By David Hunter
After the fun of Strade Bianche, the racing continues in Italy with the 53rd edition of this beautiful race.
The race begins with the usual TTT. At 21.5km long, it is a big day for the GC, teams cannot afford a poor performance.
The second stage is a very easy in the saddle and one for the quick men.
A brilliant stage ending in Trevi. At 239km, this is a massive challenge coming so early in the season and brilliant preparation for the classics riders. The stage ends with two ascents of the climb in Trevi. The final 300m is at 20%. This is going to be epic!
I’ve heard a few people complaining about the lack of mountains, but I love this stage. It ends with 14.2km at 5.8%, but that does include a long section at 8%. Yes, it’s not the hardest climb we’ve seen in this race, but the beauty of the stage is what precedes it. We have a number of short, challenging climbs for the majority of the stage. If teams make it hard, the final climb will start with a much reduced peloton.
Another stage that ends with a little wall. The riders have to cover Muro di Filottrano on three occasions, but the finishing line comes at the end of an easier climb. This stage offers attackers lots of opportunities and will be difficult to control. This stage is to honour the memory of Michele Scarponi.
Despite some initial climbs, this should be another day for the sprinters.
The race ends with the usual 10.05km ITT. Will the GC fight still be on?
This feature will be back! I have some advice for the Katusha boys. Back in his Giant days, Kittel used to operate with a “sweeper”. He had his normal sprint train, but another rider would hang a number of places behind him. If Kittel was poorly placed in the final 2km, this rider would approach and take him up the bunch. If Kittel already had a good position, he would do nothing. Having such a rider is a luxury, but looking at Katusha, they really need this. Someone give them a phone!
Geraint Thomas – started the season well in Algarve, taking a strong 2nd place on GC. The Welshman had a disaster here in 2017, thanks to some exploding tyres in the TTT, despite that he still won a stage and finished 5th on GC. Sky arrive with a strong squad, both Froome and Thomas are genuine contenders for the win. The rest of the team is ram packed full of talent and they’ll control most stages of this race. Thomas will enjoy the tough stages with short ramps and he can certainly hold his own in the TT.
Chris Froome – has just completed a block at Mount Tiede, with Thomas and a few teammates. He did okay in Andalucía, but was only there to help Wout Poels. With the drugs case still unresolved, I’m not sure what to expect from Froome. He is meant to be targeting the Giro, that means he would usually want a big performance in Tirreno. On paper, the route is good for him, but I’m still unsure what he’ll be like. The unknown of what is to follow is surely weighing heavy on his mind.
Primoz Roglic – this is his first target of 2018. After nailing most his targets in 2017, the Slovenian is one of the hottest properties in cycling and Jumbo are delighted to have secured him until 2020. His TT performance is of the highest order and he continues to improve in all aspects of cycling. Positioning has been something of a weakness, but his coaches know this and have been working hard on improving. Jumbo send a strong squad, they know a big TTT is needed to help Roglic achieve his goal in this race. He starts the race as one of the big favourites.
Miguel Angel Lopez – it looks like we have too many TT kilometres for Lopez to seriously challenge for the win. Astana are not great in a TTT and Lopez isn’t particularly strong in flat TTs. This means he will have to make over 1 minute to his main rivals and despite climbing well, he won’t be able to make up that sort of time. I think the Colombian will be targeting a stage win and a top 5 place on GC.
Mikel Landa – the Basque rider started the season with a solid 6th place in Andalucía. With that race in his legs, he’ll be excited about the route in Tirreno. When the road kicks up to double digits, he really is one of the finest in the world. He will look towards stages 3 and 5, knowing they are great chances for him to take his first win for Movistar. No doubt he will lose time in the TTs, making winning the title very difficult.
Tom Dumoulin – has to start the race as the favourite given the amount of TT kilometres. Team Sunweb send a very strong squad, no doubt they want to show everyone that winning the world TTT wasn’t a fluke! In the mountains, they will rely on Kelderman to help support their leader. Both riders were strong in Abu Dhabi and they will form a strong partnership in Italy. He will look forward to testing himself against the pure climbers on stage 4.
Romain Bardet – I really hope he’s sorted his TT position. The Frenchman is an enormous talent but he cannot win big races until he improves his TT performance. He will hope for a good showing in the mountains and not to have a disaster on his TT bike. He showed, in Strade Bianche, how good his current form is. I’m looking forward to seeing him race this week.
Vincenzo Nibali – yet again, he started his season with disappointment. Is he here to win? Is he race fit? Does he even know the answer to these questions? I’ll predict he’ll finish outside the top 20.
Fabio Aru – the Italian national champion will be hoping to show off to his home fans. He’ll lose too much time in the TT, but he could win a stage. Predicting his form is similar to Nibali, so I won’t try!
Rigoberto Uran – after a good start to the year in Colombia, Uran lines up for his European debut. A very consistent performer, no doubt we’ll see him challenging for wins in stages 3, 4 and 5. Uran will be keen to prove to everyone that his Tour de France performance wasn’t a one off and that he is ready to compete with the very best in the world. There is too many TT kilometres for him to challenge for the win.
Due to the TTs, this is Froome & Thomas v Dumoulin & Kelderman v Roglic. On paper, Jumbo have the weakest TTT squad of these teams, so that leaves Sky v Sunweb. I think the punchy finishes don’t suit the Sky pair, meaning Tom Dumoulin will take home the title.
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