The favorites for this year’s Giro d’Italia are well-documented—Evans, Basso, Sastre, and the rest have already received more than their fair share of press in the week leading-up to this Saturday’s Partenza in Amsterdam. Thus, a more interesting conversation might be which young riders will shine in this year’s race, perhaps revealing themselves to be future contender for the maglia rosa.
Here are 5 riders to watch:
1. Jan Bakelants (Age 24) spent the last season-and-a-half riding for Topsport Vlaanderen following wins in the Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Circuit Ardennes, and most importantly, the 2008 Tour de l’Avenir as an amateur. This past off-season he jumped to the Pro Tour, signing a contract with Omega Pharma – Lotto, with whom he’ll ride this year’s Giro, his first Grand Tour. Bakelants is one of a rare breed of Belgians who prefers hills and time trials to the cobbled, one-day races most often associated with his compatriots. As a result, he’s perfectly suited to stage races. Granted, a 3-week Grand Tour is a much more serious endeavor than a 7-day stage race, but with a squad looking for little more than daily stage victories, Bakelants might have some freedom to try his hand at a good GC result. Top-20 would be a terrific indicator for future success in a race where other Belgians—such as Jurgen Vandenbroeck and Kevin Seeldraeyers—have performed well lately.
2. Sasha Modolo (Age 22) burst onto the scene this season with several top-10 results in Tirreno-Adriatico before taking 4th-place in Milan-San Remo. Considering the intense competition he faced in those events, the young sprinter from Colnago – CSF Inox is clearly ready for the big time. And he’ll get his chance to prove it as the Giro will be his first Grand Tour and aside from Milan-San Remo, he’s never raced on such an important stage. While a professional win has continued to elude him, a Giro stage victory would be a fitting reward following the Italian’s impressive spring. At the Giro he’ll have Greipel, Farrar, and Petacchi to contend with—wouldn’t Italy love to see the baton passed from Ale-Jet to a young successor?
3. My gut tells me to keep an eye on Branislau Samoilau (Age 24). Maybe it’s because he is a young climber who can time trial; maybe it’s because he’s Belorussian—we have been witnessing a bit of a renaissance for riders from former Eastern Bloc countries. Or maybe it’s because he rides for Quick Step—no, it’s not that actually. Regardless of my reasoning (or lack thereof), Samoilau bears watching. He’s performed well in the past three years in various second-tier races including the Tour of Austria, Settimana Lombarda, and some smaller Spanish stage races. More importantly, in 2007 he finished 22nd in his one and only Giro d’Italia—at the ripe “old” age of 21. Like Bakelants, he rides for a team largely devoid of any real goals for the Giro other than giving several men used to playing supporting roles opportunities to win stages and perhaps ride to a high GC placing. For Samoilau, a top-15 finish could be in reach, especially with an individual time trial on the race’s final day.
4. Francesco Masciarelli (Age 24) won the Mont Faron “Queen” Stage of the Tour de Mediterranean in February, beating Rinaldo Nocentini, Alejandro Valverde, and Maxim Iglinsky in the process. The youngest of 3 brothers—all of whom are professional cyclists—and the son of former Italian professional, Palmiro Masciarelli, Francesco’s pedigree is clearly top-notch. Masciarelli’s been progressing steadily through the ranks with several wins and high placings laying the foundation for what looks to be a promising career. This will be his second Tour of Italy, following a debut ride lst year in which he finished 16th overall. The difficult final week should suit his aggressive uphill style, especially as other riders begin to fade. He’ll begin the race as one of Stefano Garzelli’s key lieutenants, but should his captain falter, he has more than enough talent to ride to an impressive result of his own—perhaps becoming Italy’s “next great hope” in the process.
5. Jack Bobridge (Age 20) comes to his first Grand Tour following a DNF in the Tour of Romandie, but that’s not a problem in my mind as it was Jack’s first road race since January’s Tour Down Under. An abbreviated Romandie should prove to have been just what Jack needed after a few successful months preparing for and competing in the World Track Championships. With some high-speed racing in legs, look for Jack to pull a surprise in Saturday’s Stage 1—a short, 8.4-kilometer time trial that suits the pursuiter’s strengths. Garmin also wants to take the team trial trial in Stage 4; Bobridge is a valuable cog in the team’s TTT machine. As for the overall, I doubt Bobridge will finish the entire event; but look for him to stick around at least through the first week to 10 days, gaining experience and learning the ropes in what will be only his third road event as a professional.
And there you have it—five youngsters to watch in this year’s Giro. Who are your picks to surprise us with a breakout performance? Share your comments below.
Come back Friday for more pre-Giro coverage—and please visit my new column at Bicycling Magazine as “The Backseat DS”. (The Giro Top-10 should be up soon.)
Thanks for reading!