Finally! All those other races are done with. Here's a fun appetizer to the 24/7 Giro Preview coverage that will be Podium Cafe this week. Let's start with the obvious choices for the pink jersey and move on to the dark horses because you never know who will pop up and announce to the world that they are Grand Tour Ready (GTR).
But first the obvious Big Four Three:
- Franco Pellizotti, Liquigas. Highest returning rider from last year's Giro. Among his stage wins the past couple of years was Block Haus last year and (keeping with the language) the Kronplatz TT (okay the Plan de Corones) in 2008. What's that you say? You think that he might not be in form because he's done squat so far this year? Hang your head in shame! That's what he does every year. Take his Cycling Quotient points totals, pre-Giro the last few years: 2008:119 points. 2009: 48. This year: 60. And no where is there a win. Given that's he finished 4th and 2nd the last two years, I think it's safe to say that he knows Giro-prep, he's the odds on favorite, and anything short of the podium would be a big upset. It sure looks like his year.
- Ivan Basso, Liquigas. No longer seems to have other-wordly climbing skills, the guy who smiles when he's climbing not only placed 4th in last year's Giro, but backed that up with a 4th at the Vuelta. Honestly nowadays when I think of Ivan my mind starts sliding to his sexier teammate (that would be Nibali or Kiserlovski and NOT the rider who's in the clink with Charlie Sheen) and even guys like Evans. I can't see him decisively winning any mountain stage and he's not a great chronoman but he's solid as a rock and considering how hard the last week this year's race is sometimes that's exactly what you need. Contador won the Giro in 08 without winning a stage and Valverde did the same at last year's Vuelta.
- Carlos Sastre, Cervelo 3rd last year, with a nice team behind him. Looking to do what Menchov did: race strongly in his 1st Giro, then win it the second time around. Takes the Jennifer Grey approach to Grand Tour prep (see above) which means that like Franco, he'll be peaking during the third week. Unlike Basso, one can easily picture sastre riding away on the Zoncolan. A rider that strikes fear into his competitors' hearts.
- Cadel "Gabe Kaplan" Evans, BMC. Easily with the busiest pre-Giro race program, he's THE GC rider that you don't want to drag to the line because he'll nail you in the final sprint. And when I say final sprint I mean the last stage TT. Again has poor team support though BMC management is nicer than Lotto management. I could go on but really since this is his first time back in eight years, the following lyrics on the jump are more than appropriate:
Your dreams were your ticket out.
To that same old place that you laughed about.
Well the names have all changed since you hung around,
But those dreams have remained and they're turned around.
Who'd have thought they'd lead ya (Who'd have thought they'd lead ya)
Here where we need ya (Here where we need ya)
Yeah we tease him a lot cause we've hot him on the spot, welcome back,
Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.
I wonder: Am I calling Pellizotti Horshack? Anyway, in a very rough descending order of likelihood of seeing the final podium or getting a top 10 spot, the dark horses:
- Damino Cunego, Lampre. the biggest (or smallest) off the wall pick of them all. All we can be sure of with this guys is two things: 1) If he starts to do well, the Italian press will be all over him, debating if he is a GC guy or a man for the Classics. 2) If he mails it in, the Italian press will be all over him, debating if he is a GC guy or a man for the Classics. Oh and a third thing: Our Gavia will be all over the press, laughing all the way.
- Xavier Tondo, Cervelo. I dunno. He just looks so good to me and not in a front cover of majope's latest book kind of way. And I am not at all sure that he's a man for the Grand Tours. Week-long races, definitely, yes. And he'll be supporting Sastre. But it's so easy to picture him riding away with a stage and really messing with the GC order.
- C.A. Sorensen, Saxo Bank. Not a very climby-oriented team that the kid is leading so he is hoping to hitch a ride with the big boys. Just coming back from a broken collarbone so I don't expect much, but with his goatish legs he could surprise.
- Giampaolo Caruso, Katusha. The Russian team just bought the guy from Ceramica Flaminia specifically for him to lead their team here. Hey! Before you go into dark mutterings about Russians trying to but everything in sight, try to put a positive spin on it like this: isn't it great that a team cares enough about the Giro that they will go out and buy a GC man just for it? The fun twist to all of this is that the guy hasn't raced the Giro since...2006! He was 12th on GC back then. Hope he's clean.
- Francesco Masciarelli, Acqua & Sapone. Garzelli's 2nd in command, finished 16th last year. Only 24. GTR? (And who here remembers what GTR stands for?) And finally a short listing of a few more long shots just because:
Branaslav Samoilav of Quickstep, Bauke Mollema of Rabobank, Leenos of Moo, and whoever Garmin is pushing, which isn't all that clear to me: Kessiakoff? Martin? CVV?