Is it too early for a post like this?
Nahh, it's never too early to dream of the Giro. Especially not with the teams already announced. While we won't know exact squads for a couple of months, of course, we can surmise who will attend. And that's got me thinking...
Favorites for the General Classification
I'm not gonna reinvent the wheel here. The "reigning champion" Michele Scarponi will almost certainly be back (supposedly he's weighing the options between the Giro and the Tour, but does he really need me to tell him the Giro route is better for him? Never mind that "reigning champion" thing). This year's route isn't quite as ridonkulous as last year's...but it's still pretty insane.
Ivan Basso returns to the Giro in 2012, after focusing solely on the Tour de France last year. He has half-jokingly pointed to the fact that both of the previous Giri he won, in 2006 and 2010, began abroad (Belgium and the Netherlands, respectively), so that must give him some leg up with this year's start in Denmark. I bet he's jumping up and down at the prospect of the Giro coming to Washington, DC (is that possibility still on the map?). First step: Don't crash in training just before the race starts.
John Gadret has made it clear that he prefers the Italian Grand Tour to the French, and his sterling performance last year has to have him in consideration. However, there's probably too much time trialing on the route for him to top the podium. But a first "won-it-on-the-road" podium could well be in the cards.
No way does José Rujano stay home after his (double) stage winning sixth place performance from last year and another reasonably favorable route.
I'm a believer in Team NetApp. I expect one of their leaders, Leopold König or Jan Bárta (and if I could figure out which, I could finalize my VDS team!), to do what we've expected Domenico Pozzovivo (whose name is not bolded) to do for the last few years, and that's post a low top-ten. (Yes I know he was ninth in 2008, what the farts has he done since then?)
We can't ignore Steven Kruijswijk his solid 2011 Giro performance and impressive incremental improvement since 2010, but I wouldn't expect him to come much higher this year than he did last.
Some interesting possibilities remain depending on who particular teams send to the race. 2011 top-10'ers and new teammates Denis Menchov and Joaquim Rodríguez practically have Grand Tour routes made-to-order for them later in the season, so who will Katusha send? Probably just stage-hunters. What about Omega Pharma-Quick Step? Levi Leipheimer will almost certainly get them an invite to the Tour of California, and he of course will be a protagonist at that race. The Tour de France looks great for Tony Martin, so does Peter Velits perhaps get the Giro? Who will Team Sky's top man be, 2010 Giro maglia rosa-wearer Richie Porte or 2011 top-10'er Kanstantsin Sivtsov? Either could be a realistic contender for the top 10. Roman Kreuziger likes the Giro, but based on the routes he'd be better off gunning for the Tour, so do the Kazakhs send Voldekourov?
Favorites for the Points Classification
This is what I was first thinking about that led me to want to write this. Already confirmed to be riding, for just the second time in his career, what will Thor Hushovd's motivations at the Giro be? Will he ride for the red jersey? If he wins it, it would make him only the fifth rider ever (after Eddy Merckx, Djamolidine Abdoujaparov, Laurent Jalabert, and Alessandro Petacchi) to win the points crown at all three Grand Tours. Certainly, that would be a historic achievement (although I don't remember a whole lot of buzz when Petacchi sealed it by winning Tour green in 2010). With his ability to get high placings on non-sprinter stages, and come home 8th or 9th in the field sprints, he could be a favorite. Are the "non-sprinter stages" I speak of sufficiently easy for Thor to get points? Will he still want to drag his ass over Alpe di Pampeago, the Stelvio, the Mortirolo after Mark Cavendish, Tyler Farrar, Petacchi, and others have run for the....well, not the hills.
We all know that BMC is gonna have lots of cooks in the kitchen when Tour time comes. It's difficult to imagine Thor won't be one of them. He's won at least one Tour stage every year since 2006. In 2005, the most recent year he didn't win a stage, he won the green jersey, one of the rare instances when it has been won without a stage win. In 2004, he also won a stage, same for 2002 (and a team time trial in 2001). So out of the last 11 Tours, there's only been one where Thor didn't win something. Entire teams would like to have that track record of success. So does he risk blowing his form prior to La Grande Boucle? As an unabashed fan of the Giro first and the Tour second, I'm selfishly hoping so, but it definitely remains to be seen.
Obviously, with another climb-heavy route, many general classification contenders will also be contenders for the red jersey. There's a few more sprints than last year (there........would have to be) but who knows if any of those days' winners will complete the race? We know the usual suspects will all be there - Cavendish, Farrar, Petacchi, possibly André Greipel, Matt Goss, or Mark Renshaw. The only sprinters that would seem assured of completing the Giro are ones with limited ambitions later in the year, like Sacha Modolo or Roberto Ferrari. I can't say I see them winning any sprints, let alone the jersey.
Favorites for the Mountains Classification
This is always the toughest to predict, because of the type of rider it takes to win. The rider has to be a good enough climber to actually win the prize, but not so good that the peloton won't allow him to fly away on breakaways. While I do believe in them for a good overall placement, this may still be a more realistic goal for König or Bárta.
Should they choose to go for it, it could be an easy get for one of the fine many fine mountain goats on offer from that team who wears orange kits and totally aren't a crunchy vegetable that's good for your eyesight.
Even with such an uphill route, King of the Mountains still tends to be King of the Breakaways, and we might look at a rider like Emanuele Sella (did I just say that?) or even Jérôme Pineau, both of whom I expect to see take the start in Herning.
Frankly, the prototype riders right for "good enough to win KOM, not so good to be overall threats" are probably Danilo Di Luca and Stefano Garzelli. But we know how that turned out. Other riders that come to mind under these molds include Vasil Kiryienka and Giovanni Visconti, though I'm guessing Signor Tricolore probably still fancies himself an overall threat.
Favorites for the Youth Classification
Here's the one I'm most
likely to be spectacularly wrong about sure of. Steven Kruijswijk, top-10 last year any way you cut it, remains eligible. He's been very strong in each of the last two editions of the Giro, finishing just two and a half minutes back of Kreuziger last year, a rider largely agreed upon to be a step up in caliber. Our own Peter Stetina retains eligibility as well, but he'll have to be quite a bit better this year than last if he wishes to challenge Kruijswijk for the jersey. Another intriguing possibility with Old Glory by his name is Tejay van Garderen. Who's to know if he rides, although that Tour squad is gonna be a tough one to crack, which might up his chances to ride the Giro. He's shown himself to be a very capable stage racer. König is also young enough to qualify for the jersey. Team Sky's Rigoberto Urán is also still young enough, though again, who's to know if he rides the Giro. No one else really jumps out at me in perusing the rosters for each team invited to the race.
Is it May 5 yet?