The 2010 Giro d'Italia starts tomorrow in Amsterdam, here are 5 questions for the year's first Grand Tour:
1. Will Tyler Farrar continue to progress as a Grand Tour field sprinter?
I like that Garmin’s giving Tyler Farrar lots of chances to improve his field sprinting against top competition. After a dense spring, Farrar took less time-off than others, resting just long enough to arrive at the Giro with what Garmin hopes will be enough fitness to contend for multiple stage victories. Farrar developed right before our eyes last year, building upon his near-misses in the Tour to take the HEW Cyclassics Pro Tour event in Germany and a stage win in the Vuelta. If Tyler wants to continue his progression though, he’ll need to take a win or two at the Giro. If he proves able to defeat the likes of Greipel and Petacchi at their respective peaks, he will head to the Tour as a favorite to take at least one stage and possibly earn some consideration as a green jersey contender to boot. In other words, if Farrar’s a for real field sprinter, we’ll see it over the next 3 weeks.
2. What effect—if any—will the strade bianche have?
Everyone’s talking about the 7 secteurs of pavé included in Stage 3 of this year’s Tour de France—but what about the 20 kilometers of strade bianche in the 2010 Giro? Usually reserved for March’s newest classic, L’Eroica (aka the Montepaschi Strade Bianche), the “white gravel roads” of Tuscany make an appearance on Stage 7’s ride from Carrara to Montalcino. The two 10-kilometer sections look certain cause some havoc in the finale, especially since the last is almost entirely uphill and finishes a mere 8 kilometers from the finish line. After 215 kilometers of racing, look for a breakaway to emerge, possibly containing some of the favorites for the overall title. Cadel Evans rode L’Eroica in March specifically to prepare. Will the former mountain bike World Champion use this stage to make his first move?
3. Which “rehabilitated” former champion will make the biggest impact?
With Ivan Basso and Alexandre Vinokourov both being mentioned as possible candidates for the overall win, it’s entirely possible that we could see the first modern-era Grand Tour champion to win after having served a lengthy suspension. Vino already set the bar following his somewhat surprising win in last month’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège; can Basso better that achievement with a win in a 3-week Grand Tour? Basso and Vino are polar opposites in terms of their reaction to their suspensions and the receptions they have received upon their respective returns.
Basso, the contrite, apologetic winner of the 2006 Giro, took the humble approach to his return, riding last year’s race mostly at the service of Franco Pellizotti. On the other hand, Vinokourov returned the sport last fall with a splash, immediately calling the shots at Astana. Unrepentant and indignant regarding the allegations for which he was suspended, the Kazakh stills seems to deny that he ever did anything wrong. (Hence the loud booing as he saluted the crowd while winning Liège.) Should one of these two take the final maglia rosa three weeks from Sunday, expect yet another polarizing response from fans everywhere—especially if Vino happens to win Astana its second Giro in 3 years.
4. Will Italy have anything to smile about three weeks from now?
Italy’s won 56 races this year, the most of any nation. That said, aside from Stefano Garzelli’s win in Tirreno-Adriatico, there’s been nothing important to write home about for the tifosi. No cobbled classics, no Milan-San Remo, and almost no races outside of Italy itself. Clearly, Italy needs someone it can root for over these next 3 weeks (at least). Now that Pellizotti’s been ruled-out, Ivan Basso and Stefano Garzelli remain the nation’s best chances for a home win—but those odds are long at best. Alessandro Petacchi and Sasha Modolo hope to bring some sprint wins back with them from Amsterdam, while Marco Pinotti hopes to be wearing the maglia rosa following a Stage 1 time trial that suits his talents. But seriously, look at the riders we just mentioned; of them, only one is under 30-years old and several are well past their primes. Is this the best Italy can do in its home tour?
5. Who will win the 2010 Giro d’Italia?
Cadel Evans, Carlos Sastre, Ivan Basso, Alexandre Vinokourov, and Bradley Wiggins—these are the 5 men most mentioned in conversations about who will win this year’s race. Of them, I think Evans has the best chance simply by virtue of the fact that he’s a better time trialist than Sastre. Sastre might be a better climber, but not to the extent that Evans is better against the clock. The final stage’s ITT in Verona gives the Aussie a last chance to take back any time he might have lost in the preceding two days in the mountains. Vinokourov will play a role, but he’ll have at least one bad day to knock him from contention, possibly freeing him for several stage wins in the final week. Basso just doesn’t seem to have recovered the power he possessed before his suspension; he’s also recently admitted to being behind in his preparation (a bluff maybe, but given his track record so far in 2010, it might be true). As for Wiggins, he’ll ride well through 2 weeks, but the last hump between the beginning and end of the final week will be enough to have him fretting over his form for the Tour in July.
So while we’ll have to wait 3 weeks for the final answer, I’ll go on record right now and say Evans takes the win over Sastre, with Garzelli coming home a distant third.
And what about you? What questions do you hope to have answered by the 2010 Giro d’Italia? What are your picks and predictions?
Share your comments below!