The first Grand Tour of 2017: The 100th Giro d’Italia. It will be raced completely in Italy, with the Grande Partenza taking place in Sardinia and the race then finishing with a flat time trial in Milan. Much like the Tour de France’s 100th edition, which saw a double ascent of Alp d’Huez, there will be a double ascent of the Stelvio. However the amount of climbing is less severe in this year’s race, and with the inclusion of two lengthy time trials, one flat and one undulating, the centenary race will favour an all-rounder, as opposed to a pure climber.
Unfortunately, the local boy Fabio Aru won’t be here to race in front of home crowds as the first three stages take place on the island of Sardina, which will likely see a sprinter leave the island still wearing the Maglia Rosa. Stage 1 has three category four lumps to determine who is the first to wear the Maglia Azzurra, but it should all end in a bunch sprint. Stage 2, is a lumpier affair and has a steady category 2 climb with 50km to go. However the descent down to the flat finish isn’t technical and we should see another sprint for the line, but a late break might have other ideas. The third and final stage on the island takes place along the south-east coast, so the wind could be a big factor here. It’s another flat day and once again should be another chance for the sprinters.
After the first rest day, we head to Italy’s other major island, Sicily. Stage 4 also brings with it the first mountain stage of the race as the riders tackle the 18km climb up to the finish on Monte Etna. Vincenzo Nibali will ride into his hometown of Messina on stage 5 but, as this favours the sprinters again with the final 60kms completely flat, he might have eyes on lighting things up on the volcano to take the Maglia Rosa back down with him to his hometown the following day. We reach the Italian mainland on stage 6, with a punchy uphill kick for the finish line, so look out for the likes of Micheal Woods, Diego Rosa and Nathan Haas and other puncheurs here. We then cross the arch of Italy’s boot on stage 7, with another sprinters stage that has a slight drag up to the line to make it interesting. Stage 8 is set to be a belter, as the peloton race along the Adriatic coast, running the risk of crosswinds, then turning inland and tackling the category 2 climb of Mont Sant’Angeliao, before heading back out along the coast for the final 70kms along winding roads before another short, sharp, 12% uphill ‘sprint’ finish for the puncheurs. Stage 9 brings us into the Abruzzo mountains with the stage finishing atop the famous Blockhaus climb, a brute at 3km averaging 8%, and the road up it is not in a great state.
After the second rest day, we have the first time trial of the race on stage 10. The 40km lumpy chrono will surely shake up the GC and the likes of Geraint Thomas, Tom Dumoulin and Rohan Dennis will be hoping to gain an advantage here. Stage 11 is in honour of the great Gino Bartali, featuring four climbs and rolling along rough country roads with a downhill run to the finish, so a breakaway win could be on the cards here. The longest stage of the race is Stage 12, which should be another for the sprinters. The race then honours another of its famous sons, Fausto Coppi. The pan-flat, nailed on bunch sprint stage 13 ends in Tortona where Il Campionissimo died at the young age of 40. Stage 14 departs from the place of his birth, Castellania, and ends with the Oropa climb, also known as the ‘Pantani Mountain’, which is 12km and maxes out at 13%. Before the third and final rest day, the race gives us a mini Il Lombardia, with the finish on stage 15 to Bergamo an exact replica of the 2016 race.
The final week of the race means only one thing, mountains. And we don’t ease into them, as Stage 16 is the Queen Stage of this year’s Giro. It includes the Passo del Mortirolo, which is being dedicated to the memory Michele Scarponi. The riders will then tackle the Passo del Stelvio, twice! First from the Bormio side, which is also this year’s ‘Cima Coppi’ climb, before descending down the 48 hairpins and the going up the Swiss side, via the Umbrail pass, before descending down to the finish into Bormio. The GC will see another reshuffle here, you can be sure of that! After all that, stage 17 looks nailed on for a breakaway day with the first 60km taking in two category two climbs and then makes its way slowly up to the finish in Canazei along orchard and vineyard-lined roads. Make sure you sit down to watch the full frantic 137km of stage 18. Despite the short distance the riders will climb over 4000 metres and tackle five categorised climbs, with a dramatic final descent before the uphill finish on the Ortisei climb. After these fireworks, Stage 19 will offer a little respite but there is a sting in the tail with the hard climb up to the Piancavallo ski resort. The final mountain test comes on stage 20, which includes the famous Monte Grappa and Foza climbs, how this is raced will all depend on how the GC is set, as riders still in contention will have one eye on the final stage time trial, so a breakaway could steal the day. We do feel that the race should still be open enough that a strong time trial from someone could snatch the overall win, much like Ryder Hesjedal did in 2012. It looks set to be another tight and fierce race – Bellissimo!
The Giro has a stellar cast list in 2017, let’s get right to it and take a look at the main protagonists who will be contesting the four classifications:
Defending champion Vincenzo Nibali has looked below par so far this year. He did win the Tour of Croatia last month, his sole victory of the season so far, but that is nothing compared to what will await him at the Giro. The two-time winner won’t be under any illusions though and will need his teammates Siutsou, Pellizotti and Visconti as his main support here. Nibali tends to shine towards the final week of a Grand Tour, as was the case last year where he took advantage of Steven Kruijswijk’s misfortune. However, this year we feel he’ll need more than a bit of luck to pull off the win.
The bookies favourite is Nairo Quintana and when the roads go uphill there are few who can match him. He hasn’t raced that much this year (twenty-two days to be exact) which is likely down to the fact he is aiming for a Giro-Tour double. Like Nibali, it may take him until the final week to get up to speed, which he does make a habit of, and in the past has seen him leaving himself with too much time to make up. That coupled with the two time trials will also go against him. If this was a more severe mountainous test of a Giro he would be the outright favourite. He will still be the man to beat in the mountains, but we’re not sure that the overall win is his for certain.
We are biased, but Geraint Thomas has a fantastic chance to take his maiden grand tour, and Sky’s first Giro, victory. He missed out on taking the win at Tirreno-Adriatico, due to his teammate’s wheel exploding during the team time trial, but he took the GC at the recent Tour of the Alps (Giro del Trentino) and has looked to be able to keep pace with Quintana on the climbs. If he does lose a chunk of time, he can make that up, and possibly gain some, during the time trials. Sky also have Mikel Landa as a solid plan B and the two worked well during the Tour of the Alps. It’s very likely that we could have two Sky riders on the podium in Milan.
Another man who should gain time during the time trials is Thibaut Pinot, a favourite of ours since his 2012 Tour de France stage win. His time trialling has dramatically improved and he has looked in the sort of form that saw him being talked up as France’s next Tour winner last year before he fell ill during the race. Away from the home crowds and pressure, a podium or better should be on the cards for him.
Nibali didn’t so much win last year’s Giro, it’s more that Steven Kruijswijk lost it. He lost concentration for a split second and ploughed straight into a snowdrift on a decent on stage 19 and that was his race over. That kind of experience will only make him more determined to put things right this year. He is another rider who should go well against the clock. He was involved in a crash on Stage 1 at the Tour of Yorkshire, but it wasn’t serious by all accounts. His season is focused on this race, so expect him to be within the top 5 at least.
There are two other Dutch hopefuls. First, there is Tom Dumoulin, who burst onto the scene during the 2015 Vuelta. After starting last year’s race strongly, by winning the opening stage time trial in his home country, he had to withdraw due to saddle sores in the second week. Hopefully, he’s packed some extra chamois cream this year! He has also trained at altitude for the first time in preparation for this race, so he really means business and there won’t be the same “is he, isn’t he” talk around his GC ambitions. He will be favourite for the two time trials and could go very well over the three weeks.
Bauke Mollema has really stepped up over the last 12 months, he finished 11th at the Tour last year, but his race was better than that result as he was victim to a mechanical in the final week. He has had a decent season to date, but nothing that makes him stand out. A top ten at the very least will be his aim.
BMC come here with Tejay Van Garderen and Rohan Dennis. Personally, we can’t see Tejay competing in the final week. It’s sad to say that, but we’ve seen him be up there so many times and choked when it counts. His teammate Dennis should be the more interesting prospect. We know his time trialling abilities and he is another rider making that transition to Grand Tour contender and apparently, he has be given free reign to ride for himself during the race, another reason to doubt Tejay.
Orica-Scott are still on the hunt for their first Grand Tour success and Adam Yates is their man this time. We know he can compete in the mountains, but his time trialling will see him lose time. Sadly, we feel that this could cost him a podium place and so he’s a top five hope for us.
Other riders who we think will be up there challenging for the Top Ten are: Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha Alapcin), Bob Jungels (Quickstep), Davide Formolo (Cannondale Drapac), Domenico Pozzovivo and Alexandre Geniez (AG2R)
Maglia Ciclamino (Formerly the Maglia Rossa)
Last year saw the marquee sprinters drop out before the big mountain stages, with one eye on the Green jersey at the Tour de France. Unfortunately, that could well be the case again, with no sprint finish into Milan this year to entice them to stick around. However, with it being the 100th edition we hope that that doesn’t turn out to be the case!
Andre Greipel is the most successful sprinter in the race, but not the strongest at the moment. He has six stage wins at the Giro and will likely pick up another, but the younger sprinters could well overshadow him.
One of them being Sam Bennett, who picked up his first World Tour win at Paris-Nice but has since gone off the boil a bit. A return to his form from early March could well be on the cards.
The fastest rider is Orica-Scott’s Caleb Ewan, but it will be very difficult for him to last the full distance of the race and so some stage wins in the first two weeks would be our bet for him.
Fernando Gaviria is equally as fast as Ewan, on his day, and also stronger. He could make it to Milan wearing the Maglia Ciclamino and we think it will be between these two for the flat stages during this year’s race.
Italian fast men Giacomo Nizzolo, Sacha Modolo and Jakub Mareczko aren’t quite in the same league as the other sprinters mentioned here, but they will be fuelled with pride and passion at the chance of grabbing a stage victory during the 100th editions. Last year’s winner, Nizzolo, has never won a Giro stage, despite finishing in the top five, twenty-one times over the last five years!
Depending on how the GC is raced will determine if the overall winner takes the mountains classification. However, unlike the Tour and the Vuelta, this hasn’t happened so far this century.
Cannondale Drapac basically has a team built for this classification with Carthy, Rolland, Woods, Dombrowski and Formolo. So it wouldn’t be a big surprise to see one of these riders look to target this competition as well as some stage wins, which the team desperately need.
Visconti is a former Maglia Azzurra winner and depending on how much he is called on to help his GC leader will determine how far he can go in this competition. He will definitely be targeting a stage win at least.
Omar Fraile and Kenny Elissonde had a great duel for the mountain classification at last year’s Vuelta, with the Spaniard coming out on top. We can’t wait to see them both go for it again this year, but Elissonde will be on mountain domestique duty for Thomas and Landa, so might not be able to contest it as much as he’d like.
Alexandre Geniez has looked in great form when going uphill this season and, depending on how his GC ambitions go, this could be a back prize for him to go for.
Not surprisingly this will be made up of the best young GC contenders and we could see last year’s winner, Bob Jungels take it again in 2017. Adam Yates will likely be the other main contender. With the likes of Formolo and Henao too far down on the final GC classification to compete.
GC: Geraint Thomas, Points: Fernando Gaviria, Mountain: Joe Dombrowski, Youth: Bob Jungels
GC: Nairo Quintana, Points: Andre Greipel, Mountain: Kenny Ellisonde, Youth: Davide Formolo
GC: Thibault Pinot, Points: Giacomo Nizzolo, Mountain: Omar Fraile, Youth: Adam Yates