What to keep your eye on in the first Grand Tour of 2017...
New British GC hopefuls
British cycling fans are used to rooting for the likes of Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins at Grand Tours in recent years, but at the 2017 Giro it will be a pair of less established names potentially competing for overall victory.
Both have impressed before at this level, with Thomas spending much of the 2015 Tour de France in the top-10 (before slipping out of it with just three days to go) while riding in support of Froome, and Yates finishing a hugely impressive fourth at his second Tour last season. But this time a high GC placing will not be considered a bonus, but an expectation.
Encouragingly, both have also shown great form this season, highlights being Thomas’ overall victory at the Tour of the Alps and Yates’ fourth place at the Tour of California. Translating such performances to the added demands and complications of a three-week race is not easy, but each has the potential to push for a podium finish – and possibly even higher.
How deep will Quintana dig?
The overwhelming favourite to win the overall is Nairo Quintana (Movistar). He won the race at a canter the last time he appeared in 2014, and displayed devastating form to win Tirreno-Adriatico in March, the last time he competed at WorldTour level.
No Grand Tour is without its complications, however, and Quintana will try to strike a very delicate balancing act between doing enough to win the overall, but not exhausting all his resources prior to his bid in two months’ time to win the Tour de France.
This year’s route – as with every Giro – contains very few straightforward stages in which GC favourites can take it easy, and there will be times during this Giro that he will be put under pressure and stress – the question is, will the Columbian be able to wholeheartedly commit everything knowing that it may later jeopardise his chances at the Tour?
Has Nibali still got it?
Last year Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) won the Giro to reinforce his status as one of the best of his generation, but does he still have it in him to win a Grand Tour?
He pulled off that result this time last year without being at his best, and there are certainly signs that, at 32-years of age, the Italian’s career is on the wane.
He’s rarely seen these days in Classics or week-long stage race, preferring instead to limit his efforts to mostly Grand Tours, and he hasn’t been anywhere near his top form since winning that Giro twelve months ago.
That said, Nibali has been written off before only to be prove everyone wrong, and he did finally show some form by winning the Tour of Croatia recently. Even without his old legs circa 2013-2014, he’ll be a huge handful for his rivals.
Riders seeking to revive their careers
This year’s list of favourites features an unusual number of established names either making their Giro debut or appearing for the first time in many years.
Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) all usually ride the Tour de France, but have this year made the Giro their focus having seemingly hit dead-ends at that race.
Pinot due to the allergies that often affect him during July, Van Garderen after a number of underwhelming Tours that have culminated in him being deposed as his team’s Tour leader by Richie Porte, and Mollema following four seasons of coming close but falling short of cracking the top five.
They will all be hoping that the Giro provides a better chance to take a much-needed leap forward in their careers.
Kruijswijk’s shot at redemption
12 months on since his incident-packed Giro breakthrough, Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) finally has the chance to win the race he probably ought to already have added to his palmarès last year.
Having dominated the race in both the mountains and the time trials, the Dutchman’s good work was undone when he crashed on stage 19. The performance was still an indication that he is capable of winning a Grand Tour, and he’ll no doubt have been itching to return to the Giro for a shot at redemption.
Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) finds himself in a similar situation, too. Having looked primed to become a Grand Tour contender since the spring of 2015, he crashed out of last year’s Giro while lying fifth overall. This upcoming Giro provides a chance for him to prove that he can replicate his impressive week-long stage race form into a Grand Tour.
This being the 100th edition of the Giro, the organisers have gone out of their way to cram in as many iconic climbs from the race’s history as possible.
In the first week of the race the famous volcano Mount Etna and the historic Blockhaus are used as summit finishes, and, upon hitting the Alps visits are paid to, among others, the Mortirolo (the climb most feared by Lance Armstrong), the Oropa (where Marco Pantani famously recovered from a mechanical to win in 1999) and the rarely used, but very difficult Monte Grappa.
That’s not to mention the various beautiful mountains passed during stage eighteen’s homage to the Dolomites, and the race’s Cima Coppi and possibly fiercest test of all – the Stelvio.
A diverse opening week
The first week of the Giro strikes a fine balance between sprinter stages and opportunities for puncheurs and breakaway specialists, and even GC contenders.
At least two of the three stages in Sardinia should end in bunch sprints, as well as stages five (to Messina) and seven (to Alberobello), but elsewhere there are chances for breakaways (stage eight), uphill sprinters like (stage six), and outright climbers (stages four and nine to Mount Etna and Blockhaus respectively).
There are only two more chances for the sprinters in the second week (stages 12 and 13, in Northern Italy), so after that can expect the purer and/or less experienced sprinters likely to have contested the sprints up to this point (like Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott), Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors)) to go home, while the more durable sprinters (such as Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) and Sacha Modolo (UAE Team Emirates)) to continue fighting for the points jersey.
Key time trials
The severe amount of climbing in this year’s route is countered by a large number of time trial kilometres.
First up on stage 10 is a 40km effort from Foligno to Montefalco, before a climactic 28km test in the race’s finishing town of Milan.
That amounts to a total of 69km of time-trailing, which is easily enough to have a significant impact on the race. For specialists like Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) and Tom Dumoulin, (Giant-Alpecin), that could be enough to put several minutes into the other GC contenders, and will exacerbate even the small margins of quality against the clock between the other favourites.