The grand ambition of Wiggins to become the first man to achieve the Giro-Tour double since Marco Pantani in 1998 is rather reliant on whether some manner of disaster hits his flying teammate, Chris Froome. All this talk of Tour de France leadership is an unhealthy distraction for Wiggins, for it is the Giro which takes priority this year, and it is the Giro we should be talking about. It will be a slightly modified Wiggins from the one that took a dominant victory in the Tour de France last year: he has been training for steeper ascents and his acceleration has noticeably improved this year. He may not have a single win against his name in 2013, but that is simply because he hasn’t ridden an individual time trial yet. We will surely see his prowess against the clock in the stage eight time trial, and that will come after a team time trial on the opening Sunday, for which Team Sky will inevitably be strong. It is a daunting prospect for Wiggins’ rivals that the Brit is likely to build an intimidating advantage at the end of the first week. Sky’s train of super-domestiques will provide excellent support for the race favourite in the scenario that Wiggins takes pink early on, though they may prefer to rent the jersey to an opportunistic escapee. There’s certainly a good chance the Kid from Kilburn will be wearing Pink in Brescia come May 26.
The Shark of Messina has been in scintillating form so far this week, winning Italy’s two biggest one-week races, Tirreno-Adriatico and Giro del Trentino with typically aggressive displays. He was powerless to stop the Sky onslaught at last year’s Tour de France, but he will be much more at home in the Giro, and I think we will see a panache-filled display from the Italian. Something that works in Nibali’s favour is that his support at Astana will be strong, and though probably not on Sky’s level, he at least won’t be constantly isolated in the high mountains as he may have been had he stayed on with Cannondale. Young Fabio Aru may have an important role to play for his team leader, if he can repeat his impressive performances from Trentino in the real thing, the Giro. Nibali is renowned for his relaxed approach to preparation, but the 2013 Nibali looks somehow more professional. So although Wiggins feels he has improved from last year, it looks like Nibali has gone up another gear also.
I must confess to feeling a little smug when Hesjedal became the surprise winner of the Maglia Rosa last year, because I believed in the Canadian when he said that he thought he could win the race outright. His ding-dong battle with Joaquim Rodríguez proved that he could mix it with the world’s most explosive climber. This year he is out to prove that his win was no fluke (as if winning the Giro could possibly be flukish!) and along with Nibali, this is the one rider who Wiggins has reason to be especially wary of. Hesjedal started his season especially late this year at the Volta a Catalunya, but by the time the Ardennes Classics came along, he was already coming into some very sharp form. In Liège–Bastogne–Liège, Hesjedal worked hard to enable his teammate, Dan Martin, to win his first classic. All being well, Garmin’s leader will be in peak condition by the beginning of the final week. Given that a backloaded race suits Hesjedal down to a tee, I think we can expect big things again from the big man.
Now this is an unfamiliar site; we don’t often see Samu at the Giro. Sánchez is riding the Giro d’Italia for the first time in his career since 2005, when he was yet to establish himself as a top stage racer. That year he managed 15th overall, but eight years on he has built up quite a palmarès and hopes to complete the set of a podium finish on each of the Grand Tours. It’s hard to say how much Sánchez’ age is catching up with him at the grand old age of 35, because after winning the Vuelta al País Vasco in April, his season was derailed last year by a nasty crash at the Tour de France. Nonetheless, though his results so far this year have been far from spectacular, I’d certainly expect him to be a protagonist in the Giro. Where those above him would be disappointed not to win, a podium will be enough for Sánchez to call the Giro a success.
Here is the reluctant winner of the 2011 Giro d’Italia. Reluctant on the part of many fans, too. Scarponi, after all, is a former (we hope) client/contact of both Messrs Fuentes and Ferrari, who is lucky to still be riding. Fourth in the Giro last year was a step back, but a very strong performance in Liège–Bastogne–Liège suggests that his career is not in a sharp decline. Scarponi won’t particularly enjoy the long individual time trial and his time loss to Wiggins on this stage is likely to far exceed that of Hesjedal and Nibali. But again, like Sánchez, I can imagine him being consistently in the thick of the action in the high mountain stages, especially on the punchier gradients.
I feel compelled to insert a joke here pertaining to Gesink’s tendency to fall off bikes. In all seriousness, it would be very interesting to see how Gesink goes if he can stay upright for three weeks. His performances over the last few years have been erratic, but we have seen glimpses of the great talent that he has. It’s a good move to come to the Giro. Gesink says that he was inspired by Hesjedal’s performance last year, and, being of a very similar build to the Canadian, he felt like he might be able to achieve something similar. Gesink’s results have been up and down this year however, and when he should have been following some of the top names in the Tour de Romandie, instead he was well off the pace of his Blanco teammates Wilco Kelderman and Steven Kruiswijk. Not too much should be expected of Kelderman as this is his debut Grand Tour, but Kruiswijk has finished in the top ten before and is very capable of doing the same again should Gesink not succeed.
It’s hard to know what’s really going on in the BMC camp, because in theory you might think it should be a changing of the guard, with Cadel Evans handing over the baton to Tejay Van Garderen as the number one GC rider in the team. Despite the PR from both riders, Evans riding the Giro suggests that Van Garderen is likely to lead the team in July. Despite the supposedly late decision to ride the race, Evans doesn’t give the impression of a man who is using the Giro purely to train for the Tour. At 35 years of age, the truth is that Evans is not the rider that he once was, but of course that doesn’t mean he won’t have a part to play in the Giro. He is still hungry for success, but that success may be restricted to stage wins rather than overall glory.
Domenico Pozzovivo/Carlos Betancur
I’ve lumped these two together not because I don’t believe they are separate entities, but because they are on the same team, they are similar riders, and they have similar objectives. Confusing. The tiny Pozzovivio has the experience of many Giros under his belt and is a terrific climber (though he often exudes an illusion of looking more comfortable than he really is), but is still liable to getting caught up in crashes on the flat. He is just returning from a crash in the Giro del Trentino, but an encouraging ride in the Rund um den Finanzplatz Eschborn – Frankfurt (not the most memorable of names, I know…) puts him back on track. Betancur, on such magnificent form throughout Spring, is riding only his second Grand Tour. His first was the Giro d’Italia two years ago. If he can stretch his form until the end of May, there’s no reason why Betancur can’t replicate his impressive performances in Italy’s high mountains.
And finally, here is the man who should probably be being talked up a lot more than he is. Santambrogio, a climber? Since joining Vini Fantini, it would appear so. Look at the results of the Prati di Tivo ascent in this year’s Tirreno Adriatico: second only to Chris Froome, beating the likes of Vincenzo Nibali and Alberto Contador. He also beat Nibali and Wiggins on a mountain stage of the Giro del Trentino, before being undone on the final stage by Nibali, and taking second overall. All the signs are that this surprising revolution that Santambrogio has undergone, from one-day specialist to climber, makes him a serious contender for the Giro d’Italia crown. The mystery of this transformation has perhaps discouraged experts from rating him as a favourite, but there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be considered one. Time will tell whether he is indeed wrong to be underestimated.