By David Hunter
Alghero – Olbia 206km
Three weeks of fun starts here.
A lumpy opening to this year’s Giro, awaits the nervous peloton. With three cat 4 climbs, along the route, someone will be rewarded with the KOM jersey.
Only a little rise, but that is nothing to worry about.
Nice and technical for the opening stage. Given the nerves, this is actually a good thing. Teams will really stretch things out, from 4km to go. This should result in a long line of riders, making it much safer than a big, easy finish. Given the corners, it’s very important to have a good position with 2km to go. This is where a good lead-out train is vital.
Being the first stage, I think it’s a good idea to go through each of the sprinter teams and see who is the best.
Lotto Soudal – a new train for Andre Greipel. We have the experience of Bak and Hansen, who should do the work until 3km to go. They will pass over to De Buyst, Hofland and De Bie. I’m not sure the order these guys will go in, it’s the first time they’ve all been together. Sean De Bie has done this job before, but he’s not a replacement for Greg Henderson. The man with the top end speed required is Moreno Hofland, that’s who I would choose to do this job.
QuickStep – with Keisse, Martinelli, Serry and Richeze the Belgians arrive with lots of lead out experience. They will be unleashing the Colombian sensation, Fernando Gaviria, a rider in his first grand tour. I think we are all excited to see what he can do, especially in the opening stages. In Richeze, they have the best final man in the Giro, that gives them a big advantage.
Orica Scott – the Aussies have Hepburn, Juul-Jensen, Edmondson and Mezgec to guide Ewan into position. Looking at the squad, I think we’ll see Orica trying to sneak in with one kilometre to go. It’s a tactic they have used before.
Bora Hansgrohe – the German squad have both Pelucchi and Bennett. It seems that Bennett will be their chosen sprinter, I have no idea what role Pelucchi will fill. They have power in Barta, Muhlberger and Postlberger and the experience of Selig is very important. These boys should not be underestimated.
Trek Segafredo – Nizzolo has Didier, Alafaci, Pedersen and Stuyven to help him out. That is a serious looking sprint train. Both Pedersen and Stuyven have plenty of pace and power, so I expect Trek to be heavily involved in the closing kilometres. Nizzolo is only just back racing, it might take him a few stages to get close to 100%.
UAE – the old double act of Ferrari and Modolo will be back to their old tricks. Modolo is used to working with a limit train, it’s a real shame, as when they had Richeze, the three of them formed a formidable sprinting unit. Just having Ferrari, makes like difficult for Modolo, but he does have some good form from Croatia.
Should be a lovely start to the race. There will be a breeze coming off the sea, but not enough to cause any problems.
The Last Climb
Cresting with 21km to go, the final climb will have an impact on the race. As it’s the first stage of a grand tour, all the sprinters should be in the condition to get over this lump of 3.25km at 5.6%. If you get dropped, it’s a very bad sign for the next three weeks!
It does open with a kilometre at 7.2%, before an easier 500m at 3.4%, then it gets really tough with 500m at 9,6%. There is certainly a chance for riders to attack out of the peloton. It’s a shame the climb is 21km from home and not 10km. Even if some riders get 30 seconds of a gap, there is still plenty of time and teams interested in bringing them back.
Sprinter teams cannot afford to go too fast on the climb, as they will need domestiques to help pull back any attack. Saying that, QuickStep will be more than happy to push the pace, as they would like to put Lotto under pressure.
Andre Greipel – the Gorilla took one win here in 2015 and three in 2016, he is really starting to develop a taste for this race. His team will look at the final climb and be a little concerned, but I think he’ll survive it. I would be more concerned about losing riders from the sprint train. Given his experience and speed, he will start the stage as most people’s favourite.
Fernando Gaviria – I cannot wait to see what he can do in the Giro. Such a talented rider, he started the season in fine form with impressive wins in San Juan. Injury hindered his chances in Milan-Sanremo, before a poor spell in DDV and GW. After a break, he’ll be raring to go. Having Richeze at his side is a massive bonus for Gaviria.
Caleb Ewan – the same age as Gaviria, but he is starting his third grand tour. The Orica boys have already given him a taste of three week races, he lasted 9 stages in the 2015 Vuelta and bowed out after stage 12 of the 2016 Giro. I think he’ll be staying for the full race this time. That experience will be crucial for Ewan as he prepares to try and win his first Giro stage.
Sam Bennett – after a huge win in Paris-Nice, Bennett will have been slightly frustrated that illness stopped him from competing in Pais Vasco. He spent a period at altitude in February and again very recently, he certainly thinks that it is making him a better athlete. He has two horrible experiences of grand tours, trying to haul himself around France during the last two editions of the Tour. He had to stop in 2015, but managed all the way to Paris in 2016, finishing last on GC. Those tough times will have taught him a lot about cycling and it will certainly stand him in good stead. He has a big chance of winning a stage in this race.
Giacomo Nizzolo – injury has ruined most of his 2017 season. His recent appearance in Croatia was his first competitive racing of the year, he starts this race massively undercooked. He has won the sprints jersey for the last two years, but he is still to take that elusive win. I’m not sure he’ll be winning in the first week.
Sacha Modolo – despite two recent wins in Croatia, I have my doubts about Modolo. He hasn’t won a sprint against decent opposition since the 2015 Giro. Understandably, he has really struggled to adapt to life without Richeze. It is just too hard to win stages at this level, with only one quality helper.
Dylan Teuns – someone will attack on the final climb, why not the brilliant BMC talent. Fresh from a great week in the Ardennes, he might just be allowed some freedom to chase a stage.
Matej Mohoric – another rider that would love an opportunity to attack on the final climb. He has everything required to take the win, but like all attackers, he’ll need a large slice of luck.
The Richeze/Gaviria combination is just too good. I think QuickStep can put Lotto under pressure on the climb and outnumber them in the closing kilometres. I expect to see a Fernando Gaviria win on his grand tour debut.
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