More than 200 cyclists will roll away from the Titanic shipyard in Belfast to begin the 97th Giro d’Italia on Friday, but only a few riders have a chance at wearing the pink jersey in Trieste three weeks later. Many of the Grand Tour heavies such as Chris Froome, Bradley Wiggins, Alberto Contador, Alejandro Valverde and Vincenzo Nibali will be clashing at the Tour de France in July, but the Giro’s field is still a strong and compelling one.
Cadel Evans (Australia/BMC) This Giro is probably the 2011 Tour winner’s last chance to win a Grand Tour. Evans was third in the Giro last season as Nibali dominated the race. He looked good winning the Giro del Trentino in April, albeit against a field lacking other stage-race top dogs. He’ll hope that his BMC squad can deliver in Friday’s team time trial, and look to make gains against his rivals in both individual time trials. Sammy Sanchez (Spain) will be an important teammate in the mountains.
Rigoberto Uran (Colombia/Omega Pharma-QuickStep) Last season’s runner-up hasn’t impressed so far after transferring from Sky, but he’ll take solace from his fourth place in the Tour de Romandie’s time trial on Sunday. Rigo will have Thomas De Gendt (Belgium), surprise third place finisher in 2012, and Wout Poels (The Netherlands) as his assistants. A good team time trial placing will be crucial for Uran.
Nairo Quintana (Colombia/Movistar) The sensation of last year’s Tour de France, Quintana is a brilliant climber who has spent the last month training in his home country. This training block came after winning the Tour de San Luis, placing runner-up to a dominant Contador in the Tirreno-Adriatico and taking fifth in a desperately tight Volta a Catalunya. Look for Movistar to control the race with a very powerful team and for Quintana to attack a lot when the roads tilt up.
Joaquim Rodriguez (Spain/Katusha) It’s hard to feel sorry for El Purito considering how successful he has been over the course of his career. But the Spaniard has never won a Grand Tour despite being on the podium in all three. Of course, he came runner up to Ryder Hesjedal in a ding-dong battle in the 2012 Giro. This year he won the Volta a Catalunya against some pretty sharp competition, but recently suffered a crash in the Amstel Gold Race, which affected the rest of his Ardennes Classics. As usual, Rodriguez has his trusty lieutenant Daniel Moreno (Spain) for the mountains.
Michele Scarponi (Italy/Astana) The 2011 Giro winner through default, Scarponi leads the pack of Italian riders likely to step on the final podium. He’s finished fourth in three of the past Giros. This season has seen Scarponi consistently in the top 10 of stage races without threatening the top of the GC board. He heads a strong team, wears the No. 1 jersey and will be putting everything into this Giro.
Ryder Hesjedal/Dan Martin (Canada and Ireland/Garmin-Sharp) Hesjedal is a favourite solely based on his win two years ago, but hasn’t shown consistently good form throughout the past two seasons. Last year’s 70th in the Tour was the worst result he’s had in a completed Grand Tour. Martin will be motivated to race in his home country, even though the course on the Emerald Isle isn’t suited to his riding. Last year’s Volta a Catalunya and Liège–Bastogne–Liège victories were fantastic pieces of riding, but Martin hasn’t impressed so far this year. If Hesjedal falters on the first climbs in mid-May and Martin is strong, the Irishman will take over as the protected Garmin rider.
Others: Look out for diminutive climber Domenico Pozzovivo (Italy/Ag2r) to press for the podium and perhaps give Pierre Rolland (France/Europcar) and Stefano Pirazzi (Italy/Bardiani-CSF) a run for their money in the mountains competition. Two-time winner Ivan Basso (Italy/Cannondale) seems like a spent force, but may surprise with a last hurrah after an early season of bupkus. Przemyslaw Niemiec (Poland/Lampre-Merida) may fare better than his captain, 2004 champion Damiano Cunego (Italy). Colombians Julian Arredondo (Trek), Fabio Duarte (Colombia) and Winner Anacona (Lampre) might all make an impression.