Somewhere in the professional journosphere teams are busily assembling and managing their official expectations for the upcoming Giro d'Italia. For teams going all-in for maglia rosa glory, that's barely worth printing. What's that, Signore Amadio, you think Nibali has a chance to win? [Yawn] Seeing if this is true will be riveting stuff, but reading about it ahead of time, not so much.
For the remaining teams, discussing their ambitions for the Giro is a mix of sandbagging, goal-setting, and if all else fails, honesty. In other words, I encourage you to go read what Riis or Lelangue or Vaughters or the other DS's have to say about their hopes for the upcoming Giro, as long as you understand that they're more likely to go with the sandbagging or confidence-building approach before resorting to brutal truth. That's our job.
Today I'm starting with the GC squads. Rather than try to discuss every single team, we'll deal with the teams likely to garner the most attention. In alphabetical order:
Why they might: Of all the guys from the last five years or so whom you never see outside Italy but might be tempted to take seriously in the Giro, Domenico Pozzovivo is arguably the man. Sure, he only has an 9th place on GC to his name in his one successful turn around the boot, but this isn't one of those Giros that challenges the climbers before spitting them out the back door with a killer time trial. This is for pure climbers, and every climby Giro has a skinny Italian on a conti team who features prominently. Pozzovivo is the most likely guy to fill that role.
Convinced? Not really. So far Pozzovivo has been good for one or two high stage finishes and a bunch more just-behind-the-leaders results. This year is a bit crowded for him to break through.
Any Other Goals? Modolo and Belletti are the stage sprinters. Filippo Savini is back after a horrid crash and might be good for an inspirational ride.
Alla flippa... I go back on my promise not to discuss all 22 teams!
Why they might: Because the Tour turned them away; otherwise even the team's Italian roots (sponsor, DS) might not be enough to train the eyes of Denis Menchov and Carlos Sastre away from France.
Convinced? Hell yeah. I based my entire VDS strategy on Menchov winning the Giro, and I don't plan to back down now. Sastre probably figures to pick his spots more than just going for the overall, but he will undoubtedly help Menchov on the hardest stages. Mauricio Ardila is a fantastic Giro domestique too.
Any Other Goals? JJ Cobo might hang around for the sprints, unlike most of the bigger names. Sastre will get his stage.
Why they might: Despite having a former Giro winner (DiLuca) on hand, it's Joaquim Rodriguez who makes this team a huge threat. J-Rod has called the Giro his primary goal for the season, and since it's light on the time trial miles that killed him in the Vuelta last year, he is a man to take at his word.
Convinced? Pretty much. Rodriguez hasn't capped off a full three-week adventure yet, but he's getting close, and he's only in his second year of not having to give a crap about Alejandro Valverde. His first year saw him ranked #1. The only downside would be hidden Tour ambitions, but I'll take him at his word. Very deep team of helpers, including Dani Moreno.
Any Other Goals? Hopefully DiLuca isn't pretending he has a chance in this Giro. Because he's my top favorite for the points jersey.
Why they might: Michele Scarponi heads up Italy's Other Big Team as he pursues his clear #1 objective, and after fourth last year and winner Basso absconded, Scarponi seems like strong candidate to move up a step or more. He was good to the last drop in 2010, and should like this course even better.
Convinced? Sure, although the change in teams from a focused Androni to the bigger Lampre probably downgrades his chances, if anything. They're not exactly getting the right kind of publicity right now. Spilak and Hondo are two solid helpers though.
Any Other Goals? Stages for Petacchi. Ale-Jet has shown a willingness to tough it out over the mountains in the past, so if he has racked up enough points maybe he goes through to Milan and takes the maglia rossa.
Why they might: Vincenzo Nibali is the heir apparent after his stunning success in the Vuelta, and he's been riding like a champion ever since. In both the Giro (where he was third) and the Vuelta, the Shark of the Straits was at his best at the very end, despite or perhaps accidentally because of his less-than-ideal preparation -- he was supposed to focus on the Tour until they yanked him off the beach and threw him into the Giro. With his focus trained on la corsa rosa this year, those earlier climbing struggles could be a thing of the past.
Convinced? Um... do you need me to answer this? Key domestiques are Agnoli, Sabatini and the heir to the Jens! Voigt mantle (on-bike, at least) Sylvester Szmyd. At some point in the race, he is going to hurt people.
Any Other Goals? No. Unless you count "making Sicilian cycling history." Which is part of why I like this team so much.
Why they might: Because they came so close last year. David Arroyo's defense of the maglia rosa won a lot of respect, if not the race.
Convinced? Hmmm... Arroyo catapulted into the lead on the strength of as twelve-minute advantage garnered in one of those monsoon stages where half the teams quit. When the race reached the high mountains, Liquigas took advantage of his less-fearsome climbing and kept pounding away until he broke. It was a great fight, but assuming he isn't given those dozen minutes to work with, on a harder course... you do the math.
Any Other Goals? Stages: Francisco Ventoso is having a fine spring and won't fear the Cavs and Farrars here.
Why they might: You gonna bet against Alberto Contador? Like Geox, his clouded future means a more clarified present. Win now... while you can.
Convinced? I dunno. What's Contador ever done? [Don't say "brought peace."] Saxo are bringing a Tour squad in light of the messiness surrounding clen-gate. No amount of sandbagging will convince me that he's not ready to win here.
Any Other Goals?
Larsson will be gunning for the final ITT in Milan. Ah, nope, he's been replaced by Richie Porte. Which makes this team very interesting. If nothing else, Porte should be the favorite for the Young Rider, assuming Kreuziger has finally outgrown it.
Bonus! Why your favorite other team isn't on this list...
I'll do this alphabetically too.
Acqua e Sapone: because Stefano Garzelli is an older Damiano Cunego. Though I like him for the KOM.
AG2R: AG2R is your favorite team? I like Nocentini, but he has no record of three-week sustained success.
Androni Giocattoli: Because cheaters never prosper. Well, except when they do, as SELLAAAA has in the past. But presumably they've hid the jamba juice this time around. Serpa is more credible, but definitely B-list in this crowd.
BMC: Even if things were going swimmingly, their focus would be in California. And France.
Euskaltel: I get it, they can climb. But this is Tour training.
HTC-High Road: Not that they ever put up much of a GC fight, too busy winning stages. But this course benefits Marco Pinotti on Day 1 and Day 21, with a lot of misery in between.
Leopard-Trek: Please. Wake me in July.
Omega Pharma: Tourists.
Pro Team Astana: Not sure why the name, is there an amateur Astana? Anyway, Roman Kreuziger's ambitions are the key. Supposedly he's in Italy to win, and if that's true... well, I could see him in the top five, no probs, with an outside shot that we finally see the breakout performance we've been waiting for. My inner skeptic senses that his first Giro attempt isn't as likely as, say, his next Vuelta. But the more bullish among you could move Astana up into the top group.
Farnese Vini: Last time Giovanni Visconti finished the Giro he was 75th. But he's probably DiLuca's biggest threat for the points, among the climber/sprinters.
Quick Step: Enjoying their post-season vacation right now, thankyouverymuch.
Rabobank: Wouldn't deign to staff up a grand tour that has the nerve to not start in Holland. A good reminder about why I shouldn't spoil my kids.
Sky: I give you Thomas Lofkvist, GC captain. Actually, he could be a credible threat on a mellower Giro course, but that's about the last word I would use to describe what RCS have kicked out in 2011.
Team Garmin-Cervelo: Stage hunters.
Team Shack: Tiago Machado makes his grand tour debut, and don't be surprised if it's a noisy one. But GC? Nah.
Vacansoleil: I'm still pissed the Giro passed them over last year when it started in Amsterdam, so I can only imagine how they feel.