thing is certain: the winner of the 94th Giro d'Italia will be a
mighty strong climber.
40 major mountain climbs, seven summit finishes - including one zesty uphill
time trial - and time bonuses on all the uphill finishes, this year's race
looks set to be a battle between proven climbers such as Alberto Contador,
Vincenzo Nibali, Denis Menchov, Joaquim Rodriguez and Michele Scarponi.
race's first mountain-top finish comes as early as stage seven with a 17km climb
to Montevergine di Mercogliano. Two days later the riders will have to tame
both sides of the Mount Etna volcano on Sicily - and this is before the lethal
second half of the race even begins.
stage 12 onwards there is not a flat stage until the concluding 32.8km
individual time trial in Milan, with the route passing through the spectacular
Dolomites and Alps, featuring summit finishes at the gruelling Grossglockner,
the epic Zoncolan and a rare dirt road slog to Sestriere.
the 2011 Giro will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the
unification of Italy, the only unity in the peloton amongst the main contenders
will be one of shared pain during a 'savage' 3,526km race which has been
described by Team Sky directeur sportif Sean Yates as "one of the toughest
in grand tour history".
take a look at the major contenders for the GC.
Alberto Contador (28,
Saxo Bank Sunguard)
Spaniard enters the race as favourite - more on reputation than anything else. Contador is unbeaten in major Tours since 2007, having won the Tour three
times, and both the Giro and Vuelta once. After what has been clearly his most
troubled off-season to date, Contador is now attempting a Giro-Tour double - a
feat last achieved by the late Marco Pantani in 1998. But it remains to be seen
how the former Astana rider has been affected - both physically and mentally -
by his on-going clenbuterol cloud, and while on paper this route is ideal for
Contador, he still has everything to prove.
Vincenzo Nibali (26,
secured his debut major Tour in last year's Vuelta in such devastating fashion,
all eyes will be on home hope Nibali. With Ivan Basso sitting out and Roman
Kreuziger now at Astana, all Liquigas' eggs will be firmly in Nibali's pannier
- and the Shark will be extra motivated for those ascents of Etna on his home
soil in Sicily. A strong climber and a consistent finisher, the Italian
finished third in last year's race - but did so in support of winner Basso.
There should be nothing stopping him improving on last year's finish - but
he'll have to get the better of Contador if he wants to win the race.
Denis Menchov (33,
Russian hasn't tasted any kind of triumph since taking the maglia rosa in 2009
- a feat he accomplished despite falling on the cobbles during the decisive
individual time trial into Milan. But Menchov showed in last year's Tour that
he still has what it takes to make a Grand Tour podium, finishing third behind
Messrs Contador and Schleck. Now at Geox, the Silent Assassin will be taking
the Giro very seriously this year following news that his team did not make the
cut for July's Tour. Yet to finish out of the top five in Italy, Menchov has
the experience - but it remains to be seen if he still has the legs.
Michele Scarponi (31,
Italian climber comes into the Giro in fine form, winning the Giro del Trentino
in northern Italy, coming second behind Contador at the Volta a Catalunya in
March and taking a stage on the way to a third overall at Tirreno-Adriatico.
The three-times Giro stage winner finished fourth in last year's race but will see in the mountainous route a chance to make the podium this time round. With
Damiano Cunego focusing on the Tour this year, Scarponi will be Lampre's main
man once sprinter Alejandro Petacchi inevitably retires when the roads get
Joaquim Rodriguez (31,
dark horse of the favourites, Rodriguez must fancy his chances given the
demanding route. Second in both this year's Amstel Gold and the Fleche Wallonne,
El Purito is much more than a climber with a penchant for the classics. Last
July, the No.1 ranked rider for 2010 finished eighth in his debut Tour before
narrowly missing out on the podium in the Vuelta. While Rodriguez doesn't have
an excellent record in the Giro, he's showing fine early season form and admits
that the course suits him better than any previous Grand Tour he's done in the
past. He'll need to have a big lead going into the Milan ITT if he wants to win
the thing, mind.
Roman Kreuziger (24, Astana)
has been said of the young Czech rider in the build up to this year's Giro,
which suits Kreuziger just fine. Once seen as a bigger talent than his former
Liquigas team-mate Nibali, Kreuziger joined Astana hoping that the Kazakh
outfit would help him realise his enormous potential. Who knows, this year
could do for Roman what last year did for Nibali. Recent form is good, with a
stage win in the Giro del Trentino, a solid effort in Liege-Bastogne-Liege and
a flawless Tour of Romandie in support of Alexandre Vinokourov. All Kreuziger
needs is a little belief and he could prove a safe bet for a top-five finish.
Carlos Sastre (36,
there's talk of both Sastre and Menchov leading the Geox team, even the biggest
fans of the Spaniard will probably admit that his best times have past. The
Spaniard may have finished in the top 10 in his last two Giros, but the plucky
climber has been a shadow of the man who rode to glory in the 2008 Tour. Quiet
so far this season, it would be a surprise is Sastre makes much of a splash in
Italy. He may have the experience, but at his age this course is just too
Richie Porte (26, Saxo
Tasmanian rider was the revelation of last year's Giro, wearing the maglia rosa
for three days, topping the young rider classification and staying in the top
10 of the GC for the entire duration of the race. Following new team-mate
Contador's initial clenbuterol ban, it looked like Porte would be leading
Bjarne Riis's team this year, but the Spaniard's successful appeal means
Porte's role this year will be primarily that of supporting Saxo Bank's top
dog. Nibali's third place while riding for the eventual winner Basso last year,
however, shows that Porte can still build on his impressive seventh place in
in the saddle following a doping ban and now riding for free, Danilo Di Luca (35, Katusha) claims he is riding at 80 per cent
compared to the 100 per cent he was at when he won the Giro back in 2007. This
year, however, it looks like Di Luca will be riding primarily in support of his
Katusha team-mate Rodriguez and so a victory in the points jersey looks more
likely than the GC.
Igor Anton (28,
leading last year's Vuelta before he crashed out in unfortunate circumstances
with just over a week to go. If the Spaniard can rediscover the excellent form
which saw him ride to two mountain stages and the red jersey, then a stint in
the pink could be a possibility. Compatriot David Arroyo (31, Movistar) will struggle to repeat his runners-up
ride of 2010, but the Spanish climber will definitely feature in the last week
of the race.
winner Stefano Garzelli (37,
Acqua & Sapone) is
surely too old to target the GC but he won a stage last year and could be worth
watching. Younger home riders who could cause an upset are Domenico Pozzovivo (28, Colnago) and Giovanni Visconti (28, Farnese), although the latter, like Di
Luca, could be a better bet for the points classification.
finally, while it's surely too late for Yaroslav Popovych (31, RadioShack) to show the form he had during the
Lance Armstrong years, a lot of noise has been made about his 25-year-old
Portuguese team-mate Tiago Machado following his second place in the
Giro del Trentino.