Giro d'Italia 2016

The 100th edition of the Giro starts this Friday, and we take a quick look at the route, the riders, and the fantasy cycling league. 

We love the Giro. It’s a different race than the Tour; for all it’s prestige, the Giro offers more intimacy, more romance, more of that intangible connection that the sheer size of the Tour can’t replicate. If the Tour is bigger than anything, the Giro is big enough to be Grand without feeling too big to love.

Okay, we’re done waxing. The 100th Giro is a purely Italian affair, celebrating it’s centenary in the confines of its heretofore flexible borders. The race starts in Sardinia for three neatly defined stages; there’s one for the sprinters, one that’s almost certainly one for the breakaway, and one mountainous day to make sure the stacked GC field is awake.

The full three-week route includes two time trials, including a drag race to the finishing city of Milan. There are eight mountain stages, but not all finish on a summit. Those that do, however, are as savage as you’d expect from the Giro, including a double ascent of the infamous Mortirolo on Stage 16. It’s a stage that organizers will dedicate to the memory of Michele Scarponi, who won on the mountain in 2010. Scarponi’s team, Astana, will start the race with only 8 riders, leaving his spot open in his memory. Fittingly, you’ll be hearing about Scarponi, the 2011 Giro champion on Contador’s ban, throughout the race.

Without Scarponi and without original leader Fabio Aru, Astana will slide down a notch in their expectations this May. Indeed, with so strong a field of favorites, even gunning for stage wins is ambitious for any squad.

Leading the way is Nairo Quintana, the 2014 winner and likely the best climber in the world. His progress in time trials makes the two TT stages less of a worry, and his strong team means that he should be able to defend pink no matter how early or late he seizes the jersey. He may be vulnerable to an ambush, and we’ll quietly point on Stage 18 to Bergamo as a likely trap.

Team Sky hopes to fix their Giro disaster with Geraint Thomas. One of kolo’s favorites since 2011, the Welshman finally gets a full team and a Grand Tour. He’ll co-lead with former Giro podium finisher Mikel Landa, but with a strong team, he’ll have every resource and every advantage throughout the three weeks. The Giro has always spelled tough luck for Sky, with Wiggins, Porte, and a host of other riders all struggling with leadership roles. If anyone can right the ship, it’s the mix of Thomas’ dogged efforts and Landa’s good experiences.

Tom Dumoulin is back and after spending plenty of stages in pink looks like a serious contender. While the Mortirolo and Blockhaus stages might be too steep, he does have two trump cards to play in the time trials, and may have the luxury of being able to make up some time in Milan. The Dutchman is the top pick of three from the Low Countries, with Trek’s Bauke Mollema and fellow former pink jersey holder Steven Kruijswijk also back and looking for the win.

It’s almost fitting that the defending champion isn’t one of the first riders mentioned as favorites, and perhaps that’s how Vicenzo Nibali would like it. Counted out and left for dead over the first two weeks last year, he rode into form and used every trick in the book to steal back time, benefiting from a loose lease, a somewhat undergunned Lotto-Jumbo team that came unglued and finally fell apart for Kruijswijk. He’s won just one race this year, the overall at the Tour of Croatia just last week, and hasn’t figured in any of the big races. Still, that’s almost more reason not to count him out, as he tends to get better and better as the race goes on.

Perhaps the tertiary level of favorites could include FDJ’s Thibault Pinot and AG2R’s Domenico Pozzovivo. The time trials might be too much for this pair, but the right day, the right mix of riders and the right tactics could see them very much in the podium hunt.

The sprinters on hand are certainly strong, but there’s a decided lack of top talent. Andre Griepel has always won a stage when he starts the Giro, and he’ll have to do so against the youth movement of Fernando Gavaria and Caleb Ewan. Moreno Hofland and Sam Bennett should also be contenders, but there’s definitely a feeling that we’ll see a bit of a torch-passing, with all of these younger riders playing the role of upstarts to Griepel.

So how will it play out? Quintana is just too irresistible not to pick, and with those very important mountain finishes coming late, when he tends to shine, he’s the smart choice. Our darkhorse pick is Rohan Dennis. While BMC is starting with Teejay Van Garderen as the team’s leader, until he puts a full three weeks together, we can’t see him on a Giro podium. Dennis climbs well, positions himself brilliantly, and always has the TT ability to make up some ground. He’s right around the same quality as Dumoulin, and probably has a stronger team to help.

You can join the kolo Giro fantasy league over at Velogames here. 

League Name: kolo t.c. Giro
League Code: 390114150715

As always, watch for livestream links and updates on steephill.tv