At some point the Giro d’Italia stops being a collection of cool roadside stories, fables, hyperbole and assorted nonsense, Italian-style. At some point it’s a race, even a battle of titans. This is where that starts: the Fight for Pink.
La Corsa Rosa
As you probably noticed, we are switching up our course preview this year. I’ve blogged about the Israel start enough already, so we’ve put it to the Editors to pick out their favorite three stages, which has been done. Left out of that are some other stages that aren’t super interesting to discuss as part of the GC competition, apart from the usual thing about how you never know when exactly the Giro will be won or lost.
But I’ll say this: it’s clearly a climbers’ course. The Giro almost always is, but even by Giro standards it’s a bit climb-infested than usual. Will plans to break down that fact by the numbers. I bring it up because it’s a fundamental point to this Giro that it is noticeably light on TT miles. By comparison, the 2015 Giro had 77km against the watch (17 of the team variety). In 2016 it was 60km (10 uphill). Last year 70 again. This year? A hair under 44.
By my count there are 12 stages where climbs will influence the outcome, six major mountain events and six more of more the medio montagne type. That’s two more of the latter than last year. In a sense you could say it’s the same amount of climbing as usual, but as far as the GC battle goes, the minimization of the time trialing is the story nonetheless.
Tom Dumoulin, Sunweb
Tale of the Tape: 6’1”, 157 pounds, age 27
Giro History: Won 2017 Giro
Key Strength: Time trialing, grinta
Potential Weakness: Not a pure climber, whatever that means; more of a survivor
Chris Froome, Sky
Tale of the Tape: 6’1”, 150 pounds, age 32
Giro History: 36th in 2009, kicked out in 2010 for holding on to a moto (had a sore knee)
Key Strength: Fighting back in a super disciplined way when his rivals think they dropped him only to see him win the stage and crush everyone’s spirit. Also hiding behind his team.
Potential Weakness: Inexperience at the Giro, which is maybe not the same as all the other grand tours he’s won. Also this has been anything but a normal year for him.
Miguel Ángel López, Astana
Tale of the Tape: 5’7”, 143 pounds, age 24
Giro History: First appearance
Key Strength: There’s a pretty good chance he’s the best climber in the race. Or Superman.
Potential Weakness: Not too great against the watch; inexperience.
Thibaut Pinot, FDJ
Tale of the Tape: 5’11”, 139 pounds, age 27
Giro History: 4th in 2017
Key Strength: Climbing. With a certain je ne sais quoi.
Potential Weakness: Longer time trials.
Esteban Chaves, Mitchelton-Scott
Tale of the Tape: 5’5”, 120 pounds, age 28
Giro History: 2nd in 2016; wore the maglia rosa for 20 seconds.
Key Strength: Climbing with a smile.
Potential Weakness: Might miss the time cut at an ITT.
Louis Meintjes, Dimension Data
Tale of the Tape: 5’8”, 130 pounds, age 26
Giro History: Opening gambit
Key Strength: Consistency in the mountains.
Potential Weakness: Non-excellence in the mountains.
Fabio Aru, UAE
Tale of the Tape: 6’0”, 146 pounds, age 27
Giro History: Second and third in three appearances.
Key Strength: Climbing, sometimes with devastating effect, but not always.with deva
Potential Weakness: Time trialling, like all the other best climbers except Froome.
Domenico Pozzovivo, Bahrain-Merida
Tale of the Tape: 5’5”, 117 pounds, age 35
Giro History: 6th in 2017, four other top-tens.
Key Strength: [sigh] more climbing.
Potential Weakness: [sigh] more time trialling.
Davide Formolo, Bora-Hansgrohe
Tale of the Tape: 5’11”, 137 pounds, age 25
Giro History: 10th last year.
Key Strength: Does everything OK, which wouldn’t be enough except he’s coming into his prime, so a slight improvement would turn this meh sandwich into a consistent GC type.
Potential Weakness: Kind of captured that in the “strength” discussion, which is not a good sign.
Simon Yates, Mitchelton-Scott
Tale of the Tape: 5’8”, 128 pounds, age 25
Giro History: Nada
Key Strength: Consistent climbing.
Potential Weakness: Amazing climbing.
The Team Factor
Here are my ranking of the teams associated with one of the above contenders. By the way, check out the full startlist here.
- Mitchelton-Scott: Double threat plus veteran help from Kreuziger, Nieve.
- Sky: Henao, Poels, kind of here on rep but you don’t take them lightly.
- UAE: Polanc is ideal, Atapuma and Ulissi probably useful.
- Astana: Vets who’ve been there before.
- Sunweb: Got a taste of victory here last year. Haga, Oomen, LTD on hand.
- Groupama-FDJ: Bonnet, Roy, some usual suspect types.
- Bora: Useful guys from several nationalities.
- Bah Meh: Mohoric is a helper. Boaro too. Siutsou is a classic grinder.
- Dimension Data: Little of this, little of that...
How’s It Gonna Go Down?
Not to overhype things, but if everyone stays true to form, we are in for an utterly fascinating race. One thing I don’t foresee is just Froome vs. Doom.
But the opening ITT! Yep, if the two big names aren’t leading the GC, it’ll be because they lost to a specialist like Tony Martin, Jos van Emden or Vasil Kiryienka. But personally I expect Dumoulin to start out hot in Israel. Froome is in the midst of an ongoing crisis, so who knows how he’ll start, but I refuse to bet against him when he’s just as likely to come out with a chip on his shoulder.
But that’s one of two days against the watch, neither of which is very long, and the Jerusalem course will be rolling a bit, giving back a bit of the advantage to the climbers. The Rovereto course, the race’s other ITT, has some climbs in it, and at 34km we might see the climbers again hang around the standings.
Take away any part of the crono advantage and what do you have, really?
- Dumoulin needed multiple minutes in the crono to stay close and then recapture the jersey last year, winning by 31 seconds over Quintana (and more importantly, by a mere 1.17 over Pinot). He had blown up in the mountains and lost the jersey before bailing himself out on his aero bike on the last day.
- Froome’s winning Tour margin shrunk to under a minute last year (over Uran, and 3’ over Aru), a sign of possible decline (or just quirks of the course). Nobody has won all three grand tours in a row, as Froome is attempting to do, since the Vuelta moved to the fall, so whether that’s a thing the body can do, while maybe starting to slow down, and while under investigation for shameful inhaler use... that’s a lot, right? And now he has to win a race in Italy, where he never really rides?
- Aru, Chaves and Pinot can all point to recent performances where the math says they can beat Froome and Doom with the time trials blunted. Just by repeating their past efforts. Let alone what they can do if anything else swings in their favor.
- Yates, Meintjes and Lopez all have varying cases to make on past performance, but ultimately Yates and Meintjes don’t need to improve much to be in the picture. López is so green, but so exciting, that on that hypervent... hypothetical basis alone anything is possible. Formolo and Pozzovivo are less certain to be around but can’t be discounted, for pretty much opposite reasons (youth and lack thereof).
To me, it all adds up to an Aru victory. The Sardinian has home support, a good team, and sufficient experience across all the grand tours to know what’s coming and how to deal with it. Add in his underdog status/lack of pressure, and it seems to all be there for him. Dumoulin can’t catch lightning in a bottle again, and will be under pressure from Froome like he’s never experienced. Froome won’t have experienced either the Giro (in a while) or the pressure of his looming disgrace before. If anyone should be comfortable coming in, it’s Aru.
Not that there isn’t a case against Aru; there is, and it’s this. He hasn’t been on a grand tour podium since 2015, and he’s moved to a new team. Maybe he’s lost his edge. But that team is pretty familiar to him, with Paolo Tiralongo directing. Hopefully for him the support comes together. And as for his “diminished” state, is that really what we think about a guy who was fifth at the Tour, after an injury-plagued spring and a reshuffled plan for the year?
Even if all goes well for Aru, the margins should be tighter than the skinsuit I bought back in my 30s. Pinot could easily be the favorite if he were a more regular Giro guy, but he was excellent last year and is coming off a win in Trentino. Chaves I trust far less, but that may be an overreaction to last year’s disaster, when Orica seemed to be the only gathering of people on Earth (aside from the Chaves family) who assumed that the Colombian’s 2016 Giro breakthrough would translate at the Tour. It didn’t, but his 2016 Giro breakthrough probably does translate at the Giro, right? That, or one of the cronostars in place of Chaves, is my podium. But Aru is my winner.