Top contenders for the 2016 Giro d’Italia

Giro café (ANSA - PERI, DI MEO, ZENNARO)

Giro café (ANSA – PERI, DI MEO, ZENNARO)

Who are the favourites? To judge that, we first have to look at what cycling they’re going to have to do in the next three weeks.

The route

On paper, the race is easier than in recent years. However, that perception would only stand up to scrutiny if you were riding it on your own, unencumbered by time pressures. The truth is, the easier the terrain, the fresher your rivals, the faster they go, the harder it becomes. Over the course of three weeks, these things tend to even themselves out.

The two main things to note are the prevalence of time trials and the fact that the final week is just solid Alps. Three time trials is a lot and tips the balance away from the climbers, but that last week looms large for anyone who gets ahead after performing well against the clock.

The headline names

Vincenzo Nibali

The only man in the race to have won the Tour de France and a Giro winner in 2013, Vince Nibbles is the obvious favourite. He has a strong team as well. When on form, Tanel Kangert in particular looks like he could contest for a Grand Tour in his own right.

Alejandro Valverde

Oddly, Valverde has never actually raced the Giro before. This may be presented as some freakish oversight but is actually more to do with it having been Italian authorities who did all the work that got him banned for blood doping. He was banned from racing in Italy in 2009, a year before his two-year worldwide ban was implemented.

For all that he dominates the racing season in a broader sense, winning one-day races and stage races alike, Valverde has only ever actually won one Grand Tour – the 2009 Vuelta. The Giro route should actually suit him quite well being at once hillier and less mountainous than the Tour, but you’d still have him down for a podium spot rather than the win.

Newer names

Mikel Landa

Britain’s least British team, Team Sky, will field precisely zero British riders. They will be led by a Basque. Landa was the strongest climber in last year’s race, but ain’t much cop at time trialling.

Tom Dumoulin

Tom Dumoulin can climb, but he is not a climber. Only one of the guys appearing in this preview can really be pigeon-holed (you can guess which once you’ve read through the whole piece) – they’re all all-rounders really. However, if forced to categorise Dumoulin, you’d have to put him down as a time triallist. He’s certainly the strongest in that discipline of those mentioned here.

Ilnur Zakarin

The young Russian has proven himself a strong stage racer over the course of a week, winning last year’s Tour de Romandie and finishing fourth in the same race this year. A Grand Tour’s a different matter though. He might not quite be ready. Or maybe he is. Guess we’ll find out.

Rafal Majka

The Pole will be in the mix. Not too sure beyond that.

Esteban Chaves

Tiny man. Oversized mouth. Compulsive smiler. Fifth in last year’s Vuelta and is an improving rider.

Older names

Rigoberto Uran

Been around for years. Always does pretty well in the Giro.

Ryder Hesjedal

Another Giro regular. Hesjedal is just pure grit. He’ll be off the pace on the first mountain stage and you’ll probably forget about him, but then next thing you know it’ll be the third week and everyone else will have deteriorated more than he has. The Canadian won the Giro in 2012. His superpower is just never giving up. The broad-shouldered Steven Kruiswijk rode in a similar way last year and might also be worth watching.

Outsiders

Domenico Pozzovivo

The gold-plated spanner in the works on mountain stages. I see no reason to repeat myself. Here’s the lowdown.

Jean-Christophe Péraud

“Jean-Christophe made the promise to himself to excel during the Giro,” reads the AG2R La Mondiale press release announcing their team. The Google Translate feel continues as it adds: “The almost 39-year-old rider is about to discover the famous race.”

Péraud came second in the Tour de France two years ago, but he’s all in for the Giro this year. Apparently he’s been training in Italy in recent weeks so as to ‘recognise’ some of the key stages.

Andrey Amador

A fleeting mention for the Costa Rican. He’ll be riding in support of Valverde but was a striking rider last year and I don’t want to have not mentioned him, just in case.

Carlos Betancur

Betancur is a man who can at times be up there finishing second on summit finishes and at other times be fat and shit. He started the season 7kg overweight but cereal and salad (probably not for the same meal) has got him somewhere near his rarely-seen racing weight. Don’t laugh. He’s actually been looking kind of feisty in recent weeks.

In summary

Was it just a matter of days ago when I was saying that race previews often got out of hand and featured too many names?