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Giro d'Italia confidence picks - a prediction game!

Don't worry Phil H. (if you're around), this does not in any way step on your toes.

Chris already covered a little of what I'd mean to write here, but there's plenty more for me to say. This is something I have actually done each year for the Giro since 2009 - confidence picks, for the entire race, based on the initial start list.

Confidence picks are my own twist on a gambling concept called confidence points. In confidence points, you take a series of consecutive or concurrent (but not directly connected) events and assign points to each one based on how 'confident' you are in the outcome. If there are ten events, one will be worth 10 confidence points, one will be worth 9 points, and so on. You earn the points if your pick is correct, and if it's incorrect, you don't. Whoever has the most points wins. The classic example, as explained in the link, is football, as many football games are usually played on one day, but another common example is fighting events, boxing and MMA and such.

For my twist, I will take the 21 stages and four jersey awards at the Giro d'Italia and make 5 picks for each one, to reflect varying confidences. My 5 point pick is my favorite for the day, and my 1 point pick is my longshot. Only if one of my five picks is the winner do I score any points at all. With 21 stages and four jersey awards, that's 125 possible points. My goal will be to score at least half.

Stage 1 - 8.7 km (individual time trial) Herning, Denmark

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The funny thing about this Giro is that out of the realistic GC contenders, exactly none of them are what you might call "time trial specialists." The best of the lot is probably Roman Kreuziger, who has won exactly one ITT in his career (at the 2008 Tour of Switzerland). The next best is probably Ivan Basso, and he's not exactly one who wins time trials, more one who ably limits his losses. There are no Cadel Evanses, Alberto Contadors (regrettably), or even Vincenzo Nibalis who might gain solid time in the ITT.

As such, this time trial and the Milan chrono probably will favor "time trial specialists" more in the vein of Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin, though neither of them are present. Makes it a bit tough to call.

5 point pick: Alex Rasmussen. After narrowly missing the stage win in the Milan time trial last year, and his trials and tribulations since, and this Giro beginning in his native country...maybe it's all too storybook to be true. But I could believe him getting the first maglia rosa.

4 point pick: Marco Pinotti. BMC's squad leader has a short time trial in his palmares - the prologue to the 2010 Tour de Romandie. The fact that he says he is riding for the GC gives me a bit of pause, as he may not give his fullest effort if he has three weeks on his mind - but there are just not that many strong time trialists in the Giro peloton.

3 point pick: Jack Bauer. Yeah, I think it's fair to say Garmin will show well in this time trial.

2 point pick: Taylor Phinney. And likewise BMC.

1 point pick: Manuele Boaro. Much like Phinney, a rider I don't expect I'll be picking for the Milan time trial as I'm unsure he'll complete the race, but he's got an excellent time trial pedigree.

Stage 2 - 206 km (flat stage) Herning, Denmark

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Dead flat and not particularly complicated by the look of it, though what appears to be a sharp right-turn just before the finish might make things a bit dicey for the fast men.

5 point pick: Mark Cavendish. C'mon, it's a Grand Tour flat stage. It's gonna be interesting to see how the rainbow stripes fare without the vaunted HTC train, but it's not gonna tell us much for July - this squad is pretty much riding only for Cavendish. Yes, Henao is there as a GC outsider, and same for Uran, but Eisel, Kennaugh, and Swift are almost certainly leadout men. Stannard is your 'chase down the breakaway' man, and I'm not sure what to make of Thomas' presence in this Giro. Probably just riding for the training miles. The squad for the Tour de France will almost certainly not look like this. Wiggins will not be alone in the mountains.

4 point pick: Tyler Farrar. The eternal second. He's got what could be a pretty good leadout train, too, with Fischer, Hunter, and Rasmussen-if-not-rosa all looking solid for the task. Perhaps the composition of this squad is more like what Team Sky will resemble at la Grande Boucle, as Dekker, Hesjedal, Stetina, and VandeVelde will undoubtedly be looking to the days when the road turns up.

3 point pick: Matt Goss. The lack of Alessandro Petacchi, understandable in a Lampre squad carrying both "defending champion" Michele Scarponi and Damiano Cunego, leaves the sprints ever so slightly more wide open. Goss would seem to be the next sprinter in the pecking order, and he too brings some leadout quality with him in the persons of Bobridge, Impey, Lancaster, and Vaitkus.

2 point pick: Andrea Guardini. It will certainly be interesting to see if sprinting's next-big-thing can hack it with the big boys. By my putting him on the 2-line, count me as cautiously optimistic.

1 point pick: Daniele Bennati. He's certainly fast enough, but he's got pretty much nobody with him for the sprints.

Stage 3 - 190 km (flat stage) Horsens, Denmark

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This one's a tiny bit more complicated, but it's still rated only one star by the Giro. A fourth-category climb at a little past the halfway point awards the first blue jersey (yes, blue). In past years, this bump-in-the-road has been more towards the end of the stage, perhaps in a vain attempt to position it as a springboard for an attacker. No such aspirations this year. The final 50 km or so, a pretty solid distance, take place on a circuit through which the peloton will ride three times, so expect to see a breakaway left to twist in the wind for a while.

5 point pick: Mark Cavendish. He remains the safest and most obvious pick.

4 point pick: Tyler Farrar. And so it goes.

3 point pick: Matt Goss.

2 point pick: Daniele Bennati.

1 point pick: Mark Renshaw. Changing it up a little bit here to allow for the possibility of a crash that thins the field. The likeliest victim of such a crash would be Grand Tour rookie Guardini. Not that I believe in Renshaw in the slightest, but he's the one with 1-bib for Rabobank and not Theo Bos, and I'm not sure who else would even be a realistic choice (Sacha Modolo? Roberto Ferrari? Ehh, my choice is made :p )

Stage 4 - 33.2 km (team time trial) Verona

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An interesting course, with roads that curve more than twist. It is largely flat, with one short climb coming at the 12.7 km mark

5 point pick: Garmin-Barracuda. This might be the pick I'm the most likely to get completely and hilariously wrong confident about. No other team can match the engines that Garmin are bringing - Dekker, Bauer, Hesjedal, Rasmussen, VandeVelde. Those are probably your five that finish together, but I wouldn't take lightly the contributions from the other four, either.

4 point pick: BMC Racing Team. Wow, I'm really going out on a limb here, going with the teams I expect to dominate the ITT, aren't I? They're not as deep as Garmin - after Pinotti and Phinney their next best TT'er is probably Hushovd - but nobody really expected them to do much at the TTT in last year's Tour, either (granted, that had Cadel).

3 point pick: Orica-GreenEDGE. I...guess? It's amazing how after these first two teams nobody really even stands out as a contender, let alone a favorite. But somebody's gonna fill out the top five.

2 point pick: Liquigas-Cannondale. They've always abetted themselves well in the Giro TTT, were the winners two years ago, and they're not gonna be dragging Scarponi and Cunego along behind them...but other than former Polish national champion Maciej Bodnar, nobody really jumps out at me as being a chronoman.

1 point pick: Team Sky. They know how to ride a TTT as well as anyone, and Cavendish has won the TTT here in '09 and '11 with some of these same riders, but I'd feel better about their chances with Wiggins or Boasson Hagen in the mix.

Stage 5 - 209 km (flat stage) Modena to Fano

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It took us five stages to get to one that doesn't start and end in the same city. This is another one-star flat stage. Hardly any turns in the road; it's remarkable how straight the course is. It does have a cluster of short climbs that starts about 35 km from the finish, but I'm not sure anyone's gonna kill themselves for this one. Oh, someone will try - probably Stefano Pirazzi, if I were to guess at that - but I doubt anyone good enough to make the move stick will bother.

5 point pick: Mark Cavendish.

4 point pick: Tyler Farrar.

3 point pick: Matt Goss.

2 point pick: Andrea Guardini

1 point pick: JJ Haedo. Just throwing in a new name for the sake of throwing in a new name.

Stage 6 - 210 km (medium mountain stage) Urbino to Porto Sant'Elpido

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I don't think the big boys show themselves just yet. There's a cat-2 climb about halfway through, but after the descent only choppy undulation and two cat-3's follow. You can take seconds on a stage like this, but not minutes. Or for another tired truism, you can't win the Giro on this day, but you can lose it. As for the day itself, to me this one's got breakaway written all over it. Probably a change in race leader, too.

5 point pick: Matteo Tosatto. Look, anytime you're predicting the composition of a breakaway, it's the very definition of a crapshoot. But I expect the Saxo Bank team will be active in the breakaways throughout three weeks (because what have they got to lose?) and Tosatto's probably the most capable rider on their squad.

4 point pick: Matthias Brändle. Can you believe this guy is a fourth-year pro, yet he will still be eligible to ride the U-23 events at worlds this year? NetApp will also probably be breakaway-happy, though their most capable rider (Barta) will probably not be let off the front.

3 point pick: Sandy Casar. He makes breakaways and makes them stick in July, so why not May?

2 point pick: Amets Txurruka. One of my favorite little firebrands. Albertina can surely correct me if I'm wrong, but he won't be expected to be with Mikel Nieve when the going gets tough, so let's see him slip off the front yet again and maybe get a victory this time. Wouldn't mind seeing the same for...

1 point pick: Fumiyuki Beppu. How many freaking breakaways has this guy been in? One of these days, he'll get to the line first.

Stage 7 - 205 km (medium mountain stage) Recanati to Rocca di Cambio

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Final 3.5 km

Now it's time for the big boys to come out and play. Another amazingly straight point-to-point stage, ending with a 20-ish km long cat-2 climb. The finish, however, is sorta tricky - it's not exactly a summit. There's 86m of descending followed by climbing back 70m of that. I wonder if that's enough of a dip to prove significant.

5 point pick: Joaquím Rodríguez. This one is based on the premise that the gruppo big will mostly stick together during the climb proper and only that last and final climb will provide separation. Is there anyone better at exploding up a final climb, after a fairly climb-intensive day?

4 point pick: Ivan Basso. If it weren't for that little whoop-de-whoo in the final 3 km, Basso would be on the 5-line. That long, grinding climb just screams 'Basso' to me. But lord almighty, he is an atrocious descender, such that even just 86m of descent would probably have him coughing up an advantage, which makes me wonder if he'd even go for it.

3 point pick: Michele Scarponi. If the man wants to earn his pink jersey (well...his ALL-pink jersey), no better day to start to do it than today

2 point pick: John Gadret. The situation under which I describe Rodríguez winning is pretty much exactly how Gadret won his Giro stage last year (not to the same heights, but the tactics).

1 point pick: Fränk Schleck. Mean Uncle Johan wins out and Schleck the elder rides the Giro. Supposedly he's riding for the classification, but I'm not sure I believe that.

Stage 8 - 229 km (medium mountain stage) Sulmona to Lago Laceno

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Final 4.4 km

With a short flat stage to follow, this one would figure to be all-out war. But again, the finish looks to play a part. Coming after a 10 km or so cat-2 climb is a 4 km flat section at the end. It's probably not enough to completely negate all separation that occurs on the climb, but it probably does mean that only a few seconds will be taken here.

5 point pick: Michele Scarponi. The climb isn't long enough for the likes of Basso, and if a chunk of the gruppo big should arrive together, Scarponi's probably got the most sprint of the lot.

4 point pick: Damiano Cunego. If he doesn't bury himself for Scarponi (one wonders if both of them will get green bikes), then it's actually he who probably would have the best sprint of the big boys. They did finish 1-2 in the Chieti stage at last year's Tirreno-Adriatico.

3 point pick: Bart De Clercq. The theory here is that a biggish group makes the climb together, some of the lighter-hitters fly off looking for the day's honors, and the truly big boys are both content to let them go and unlikely to make any moves themselves.

2 point pick: Thomas De Gendt. Same theory.

1 point pick: Ivan Basso. I really don't think this is his day, but hey, maybe.

Stage 9 - 166 km (flat stage) San Giorgio nel Sannio to Frosinone

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Cavapalooza. It's another rather straight point-to-point stage. There's a 251m wall about 5 km from the finish, and if this were stage 19 and not stage 9, I'd be pretty sure it would break things up a little. But as it is...

5 point pick: Mark Cavendish. I don't necessarily think he's going to win every one of these stages, he's just the most sensible pick for each of them individually.

4 point pick: Tyler Farrar.

3 point pick: Matt Goss.

2 point pick: Andrea Guardini.

1 point pick: Daniele Bennati.

Stage 10 - 186 km (medium mountain stage) Civitavecchia to Assisi

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Final 5.3 km

This one's lumpy, given a two-star rating by the Giro. But the best is saved for last. You can't really tell from the overall stage altimetry, but take a look at the final 5 km - two rather psychotic climbs both topping out at over 15%. This lends itself well to a certain someone who might be on the lookout for time bonifications to offset hemorrhagic losses in the ITT.

5 point pick: Joaquím Rodríguez. Book it, Purito.

4 point pick: Michele Scarponi. Would you believe he is the highest finisher from Liège-Bastogne-Liège on the Giro startlist?

3 point pick: Ryder Hesjedal. The only other man from the LBL top 10 present in the Giro.

2 point pick: Domenico Pozzovivo. Because he's gotta win something someday...doesn't he? The only other man to finish at the top 10 in any of the Ardennes who is lining up in the Giro, aside from the above three, was Diego Ulissi, and I am not gonna pick Diego Ulissi.

1 point pick: José Rujano. Realistically, a combination of it being too early and not enough climbing makes him a less than optimal choice, but I can't see Basso or Schleck or anyone like that taking this one.

Stage 11 - 255 km (flat stage) Assisi to Montecatini Terme

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Final 15 km

Chris says this is a safe day to sleep in, but I'm not quite so sure. A cat-4, topping out at 8% cresting 11 km from the finish looks intriguing to me. I'm not gonna predict that someone will sneak away with this one, because that'd zip past the thin line separating bold from stupid, but especially given that this will be a six-hour-plus day in the saddle I'm not so sure that this one is an absolute cinch for a bunch finish. Especially with one of the most ridiculously easy stages I have ever seen coming two days later. Still...

5 point pick: Mark Cavendish.

4 point pick: Tyler Farrar.

3 point pick: Matt Goss.

2 point pick: Andrea Guardini.

1 point pick: Mark Renshaw.

Stage 12 - 155 km (medium mountain stage) Serevezza to Montecatini Terme

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This is the stage that had to be altered because of roads that are still unsuitable after recent mudslides. The links above have accurate depictions of the stage. With a cat-3 cresting 11km from the finish of a lumpy, climby stage, a descent and a flat section to follow, this one couldn't have been better for Vincenzo Nibali if it was gift-wrapped with a bow on it. Without him to animate things and take it away on the descent, this one probably goes to the breakaway.

5 point pick: Dario Cataldo. OmegaStep look to have a pretty quiet Giro, all in all, so here's for some breakawawy representation.

4 point pick: Tom Slagter. Same for Rabo, pretty much, unless Renshaw and/or Bos really surprise in the sprints.

3 point pick: Matthias Brändle.

2 point pick: Fumiyuki Beppu.

1 point pick: Amets Txurruka.

Stage 13 - 121 km (flat stage) Savona to Cervere

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Now here's a day you can sleep in. Not only because you won't miss anything exciting, but also because blink and you'll miss it. I wouldn't expect this one to last more than about two and a half hours. The next stage branded as flat isn't for a week, so this is almost certainly it for the tip-top sprinters.

5 point pick: Mark Cavendish.

4 point pick: Tyler Farrar.

3 point pick: Matt Goss.

2 point pick: Daniele Bennati.

1 point pick: Sacha Modolo. Sure, why not, change it around a little.

Stage 14 - 206 km (high mountain stage) Cherasco to Cervinia

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Final 3 km

Yes, baby! Now it's time for the real Giro to begin. We've got 137 km of (basically) dead flat sponsor-time riding for the breakaway followed by two terrific cat-1 climbs. One wonders if either would receive the 'Beyond Categorization' label that other races use (climbs are only cat-1, cat-2, cat-3, or cat-4 in the Giro...and cat-4 is actually somewhat rare, there were no cat-4 climbs at all during the '09 Giro). The easiest part of the final climb to Cervinia is at the very end, which makes me wonder if the race might come back together a smidge.

5 point pick: Ivan Basso. This is a perfect day for Basso, provided the team can shepherd him down the Col de Joux (the first cat-1 on the day's menu). Basso's at his best on the long climbs, and the Cervinia is almost 30km long.

4 point pick: Michele Scarponi. Oh, he'll be there. No doubt about it.

3 point pick: José Rujano. This is the first day that legitimately looks good for the spunky little Venezuelan. Chances are he'll have time to make up, either from the time trials or some goofy time loss along the way, so he'll be on the prowl for it.

2 point pick: Joaquím Rodríguez. The length of the climb does him no favors, but on the off chance it comes down to a sprint among the clasifica big, he could come out on top.

1 point pick: Fränk Schleck. I suppose he'll be there, too.

Stage 15 - 169 km (high mountain stage) Busto Arsizio to Lecco

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Final 3 km

Another climby day, though it rates only 4 stars to yesterday's 5. The hardest climb is the first one, the cat-1 Valico di Valcava, cresting at about the halfway-point. The stage ends in the same city as last year's (and, presumably this year's) Tour of Lombardy. I'm not sure if it's the same exact climb, but it probably could be. On the whole, I'm a bit torn between the idea of the big boys sitting this one out having had a slugfest yesterday, and the idea of them going for it with the well-deserved and no doubt long-awaited giornata di riposo coming tomorrow.

5 point pick: Fränk Schleck. If he really is going for it, this is probably one of the better days for him. Chances are he gets gapped the day before, maybe just a little but still, and having the Tour of Lombardy winner in his back pocket has gotta count for something...doesn't it?

4 point pick: Ryder Hesjedal. Another GC outsider who might have had the hurt put on him a little during stage 14 and look to (and be allowed to) make back a modicum of it here.

3 point pick: Juan Manuel Gárate. Bit of a screwball pick, but if this one goes breakaway, he's got the climb to do it. I recall a Tour de France stage he won in this manner.

2 point pick: Mikel Nieve. He'll show himself at some point, though it might be later on.

1 point pick: John Gadret.

Stage 16 - 173 km (medium mountain stage) Limone sul Garda to Falzes

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Final 4.6 km

Remarkably, though branded as a medium mountain stage, and with a rather nasty final 4 km, this stage does not have any categorized climbs. Breakaway all the way; even the blue jersey mountains leader won't much care what happens today.

5 point pick: Guillaume Bonnafond. He's been Ag2r's squad leader at previous Grand Tours, so I'm guessing he has some climb in him. Dupont will surely stay with Gadret, but the rest of the squad could go breakaway-hunting.

4 point pick: Thomas De Gendt.

3 point pick: Jan Barta. I'd really like to see Team NetApp do well in this Giro, but without King Leo I'm not sure what they can do besides breakaway hunt and hope for the best.

2 point pick: Filippo Pozzato. I tend to doubt he'll actually still be in the race at this point, but what the hell, I haven't said his name yet.

1 point pick: Thor Hushovd. If this stage was in the race's first week, he'd be on the 5-line. I very much doubt he will still be in the race, but if he is this would be a good stage for him.

Stage 17 - 186 km (high mountain stage) Falzes to Cortina d'Ampezzo

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I'm not sure what to make of this stage. It's got four solid climbs, including the devious Passo Giau, but the finish comes on an 18km long descent from the Giau. This would be another pretty good stage for Nibal, or even Sammy Sanchez, but alas...

5 point pick: Roman Kreuziger. Not that putting him on the 5-line means I'm especially confident. If this ended at the Giau, he wouldn't be one of my picks, but that descent will play a big part.

4 point pick: José Serpa. I...seriously have no idea on this stage.

3 point pick: Guillaume Bonnafond.

2 point pick: Domenico Pozzovivo.

1 point pick: Johann Tschopp.

Stage 18 - 149 km (flat stage) San Vito di Cadore to Vedelago

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Ahh, the ol' late-race flat stage. There's no launching pad anywhere on this course; in fact the entire thing is a slight downhill. So rather than favoring a Gilbert or Voeckler type (such as in the late flat stage at the '09 Giro), this one probably will actually favor the sprinters who have stayed the course. There are two such types of sprinters - those with limited ambitions later in the season, and those absolutely starved for points.

5 point pick: JJ Haedo. There's a good chance he'll be the best sprinter remaining, considering Cavendish, Farrar, and Goss et al will surely cut and run after stage 13. Knowing how desperate Saxo are for points, I will be very surprised if the Haedo brothers follow them out the door. Frankly Sebastian Haedo's probably not a bad pick either considering who will be left to oppose him, and if JJ HD's or crashes or something and Sebastian doesn't, Saxo will ride the sprint for him.

4 point pick: Sacha Modolo. Not sure if there's any big thing the Colnago team needs to save themselves for, so he'll probably remain in the race.

3 point pick: Roberto Ferrari. Savio's boys, too.

2 point pick: Francisco Ventoso. I don't believe I've mentioned a single Movistar rider yet, and if they really are that shut out of results, they may keep their sprinters in the game. I don't see Ventoso lining up at the Tour (quite possibly the Vuelta, though), so he wouldn't be shoving Cav and Goss out of the way to run out the door first.

1 point pick: Theo Bos.

Stage 19 - 198 km (high mountain stage) Treviso to Alpe di Pampeago

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A nice little antipasto for the show-stopper tomorrow. The Passo Manghen at about the two-thirds mark of the stage will surely claim a few souls, but two further cat-1s and a cat-2 come after it. The big boys will want to hold back just a little for tomorrow...but will they realistically be able to?

5 point pick: José Rujano. Though a not-insignificant amount of descending comes before the final climb, I'm not sure it puts any of the big boys at any more of a disadvantage than any others. This looks like the right sort of climb for Rujano.

4 point pick: Michele Scarponi.

3 point pick: John Gadret.

2 point pick: Ivan Basso. I don't the final climb is quite long enough for him, but he'll definitely be in the mix.

1 point pick: Joaquím Rodríguez.

Stage 20 - 219 km (high mountain stage) Val di Sola to Passo dello Stelvio

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Mortirolo detail

Stelvio detail

Final 3 km

The facebook stage. Mamma mia, what a stage! If Zomegnan was deposed for being a sadistic bastard (paraphrasing slightly) when it came to course design, what does that say about the Giro fans? Because this stage is pretty freaking insane. It should go without saying that the race will be won here. The man in pink could have ten minutes coming into this stage and still need to put in a pretty good ride to keep it.

5 point pick: Ivan Basso. The Stelvio is Basso's to lose. Over 40 km long up to this Giro's Cima Coppi, I can't think of anyone in the entire professional peloton I'd sooner pin my hopes on than Basso.

4 point pick: Mikel Nieve. Given the lolwut stage that he won last year, I'd say it's a safe bet he'll be on a good day here, too.

3 point pick: Michele Scarponi. Little doubt he'll be in the mix, but in terms of raw climbing acumen I like Basso just a little bit more.

2 point pick: José Rujano. Unless he blows up going for it on the Pampeago, this is another good course for him.

1 point pick: John Gadret. Probably a bit too much for him, but I like him better than Kreuziger or Schleck.

Stage 21 - 30.1 km (individual time trial) Milan

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This one's dead flat, but on some potentially very tricky roads. It's stands a good chance of a high-drama moment like we saw in the final seconds of the '09 Giro.

5 point pick: Marco Pinotti. If "I'm riding for the classification" can be certain to mean anything, it's "I'll stay in the race." Unless he crashes into a stop sign again or get the flu or something, he should be there in Milan, and with the relative paucity of pure TT'ers in the field, he's a good favorite on the last day. A chance to perhaps move into the overall top 10, or if he's had an especially good race to move up from 8th to 7th or something of the like can't be dismissed as a motivating factor, either.

4 point pick: Gustav Larsson. The Swede won the equivalent stage in Verona at the Giro two years ago.

3 point pick: Alex Rasmussen. Nearly won this stage last year.

2 point pick: Svein Tuft.

1 point pick: Thomas Dekker.

And now for the classifications...

Youth classification

This one was a slam-dunk last year, but Kreuziger's too old now. And Kruijswijk isn't here! No King Leo either! I may struggle just to find five riders who are eligible, let alone five riders I actually like :S

5 point pick: Sergio Henao. He's the best climber I can recognize among the eligible.

4 point pick: Rigoberto Uran Uran. (see comments)

3 point pick: Peter Stetina. Why not? He is eligible, and as he says in his excellent interview with Jen See, if he achieves his goal of staying with Ryder Hesjedal for as much of the race as possible, he may 'stumble' into a strong GC placing himself. Sort of like Pierre Rolland at last year's Tour.

2 point pick: Stefan Denifl. (see comments)

1 point pick: Fabio Felline. Probably not too likely to finish the race, but he's been 'the next big thing' for a few years now. Why not realize that potential?

Am I missing someone obvious? I feel like I'm missing someone obvious.

Points classification

A somewhat harder pick than it would be for that other bike race, the one in July, since all stages here award the same points and it's tougher to know for sure who won't voluntarily quit the race. However, one thing I can do is see who I pick as a stage winner the most often...

5 point pick: Michele Scarponi. I like him as a more consistent high finisher than Basso. Basso will take two or three minutes when he makes his move. Scarponi's more likely to take a few seconds here and there, just like

4 point pick: Joaquím Rodríguez.

3 point pick: Ivan Basso. I do have him as a pretty consistent high finisher.

2 point pick: José Rujano.

1 point pick: John Gadret.

Mountains classification

Always the hardest pick, because the rider who wins this has to be a good enough to actually do it, but not so good that the peloton would be reluctant to let him ride away.

5 point pick: Mads Christensen. Winner of the mountains category at the notoriously hilly Tour of the Basque Country, I could see him going for a breakaway early in the race, taking the blue jersey, and Matt Lloyd'ing his way into it in Milan. We can be assured that Saxo will be active in the breaks as well. While this is not a rider you would expect to be active on mountains like the Stelvio or the Giau, the truth is the KOM winner seldom is such a rider.

4 point pick: Jan Barta. I think I said above that he would not be allowed off the front...well, I'll hedge my bets :p

3 point pick: Giovanni Visconti. Signor Tricolore has a touch of climb in him, but him finding his way into a break or two or five wouldn't ruffle anyone's feathers.

2 point pick: Emanuele Sella. He...*ahem*..."won" this award once before, and he seems to fit that "good but not scary good" mould of who would be given leave to ride away in breakaways.

1 point pick: Oliver Zaugg. Most likely he stays with Fränk Schleck, but he's absolutely got the legs to take this.

General classification

What it all comes down to...

5 point pick: Ivan Basso. I just see too many days where he could take minutes, and not seconds. And while Rodríguez, Cunego, Gadret, Rujano, etc. have to worry about embarrassing themselves in the ITT, Basso can reliably expect to sit middle of the field. He won't sniff the win, and he'll cede time to Kreuziger, but he'll take time out of pretty much every other realistic GC contender.

4 point pick: Michele Scarponi. He'll be riding this Giro with a chip on his shoulder, and if I may say - rightfully so. He does have something to prove. Scarponi has a poor reputation against the clock, but he was a not-exactly-awful 17th in the long time trial in last year's Giro (just 10 seconds the lesser of Nibali), so he could stand to gain over the Gadrets and Rujanos of the world as well.

3 point pick: Roman Kreuziger. After a 6th 5th place last year, the podium has got to be in his sights. A few really good days, and it might put him in the position of chrono'ing for his shot at glory. He is unquestionably the best time trialist of the GC lot, but I wonder if he does, all in all, have enough climb in him.

2 point pick: John Gadret. After last year's 4th 3rd, he too will be riding with something to prove. Ag2r looks to have brought a pretty strong squad to back him. No doubt Nick Roche rides the Tour and/or the Vuelta, but Dupont rode a terrific Giro last year and Montaguti likewise the Vuelta - he's got some support.

1 point pick: José Rujano. Here's a boy who definitely has enough climb, and a pretty good supporting cast with Sella, Serpa, and possibly Felline and the young Venezuelans, but I wonder whether he has the know-how to get it done. Last year he dropped five minutes on the strade bianche stage. Without that time loss, it would have been he and not Gadret who was promoted to the 'revised' podium. I'm not sure there's any trap like that on this year's route, but for some riders flat stages present as much a challenge as high mountain stages do for the majority of the peloton. One such rider for whom this was true was Carlos Sastre - any time there were echelons or splits on a flat stage, Sastre was pretty much toast. Yet he did put it together and win one GT, with a mammoth supporting cast at his side. Could Rujano do the same?

What do you think of my picks?

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