So we’ve had a look at the course, the next obvious question is who will be standing on top of the podium when we get to Turin at the end of next week. That’s easy you might think, just look at the formbook. Well if you’re one of those scientific sorts who reckons that you can predict these sorts of things by taking certain numbers and plugging them in to super-clever and super-super-secret formulae, then this year you are going to have to dig deep for those numbers, because there’s not a lot to go on. We lost the other big climby tour, the Tour de l’Aude, the Giro del Trentino was a lot less hilly than usual, despite signing for a European team, Diadora Pasta Zara, this year, Mara Abbott has spent more time in the US than she did last year when she was riding for Peanut Butter & Co, then she recently had a mystery crash while training which caused her to miss more racing, and Emma Pooley sat out a large part of the spring with a broken collar-bone. Of course that won’t make much difference to those of us who use the stick wet finger in the air then wing it method, but be reassured that this year that is a lot closer to the science. So here’s who I think will be the top five in thes year’s Giro Donne.
1. Marianne Vos
But isn’t this a course for weeny climbers, you ask. Well it’s a tricky equation to balance. On one side there are all those mountains, but on the other there is Vos’ ridiculous winning streak in June, and the fact that she has only finished off the podium four times this year, and that her lowest placing is 5th. And remember that last year she wasn’t outside the top 10 in a single stage. There’s form, there’s form, and there is the sort of talent that you won’t have seen unless you were in Belgium during the early seventies. I doubt that she’ll beat Mara Abbott and Emma Pooley to the summit of the Mortirolo, but I can easily see her using those ‘cross bike-handling skills to take five minutes out of them on the descent. And the stage 1 finish seems to be designed for a Vos Johansson battle, and we know how that usually ends.
2. Mara Abbott
As the Italian commentators put it During Mara’s ride up the Stelvio last year, she is the paradigm of a climber, skin, bone, less than 50 kilos. She won this race last year riding for the US national squad under Manel Lacambra who is once again her DS at Diadora-Pasta Zara, and came 2nd in 2009 by a mere 30 seconds; time that she lost working for Judith Arndt before she unfortunately crashed out. Mara can climb, sprint at the end of the climb, and most importantly out descend Emma Pooley. If you think that she should be my number one pick, then all I can say is that we don’t see enough of her in Europe, and by the sounds of things that’s the way she likes it.
3. Emma Pooley
If you get the chance to watch any of RAI’s coverage then listen out for the phrase "La Piccolina di Noor-Witch". Emma’s specialities are the long distance suicide breakaway, which somehow still manages to catch out the rest of the peloton even though she’s been doing it for years and climbing super-steep hills faster than should be possible. And for the past couple of years she has lost almost as much time in the descents as she gained in the ascents. But this year British Cycling’s team psychologist Steve has passed the winter teaching her the words to Officer Krupke and things are different. OK, that’s probably a bit mean, as most of the time she lost last year was when she punctured just as Team USA were putting their Stop-Pooley plan into action and starting off a day in the hills not with the expected soft pedal alongside the lake, but with a team time trial. Emma’s been scouting out the mountains recently (and trying to get her team-mates to dress a bit more girly, so she’ll know exactly what’s coming up, but her weakness could be that she’s not yet had a chance to try out all that psycho-stuff in real racing conditions.
4. Judith Arndt
You want to know something funny about Judith? She reckons that Australian Pizza is the best pizza in the world. Let’s hope that no Italians hear that. In last year’s Giro Judith rode to a great second place despite the fact that she hardly seemed to be there when the TV cameras were filming. Then the race started out flat and gradually became hillier and hillier, and for all those hilly stages she was on the podium every day, usually on the bottom step, and usually she finished while the cameras were still focussed on the winner doing their winner salute thing. I fully expect her to ride as well and as unnoticed this year.
(That link under her name is for those of you who still aren’t sure how to pronounce her name – siamo con Tatiana Guderzo ci qua a l’arrivo – we’re with Tatiana Guderzo at the finish line) Guderzo was World Champion in Mendrisio in 2009, and on the back of that a whole new team was put together to support her bid to win the Giro last year. She didn’t quite manage that, but came up with a great 3rd place, and we’re hoping that at some point Bridie will spill a few more beans on how that came about (if she can balance it with her other advice to be nice to everyone ). Actually it’s hard to know whether to put her above Judith Arndt or not, since the two of them seemed to finish side by side in lots of stages last year. Judith just gets the nod on her better form so far this year.
That’s my five for the top. A pretty obvious selection maybe, but no more so than the predictions you’re seeing around for the Tour de France. Can you see beyond these five for the podium?