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Grand Tour Roundtable

In our second part of the pre-season roundtable we turn our attention to the three Grand Tours and air our expectations and predictions. Warning, the following discussion may contain shocking spoilers such as "Froome might win the Tour de France" and "André Greipel has impressive thighs".

Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
CHRIS: So... Grand Tours.Can I start by pointing out that the Giro route runs through the village of Fontecchio this year? Has to be a good sign.

JENS: Definitely. Always a good thing when the Giro passes Abruzzo to celebrate the big crooks of its past.

CHRISI already have a post half-written about how Vito Taccone was jobbed by the system.

JENS: Taccone.... that was the name I couldn't remember.  I was pretty excited about the Giro this year but announcing Rusvelo as a wild card took a bit of the lustre away. I'll probably have to reluctantly admit that the Tour de France is the best GT this year.

CONOR: What do you guys think of the three routes?

CHRIS: I'll take the Giro, given our division of labor. I'd say it's a nicely balanced route, as well as one unusually devoid of big name climbs. Which is probably a good thing, if for no other reason than it lets the Giro overload the next four Giri with big name climbs.

JENS: I really do think the Tour looks the most promising one this year. The Giro is a little more bland than usual from the start and they are taking some huge gambles with high mountains that may end up not happening.

CHRIS: I thought there was no snow in Europe? The Giro people know what they're doing!

CONOR: Yeah, the Giro will be great if, you know, the mountain stages actually happen. I'm not so sure about the Tour route.

Will: Yes, fingers crossed.  It would be thrilling to see Colle dell'Agnello - the third highest paved pass in the Alps - in a race.

CHRIS: How much is at stake in the construction of a Tour route? In that regard I am really  excited that the Giro put together a route that might actually deliver us a good race, given who we think is coming, whereas the Tour is the Tour and Froome will win unless he falls off his bike. They always change the specifics but the balance doesn't change too much, at least in comparison to the huge swings in balance that the Giro gives us from year to year.

CONOR: Who is riding the Giro?

JENS: Tom Dumoulin is the only rider I've seen any sort of buzz around the fact that he is doing the Giro but in terms of bigs it seems it should be a showdown between Nibali and Valverde, which isn't too bad. And then there will be Sky trying for real (once again) to win the Giro, this time with Mikel Landa.

CONOR: I thought I saw something saying Nibali wasn't.

CHRIS: No, I think Nibali is set for the Giro, though sometimes I miss bits of news. Landa is a pretty important character in this drama. Dumoulin gets to try his hand at a Giro course he might like more than anything of the last ten years. Majka, Valverde, Joe Dombrowski, and Fabian [expletive] Cancellara, whom Italians will try to claim as their own.

JENS: Well, it's the usual Astana cloak and dagger stuff. The original division of labor was Nibali to the Giro and Aru to the TdF but now everyone seems to assume Nibs is going to put the dagger in Aru's back by actually going for the TdF after all. I don't buy it, Nibs wants the Olympics and he can't do it with two GTs behind him I think.

CONOR: Shame he's not going to win the Olympics then. That flat stretch is too long for him to win solo, and he can't outsprint anyone.

JENS: Bardet is of course winning the Olympics but I think it's nice of Nibali to give it a try.

CHRIS: On the plus side, I think the Giro gave him his ideal route. The Alpe di Suisi uphill ITT should somewhat offset Dumoulin's advantage in the rolling Chianti-area 40km ITT, while not throwing the race to Landa or another mountain goat in the process.

CONOR: Oh yeah, Nibs is almost certainly going to win.

JENS: I think we have pretty much pinpointed Nibs level. Almost unbeatable in the Giro, just slightly off the pace to win a star-filled TdF.

CHRIS: I feel some obligation to say the words "Rigoberto Uran" here, before we move on.

CONOR: I feel some obligation to say the words "Mick who?"

JENS: I'm liking the squad Cannondale are sending. Formolo and Uran should be fun but I have a feeling Uran is another guy we can pretty much pinpoint the level of and that means lower podium places. Young Chaves on Orica on the other hand is the big joker in the pack at the Giro. Not that he will be unmarked after last year.

CHRIS: Cannondale are truly interesting here, I agree. This is a deeper competition than we've seen in a while. I suppose we could also wonder what Tim Wellens is planning to do there.

JENS: Lotto sending promising climbers, by Belgian standards, to the Giro. I know how this ends. Sorry Tim.

CHRIS: Also watch out for Simone Petilli, my pick for the next Italian spring surprise.

CONOR: If you can win the Ronde de l'Isard, you can't be too bad alright.

JENS: I'll watch out for Petilli. In 2020, as per the usual schedule of your young guy predictions.

CONOR: Hegemony?

CHRIS: My predictive powers are the living embodiment of that old Churchill quote, "Americans always do the right thing, once they've exhausted the alternatives."
Presumably he'll be coming off good form at the Ardennes races, which he'll squander in Italy rather than putting to good use in France.
One last note: Kittel is on the startlist for the Giro, which should be fun, as long as he knows where all the road furniture is in those opening stages in the Netherlands.

CONOR: So is Greipel, but I can't imagine they'll ride 21 stages between them.

JENS: It's like swearing in church but if all pans out, the sprinters battles could very well be the best part of the GTs this year.

CONOR: Yeah, there's very little to choose between them.

CHRIS: Well the Giro has arguably six early stages that should end in a sprint, so they haven't managed to chase away all the sprinters for once. The Vuelta on the other hand... eeesh.

CONOR: On that note...The Tour - Froomeville, yes?

JENS: I see Richie Porte as a real challenger hahahahahahaha. Sorry, someone had to make that joke.

CHRIS: Sky are such bastards. Couldn't they make this a bit more interesting by sending Froome out by his lonesome? Instead he'll have a murderer's row of support. Even if he does fall down, they'll have Wout Poels or someone assigned to cushioning the impact.

JENS: I hear they even hired a guy to jump in front of him and take the "bullet" if there are pee-tossers again this year.

CONOR: Thomas not doing the classics makes much more sense now.

CHRIS: ITT kilometers aren't too excessive, but probably more than enough to hold off Don Nairo again.

JENS: Looking at the Froome contenders it's like a list of "exciting, but not quite good enough"-guys.
So many French hopes but it's all lower level podium stuff really. Although I do think Nairo will surprise and be a closer contender than last year. In fact I'm almost sure of it.

CHRIS: Signing Landa was smart, that's the easiest way to neutralize a threat. "Here's a ton of money and a ticket to the Giro."

CONOR: The answer to 99 out of 100 questions...

CHRIS: As to the overall competition, we are stuck in a sort of Captain Renault situation where he announces the Tour parcours and tells his ASO minions to "round up the usual suspects."

JENS: But I like that in a way. The Tour is the prestige event, the Old Lady, it should be conservative to some extent. We should be able to know that "these are the qualities you need to win the biggest event in the world" and it should be a bit stable. Let the Giro and Vuelta be the quirky, try crazy stuff races.

CHRIS: That's true. The Giro is the Tour's generally beloved husband, while the Vuelta is her exciting, slightly hidden side piece.

CONOR: I don't like the Le Bettex and Finhaut-Emosson finishes though. Too...Dauphiné.

Will: The climb to the dam at Lac d'Emosson is steep and beautiful and rarely raced.  I am a fan.

CHRIS: I object to the spellings involved but will keep an open mind. Last year I complained about Tour MTF stages not being difficult enough and everyone unfriended me on Facebook.

JENS: Seriously? Bettex seems dull-ish but the introduction of new places is what keeps the Tour interesting. And we only think Dauphiné because that's where they do their dress-rehearsals nowadays.

CONOR: Yeah, but Bettex is the final summit finish, and it's about 8 kilometres.

JENS: There is an upside to that though. By not putting the big set-piece climb at the very end you potentially keep people from conservatively waiting for the last day to make their move (I'm looking at you Nairo).

Will: The Bettex climb is very steep.  Especially the lower stretch - in the teens at times.  After a long, tough stage, it could be a great finish: And we can hear about Hinault winning the 1980 World Championship at Domancy - lower stretch of climb.  And helicopter shots of Mont Blanc glaciers.

Landa wins Andorra stage

CHRIS: OK, a couple more Tour items. Any other interesting teams? Any stages you think could be extra fun? I think BMC are loading up to see if they can throw enough people at Sky to shake their control. Dimension Data got the HTC band back together to stop Kittel in the sprints. And of course we will be forced to reckon with some version of Astana.

CONOR: Stages 8 and 9 get my seal of approval.

CHRIS: Indeed, the third-week-peak strategy is in the dustbin for 2016.

CONOR: Which hands the advantage to...˜Mr˜ Sir Rides off on the First Mountain Stage

CHRIS: Well I think the Tour are planning something nasty at the end of Stage 2, and several other early rolling stages, so we could see lots of early movement.

CONOR: They are? Like what?

CHRIS: A 3km climb with a 14% ramp

JENS: I think they have hopes for some crosswind-traps but that is a bit of a crapshoot. But at this point I do have a bit of faith in Prudhomme's ability to make a strong first week. Amazing how fast he established that.

CONOR: The best 21 stages of last year were stages 1-7 of each GT.

JENS: See. We'll make a classics-lover of you yet Conor.

CHRIS: And now I propose we mirror real life and turn to the Vuelta out of obligation and near-exhaustion.

CONOR: In a word - ow.

Will:  In a year where some of the highest climbs in France will be ridden by the Giro, I thought it was sporting of the Vuelta to also visit the Hexagon.  The Tour de France strangely forgot to to include Col d'Aubisque (it has been in over 70 Tours), so the Vuelta has decided to climb it.  Trying to increase French interest?

JENS: Has anyone even said they will ride it? Everyone seems to list their objectives and end with..... Olympics. As if there was nothing around after it.

CHRIS: Only one name needs mentioning. Contador.

CONOR: Yeah, when Contador comes fourth in the Tour, he'll win the Vuelta against no opposition and pretend he's gone out on a high.

JENS: That sounds like the likeliest scenario I've heard yet. With Chaves as a not so close second place finisher.

CHRIS: Based on the current startlists I have the battle for third between Sammy Sanchez and Lars Boom.

CONOR: Don't

CHRIS: Oh he's a mortal lock for the top ten. That guy pays his contract every year.

CONOR: I once caught a glimpse of him on a highlight reel of a Tour stage. Shh, don't tell anyone.

JENS: Have Sky ever won the Vuelta? I think not.  I like their chances this year though.

CHRIS: For Landa?

JENS: Landa, or whoever else they send to salvage the year. One man with a lot of "last chances" this year is J-Rod. What's the consensus, will he win something big this year or is he over he hill?

CONOR: Stage four of the Volta a Catalunya.

CHRIS: A 40km last-week ITT says a decisive "no" to his Vuelta hopes. He seems like a decent guy, and doesn't deserve to retire without a grand tour win, but the race of truth is just that I guess.
Landa is a guy to watch, apart from the obvious reasons in that he's Spanish and an exciting climber. There is a pretty beefy stretch of Pais Vasco in this year's Vuelta route (as well as Asturias) so he should like the course. If a Basque rider rolled into Bilbao in the leader's jersey, all hell might break loose.

CONOR: Might?

JENS: So no GT for J-Rod, how about Olympic gold?

CHRIS: That would make up for a lot of disappointment. But I fear he is too modest to capitalize on the right to coat yourself in gold leaf that comes with winning the Olympics.

CONOR: I judge Olympic gold to be far more likely. It's a difficult course to predict, but it would seem to suit him.

CHRIS: OK, so Nibali wins the Giro, Froome the Tour, and Landa usurps Contador in the Vuelta. Also J-Rod takes the Olympic road race. The Giro makes us smile. The Tour makes us a bit impatient. And the Vuelta makes us want to rearrange all of our future vacation plans. Sound about right?

CONOR: Sounds exactly right.

CHRIS: Excellent. Jamon for all!

JENS: Except for Bardet in Rio, yes.

CHRIS: Will, how did you get Jens' password?

CONOR: It's leppocemorej

JENS: The answer, as it is for almost everything, is probably beer.

Will:  I've been hacked.

Did you see that Joe D is launching "Dombrewski"? This has to be a milestone. Finally the separation between cycling and beer is nonexistent.

CONOR: Don't drink and drive = Do Ski and Brew?

CHRIS: 50,000 Denver hipsters can't be wrong.

JENS: I'm going to demand a one word answer to the question "Who will the Sprint King of 2016 be?"  to round this discussion off.  So we can all point and laugh at the end of the year.

CHRIS: I guess we'd better hurry up and answer, since the TDU is already putting a thumb on the scale.
Kittel comes all the way back, says I.

CONOR: Kittel

CHRIS: Jens?

JENS: I'll go with Greipel then. With Kittel lacking support and Cav slowing with age/looking to Rio.

CONOR: Fair enough. Good evening to you both.
Once you've seen his thighs in person, it's hard to forget.
OK, thanks y'all!

JENS: Thanks guys . Don't forget to tune into TDU. (Funny joke for us in Euroland)


JENS: Ciao.

CONOR: Ciao.