The 2014 Grand Tour season gets underway this week with the beginning of the Giro d’Italia. But things aren’t quite as the usually are – stage one takes place on a Friday (May 9) rather than the traditional Saturday beginning, and will take place in Belfast, the first time the Giro has ventured outside of continental Europe.
The Irish depart demonstrates the increasing globalised character of the Giro. Where once the race was populated by Italians, recent editions have attracted riders from across the globe, so much so that 2012 saw a Canadian winner (Ryder Hesjedal), while a Colombian (Rigoberto Uran) finished second last year.
The new, cosmopolitan Giro goes some way to explaining the decreased success home riders have enjoyed in recent editions, but, although Vincenzo Nibali’s victory last year papered over the cracks, it also seems as if Italian cycling is in decline. Whereas all eleven Giros between 1997 and 2007 were won by Italian riders, foreign riders have been victorious in half of the past six editions. 2012 was only the fourth time no Italian even managed to make the podium, and 2014 looks likely to become the fifth.
It is difficult to remember an edition with such pessimistic prospects for the hosts than 2014. The nation’s hopes rest mostly on riders who aren’t as good as they used to be (Ivan Basso, Michele Scarponi, Damiano Cunego), with only a few talented rider whose careers are still on upward curves, but are yet to make a grand tour podium (Domenico Pozzovivo, Diego Ulissi).
Instead the Italians will be hoping for multiple stage wins, but that will be difficult in an opening week consisting mostly of flat stages expected to end in bunch sprints, in which the likes of Elia Viviani (Cannondale) and Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida) will struggle to compete with Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) and Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge).
Neither are Ireland’s two stars Dan Martin (Garmin) and Nicholas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo) likely to make much impact in the opening stages finishing in Dublin and Belfast, a team time trial and two flat stages. Martin’s Garmin are more geared towards climbing than time trialling these days, meaning that this year’s inaugural pink jersey will likely go to a rider for a specialist team like Omega Pharma-QuickStep or Orica-GreenEdge. With bonus points on offer, the jersey will likely change hands again in the following flat stages, which, with so many riders still in contention, will probably see lots of crashes.
A few medium mountain stages will see more non-climbers slip down the overall classification, but the first real shake doesn’t occur until almost two weeks into the race, in stage twelve’s 46.4km individual time trial. With a very mountainous final week in store, this stage marks the only opportunity for specialists against the clock to put time into the climbers.
The hellish finale kicks off at the penultimate weekend with a double header of mountain top finishes, first at the Oropa, then the Montecampione. The race gets even harder after the final rest day, with three more mountains tackled in both stage 16 and 18 (including the Stelvio, the highest peak in the race), before building to a crescendo with a mountain time trial and a finish on the mighty Zoncolan in stages nineteen and twenty.
With the most difficult stages occurring at the back end of the race, it’s conceivable that the rider wearing the pink jersey on the Zoncolan will not be same as he who wears it in the final, processional stage into Trieste. The well-balanced, well-planned route, as well as the multinational peloton, should ensure a tightly contested and class edition of the Giro d’Italia.
Giro d’Italia 2014: Stages
Click on the red links for stage previews
Stage 1, Fri May 9, Belfast — Belfast TTT, 21.7km
Stage 2, Sat May 10, Belfast — Belfast, 218km
Stage 3, Sun May 11, Armagh — Dublin, 187km
Rest day – Mon May 12, transfer
Stage 4, Tue May 13, Giovinazzo — Sari, 121km
Stage 5, Wed May 14, Taranto — Viggiano, 156km
Stage 6, Thu May 15, Sassano — Montecassino, 247km
Stage 7, Fri May 16, Frosinone — Foligno, 214km
Stage 8, Sat May 17, Foligno — Montecopiolo, 174km
Stage 9, Sun May 18, Lugo — Sestola, 174km
Rest day – Mon May 19, Modena
Stage 10, Tue May 20, Modena — Salsomaggiore Terme, 184km
Stage 11, Wed May 21, Collecchio — Savona, 249km
Stage 12, Thu May 22, Barbaresco — Barolo ITT, 46.4km
Stage 13, Fri May 23, Fossano — Rivarolo Canavese, 158km
Stage 14, Sat May 24, Agliè —Oropa, 162km
Stage 15, Sun May 25, Valdengo — Montecampione, 217km
Rest day – Mon May 26, Ponte di Legno
Stage 16, Tue May 27, Ponte di Legno — Val Martello, 139km
Stage 17, Wed May 28, Sarnonico — Vittorio Veneto, 204km
Stage 18, Thu May 29, Belluno — Rif. Panarotta, 171km
Stage 19, Fri May 30, Bassano del Grappa — Cima Grappa ITT, 26.8km
Stage 20, Sat May 31, Maniago — Monte Zoncolan, 167km
Stage 21, Sun June 1, Gemona del Friulli — Trieste, 169km
Giro d’Italia 2014: Teams
Provisional start list >>
Ag2r La Mondiale
Trek Factory Racing
Giro d’Italia 2014: The jerseys
Maglia rosa (pink jersey) – Overall classification leader
Maglia azzurra (blue jersey) – King of the mountains
Maglia ciclamino (mauve jersey) – Points classification leader
Maglia bianca (white jersey) – Best young rider
Giro d’Italia 2014: TV guide
Live coverage of the 2014 Giro d’Italia will be shown on digital and satellite channel British Eurosport. Sky Sports 3 will also be showing highlights in the evening of each day.
Full Giro d’Italia 2014 British Eurosport TV guide >>
Giro d’Italia: Recent winners
2013: Vincenzo Nibali (Italy)
2012: Ryder Hesjedal (Canada)
2011: Michele Scarponi (Italy)*
2010: Ivan Basso (Italy)
2009: Denis Menchov (Russia)
2008: Alberto Contador (Spain)
2007: Danilo Di Luca (Italy)
2006: Ivan Basso (Italy)
2005: Paolo Savoldelli (Italy)
2004: Damiano Cunego (Italy)
2003: Gilberto Simoni (Italy)
(*Awarded retrospectively after Alberto Contador’s results were voided)
Giro d’Italia: Last year’s top 10 (2013)
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana in 84-53-28
2. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Sky at 4-43
3. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing at 5-52
4. Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre-Merida at 6-48
5. Carlos Betancur (Col) Ag2r La Mondiale at 7-28
6. Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Lampre-Merida at 7-43
7. Rafal Majka (Pol) Saxo-Tinkoff at 8-09
8. Benat Intxausti (Spa) Movistar at 10-26
9. Mauro Santambrogio (Ita) Vini Fantini at 10-32
10. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Ag2r La Mondiale at 10-59
Full official start list for the 2014 Giro d'Italia (May 9 to June 1), including race numbers