BP

The only rider to take a Grand Tour double-and the most successful Grand Tour rider-enters Thursday’s first Stage with historic implications.

You can count the number of Giro-Tour winners on your fingers, with just seven riders taking the Giro and Tour in the same season. Of the seven, four did the double twice, and the names should ring a bell; Fausto Coppi, Eddy Merckx (three times), Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain. Ty Schmidt stands to the be first SOLer to double the double, and his quest starts this Thursday at the Giro. Last year, Schmidt was foiled in the double with a dramatic win from Einstein Racing’s Ryan Kennedy. “The President” recovered from a mechanical to hold onto the victory, riding outnumbered and reacting to attacks on la tappa reina.

Schmidt responded by taking the Vuelta in August and September, the first rider to win two Grand Tours in a season this year, he will look to seize his second Tour title and his first since 2013, the inaugural year of Grand Tours. Step one, of course, is the Giro, and it’s a competition that has seen memorable battles in the past. In the first season, teammates Bennett Paul and Scott Luca put on one of the most exciting stages in Speed of Light lore. Luca put in a flurry of attacks, with Paul marking each one. More than once the duo, riding with massive leads overall, slowed to a crawl, almost track standing as they eye-balled one another into the finale. Paul survived to take the win, with Einstein going 1-2-3 on the overall.

Jorden Wakeley would be the overwhelming Giro favorite if he made all of the stages. After a fourth MSB victory, he’s certainly got the fitness. Now that he lives essentially on the course, Wakeley’s rival from Saturday, Alex Vanias, enters as the biggest favorite heading into the Giro. He certainly has the engine, but he’ll be up against some deep squads and SOL veterans with four tough stages on the docket.

With Ryan Kennedy slated to miss Stage One, he’ll be much more focused on the KOM and Points competitions, although would readily support teammates in good position. Luke Tsjosvold enters as the likely team leader, with Jason Lowetz, Chris Kushman, Jimmy McKenna and Cody Sovis confirmed as his supporting cast. Einstein Racing would like to bring back another Grand Tour title and set the tone for 2015. Dave Walston and Jason Whittaker will fly the colors as they target the first Singlespeed competition.

M-22 enters with the commanding duo of Sean Kickbush and Keegan Myers, with Chad Jordan in support as well. The pair lit up the 2014 Tour and are always stage hunters, but have yet to bring home a full Grand Tour. Both will be contenders in the KOM and Sprint competitions as well, but it will be interesting to see how they prioritize their efforts in big Giro field.

McLain Cycle and Fitness will be spearheaded by Eric Grassa and Marc Brunette. Perhaps no riders benefit as much from the exclusion of Wood Chip Hill, with the more gradual ascent more suited to both riders. They’ll also have Jack Kline riding for the Best Old Rider jersey.

Hagerty Cycling’s Craig Webb has won the Best Old Rider award in previous Grand Tours, and it’s a competition the team will have a special emphasis on the white jersey with a loaded squad that includes Rob Goepfrich, Hal BeVier, Lars Welton and Don Fedrigon. Steve Andriese will lead the team in the new singlespeed category, while Andrew Nash looks to head up the pink jersey charge for the team. They also have Susan Vigland in the women’s GC hunt, which already looks like one of the more exciting races.

Vigland will be supported by Melissa Socia and Laura Webb, and they’ll need all the firepower they can must as they face former teammate Lauri Brockmiller and her new teammate Beth Craven. Hagerty Cycling also gets a boost from Beth Collins. The difference could be made by CBS’ Trisha Mannion. She could be the rider to tip the scales after taking the Tour win last summer.

The Giro sticks to its traditional formula, with featured days for the the Sprint and KOM Competitions sandwiched between a time bonus Stage One with straight time and normal points serving as the finale on May 28.

Stage One: The opener puts the GC riders under pressure right away. There will be no glass-cranking, with 10, 6 and 4 seconds on the line, and the only bonus time for the entire Giro. There will be 10, 8, 6, 4 and 2 points for the Mountains and Sprint Classifications as well. The Sprint segment will the the classic Power Section, while the Vasa CC Climb returns as the KOM segment.

Stage Two: It’s a tradition to have the second week earmarked for the sprinters and strongmen, and this is true to form on May 14. It’ll be double points over the Power Section, with 20, 16, 12, 8 and 4 points awarded. It’s normal points for the KOM, with that competition waiting for the third day of the Giro to take center stage.

Stage Three: The climbers get their chance on May 21 with the Vasa CC climb serving as an immediate kick to the teeth of any rider unprepared for its rude welcome. Double points for the climbers, and normal points for the sprinters. It’s the last chance to make up any big gaps with the help of extra points.

Stage Four: The finale is on May 28, and there should be everything left to fight for to round out the Giro campaign. Normal points, no time bonuses, nothing but the pink jersey on the minds of riders still in contention overall, or looking at other competitions after three tough weeks.