Italy and mothers go together like pasta and meatballs, and it is fitting that this Giro will start the day prior to Mother’s Day (at least for the US and Italy). This year, having an Italian mother got some good press after Alberto “Mamma di Pasti” Bettiol won the Tour of Flanders. Bettiol earned that nickname from Jonathan Vaughters because like a good Italian son, he still lives with his mother and “suffers” on the bike from her pasta cooking and offering tendencies. I appreciate that, having a mamma di pasti of my own (what part of Italy is my mother from, you ask— well, Northern New Jersey). Embarrassingly, my two younger brothers lived with my mamma di pasti until their early 30s. My mamma di pasti still cried when they moved out. Anyway, I digress. Let’s bring this mother back to the Giro.
Perhaps my favorite chapter of Dino Buzzati’s The Giro d’Italia is entitled “Fazio Kept His Appointment with Mamma.” In it, Buzzati fictionalizes the internal monologue of the thirty year old Italian rider, Mario Fazio, who found himself in the break in the first stage of the 1949 Giro. During that monologue, as he’s fighting the fatigue in his legs, Fazio wonders, “Will mamma come to the stadium? She had told him she would. His brothers, too? What will they say when they don’t see him arrive? And, right now, where are they? Will they have finished eating, are they already on their way?” Buzzati then describes Fazio getting his second wind, being willed on by the crowd on the side of the road, and his battle with his break mate, but we never do find out if Fazio manages to stay away and take the stage, as Buzzati concludes the chapter and his summary of the first stage:
As he entered the stadium, the cheers of the crowd pouring over him, Fazio’s eyes were seeking one thing. She was there. Right there, level with the finishing line, behind the wire fencing: mamma’s face, plump, soothing, full of kindness, tranquility and laughter. It lasted just an instant because the last lap and the final sprint were still to be completed. Yet he caught sight of her; even if the crowd had been a hundred times larger, he would have discovered her just the same. Never had he seen her cry and laugh at the same time like that.
Like I said, the Giro and Mother’s Day is the perfect synergy of occasions, as the only thing more important to an Italian cyclist than winning a stage of the Giro is winning the praise of his mother.
In honor of Mother’s Day, I’ve invited the main contenders’ mothers to let us know what they think about their sons’ chances.
MAMMA’S MAIN BOYS
The Giro has a quality field of contenders this year at the top, but not a deep field. There are three main contenders (Primoz Roglic, Tom Dumoulin, and Simon Yates), three others who have a chance if things fall their way (Miguel Angel Lopez, Vincenzo Nibali, Mikel Landa), and a (very) short field of other top 10 contenders. The make up of the field of contenders feels different than most other years— as I don’t think that there is one main favorite going in, but instead a triad that are very evenly matched. It also feels like that group of favorites is so far ahead of the others that there will be no Hesjedal-type surprise possible.
The route this year also does not fit the profile of recent Giro routes. There are a lot of long stages (9 that are over 200 kilometers). The “short” mountain stage is not that short, clocking in at 131 kilometers. While there are some high mountain passes, there are not many mountain summit finishes (3 or 4 depending how you define “summit” finish— on stages 13, 17, 19, and maybe 20). All of the climbing is back-loaded— Stage 12 will be the first real mountain. And there are a lot of time trials— three stages worth. And each includes some serious climbing. With those parameters in mind, let’s take a look at the contenders.
The Form Pick - Primoz Roglic
Why he will win:
Roglic has won all three races he’s started this year, and as we all know from Richie Porte’s grand tour success, dominating week long stage races is a perfect predictor of grand tour performance. He was supposedly using Romandie as a training race and still took the overall by close to a minute and picked up 3 stage victories. There’s nothing that Roglic can’t do-- he can climb, he can time trial, he can get bonus seconds on punchy finishes, and he can ski jump.
Why he won’t win:
Sure, he can do almost everything well, but can he put it all together over the course of three weeks? This year’s Giro in particular is going to be an endurance test-- with long stages and high mountains (just not a lot of high mountain finishes). Last year, he came in 4th at the Tour de France, but Dumoulin still beat him by over a minute in the penultimate stage time trial, suggesting that at least as of last year, perhaps endurance and recovery is not one of Roglic’s strong points.
Consequently, the pre-Giro wins also suggest that perhaps Roglic has peaked too soon. How will he be in the latter half of the Giro where all the stages that matter are bunched together?
As his support goes, he’s got some inexperienced help in the mountains-- with Sepp Kuss, Laurens de Plus, and Antwan Tolhoek and some experienced help for the flats with Jos Van Emden, Tom Leezer, and Paul Martens. At the same time, Roglic doesn’t seem like a rider that will require much assistance, particularly when he’s looking so damn strong. He’s the Mathieu van der Poel of stage racing.
Did you know that my little Primoz is not just a cyclist? Before getting on the bike, he was good at so many different things! Did you know he was an avid gardener? He grew his mamma so many roses! Did you also know that he was a champion Pogs player? That’s right, Pogs are still big in Slovenia! Did you also know that Primoz used to be an interpretive dancer? My Primoz- such a renaissance man!
Bookie odds: He’s the favorite at 13/8. I’m not sure that he deserves to be when he’s riding against others who have actually won grand tours. But, as you’ll see, the top 3 riders are all very close.
The Pedigree Pick - Tom Dumoulin
Why he will win:
Doom has had a relatively quiet start to his year, but no quieter than his run-in to his 2017 Giro victory. And he followed up that Giro victory, with 2nd places in both the Giro and the Tour last year. The 2nd place Giro-Tour double is no easy feat in its own right.
And while Roglic is good at everything, Doom is the best at time trialing. And it just so happens that this Giro has a whole lotta time trialling-- 3 stages worth. While Doom’s weakness might be his pure climbing ability, that hasn’t really looked to be the case in the last three grand tours. Doom probably benefits the most from Egan Bernal’s injury, as Bernal would have been the type of pure climber to put Doom to the test.
Why he won’t win:
After two second place finishes and a victory at the last three grand tours, you would think that Doom has put to rest any speculation regarding his grand tour contender viability. And maybe I’m just a little jealous because it seems that Doom has it all-- he’s the best time trialler in the world, he can win grand tours, he can win one day races, he’s got a great personality, and he’s the only rider that can make my wife actually stop and watch the TV whenever cycling is on because he’s just so dreamy-- but I still have my doubts about Doom’s sustainability as a grand tour contender. He’s on an Andy-Schleck-bicep-in-2011 narrow margin with his physique and his ability to be able to still pump out huge watts while still being able to climb that it’s going to be hard for him to get it just right year after year. One day, someone’s going to finally crack him on a mountain stage, which will take a string of multiple attacks. This so far has been the year of the attacking rider. If that trend continues into the Giro, Doom might have some problems.
Tommy, you’re looking so skinny! Why aren’t those mean Germans feeding you over there? Come have some of Mamma Doom’s Oliebollen.
Bookie odds: 5/2. If I were to put my money on one of the top 3 favorites, I think that Doom’s value is the best. He probably should be the favorite, but isn’t due to his lead up to the Giro, which, again, considering the nature of the course, is probably the right strategy- coming in slightly undercooked.
The Revenge Pick - Simon Yates
Why he will win:
Simon dominated the most recent grand tour-- the Vuelta-- and was dominating the Giro before his collapse three stages from the finish. The Giro proved how strong he was; the Vuelta proved that he had the brains to match that strength. And this year, apparently he can time trial now, after his stage victory in the Paris-Nice time trial. He’s still the weakest time-trialler of the three favorites, but probably has the advantage on climbs and punchy finishes.
Why he won’t win:
His twin, Adam, is playing the part of the Right Yates this year. Also, last year, Simon came into the Giro looking already in good form with a 2nd and 4th overall in Paris-Nice and Catalunya respectively and stage wins in both. This year, he had a stage victory at Ruta del Sol and the TT victory in Paris-Nice, but looked off the pace in Catalunya. Perhaps he’s purposefully coming in a bit undercooked, but he needs to be in 2018 flying black pudding form, while using his Vuelta head cheese perfectly, in order to be able to take enough time in the non-TT stages. And speaking of TTs, even if he had that result in Paris-Nice, he’s still going to lose gobs of time to Doom and probably Roglic. The lack of punchy finishes this year does not bode well for his ability to take back time. And furthermore, after Roglic’s pre-Giro performance, Roglic may have earned Yates’ former spot as the punchiest GC rider in the race.
Mrs. Yates: Even I can’t tell my boys apart. When they came home for Christmas last year, I congratulated Adam for winning the Vuelta and gave Simon a stern talking to about being so obsessed with the Tour. Even so, they’re both the right Yates to me.
Bookie odds: 10/3. I’d have to defer to an expert like Andrew, but I don’t think I can remember a grand tour where the odds for the top 3 riders were so close. I’d much rather have my money on Doom than Yates though for a slightly less pay out but a much greater chance at victory with the three time trials.
The Colombian Superhero Pick - Miguel Angel Lopez
Why he will win:
Superman has quietly had the best start to any season of his career this year— winning the Battle of the Climbians at Colombia 2.1 and then taking victory at Catalunya, ahead of a strong field that included both Yateses, Nairoman, Valverde, Pinot, Mas, and Kruijswijk. And while not as impressive as Doom’s two second places in grand tours last year, two third places ain’t nothing to throw kryptonite at.
And if you haven’t noticed, Nur-Sultan is one of the strongest, if not the absolute strongest, team this year. Lopez will have Ion Izagirre, fresh off his Basque country victory, Pello Bilbao, Dario Cataldo and Jan Hirt for support- arguably the best support in the race.
Lopez is also possibly the best climber in the race, and while he’s tended to ride grand tours a bit on the conservative side, he can and should use those skills in the mountains to put his better-at-time-trialling foes to the test.
Why he won’t win:
Too. Many. Time. Trials. Sure, Lopez had that one moment back in 2016 where he beat Cancellara, but that version of Superman has not been seen since. Last Giro, Lopez finished about 4 minutes behind Doom. He gave up a minute to Doom on the first 9.7 kilometer time trial and 2 1⁄2 minutes on the longer 34.2 kilometer TT. This year with three time trials- and about 16 kilometers more of aggregate TTing— there’s going to be too many minutes for Lopez to have to find in the mountains. The loss of his countryman Bernal probably hurts Lopez the most— as he could have used another mountain goat to weaken the main contenders.
Mrs. Lopez: I’m so happy that my little Angel is now nicknamed Superman. Before that nickname stuck, people in Colombia used to mistake my Angel for Carlos Betancur and they would always call him a much less flattering superhero nickname— Matter-Eater Lad.
Bookie odds: 10/1. Probably worth a small bet, particularly if you can get an each way payout and just based upon Astana’s ability to astonish this season.
The Old Wily Veteran Pick - Vincenzo Nibali
Why he will win:
He’s the most successful grand tour rider in the race, having won four grand tours— all three grand tours at least once, and the Giro two times. And while he’s 34 years old, last year’s downturn in results was less attributable to the ravages of old age and more to the back injury— a fractured vertebrae— that forced him to withdraw from the Tour, while he was in 4th place overall. In the lead up to the Giro this year, he’s looked to be in decent shape, unlike the attack-for-ten-seconds-and-get-dropped version of himself that usually appears in preparation races.
And you must remember to never bet against a Sicilian when the pink jersey is on the line. While the other contenders might be young, dumb, and full of cum, (I know, I just made a more serious grammatical error than mixing metaphors— mixing movie references) Nibali has the most honed race craft of any of the other contenders and can outwit the bunch on any day.
Why he won’t win:
Being a strategic racer is all well and good, but it’s not going to help Nibali in those time trials— which is all about muscle, not mind. And Nibali’s old-man fast twitch fibers ain’t what they used to be. Nor is there any long and technical descent finish that Nibali is so good at. Barring a 2014 Tour situation where all of the putative leaders implode, it’s hard to see Nibali getting on the podium.
Mrs. Nibali: Vinny, why don’t you let your little brother Tony have a turn leading the race? I know you want to be called Lo Squalo, but calling Tony Chum Bucket wasn’t very nice. Where are your manners, young man?
Bookie odds: 6/1. Definitely too short a price, which is based upon his name recognition.
The Richie-Porte-Talent-Does-Not-Match-the-Results Pick - Mikel Landa
Why he will win:
He won’t, but please allow this vds owner a little fantasy if you would. Landa was the sharpest tine of the Movistar trident in last year’s Tour and he finally gets a chance to be Movistar’s spear at this year’s Giro. Old man Valverde and looks-like old man Quintana have been cramping his style. If he can find a little of his 2015 form, he could be the best climber in the race. And he’s got some great, versatile support— more of a spork than a trident, with Carapaz and Amador. This is finally the race where Landa’s luck changes and he can finally get the result that his talent demands.
Why he won’t win:
Landa looked pretty good in the Vuelta Asturias.... that is until he got an owie on his toenail and had to drop out. This was after recovering from a cracked rib after he crashed in the first race of the season. There was a quote that I remember (misremember?) reading about Landa from a coach or DS while he was at Sky that I think sums him up perfectly— that Landa is so talented and strong that he starts to get worried and concerned when his legs start hurting during a climb. All the talent in the world will only get you so far. At some point, which Landa has not done yet, you have to make friends with pain.
And besides that— time trials: Landa hasn’t made friends with them yet either.
Mrs. Landa: Don’t laugh at my lil’ Mickey, he’s got a great set of toes— could have been a toe model instead of a cyclist. He had a great offer from Birkenstock! I always tell him that he has to take care of those little piggies. And, mi Dios, I don’t know what I’d ever do if I found out he injured those luxurious eyebrows of his.
Bookie odds: 15/1. Just long enough to be somewhat tempting, just like 6 points was short enough to be tempting to take him in vds.
MAMMA’S BLACK SHEEP
And those six are about it for the riders that can potentially win this race. The list of other riders that can get a potential top 10 finish is relatively short. Landa’s teammate Richard Carapaz surprised with a fourth place last Giro, but hasn’t really looked in the same form this year, despite winning the Movistar vs. scrubs race- Vuelta Asturias. Superman’s sidekicks Pello Bilbao and Ion Izagirre may be able to crack a top 10. Bob Jungels is Deceuninck-Quick Step’s GC hopeful, but riding the Spring classics is great prep for the Giro is something that no one has said ever. Trek have Bauke Mollema, who can ride a la Zubeldia for a top 10 but who would probably be better suited to chase a stage victory. Two years ago, we would have been discussing Ilnur Zakarin as a favorite on a course with a lot of time trialing, but his star has faded faster than the hopes of Marcel Kittel’s vds owners. Similarly, Rafal Majka’s days of a rising star with GC potential are over, now being overshadowed by many of his younger Bora teammates. Neither he nor Davide Formolo seem like good options for Bora on a course with this much time trialling. After last year’s Giro, Ben O’Connor looked like a young rider with some promise, but has not had any results to speak of since he dropped out of that race while in 12th place on Stage 19. Unfortunately, Tony Gallopin is still trying to transform himself into a GC rider who can crack the top 10. Two younger riders who may be able to surprise with a good result are Groupama-FDJ’s Valentin Madouas, riding his first grand tour, and Androni’s Fausto Masnada, who’s looked good in the lead up Italian SSR stage races. With the injury to Bernal, INEOS are bringing an uncharacteristic young and unproven team. Who will step up for them? Take your pick between Pavel Sivakov, Tao Geoghegan Hart, and Ivan Sosa.
But won’t someone think of the poor mothers of the sprinters?
All this GC talk may be getting ahead of ourselves. Hope everyone likes sprinting, because we’re going to be getting a whole lot of it in the first half of the race, with the first legitimate mountain not showing up until Stage 12. Before that, we’ll get two time trials and nine stages that are short on tricky finishes and most of which can end up in a bunch sprint.
Instead of asking who’s going to be the dominant sprinter, maybe we should be taking bets on which sprinter actually finishes this race. After Stage 11, there’s only one more opportunity for the fast men— on Stage 18. I predict a sprint for the airport on May 22nd.
So, who are we going to be talking about during the first half of the race? Elia Viviani will be wearing a new national champion jersey made just for the Giro and you’d be hard pressed to see him leaving without notching up several wins. Fernando Gaviria is probably the fastest rider in the race, but doesn’t have the same positioning skill nor strong team of Viviani. Caleb Ewan is riding his first grand tour since 2017 and has a team dedicated to him, but probably has a better chance on a day that finished in an uphill drag rather than in the big bunch sprints. Pascal Ackermann gets the start for Bora by dint of his nationality over Sam Bennett and will feel some pressure to deliver a victory. Other than those four, it’s hard to get too excited about anyone else— Arnaud Demare, Giacomo Nizzolo, Jakub Mareczko, Francesco Gavazzi, and Sacha Modolo will likely be competing for the minor stage placings. For a dark horse sprint candidate, Davide Cimolai has had a resurgent season thus far— 4th at Eschborn-Frankfurt, 2nd at a stage in Tirreno, and winning outright the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him take a stage with a tricky finish.
Mrs. Van Genechten: Ahem, it looks like you’re forgetting about a special someone again.
No, maam. Your son is not riding this race. Otherwise, he’d be number 1 on my list.
Mrs. Van Genechten: Bastard!
So, who’s going to win?
It’s an interesting race at the top this year. The top 3 riders are all great all-rounders, each with a strength slightly different than the others. Doom has the best time trial, but Roglic is still very good and Yates much improved. Yates is probably the punchiest rider, but Roglic is good on those finishes and Doom is not bad either. Roglic and Yates are both great climbers, but not so good that Doom can’t hang on and ride to tempo. The best climber in the race- Lopez-- is going to have his work cut out for him in the time trials. With the three time trials, the smart money should be on Doom. But because my money is dumb as hell and consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, I’m going with my pre-season pick of Roglic to take the pink.
Enjoy the Giro everyone and go out and hug your own mamma di pasti.