By David Hunter
The 100th edition of the Giro is sure to be a memorable one. The organisers have delivered a very interesting race, with plenty of huge moments along the way. The final week is hugely demanding, expect to see the main riders coming into the race a little undercooked, so that they can peak for the last week.
Coming very early in the race, we could well see a surprise winner on Mount Etna. The climb is a monster, 17.9km at 6.6%. It is the first real test for the GC riders, a stage where you can’t win the race, but you can certainly lose it.
Situated in the middle of the race, the climb to Blockhaus is a very demanding 13.6km at 8.4%. It actually starts quite easy, but the final 10km rarely drops below 10%. One for the real mountain goats.
Coming after a rest day, this TT has danger written all over it. Just under 40km long, and on grippy roads, this will see a huge shake-up in the GC.
The climb to Oropa is this year’s memorial to Marco Pantani. It is 11.8km at 6.2%, so it’s not as hard as some of the mountain top finishes in the race. A huge day for the Italians.
Another big day, straight after a rest day. The stage is 222km long and takes in three monster climbs: Mortirolo, Stelvio and Umbrailpass. Such a demanding day in the saddle.
Another one of those short and crazy stages. Just 137km, but with five categorised climbs. Strap yourself in for an epic day of racing!
The final mountain stage includes Monte Grappa, 24.2km at 5.3%, and Foza, 14km at 6.7%. Hopefully the GC is still close at this point.
The race ends with a 29.3km ITT in Milan. This will keep things interesting all the way until the very end.
Nairo Quintana – the Colombian starts as the overwhelming favourite for his second pink jersey. After “only” finishing 3rd in the 2016 Tour, he made up for that by winning the Vuelta. He now has two grand tour wins to his name and it’s up to the others to stop him making it three. He is going to try and do the double of Giro and Tour, but that is incredibly hard. Expect to not see much of Nairo for the first two weeks, he’ll then go crazy in the final week. He needs to do this, if he wants to challenge in both races. His team are very strong, with Anacona and Amador expected to support him deep into the mountain stages.
Vincenzo Nibali – the defending champion, but now riding for Bahrain-Merida. Nibali does not have the same support that he is used to. Last year, if I wasn’t for Michele Scarponi(may he rest in peace), he would not have won the race. He now has to rely upon Siutsou and Pellizotti, riders not at the same level as Kangert and Scarponi. Nibali has the added pressure of the race going through his home town. This happens in stage five, which means he’ll want to be in pink after the Etna stage. It will be very hard for him to maintain that level over the whole three weeks.
Steven Kruijswijk – we will never know if he would have won last year. His performance was truly outstanding and one that thrust him forward as a real GT contender. Preparations had been going according to plan, but a hard crash in Yorkshire gave him a big fright. Word is, he is fine, the crash has not had any lasting implications. He will like the near 70km of TT racing, something that does put him at a huge advantage compared to some of his rivals. If he is on the same form as last year, Kruijswijk has a great chance of taking the pink jersey. His team is looking very strong too, with Clement, Van Den Broeck and Campenaerts all capable of supporting him deep into the hills.
Geraint Thomas – Team Sky are the only big team that arrive with co-leaders. This can sometimes cause huge problems within a squad, but I think it will do the team good. Neither Thomas or Landa have convinced most fans of their ability over three weeks, having two options is a good thing. The Welshman is usually seen going round France with Chris Froome, he has finished 15th in the last two editions of the race. On both occasions, he has looked capable of more. This season has been a big success so far, with a win in Tour of the Alps and a brilliant performance in Tirreno, Thomas is starting to look like the real deal. He is another rider that will benefit from the TT kilometres.
Mikel Landa – he’s failed to live up to expectations, since his 3rd place in 2015. This season has not been a huge success either, but he did look good in Tour of the Alps. At his best when attacking, he will benefit from having another rider in the front group. If both Thomas and Landa are in a front group of 10, one of them has a huge chance of getting up the road. The TT kilometres are not good for the Spaniard, but I do hope we see the 2015 version of Mikel Landa.
Thibaut Pinot – free of having to compete(and fail) for the Tour, I think we’ll see the real Pinot. I don’t think we can fully appreciate the pressure he is under when riding at home, now in Italy, I think we’ll see a huge difference. 2017 has been another consistent season for Pinot, he was 2nd in Andalucia and the Alps, plus 3rd in Tirreno. A rider that has gradually improved his TT results, he will look forward to testing himself against the clock. He has a huge chance of finishing on the podium.
Bauke Mollema – the Trek rider hasn’t been back to the Giro since finishing 12th on debut in 2010. With Contador claiming the Tour, he is forced to come to Italy, to try and continue his fine run in grand tours. Mollema has finished 6th, 10th, 7th and 11th in the last four editions of the Tour. He has a huge amount of experience of how to handle himself over a three week period, that cannot be underestimated. He’s not the best climber or the best TT rider, but he’ll be confident of making the top 5. Experience is crucial in a grand tour.
Tom Dumoulin – we are about to see if the transition from TT rider to grand tour specialist has been completed. Obviously, he’ll make big time during the TT stages, but can he seriously climb mountains as fast as the pure climbers? We are about to see, but I have my doubts.
Adam Yates – 4th in the 2016 Tour was a huge result for the Bury boy. Orica have carefully managed his progression in grand tours, last year was the first time he actually targeted the GC. I will not hide my admiration for him, I think he has the ability to be one of the best riders in the world. His TT ability improves every season and he will have support in the mountains, with Plaza and Verona both competent climbers. He will be targeting the podium.
Ilnur Zakarin – the Russian sensation! Like Kruijswijk, his horror crash robbed us of seeing how he would have finished the 2016 edition. Despite that, he was back on his bike taking a great win in the Tour, this is a rider with real determination. I think he has every chance of going well in this race, he might even have a spell in pink. What he needs to stop doing is crashing. He simply falls off his bike far too often, for a top professional.
Tejay Van Garderen – can he conquer his three week curse? I don’t think so.
All the TT kilometres does make it hard for a pure climber to win the race, but I still think Nairo Quintana will claim his second pink jersey. No one will be able to get close to him in the third week.
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