Do you remember the last couple of winners of the Giro's maglia bianca, or white jersey? Well, actually you do. Fabio Aru's battle to second place last year was enough to net him the classification, and when Nairo Quintana slipped away on the descent of the Stelvio in 2014, it was enough to take white as well as pink. You may even remember Carlos Betancur's fifth place in 2013, which saw him come home with the white jersey. But let's be honest, I doubt the "race," such as it was, for this jersey kept you on the edge of your seat. I know it didn't excite me.
But it's not all about that jersey. And a good thing too, because, well, I reckon it's unlikely the winner will come within half an hour of whoever rides into Turin in pink. Oh, there's talent involved, there's no doubt about that, but the competition is for riders born after the first of January 1991, and that leaves GC contenders with such lofty ambitions as...er, Davide Formolo, Merhawi Kudus, and Sebastian Henao. Personally, I hope that these guys don't hold any aspirations of going for the GC. While the depth of field in this Giro isn't exactly the best, and a couple of the young riders could hope for a top 15, is that really what they want to be aiming for. Either way, whether they hold on in hope of a GC place, or go for stages, one of them will stumble upon a white jersey sooner or later.
The depth of the competition notwithstanding, it doesn't mean there isn't a whole lot of young riders around for this Giro. While Vincenzo Nibali and Alejandro Valverde, arguably the two top favourites, are admittedly getting on a bit, almost all of the other favourites are just barely older than the restrictions set by the Classifica Giovani. Tom Dumoulin is 25. Mikel Landa is 26. Ilnur Zakarin is 26. Johan Chaves is 26. Rafał Majka is...wait for it, 26. And goodness knows you've all heard enough about that lot.
What you could focus on is that this Giro is the rather larger amount of young stage hunters and sprinters. I've picked out five I like the look of:
The man who tried to avoid the predictable march to bunch finishes in the Ardennes...by attacking reliably between five and ten kilometres before the end, he's Lotto-Soudal's main card for the Giro, if you don't count the other German sprinter that won't make it to the finish. I've got to say I'm pretty surprised they sent him. Either way, Lotto have to find some way of getting him to win stages. How he's going to do that is another matter. I suppose he'll target breaks on mid-mountain stages. Alternatively, he could go for attacks near the end of stages like stage 4, 8 or 11. But Lotto have the might of Jelle Vanendert for that.
Chris, Jens and I have all mentioned him in our looks at this Giro, and there's good reason. He has great pace for sprints, but his...er, just a minute, I'll check... Wilier line-up might be a hindrance to him. While it's hardly sprint train country this Giro, they'll have trouble keeping up with Etixx, Lotto, Trek, even the other Lotto. That said, I think he'll take one stage, at least. Who knows, maybe everyone will learn how to spell his name...
One of the big hopes of Italian cycling, he made his Giro breakthrough on last year's thrilling stage four, and came second to Aru in the young riders classification, albeit over an hour behind. He could take it this year, he might not, but I think it's unlikely to be his target. After a strong showing in Catalunya, with a notable performance on La Molina, he went to the Tour de Romandie, where before abandoning before the fifth stage, he got a respectable thirteenth on the first mountain day. Or, of course, he could be pulling on the front for Cannondale's famous mountain train.
Despite good results in 2015, a bout of mono caused a halting start to Küng's 2016 season. A time-trial specialist, he'll have hopes of taking pink in the first time trial stage. He's also an attacking rider, having taken a stage victory on rolling terrain in a race as prestigious as the Tour de Romandie in 2015. While I do expect the time-trial to be a target of his, he will presumably have carte blanche to attack for the rest of the race. It's hardly like he has a leader to look after.
I sort of like Ilia Koshevoy. I have no great reason for this, only that one of the two times I have seen him on television, he was racing in the Tour of Utah, and I was watching it on a tablet in a hotel. Anyway, there was an attack up the road, and Chris Horner and Tom Danielson were chasing behind, but on their wheel was Koshevoy, who I had never heard of. I think this is understandable, as he had just been taken on as a stagiare by Lampre, about ten minutes before the race started. Anyway, he was holding onto the wheel of Danielson and Horner...just. He looked like he was expending a lot of effort. He cracked eventually, but I just really enjoyed the performance. Also, he is coming into this race with at least a modicum of form, having had a good Tour of Turkey, with a best position of fourth on a mountain stage. Because that's where all the greats go to fine-tune their form.
A secondary prize at the best of times, the young rider jersey has lost almost all its value this year. However, that doesn't mean young riders will be kept out of the spotlight.
Also, don't forget these names: Merhawi Kudus, Carlos Verona, Caleb Ewan (obviously, I left him out because he's not exactly been flying under the radar), Bob Jungels, Joe Dombrowski, Damien Howson, Daniel Martinez and Tobias Ludvigsson.