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Giro 2006: The Preview!

Who do you think will actually win? Read on... and take the new poll.

Paolo Savoldelli

Out of respect for the defending champion, we'll start here. Il Falco is one of three past champions on hand, along with fellow double-winner Simoni and Damiano Cunego. Of the three, his wins have been quite distinctly marked by cunning and dramatic descents, with some great time-trialling thrown in for good measure. Not so much a climber though he can hang in with the best much of the time.

But this is a horrible course for him, with only the 50km ITT in week two to his advantage. And since Basso can time-trial as well, it's hard to see where Savoldelli gets any real edge as they head into the unrelenting mountains where the Falcon will be under tremendous stress. He's probably not the favorite within his own team. Finally, he's been battling stomach illness which could dull his edge at the outset. But at the same time, he's too smart and determined to ever count him out. Plus, he won last year with no support (from teammates at least), and Discovery have rewarded him with a great lineup this time around. Maybe my favorite rider anywhere right now.

Keep going...

Ivan Basso

The favorite, for good reason. He can stay with the mountain goats wherever they go -- this is a man who shadowed Lance in the Alpes the last two years. And unlike the true climbers who are supposedly drooling over this course, Basso can lay some wood in both the individual and team time trials. Finally, like Savoldelli, CSC have him thoroughly supported. Only his Tour ambitions or another self-inflicted wound (like last year when he messed up his stomach for two days after chugging ice water) can seem to stop him.

Gilberto Simoni

The old soldier. Simoni, at 34, might be contesting his last Giro. Bittersweet for the tifosi ("fans"), he's the most decorated rider with two wins and three other podiums, and the only person focused entirely on the Giro all these years. His lack of form virtually everywhere else, especially at the Tour, have put limits on his popularity, and that was before Cunego arrived. But he's a not-so-dark horse this year, with his new Saunier Duval team by his side and a course that he's gotta love. He'll suffer in the ITT, but Simoni can climb, and the worse the grade, the better he gets. He'll need an epic escape to win, but there are several such places to try one this year.

Damiano Cunego

Similar to Simoni in that he'll be drooling over those long climbs and nasty grades in the final week. And he'll suffer like a dog in the ITT. He's got a better team in Lampre than Simoni has, though still inferior to CSC or Discovery. Cunego can also sprint, so look for him to win just about any climbing stage where he makes the final selection. This, plus his age (which everyone but VeloNews pegs at 24), make him il piccolo principe, the little prince, and the darling of Italia. He can't win without some luck, but he won't need much.

Tom Danielson

Savoldelli's better half in this Giro. Danielson is an ace climber and can manage himself in a time trial OK, at least compared to Simoni and Cunego. He's nominally #2 for Discovery, but if Savoldelli falls off the pace early, the team will get behind Danielson quickly. Danielson has only one Grand Tour finish under his belt (Spain last year), so he's still a bit green, which may be his undoing. But he'll be right up near the podium all along, ready to strike if the chance comes his way.

Jose Rujano

The token mighty-mite climber everyone fears. Rujano's was the wheel nobody could hold at the end of the last Giro, and this year's parcours obviously suits him even better. Problem is he's got little race time under his belt after a strange season of internal team problems (retold several times elsewhere; somebody called him Terrell Owens, if that helps). He'll get crushed in all the time trials, but he could erase those losses in a scant few km if the leaders falter.

Danilo DiLuca

Self-anointed contender. I'd love to see him do well after last year's gutsy fourth place, on the heels of a huge spring classics campaign, but he doesn't rank all that highly in the long climbs or the time trials... begging the question, why is he pinning his entire season on this Giro? Looks more like a top ten than a serious contender.