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Giro dell'Emilia: Beautiful Race Draws an Interesting Crowd

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Dear Giro dell'Emilia,

Have I told you lately that I love you?

The more I think about this race, the higher it rises in my pantheon of classics. Which is not the same as the Monuments. To wit:

Chris' Patheon of Classics
(10/9/2010 am edition)
(in no particular order except for the first two, which shall never, ever change):

  1. De Ronde van Vlaanderen
  2. Paris-Roubaix
  3. Liege-Bastogne-Liege
  4. Clasica San Sebastian
  5. Giro dell'Emilia
  6. Giro di Lombardia
  7. GP Plouay
  8. Fleche Wallonne
  9. E3 Prijs
  10. Gent-Wevelgem

And before we leave the subject, it's time for my annual rant about the disappearance of Zuri-Metzgete, a/k/a Championship of Zurich. More next week, but dammit! I want that race back! Do you HEAR ME?? MENDOZAAAAAAA!!!!

OK, where was I? Right, Emilia. Some important notes:

  • Emilia is an ancient Roman passageway connecting the Eternal city and its sprawling empire to the north. Now it's the western half of the Emilia-Romagna region, which if Italy is a boot and the wide northern section is the, I dunno, dressing around the top?, then E-R is like a high-ankle strap. Really, it's the valley of the Po River, one of the few rivers of consequence in Italy, along with its surrounding mountains.
  • The region is a hotbed of leftism, has its own language, and is also responsible for the best things ever done to pig flesh (besides leaving it on a happily-living pig) in human history. Parma is there, as in "prosciutto di __" and parmeggiana cheese. Pancetta and coppa come from Piacenza. Modena ham is univerally famous. No coincidence that the regional capital is Bologna, though the name has been tragically tarnished by the Oscar Meyers of the world in modern times.
  • The most famous cyclist from the region is Marco Pantani. Not good, I suppose, though if you just want to lump him in with the other dopers of his time, it's possible to remember what a great natural climber he was. Oddly, he never won his sorta-hometown Giro. He did win the Piccolo Giro dell'Emilia in 1991, but if I recall from his bio he had a run of bad luck in the senior version, which was pretty much made for him.

Anyway, back to this year's competition. The downside of holding the World Championships at a venue requiring a six month sea voyage (assuming no doldrums) is the negative effect the traveling can have on the fall European calendar. Not for nothing, riders who are trickling back into town (overland? via the Silk Road??) are not necessarily in ideal condition. All of which plays into the hands of one... OK, four six twelve riders. Let's break it down by teams.

Rabobank

Robert Gesink is the #1 favorite, hands down. Sure, as the defending winner he'll be watched, but in a hard uphill finale the end-game tactics are pretty straightforward. Unlike most of the others, Gesink wasn't in Australia, but spent his last week in the Franco-Belge, biding his time, working on his Lombardia peak. Mauricio Ardila, Bauke Mollema and the Worlds energizer bunny Paul Martens form a very strong unit around Gesink.

Liquigas

Vincenzo Nibali was last seen arriving by camel in Gaza and looking for passage across the Mediterranean, which isa good bet thanks to his Sicilian connections and his ability to speak Saracen. So there's a good chance we'll see the Shark circling tomorrow. He rode with great energy in Geelong, an extension of his excellent form at the Vuelta. So what's another week or two? Liquigas have a pretty solid lineup at the Shark's disposal, including Sylvester Szmyd, dependable guys like Valerio Agnoli and Oliver Zaugg. And Peter Sagan's older brother Juraj.

Katusha

Alexandr Kolobnev should be there at the front of the race for Katusha, having traveled overland with the Russian team via Siberia. Kolob was one of the late protagonists in 2009, in keeping with his annual autumn run of form. In five appearances Kolobnev has finished no worse than 12th at San Luca, and his 7th in Australia is a pretty good indication that it's business as usual for the Russian. At his side are capable climbers like Alexander Botcharov, Evgeni Petrov, and Luca Mazzanti. Not overwhelming, but definitely in play.

HTC-Columbia

Peter Velits is also scheduled to come back, though his travel plans are unknown. Did he purchase his way onto a Spice Islands trader vessel? Not if any of the Dutch captains knew about Gesink's current top form. Anyway, Velits didn't make much of a dent on the Worlds, coming off his stellar Vuelta, but in a shorter race that resembles some of the more important Vuelta stages Velits might have a good day. He has no track record at the Italian Fall classics, but he had no track record of finishing on the podium of grand tours until recently either (and by the time it's said and done, he's likely to wind up placed second). At his disposal are the standard HTC array of quality guys, like his brother Martin, Maxime Monfort (who many have some ambitions of his own), Marco Pinotti, Craig Lewis and Kanstantin Siutsou.

Vacansoleil

Ah, the sweet, sweet smell of controversy. As a Modenese and a fast-finishing climber, this race is ideally suited to Riccardo Ricco. The Cobra is poised to strike after his win in the Coppa Sabatini yesterday, his sixth win of the season, and naturally he wasn't asked to represent his country in Melbourne. And at present, he's officially a slightly more pungent Alexandre Vinokourov, a rider who paid his dues and has every right to be back in the peloton. Not that anyone likes him, but presumably that only feeds the beast. I'll rank him the #2 favorite -- tanned, rested and ready, but without as much time against real competition as Gesink. Ricco also has Dutchman Johnny Hoogerland on his side, racing for a Dutch team, so if he beats out Gesink either this Saturday or next, look for some enterprising Hollander to lure him in a locked room with Mark Van Bommel for a few minutes.

Saxo Bank

Don't be overly fooled by the name "Schleck, Andy" on the startlist; he's been twittering constantly about how tired he is, to the point where I think he's not sandbagging. Jakob Fuglsang is the man to lead Team Riis around the block one last time before the massive changes occur (or not, in one thorny instance) over the winter. One thing I'll truly miss about the peak years of this squad is the way they always seem to travel around, anywhere, in a powerful bunch. When's the last time you saw a Saxo Bank startlist that had less than five quality riders on it? They've been the Team Canada of the non-hockey world, forever able to cobble together a killer lineup on 30 seconds' notice. Fuglsang has to deal with his own voyage-lag, but is still able to round up a posse that reads Larsson-Porte-CA Sorensen. And super-domestique Andy Schleck.

You Might Also Be Interested To Know...

What's that funny smell? I thought Ricco was back in the team bus? Ah, right, it's Stefan Schumacher. Or, no, wait, it's SELLLAAAAHH!! Or hey, was that Andrei Kashechkin that just walked by? In a Lampre kit? Ah, Italian racing...

The peloton's best name will be here. I speak, of course, of Davide Ricci Bitti. Pronounce the first name properly, three syllables, and accent the penultimate syllables in each case, and the whole thing is just beautiful. Second prize goes to Fabrice Piemontesi. Ah, Italian racing...

Some random names you all know... Michele Scarponi (with only one Bert). The Flying Masciarellis. Domenico Pozzovivo and Davide Appollonia, the understudies. Giovanni Visconti, the perennial. Daniel Martin, who would have been a top favorite a month ago and may still be. Enrico Gasparotto, whom you can never count out. That should tide you over til tomorrow.

The call:

  1. Gesink
  2. Ricco
  3. Martin
  4. Visconti
  5. Nibali