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Oddly enough, the big names of the Grand Tours have a rare shot at the rainbow jersey, but they’ll have to contend with two Classics specialists. 

GC men like Vicenzo Nibali, Chris Froome, Cadel Evans and the rest have a favorable course to take top honors in a race that’s often better suited to the sprinters and Classics specialist. The course in Firenze features a 4.3 km climb that should do a lot to whittle down the big men.

Nibali, Froome, Evans, Van Garderen and the rest of the big names from the Grand Tours may well commit their deep squads to keeping a blistering pace throughout the race, trying to wear out the legs of the two biggest threats to their plans. Peter Sagan has won nearly everything under the sun and he still hasn’t turned 25. His form proved solid in Canada, and his pedigree in both the Classics and the climbs of the Tour mean he should be one of the last sprinters to get dropped, if it happens at all. His rival and elder statesmen, Fabian Cancellara, showed his intent with a win at the Vuelta’s time trial, which may have done just as much to show his climbing form (it went over a CAT 3 climb) as his time trialing. He’s certainly firing on all cylinders after carrying RadioShack to a top five in this past weekend’s team time trial.

The big teams will have to unite if their plans to cut down the field, even if it’s a very unofficial alliance. Italy, Great Britain, France, Australia and Spain all have the strength to make that happen, but they’ll have to be committed. Belgium’s plan will be the most interesting. Though they have one of the strongest teams on paper, they have the ability to play for a late move from defending World Champion Phillipe Gilbert if the group knocks out the pure sprinters. He’s got more finishing kick than most of the GC men, and if he can survive the moves late, could be the winner once again.

Based purely on recent results, look for Cancellara and Sagan to both make the final selection and the ‘GC’ men to punch themselves out trying to get away. If it comes to a sprint, don’t count out Cancellara. He’s improved in leaps and bounds in the final 500 meters, and should have a bit more in the tank than Sagan if the race proves as hard as it should be.

The 272km men’s race is this Sunday, September 29.