CyclingPub’s guide to the 2018 Giro d’Italia
Apr 30 2018 01:59 pm CET

CyclingPub’s guide to the 2018 Giro d’Italia
CyclingPub’s guide to the 2018 Giro d’Italia
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With the Tour de Romandie finished, nothing stands in the way of the first Grand Tour of the year, and CyclingPub will bring you an extensive preview. On Friday the 4th of May, the 101st Giro d’Italia starts in the capital and largest city of Israel, Jerusalem. This will be the first start of a Grand Tour outside of Europe. After three days in the Middle-East, the peloton moves to Sicily to complete the three week course through the country that hosts countless cycling legends. Will Chris Froome win his third consecutive Grand Tour, or is Tom Dumoulin able to extend his title?

History

The very first Giro d’Italia took place in 1909, when Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport organized and sponsored the race. It covered 2,447.9 kilometres in 17 days, with an opening stage of almost 400 km. Luigi Ganna was the first victor, ahead of fellow Italians Carlo Galetti and Giovanni Rossignoli. The race substantially increased the circulation of La Gazzetta, thereby ensuring its return in the years to come.

Even though the race took place every year since, except for two breaks during both World Wars, it wasn’t until 1931 that the leader in the general classification was awarded a leader’s jersey. This jersey was to be pink, the same color as the paper on which La Gazzetta was printed.

These years saw many legendary Giro’s and at least as many legendary cyclists. Among the winners are riders as Gino Bartali, Fiorenzo Magni, Bernard Hinault and Jacques Anquetil. There are cyclists that managed to win the Giro no less than five times: Alfredo Binda, Fausto Coppi and Eddy Merckx. Merckx also wore the Maglia Rosa in 78 stages, more than any other rider.

Historically, the Giro has often been the playground of the Italian riders. No less than 68 times an Italian rider was victorious, followed by Belgium (7, of which 5 by Eddy Merckx) and France (6). However, the last 10 years saw winners from six different countries. In 2008 Alberto Contador was the first to break an eleven year streak of Italian winners, finishing before Italians Riccardo Ricco and Marzio Bruseghin. Denis Menchov took the victory the year after, despite a crash in the final time trial. Ryder Hesjedal surprised everyone with the biggest victory of his career in 2012, holding off Joaquim Rodriguez and Thomas de Gendt. Nairo Quintana was the first Colombian to win the Giro in 2014, beating Rigoberto Uran and Fabio Aru. In 2015 Italy once again saw Contador take the victory, ahead of Aru and Mikel Landa. In between these years, Ivan Basso (2010), Michele Scarponi (2011) and Vincenzo Nibali (2013 & 2016) honoured their home race with an Italian victory.

Last year Tom Dumoulin became the first Dutchman to win the Giro d’Italia, beating Quintana and Nibali. It was the first Grand Tour win for the time trial World Champion; can he repeat this performance this year?

Winners of the previous 10 editions

2008: Alberto Contador
2009: Denis Menchov
2010: Ivan Basso
2011: Michele Scarponi
2012: Ryder Hesjedal
2013: Vincenzo Nibali
2014: Nairo Quintana
2015: Alberto Contador
2016: Vincenzo Nibali
2017: Tom Dumoulin

The route

Israel

The 101st Giro d’Italia takes off in Jerusalem with an individual time trial of 9,7 kilometres. Because of the short length this prologue will not cause any major differences between the favourites, but in this stage of the race valuable seconds can be lost already. The parcours is wavy and constantly changing gradients, with the final stretch peaking at 9% in the last 100 metres. The short and explosive route favours strong time trialists including Rohan Dennis, Jos van Emden and Ryan Mullen. Still, even though he prefers longer courses, Tom Dumoulin will be the man to watch. The time trial world champion won the last prologue in the Giro, on home soil during the Grande Partenza in Apeldoorn in 2016, and he can already deliver the first blow to his opponents.



The second and third stage in Israel are most likely going to end up in a mass sprint. The flat routes offer little opportunities for a break to last until the finish. Also the fast men are not going to waste these chances early on in the race, when they still have enough men around them to lead them out. Sam Bennett, Danny van Poppel and Edwin Ávila (Israel Cycling Academy) will want to show their fast legs here. However, Elia Viviani will be the man to beat, while fellow Italians Jakub Mareczko and Sacha Modolo will also want to show their abilities in their home race.

Sicily

After the opening in Israel the peloton can enjoy their first rest day in order to travel to Italy. The next few stages are set in Sicily, the island located south of the Italian mainland and separated by the Street of Messina, of which Vincenzo Nibali’s nickname is derived: Lo squalo dello Stretto di Messina. The shark won’t be participating in the Giro this year, since he aims at another Tour de France victory after a very successful Spring campaign during which he won Milan-San Remo.

The first stage in Italy takes the riders over a hilly terrain for a length of 191 kilometres. There are two classified climbs on the way, but many more unclassified ones. The final kilometre is entirely uphill, and with gradients up to 13%, this stage is one for the punchers. The same goes for the 5th stage, where the riders face a slightly more difficult route, with a similar uphill finish. However, the climb towards the line is slightly longer and the peak gradient of 12% is at more than a kilometre before the line. After this section the climb flattens out and even turns into a small descent with 600 metres to go. Fast men with good climbing legs that could hold on can recover a little here and possibly sprint for the win on the slightly uphill final stretch to the line.

The peloton’s stay in Sicily will be concluded at its peak. The finish of the 6th stage lies at Mount Etna, where Jan Polanc celebrated last year. After a relatively easy run in the riders will arrive at the foot of the climb with 15km to go. The first 10 kilometres are on relatively wide roads, yet the maximum gradient is already met here with 16%. The last 5 km the road narrows down and takes the riders through a forest and over lava fields, since the Etna is an active volcano. This will be the first time the GC contenders can test themselves and have a look at the level of their competitors.





Italian mainland

The next day an easy course in the South of the Italian peninsula awaits the riders. The finish in Praia a Mare should be another chance for the sprinters, especially since the final stretch is almost two kilometres straight to the line. It is also the first chance for the sprinters in Italy, so the teams of the Italian fast men Viviani, Modolo and Bonifazio will want to help them take this opportunity. The joy of the sprinters won’t last too long however, since the next day offers another summit finish. The climb to Montevergine di Mercogliano is 17 kilometres long with an average gradient of 6%, with a maximum up to 10%.



From here the riders will move north along the Adriatic coast of Italy, with stage 9 starting in Pesco Sannita and with a summit finish, 225 kilometres later at Gran Sasso d’Italia. The final climb is approximately 45(!) kilometres long, but it contains a few counter sloping sections. Because of this the climb is divided into two mountain sprints, but without a real descent between them. In the last 7 kilometres the riders ride at an altitude of more than 2000 metres, at an average gradient of 9%. The GC contenders won’t be able to hide themselves here and an off-day can ruin anyone’s ambitions on this day.



After the summit finishes of the previous days, there is a second rest day for the peloton to lick its wounds and recover a little and prepare for the longest stage of this year’s Giro. Riders that recovered well can take their chances during stage 10, that covers 239 kilometres. On the not entirely flat course, and with the GC beginning to take shape, a breakaway has a good chance of success in this stage.

Stage 11 is a lot shorter at 156 kilometres, but the finale is much harder. It begins with 5 km to go at a cobbled climb. This ascent of the Via del Borgo is short, but very steep with a gradient of 16%. After the short and steep descent, there is another 2 km long climb taking the riders to the line in the streets of Osimo. The last 300 metres are flat, so the stage will probably be won by a rider with fast legs.

By now it is time for the sprinters that are still in the race to show their speed again. Stage 12 and 13 both present opportunities for them. The finish of stage 12 is even set at the Imola race track, which should bring out the best in men like Viviani and Sam Bennnett. There is a 4th category climb 8 km before the line, but we will most likely see a bunch sprint here. The same goes for stage 13 that takes the riders over the Po Plains from Ferrara to Nervesa della Battaglia. The summit of the only climb of the day (4th category) is set at 20 km from the finish, giving the teams aiming at a mass sprint plenty of time to organise a chase.

GC showdown

The race is getting close to the final week, with five summit finishes and a 34 km long time trial. By now the race has arrived in the very north of the country, in the autonomous region Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The peloton had better rested enough in the last few stages, because after two relatively easy days, the third weekend of the Giro is as tough as it gets. On Saturday the 186 km long stage contains five categorised climbs, with a summit finish at the mythical Monte Zoncolan. This absolute beast of a climb, 10 kilometres at a 12% average and peaks up to 22%, is regarded as the hardest climb in Europe. After this stage we will have a clear idea of who is going to win this Giro, and we can say with certainty who are not going to win.





On the day before the rest day the riders face another tough challenge. Over the course of a 176 kilometres the peloton faces five categorised climbs. The finish set on an 8,5 km long climb with maximum percentages of 9%. The final kilometre flattens out in the streets of Sappada, where we might well see a breakaway battle for the win.



On stage 16 none of the GC contenders can hide behind their team, since this is the day of the 34,2 km long time trial from Trento to Rovereto. The route is quite bumpy and not too technical, so the men with the big engines will show their power here. The final 10 km of the route are a little more technical, including a few small climbs, narrower roads and technical bends. Time trial specialists as Tom Dumoulin and Chris Froome can win considerable time over their rivals today.

The GC contenders that lost time in the time trial have one day to lick their wounds and recover, as stage 17 from Riva del Garda to Iseo is not too demanding. The technical finale however strongly reduces the chances of a bunch sprint. Much will depend on which sprinters still are in the race, and if they have enough teammates to control and bring back a breakaway. If a breakaway does make it to the finish, the sprinters will only have one chance remaining: the final stage in Rome.
The fact that the start of this stage is set in Abbiategrasso and takes the riders over the Po Plain should not make the riders think they are in for an easy day. After a small warmup climb (4th category), the riders will face a 15 kilometre climb to Pratonevoso with a more or less constant gradient of around 7%. This will be the first opportunity for the GC contenders to regain some time after the time trial.



However, for those really wanting to move themselves into a winning position in the GC the 19th stage provides a tougher challenge, with more chances of creating big gaps among the favourites. The stage is 184 km long and takes the peloton over the Cima Coppi, the roof of the Giro, the highest summit to be climbed at 2178m altitude. This year rider that passes the KOM at the Colle delle Finestre is honoured with extra mountain classification points and prize money. Together with the climb of the Colle del Lys, the climb to Sestrière and the final climb to Bardonechhia or Jafferau, this is one of the hardest stages in this edition. The Colle delle Finestre has been the Cima Coppi in 2015, when Mikel Landa was the first to reach the summit. The last 9 kilometres of the climb are on gravel roads. The final ascent, the one to Bardonecchia, is 7 km long and knows maximum gradients up to 14%. This should account for considerable time differences after such a hard stage.



The 20th stage provides the riders with a last opportunity to set things straight in the GC, as well as the mountains classification. This long stage (214 km) takes the peloton from Susa to the summit finish in Cervinia. The first half of the race is flat, but in the second half there are three first category climbs: the Col Tsecore (16 km with long stretches exceeding 12% over the last 4 km), Col de st. Pantaléon (16.5 km at 7.2%) and the final climb to Cervinia (19 km at 5%). For riders that still want to go for a stage win, an improved place in the GC or the mountains jersey, this is the last chance before the sprinters will get to their final showdown in the final stage in Rome.



With the GC battle concluded, the final circuit in Rome will most likely turn out to be a showdown between the sprinters that survived the mountains, and the time limits, of the previous stages. However, there is always the chance of a rider upsetting the bunch sprint with a late breakaway. In 2015 it was Iljo Keisse who won the final stage in a scenario like this, after beating breakaway companion Luke Durbridge.

The favourites

Even though RCS earned a lot of critique due to its choice for Israel, and some commentators were worried about the safety of the peloton, none of the big favourites considered staying at home. This results in a strong start list.

Despite the uncertainty about the salbutamol case, Chris Froome, is aiming at his third consecutive Grand Tour win after winning last year’s Tour de France and Vuelta a España. The Brit could not impress in the Vuelta a Andalucia and the Tirreno earlier this year, but he showed flashes of his abilities again in the Tour of the Alps where he finished fourth in the GC. Despite the controversy around him and his poor form in the early season, his record in Grand Tours, together with the strongest team, still makes him the main favourite to take home his first Giro d’Italia victory. He won the Tour de France four times, took his first Vuelta victory last year, and is now keen on completing the triple. Froome’s time trial skills should give him a considerable advantage over his rivals, even though his climbing has not been convincing yet during this season.

His main contender is awarded similar capabilities, and is an even stronger time trialist. As a reigning world champion in the time trial discipline, Tom Dumoulin is to be the strongest opponent for Froome. Dumoulin is keen on winning his second consecutive Giro d’Italia, and he has the skills to do so. However, he has never battled Froome directly for a Grand Tour victory and he would probably have preferred more time trial kilometres. Still the Dutchman has a good chance of another victory, bringing a strong squad with him. His season so far has been unlucky, with his best individual result being the 12th place in the Abu Dhabi Tour time trial. The Sunweb rider also finished 15th in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, which is better than his 22nd place of last year when he went on to win the Giro.

The main preparation for the Giro this year probably was the Tour of the Alps. With 5 mountainous stages it provided a good overview of the form of several Giro contenders. Winner of the Tour of the Alps was Thibaut Pinot, thereby showing his ambitions to win his first Grand Tour. His team was quite weak during the 5 days of racing, as only Reichenbach could be of support in the difficult parts of the race. Nevertheless, Pinot managed to counter all attacks and finally showed his potential again in an important stage race. His descending skills still proved to be problematic, and he can be vulnerable when attacked on descents.

Miguel Angel Lopez was third in the latest Tour of the Alps. He showed his prowess both up and downhill, but maybe the most remarkable feature was the strength of his Astana team. With 5 guys with the best 14 in the GC they were constantly present in the selected groups fighting for the win. Moreover, they took 3 from the 5 stage wins. Even though the Colombian will most likely lose considerable time to Froome, Dumoulin and probably also to Pinot on the time trial, the versatile Astana squad can help him gain a lot of time in the difficult mountain stages at the end of the Giro, if he didn’t make the difference already by then. In case Lopez takes the maglia rosa, he has the best squad to defend it.

Fellow Colombian Johan Esteban Chaves is another South American force to be reckoned with. The Mitchelton-Scott rider started off the year with a victory in the Herald Sun Tour, but he didn’t make it to the finish in both Paris-Nice and the Volta a Catalunya. We can only guess how his form is, and based on those last results he is not among the main contenders. However, the small Colombian did finish second in the 2016 edition so he knows what it is to fight for the win. Next to this he has Simon Yates at his side. The winner of last year’s Tour de France youth classification has shown better results in the early season with a second place in Paris-Nice and a 4th place in Catalunya. This might make him the leader of the Mitchelton-Scott squad, but Chaves has the better record when it comes to Grand Tours. Both of them however will try to get as far as they can in the GC, and with support of riders like Mikel Nieve and Jack Haig they have a strong team backing them up.

So what about the home riders this year? Fabio Aru and Domenico Pozzovivo seem to be the main candidates for an Italian win this year. Aru is the third rider in this peloton with a Grand Tour victory on his palmares. He won the 2015 Vuelta a España, and because of this we rank him a little higher than Pozzovivo, who was the better of the two in the recent Tour of the Alps. Aru’s results this season have not been convincing so far, but he has the experience to know what it takes to win. Pozzovivo is starting his 12th Giro d’Italia aiming to improve his best result so far. He was 5th in 2014, and his recent performance in the Tour of the Alps shows he is ready for a better result. He will want to reduce the damage in the time trial, and try to win some time in the mountains with the help of veteran teammate Giovanni Visconti.

Another rider performing well at the Tour of the Alps was George Bennett. The Kiwi took 2 second places and a fifth place in the GC, despite being hit by a car the day before during the recon of the Rovereto time trial. He showed some weakness during the summit finish on day two, but besides that last year’s Tour of California winner put in a strong performance. Bennett underwent surgery in December to get rid of a rare side stitch phenomenon. He came back strong with an 11th place in the Tour Down Under and top-10 spots in the Tirreno and Catalunya. His 10th place in 2016’s Vuelta shows he can handle a Grand Tour earns him a place amongst the favourites.

Michael Woods is another rider who makes this list because of a strong effort in the Vuelta. The Canadian ended 7th last year and he hopes to repeat this in this year’s Giro. So far his season has been disappointing, with his best result in a stage race being an 18th place on the climb to Jebel Hafeet in the Abu Dhabi Tour. His second place in Liège-Bastogne-Liège proved he is getting close to the form he needs for a good result in the Giro. Is he ready just in time for a good result?

As the Giro starts in their home country, Israel Cycling Academy will want to show their colours. Ben Hermans is the man they bring for a good GC result. The Belgian left BMC for a chance to ride a GC of his own, and here he will get the chance to do so. His results this season have not been very promising, but a 5th place on a summit finish in the Tirreno Addriatico showed he can climb with the very best.

While Hermans left BMC, Richie Porte and Tejay van Garderen focus on the Tour and Damiano Caruso aims at a result in the Vuelta, Rohan Dennis is BMC’s leader for the GC this Giro. The Australian can rely on his impressive time trial skills, but seems to lack the uphill qualities to compete with the best. Can he surprise us this year? So far he has a disappointing track record in Grand Tours, out of six starts, he only finished twice. However, his recent performances in the Tour de Romandie are promising, with a 6th place in the Queen Stage and a 7th place overall. The BMC rider will be the man to watch during the prologue in Jerusalem and is the big favourite for the first Maglia Rosa.

Louis Meintjes has a better track record when it comes to Grand Tours, finishing in a top-10 spot on three occasions already. The South-African has never started the Giro, however, and a top result here is quite unlikely. Since Meintjes moved back to Dimension Data his results were disappointing and he has not been able to impress at any occasion. Still he has the ability to finish a Grand Tour within the top-10, which makes it worthwhile mentioning him.

A rider who has also shown to be capable of a top-10 finish is Davide Formolo. The Italian moved to Bora-hansgrohe in order to strengthen their GC squad, and his top-10 places in his last two Grand Tours show he is able to do this. He started off the season well with a 6th place in Abu Dhabi and a 7th place in the Tirreno. Even though his Catalunya campaign was disappointing, he showed his great form in Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Lastly, we should pay attention to Ecuadorian Richard Carapaz. Movistar’s Big Three (Quintana, Valverde and Landa) will all ride the Tour de France and possibly the Vuelta a España. This opens opportunities for other riders to show their abilities. The Spanish team has selected a young but talented squad, led by Carlos Betancur, who finished 5th in the 2013 Giro d’Italia, and Carapaz. Betancur is an extremely talented rider, but problems with his weight and his motivation keep us in the dark about his real potential. This leads us to believe the Ecuadorian will be the man to watch in Italy. He showed his talents and good form recently by winning the Queen Stage and the GC in the Vuelta a Asturias and finishing 3rd in the GC of the Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali. An eleventh place in Paris Nice shows he can also perform in a WorldTour race, so he might just surprise everyone and grab a top-10 spot. If he loses time early on, expect him to fight for the blue mountains jersey, as in this form, he is one of the finest climbers in the peloton.

***** Chris Froome
**** Tom Dumoulin, Thibaut Pinot
*** Miguel Angel Lopez, Johan Esteban Chaves, Fabio Aru
** Domenico Pozzovivo, Simon Yates, George Bennett, Michael Woods
* Ben Hermans, Louis Meintjes, Davide Formolo, Rohan Dennis, Alexandre Geniez, Richard Carapaz

Sprinters

Next to the strong GC field, the Giro attracted some of the world’s fastest sprinters. The man to beat in the sprints is Elia Viviani. The Italian already won 6 races this season, and the form of his Quick-Step team seems better than ever this year. However, Viviani has only won one Grand Tour stage so far, in the Giro of 2015, and he will have to prove he is able to win Grand Tour stages again.

Viviani’s main challengers include Irishman Sam Bennett, Dutchman Danny van Poppel, Luxembourgian Jempy Drucker and, of course, Italians Giacomo Nizzolo, Sacha Modolo, Kristian Sbaragli and Jakub Mareczko.

By Siebe Kok
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