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Podium Cafe Roundtable, Giro Edition!

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In a secret bunker, somewhere near the Dolomites, four Giro-obsessed writers met to discuss the upcoming race.

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Chris: OK, welcome all to our Giro roundtable! While we are doing this we are also watching the Giro d'Italia team presentation. 
Let's get down to it! Since Passover just ended, I'll ask: How is this Giro different from all other Giri?
Jens: It's more Tour de France-like.
Chris: Definitely. Been a while. I always got the sense from the Buzzati book that the '49 Giro was more Tour-ish, but recently there seemed to be no resemblance.
Jens: The biggest loss this year seems to be the media-montagnas with the short sharp finishes. The ones the TdF has been working so hard to duplicate.

Conor: Well Chris, I don't think that it is very different at all. One big favourite, as there has been since 2013, mountain stages that will be nearly cancelled, Astana here in numbers, a Sky guy who is unsupported and overrated, and backloaded climbs.

Will:  One difference:  stage 8 will climb Alpe di Poti, the last 6 Kms unpaved. Very Giroistic. 

Conor: Oh no, our bunker's been infiltrated!

Chris: Yeah, some basic elements. I do think the French detour as the actual centerpiece is a bit unusual. Susie, have you ridden around that area? I'm curious how different the Italian side is from the French side, besides the food of course.
Susie: Nope, I haven't ridden in that part of France/Italy. I am looking forward to a day with good bread during this Giro, though.

Jens: Having a finish at a French ski resort is a bit odd. Dipping in to France for the iconic climbs makes more sense but Risoul is a bit meh. Luckily the rest of those stages looks ace.
Will: I think the bigger difference is ski station climb vs old historic roads crossing a mountain. Ski station roads almost by definition are less interesting, but they pay the bills.  I think it is a sin that the Giro comes to the high Piemonte Alps and ignores Fauniera and Nivolet (Two of the best climbs in Europe) and instead visits France.

Chris: As an American I can't fully appreciate the pettiness potential but I like to imagine French ski resorts with Tour finish potential being pretty dickish about where a Giro stage can go. "Alpe d'Huez? Eh, that one is $25 million. But we can make you a good deal for Risoul."
Conor: "Oh, you want the Galibier? Well, I can manage that, but watch the snow..."
Jens: Nah, I'm guessing they're rolling out the red carpet. Cheap publicity in the end.
Will: I am still bitter about Serre Chevalier ski resort branding themselves with Galibier name the other year.  There are no ski lifts up Galibier. Shameless.
Susie: It does seem like a bit of a waste of the awesome looking Colle dell'Agnelo climb to have it 60k before the finish, but I do like the look of the Risoul climb. The last few kilometres are pretty steep. That's gonna hurt on day 19.

Jens: Susie, you are going for most of the Italian stages. What are you most looking forward to on this course?
Susie: I'll be there for most of the stages starting with stage 5 to Benevento. I always love a good cronoscalata, so I'm looking forward to the Alpe di Siusi TT.  But all the mountain stages are always fun, assuming the weather doesn't get (too much) in the way.
Will: Cronoscalata!!  Great word.  Me? I am looking forward to stage 14 in the high Dolomites.  On paper, the most beautiful stage imaginable.

Chris: How different do we need or want the Tour and Giro to be? Do we prefer the Giro be Tour-ish but slightly less so, or just a completely different animal? And is this becoming a moot point as the Tour becomes more Giro-ish?

Personally I want whatever brings more of the Bigs to Italy. A really quirky race where Bradley Wiggins ends up in a ditch maybe doesn't get it done.

Jens: I don't think it matters too much how close the races come in course design. The different balance in startlists, the mixed geography of Italy and the cultural/historic differences in how the races are raced will always make them pretty distinctly different.
Conor: Yeah. Unless something like having 150km of TT kilometres happened in both, I'd have no problem with the being very similar.

Conor: How does the gap in field quality between the Giro and Tour stop growing? Because it, you know, is. Two weeks is not the answer.
Jens: I don't think the gap will ever really close (as long as there isn't some huge UCI/ASO open war and complete anarchy in the calendar) .  With the history and the summer date, the TdF will always be way way way above the Giro in prestige.
Chris: No doubt about that. Hey, maybe we should be grateful for the dominant Froome/Quintana era? Maybe the best the Giro can do for a GC battle is to be there when a lot of really strong guys think the Tour is unattainable. Because we do have a very nice startlist this year.
Susie: It doesn't seem like course qualities really have much effect on the field differences between the Tour and the Giro.  Some teams, like Sky and BMC, are just not going to send their top guy to the Giro.  The Tour has all but eliminated time trialing this year, but I doubt Froome was tempted by the Giro's three TTs.
Conor: Why didn't BMC send Van Garderen or Porte? I mean WHY?
Chris: Because they're American and the Giro just barely got picked up by beIN?
Conor: Good answer.
Jens: After last year I think the next time Porte comes to the Giro is "never."

Chris: How does this year's GC list compare to some recent years? Maybe I'm getting overly excited but it seems like the young talent wave is stacking the quality here.
Conor: Yes. They're all 26.
Susie: I like this Giro field.   At the beginning of the season, it seemed like Nibali would be the prohibitive Giro favorite, but after his anonymous spring, I'm more optimistic for a wide open, unpredictable race.
Chris: Totally.
Conor: I'm...not. Nibali doesn't look great, but he'll be fine. It's what he does.
Jens: Startlist depends on how you view Nibali I suppose. If you consider him a true Top Big along side Froome and Contador then it is an above average list. If you think he is your normal Italian Giro specialist (see Simoni) then it is a standard list. Lots of great GC names who are more suited to a climby Giro than a standard TdF, but not really the top tier of GC riders. 
Chris: He's a little unlike anyone I can think of. 
Jens: Like Susie says it looks like an open unpredictable race at this point, even if I still think Nibali will be as strong as we predicted before the season.
Susie: I think part of the unpredictability is that everyone seems to be coming into the Giro a bit undercooked.  Other than Landa with his Trentino win, and of course the race-winning machine that is Valverde, none of the contenders has shown much of anything this spring.
Jens: I think "Rio" is the answer to much of the undercooking.  Many will be a superbly tasty "medium rare" by the third week of this race.

Conor: I want to talk about Ilnur Zakarin.
Chris:Yes, let's look at the challengers. Conor, why are you so excited about Zakarin?
Conor: Because, Chris, he is the rider on the most form here. He has been consistently good all season, and he stuck with Contador in Paris-Nice. I think he'll be climbing with the best throughout the Giro. He can also time-trial. While he probably won't win, he can definitely challenge for a podium place. Experience in Grand Tours? Schmexperience in Schmrand Tours. The question, to you and almost everyone, is "why aren't you excited about Zakarin?"
Chris: That's easy. He's not on my VDS team.
Jens: I'm not yet convinced Zak is a three week guy. I'll believe it when I see it. "Being great in Paris-Nice" doesn't impress me much in a Giro contender.
Chris: Zakarin's been around a while, seems like if he were the next big thing we'd have noticed by now. But 26 is a good age to make the leap. [Paging Carlos Betancur...]
Jens: Zak is only 24 in normal "not spent 2 years in suspension" years though.

Chris: I guess we have to deal with Valverde too. I can't put my finger on who he is as a grand tour rider. It used to be fun to expect him to just sort of fade a little each day, but that seems less the case now. He got better in the Tour last year as it went along. That said, he was second fiddle. I wonder if being the top guy is a mixed bag for him in a grand tour. It could be a bit draining.
Jens: The part I really appreciate in Valverde as a GT rider is his scrappiness. The guy has been a pandered star for all his career and you might expect him to be more diva-like but he has a way of hanging in and fighting back in stages where he is really struggling that is in no way diva-like. If that works as well for him here as it does in the Vuelta I don't know.
Susie:Valverde is one of the biggest question marks in this field.  Unfortunately for him, this Giro is short on the classics-type short, steep finishes that have often featured in recent Giri, but I still think the course is a pretty good one for him.  The question is, can he hold his Ardennes-winning form for three more weeks?
Conor: He's the guy that will be hurt by the Olympics. I don't think he'll win, or even look like winning, but he'll stick around. 3rd?
Jens: I'm more "optimistic"about Valverde's chances. Either he is consistently good and then he will be a winning contender or he has some massive jour sans on one of the big mountain days and ends way down (like 10-12th place).

Chris: OK Landa then. I mean, sort of the perfect situation for him? But I wonder about new teams and contracts and pressure. He might be fine with all that but it strikes me as a much bigger wild card than Nibali's form.
Susie: If I had to bet money on someone other than Nibali winning the Giro, it would probably be Landa.  The time trials will likely hurt him, but it's not like any of these contenders are exactly world-class cronomen (unless you think Doom is a GC threat here, which I don't).
Conor: I have absolutely no clue what is making so many people predict he'll win this. He'll be there or thereabouts, but ahead of Nibali? Really?
Chris: The case for Landa is that he was third last year as a support rider and the guys who were first or second aren't here.
Conor: He put three minutes into Aru on Aprica, the support rider bit is mostly irrelevant. And guys who weren't there then are now!
Chris: Oh I know. You just asked why people are into him
Susie: Sky is actually sending a decent (though clearly second-string) team to support Landa, but as he showed at last year's Giro, he can do a lot for himself even when he supposed to be the one providing the support.
Chris: For my money I won't want to make any bold predictions until after Chianti (the time trial, not the nice bottle I plan on opening later). He needs to not blow up that day before I'll get excited.
Jens: I am getting the feeling that either I massively under-appreciated Landa's Giro last year or most people are overrating it. (I am assuming the latter obviously.) Landa's rides last year were in many ways the kind of rides "you are allowed to because we don't rate you as a real favorite anyway" . Not all of it of course but it is always easier to be the unknown guy no one expects anything from than the guy with the weight of "race favorite" and "team leader" on his shoulders.
Conor:I think you're on the money there.
Chris: Well, he's Basque. And also he won the stage to Andorra in the Vuelta. His climbing seems like it might be real, but I agree we should hold off a bit more before professing certainty.

Sky Team Presentation LUK BENIES/AFP/Getty Images

Jens: On the subject of overachieving Astana-lieutenants I'm going to pitch Jakob Fuglsang as the possible big breakthrough/surprise rider in this race. Course is tailor made for him, form is ace. What will be a factor of course is how the team dynamics will work. With a favorite like Nibali he shouldn't get any freedom but who the heck knows with weirdo-Astana.
Chris: Ah yes, you anticipated my next question! Every year we get an interloper on the podium. Landa last year, Aru in 2014, Uran in 2013, De Gendt in 2012. Who's this year's surprise? I'm on record as saying Johan Chaves will be in the mix. I just have a good feeling that he's about to show us he's actually very competent against the watch.
Jens: I had forgotten Chavez. Maybe because he has been so  anonymous so far in 2016. Count me in on seeing him as a podium contender.
Conor: Can I say Zakarin?
Jens: Sure, but given Romandie and all that, how big of a surprise would it be?
Conor: In that case, I'll mention someone else for whom Jens doesn't need to make up any more jokes. Sergey Firsanov.
Jens: Firsanov. Lord, give me strength.
Chris: Well, Girbecco's ghost tabbed him as a sleeper pick, and he has some insider information.
Susie: Hmm, maybe Amador.  He was a surprise fourth place last year, so why not a surprise podium this year?

Chris: Hey, here's one just for our gal on the street: who are you most looking forward to interviewing this year? Any Giro personalities you're hoping to meet?
Jens: If she says Girbecco, I'm going to tear up. I miss the big guy. Damn you Lupo Wolfie!
Conor: Ah no, Lupo Wolfie is so cute. Just look into his little eyes and, ugh, I can't even pretend.

Susie: I'd love to interview Chaves!  He's just such an appealing personality, and I'd love to hear about his integration into the very Aussie Orica team.
Chris: Yep. I bet his English is OK too
Jens: Ask him how he combines doing his homework with Giro riding! 
Conor: He does it by phone. They all do, Paolini was repeating his exams when he was caught. Messed up his chemistry result.
Jens: Will he miss prom because of the Giro?
Chris: They can have the prom in L'Aquila

Susie: Uran is another appealing interview possibility.  He was very charming and funny at the press conferences when he was in the maglia rosa two years ago, and I'd be interested to hear about his experiences with his various teams.
Chris: AND THERE IT IS! Our first mention of Rigoberto Uran. I was wondering if anyone would bring him up.

Chris: OK, we should wrap up. One last question -- Marcel Kittel, yes or no?
Conor: Yes, then no.
Chris: Presumably no after Bibione?
Conor: That's the one.
Chris: I like to imagine all the sprinters having their families meet them there with their dogs and just bail en masse.

Jens: Marcel? Yes. Yes and yes.
Chris: All the way to Torino?
Jens: Kittel 21 stages? No way in inferno. Lefevere is going to pull him after stage 12 at the latest.
Susie: Yes, the Venice airport would be a good place to look for him after the Bibione stage.  No, we won't be seeing him in Torino.
Chris: I'm going with Yes, no... and then Yes! Unless it snows, then no.

Chris: OK, thanks all!  Last word to Susie...
Will: But we still need to debate Italian vs French beer!

Chris: No, we don't.

Susie: All I have to say is, when are the rest of you coming to see the Giro?  Seriously, you won't believe how much fun it is. 
Chris: I need my kids to either graduate from high school or get heavily into Latin. Assuming the former, 2025 Giro here I come!
Conor: Honestly, 2025 seems about right for me as well.
Jens: When Girbecco has been reinstated as the One Undisputed Supreme Mascot. Then I'll consider it. Hopefully in 2018.