10 PREDICTION

1 IVAN BASSO

Italy / Liquigas

Age 31

Giro history

2006 ? 1st

2005 ? 28th

2000 ? 52nd

1999 ? DNF

CW verdict We feel deeply uneasy about predicting victory for Ivan Basso. The Italian has served his suspension for ?attempting to dope? using the services of Dr Eufamiano Fuentes and returned to racing in October. He won the Giro del Trentino last month, but this will be his first grand tour since the 2006 Giro d?Italia. Remember that? When he rode up every mountain with his mouth shut, breathing through his skin, pursued only by a buffalo on heat? A month later, they were both busted. The problem with Basso isn?t just that he has missed so much racing it?s that victory would raise so many questions that can?t simply be explained away with the liberal use of the word ?tranquillo?. Whether he wins in the same serene manner as in 06 or if it looks a lot harder, either way, it would raise issues.

2 DAMIANO CUNEGO

Italy / Lampre

Age 27

Giro history

2003 ? 34th

2004 ? 1st

2005 ? 18th

2006 ? 4th

2007 ? 5th

CW verdict Damiano Cunego skipped the Giro last year to concentrate on the Tour de France, and look how that turned out. He looked like a man who?d had the energy sucked directly out of his muscles with straws. Another solid spring inevitably means Cunego is high up the list of favourites. The long time trial counts against him, but if he and team-mate Marzio Brusgehin work together they could be a formidable force. Don?t rule out the podium.

3 LEVI LEIPHEIMER

USA / Astana

Age 35

Giro history

2008 ? 18th

CW verdict When Lance Armstrong crashed at the Tour of Castilla y Leon, Leipheimer became the team?s undisputed leader. At first glance, the Italian climbs do not suit him at all. He?s far more at home on the French Alpine-style mountains. But with the long time trial and the extremes of some of the mountain stages being trimmed, for whatever reason, the course suits him more and more each day. It?ll only take a night?s snowfall ruling out another summit finish and suddenly Leipheimer will be right in among them. And there was us thinking these kind of things only happened to Francesco Moser. Anyway, Leipheimer?s other handicap is the racing he?s done this year. The Tour of California, Vuelta Castilla y Leon and Tour of the Gila ? all of which he won ? are his only races. Instead of gearing up for a grand tour, it looks like he?s been making life easier and easier for himself. It is a very bizarre preparation programme, to say the least.

4 DENIS MENCHOV

Russia / Rabobank

Age 31

Giro history

2008 ? 5th

CW verdict By dint of last year?s fifth place and his all-round consistency, you have to assume Menchov will be in the upper reaches of the top ten, even if there?s precious little racing evidence to go on this year. He won the Tour of Murcia, was fifth at Castilla y Leon and was 11th in Romandie. Perhaps that?s enough. Over-rated in the time trial, but good enough to limit his losses.

5 MARZIO BRUSEGHIN

Italy / Lampre

Age 34

Giro history

2008 ? 3rd

2007 ? 8th

2006 ? 25th

2005 ? 9th

2004 ? 58th

2003 ? 22nd

2001 ? 16th

2000 ? 69th

1999 ? 66th

1998 ? 80th

CW verdict Solid, unspectacular rider. Won the time trial at Urbino last year on his way to finishing on the podium. Unlikely to reach those heights again, and may fall into more of a support role for Cunego, but he?ll be there or thereabouts.

6 FRANCO PELLIZOTTI

Italy / Liquigas

Age 31

Giro history

2008 ? 4th

2007 ? 9th

2006 ? 8th

2004 ? 11th

2003 ? 9th

2002 ? 16th

CW verdict Never has a bad Giro, so barring illness or injury, a certainty for the top ten. In the final days before the start, his team-mate Basso attempted to deflect the pressure away by saying Pellizotti would be the leader. Not too sure about that, unless Basso has a disastrous day.

7 DAVID ARROYO

Spain / Caisse d?Epargne

Age 29

Giro history

2007 ? 10th

CW verdict But for a crash in training right before last year?s Giro, the Spaniard would have been a contender. In the absence of any other leaders in the team, he?ll have a free hand and can be relied upon to make the top 20 without being in great form. Recently he?s shown the beginnings of some good condition.

8 MICHELE SCARPONI

Italy / Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni

Age 29

Giro history

2006 ? DNF

2005 ? 47th

2003 ? 16th

2002 ? 18th

CW verdict Another rider who will provoke divided reactions. Scarponi was the man who paced Roberto Heras to his final Vuelta win, before the Spaniard tested positive for EPO. Scarponi also admitted doping after being implicated in Operacion Puerto, and served an 18-month ban. He?s been very lively since his comeback, and will no doubt be on the attack, especially during the uphill finishes in the first week.

9 TADEJ VALJAVEC

Slovenia / AG2R-La Mondiale

Age 32

Giro history

2008 ? 13th

2006 ? 34th

2005 ? 15th

2004 ? 9th

2001 ? 30th

CW verdict Another rider who just rises up the general classification without being noticed. Will pair up with his team-mate Vladimir Efimkin and one of them will surely be in the top 10. Valjavec is the better time trial rider, so we?ll go with him.

10 KANSTANTSIN SIUTSOU

Belarus / Columbia-Highroad

Age 26

Giro history

2008 ? DNF

CW verdict It?s a bit of a long shot, this one, but the Belarus rider has been coming good over the past few months. We may have been over-ambitious on his part, but he gets the nod for tenth place in our chart ahead of Garzelli, Simoni, Di Luca (too old), Sastre (more focused on the Tour), Soler and Brajkovic (too flakey).

LAST YEAR?S TOP TEN

Where are they now?

1 Alberto Contador ? Training for the Tour at a secret location (well, it?s secret apart from one hour a day, which he discloses to the Whereabouts scheme)

2 Riccardo Ricco ? Suspended until March 2010 after testing positive for CERA at the 2008 Tour de France

3 Marzio Bruseghin ? Competing in the Giro

4 Franco Pellizotti ? Competing in the Giro

5 Denis Menchov ? Competing in the Giro

6 Emanuele Sella ? Suspended until July 2009 after testing positive for CERA last year

7 Jurgen Van den Broeck ? preparing for the Tour

8 Danilo Di Luca ? Competing in the Giro

9 Domenico Pozzovivo ? Rides for CSF-Navigare, who were not invited to the Giro after Sella?s positive test

10 Gilberto Simoni ? Competing in the Giro


Giro d’Italia 2009 links

News

Cycling Weekly’s Giro d’Italia top ten prediction

Brits in Venice for Giro presentation

Armstrong overshadows overall favourites at Giro presentation

Armstrong confident of finding new sponsor for Astana

Armstrong working to save Astana team

Wiggins in top form for Giro

Garmin Slipstream kitted out for Giro opener

Dan Lloyd gets late Giro call-up

Armstrong’s special Giro bikes unveiled

Daniel Lloyd overlooked for Giro ride

Cummings and Thomas not selected for Giro d’Italia

Cavendish tests Giro form at Tour of Romandie

David Millar confirms he’s riding in 2009 Giro

Bennati to take on Cavendish in Giro 2009 sprints

2009 Giro d’Italia to start in Venice

Evans and Silence-Lotto disagree on Giro 2009 ride

Armstrong to ride 2009 Giro

Tuttosport reveals 2009 Giro d’Italia route

Dolce & Gabbana design new Giro jersey

Features

Giro d’Italia 2009: The Big Preview

Brits in the Giro 2009

Brits in the Tours: From Robinson to Cavendish

CW Classic: the 1987 Giro d’Italia


2008 Giro d’Italia archive

Giro d’Italia 2008 coverage index – race reports, photos, results

From rule Britannia to cruel Britannia

Giro 2008: The final word on this year’s race

Brits at the 2008 Giro: photo special

Five days to go, what’s in store?

Giro d’Italia 2008: Rest day review (May 27)

Giro d’Italia 2008: Rest day review (May 19)

Giro d’Italia 2008 preview

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