Proceeding out of sequence here, since neither I nor anyone else has drawn up the official favorites list yet. But my sense about this Giro is that it's something of a grand experiment, the first massively hard climbfest of a grand tour since the peloton stopped openly downing EPO. Whether we see a truly clean race is TBD, but you should allow for the possibility at least of watching riders completely crack like you haven't seen in some time. Big names (coughmenchovcough) included.
Given that, I thought it might be worth digging a little deeper into the startlist, past the Astanii and Solers and Simonis, to see who else might be able to dish it out -- or at least hold it together -- on the slopes of, oh, pretty much every steep road in Italy. W/o ado...
- Evgeni Petrov, Tinkoff: has some history in Giro and other stage races, and tends to be consistently decent. Excel? I don't see it (yet).
- Chris-Anker Sorensen, CSC: Surprise captain of mighty CSC. The problem with some of the names on this list is that it's hard to tell when if ever they've been set free to prove themselves, as opposed to burying themselves for the team. Sorensen was 11th at the Lagos de Covadonga Vuelta stage; otherwise few results to judge by.
- Mauricio Ardila, Rabobank: When was the last time he was a team leader at a grand tour? Possibly the '05 Vuelta, where he proceeded to ring up several stage placings in the 3-7 range in the mountains. He gave a similar performance in the 2005 Giro. If he can dial back three years, he's a threat to hang around for the whole race. He's still only 28. A solid dark horse.
- Franco Pellizotti, Liquigas: In case you hadn't heard, he's more of a straight-on favorite. Among his results last year are 3rd to Avila (Vuelta st. 16), 8th at Zoncolan and 5th in the Oropa ITT at the '07 Giro, 4th to the "Plan de Corones" (abbreviated) in 2006. Decent time trialer, for what it's worth (a lot).
- Kanstantin Siutsou, High Road: Not sure whether High Road plans to set him free, but his win in the Tour de Georgia, seized on the formidable slopes of Brasstown Bald, certainly upped his profile. Notable: he had several solid placings last fall in Italy: Tre Valle Varesine, Tours of Lazio and Appennino, etc. Just a kid, though, so anything is possible.
- Julio Perez Cuapio, CSF: I hate to say anything too nice about the guy, given his relative lack of racing since, what, the 2002 Giro?? Still, most years he shows up in Italy, and rang up 4th at Tre Cime and 7th at Monte Zoncolan last year. This course is his dream.
- David Arroyo, Caisse d'Epargne: Probable captain of the powerful Spanish outfit, and a regular top 20 finisher in every mountain stage. But I don't see the dominating results to suggest that he'll do better under more extreme conditions. Still, he showed well in the Tour last year, speaking of extreme conditions.
- Jose Rujano, Caisse d'Epargne: Everyone wants to write him off, but the fact is he can climb these sorts of slopes, when interested. Some curious results this year: he beat Frank Schleck in the Orio ITT at Pias Vasco (16th), and was 8th in the Murcia ITT won by Valverde. Huh? Is he suddenly way on form??
- Emanuele Sella, Navigare: Frequents the top 15 of every climby stage or single-day race in Italy. His time is now, though there's nothing on his resume that suggests he's ready to explode. But I'm rooting for him, if only so I can yell "Sella! SELLLLAAAAA!!!" in my best Brando style when he wins.
- Christian Pfannberger, Barloworld: A real wild card. He's had excellent results in the mountains of Germany and Austria, as well as some truly sublime form at the Ardennes last month. But he has no history of beating similar fields over grand tour terrain, and very little experience in Italy. Definitely someone to watch out for.
Obviously this list comes more from a scan of results; they're primarily guys I don't know much about. So... corrections? Got any other nominations for this list?