The 2012 Giro d’Italia appears to be the most wide-open race in years with no one rider standing out as the top favourite.
The race starts on Saturday in Herning, Denmark, with a time trial, but we won’t see a true indicator of form until Porto Sant’Elpidio on Friday.
>> Struggling to get to the shops? Try 6 issues of Cycling Weekly magazine for just £6 delivered to your door <<
The race climbs its first mountain passes in the south, through the Apennine Mountains, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The big Alpine climbs, though, are reserved for the final act, in the third week.
Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale)
The Italian (pictured above), with two overall wins, stands out, but he’s had a rough spring with crashes. He abandoned Paris-Nice with sore ribs and banged his knee in the Tour of Catalonia.
“My feelings are what I hoped for and I have a strong desire to race,” Basso said in a press release. “I’m confident. I’ll be there in the pink jersey fight.”
Basso won the race two years ago. Last year, he switched his focus to the Tour de France, where only managed seventh. Liquigas asked him to focus on the Giro again and Vincenzo Nibali on the Tour de France.
Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD)
The Italian from Le Marche will received the pink jersey for the 2011 Giro d’Italia today. He inherited the title after the sport’s high court, CAS, ruled Alberto Contador doped and stripped him of his wins, including last year’s Giro.
Scarponi looks ready and wants to win the race out-right, not in the courts. He’s edgy and jumpy, just what’s required for the Giro, and sits on the top of the charts with 12 to 5 odds.
Lampre left Alessandro Petacchi and his sprint helpers at home. In fact, Danilo Hondo is training on the Olympic course just outside of London in these days. It means that Scarponi has a much strong support crew, Damiano Cunego, Alessandro Spezialetti, Diego Ulissi…
Scarponi can’t time trial well, but that shouldn’t matter in a course heavy in mountains.
Frank Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan)
“I was in the park with my baby girl when I was told I’d race the Giro,” said Frank Schleck. Team Manager, Johan Bruyneel last called up one of his riders in the final hours ahead of the 2008 Giro. His name was Alberto Contador and he won.
Schleck had been planning on the classics and then taking a break before the Tour of Luxembourg, Switzerland and France. Now, he needs to find his rhythm in the first week and re-assess what’s possible.
Flavio Becca, the team owner didn’t beat around the bush. He said, “We want to win the race with him.”
If Schleck stays within reach in the first weeks, he could find the legs and confidence to win his first Grand Tour. With a low TT km count and plenty of mountains, he’s favoured. “Once I got looking,” he said, “I saw it actually is a good race for me.”
Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda)
The Canadian is strong in the time trials, helping Garmin to the yellow jersey last year at the Tour TTT, climbs well and is the nicest guy in the peloton. He pushed himself to the limits on the Tourmalet two years ago and placed seventh overall.
His weakness? He seems to be a big diesel like Basso and unable to follow the espresso-punches from riders like Scarponi.
Roman Kreuziger (Astana)
“It’s Astana Time” as they say in Kazakhstan. Enrico Gasparotto won in Amstel Gold and stepped on to podium in Liège-Bastogne-Liège with team-mate and winner, Maxim Iglinsky.
Czech Roman Kreuziger leads the Astana charge in the Giro d’Italia and sees this edition as his to win. Basso said last week in the Italian newspaper, La Gazzetta dello Sport, “I think he’ll be my big rival.”
With his climbing and time trialling combo, he’s steadily working his way up the ranks. Last year, he suffered in a few days and only managed fifth. This year, according to some, he’s put his head down and prepared properly by fine-tuning his TT position and training specifically for the Giro’s climbs.
Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha)
The Spanish champ would love a Giro pasta spiral trophy at home to match that gear cluster he won in Flèche Wallonne. Does he have the staying power though? Likely not. A top five is possible, a top three if he’s lucky.
“Rodriguez is a Grand Tour rider!” Andy Schleck told Cycling Weekly when we tried to brush him off. “Did you see the Vuelta last year?” He admitted, however, that his weakness is going the distance.
If Rodriguez misses class on the Alpe di Pampeago stage, he can forget stepping on the podium in Milan’s Piazza Duomo.
Giro d’Italia 2012: Related links
Giro d’Italia 2012: Latest news
Giro d’Italia 2012: Live coverage
Giro d’Italia 2012: Teams and riders
Giro d’Italia 2012: TV guide