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, 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?


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).


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

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

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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