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Il Giro Centenario: Five Riders To Watch

Giro09-main_mediumLike any grand tour, the Giro d'Italia comes with a pre-approved list of favorites known to just about every cycling fan. Generously speaking, that would be Lance Armstrong (cough...), Levi Leipheimer, Carlos Sastre, Denis Menchov, Ivan Basso, Damiano Cunego, Gilberto Simoni (I said this was a generous list), and Danilo DiLuca. Like clockwork, however, riders not previously hailed as contenders thrust themselves into the storyline, and here is an open thread on that subject, starting with a few of my own "ideas." Mind you, there are a lot of quality guys we don't get to see very often with our own eyes, but I can find results, and results don't lie. Below are five riders in no particular order whom I can identify as potential threats for high GC placings -- maybe even a stealth podium. Feel free to lengthen this list.

1. Domenico Pozzovivo, CSF Navigare

UPDATE: Last year's scandals = no invite. I actually had my teams list open when I wrote this. Girbecco says: I'm an idiot.

2. Janez Brajkovic, Astana

Blistering form in Trentino last week, with a terrific time trial and performance the next day on Alpi di Pampeago, before giving back the jersey to Basso on the final stage. I wouldn't call him the ultimate climber, but he has no glaring weakness in his game save for his team role. If Levi and Lance flip over to training mode and Jani has aced the crono, it's game on. Like Pozzovivo, at 25 he's just coming into his own as a grand tour racer.

3. Franco Pellizotti, Liquigas

Nobody thinks he will have a leading role in the team with Ivan Basso around, and Basso's win in Trentino drives the point home further. But Pellizotti was fourth last year behind a confessed doper, a surprise podium finish, and a now-absent champion. Subtract Basso and I might be dubbing him the overall favorite. Key factor: he's a competent time trialist on the flats, and he won the Plan de Corones uber-mountain ITT last year. That combination of skills speaks well of his chances in the critical Cinque Terre stage. Except on Passo Fedaia, and bleeding small time gaps to Contador in the flat cronos, he was right at the front. Obviously his role is a huge question, and his results so far this year are uninspiring, but he could be biding his time.

4. Kanstantin Siutsou, Columbia

Creeping a little further out on the limb here, but I am betting that Siutsou will be Columbia's ace by the time the Giro reaches the Colosseo (did I dream this or are they running a time trial through ancient Rome?). Rogers is on good form, and please correct me if he's gunning for the Giro, but I have to assume his eye is on July. Lovkvist could contend as well, but I have the same caveats, and anyway he's had a pretty long spring. Besides, Siutsou finished well ahead of Lovkvist in the Tour last year, 16th overall, an unmistakeable indicator of his stage racing abilities. His results so far are those of a poor-man's Brajkovic, but as with Brajkovic (or Pellizotti) doing all things pretty well might make for a solid time trial. And, well, he's still pretty young. And by week three he shouldn't be carrying bottles for his famous teammates. Not a podium threat, but top ten is within reach.

5. Jurgen Van den Broeck, Silence-Lotto

UPDATE: Giro status unclear, not currently on the startlist. Damn, this isn't an easy post to write...

All the qualities we've been discussing here -- prime racing age, potential team leadership, nice history, good skills mix -- can be found in young Jurgen's legs. He has had a quiet spring, and was among 54 riders sensible enough to abandon the Pais Vasco on stage 5, after taking second behind Vandevelde the previous day. I would watch for some indication of form in Romandie, though he may choose not to put it on display. So all we have are last year's breakout results, when he finished seventh overall (ahead of Pozzovivo) on the strength of a solid time trial in Urbino and the ability to hang with the leaders over all the mountain stages. Not a lengthy resume, but I can't think of a better indicator for this year's Giro than last year's.