Giro d’Italia 2015 preview

Giro d’Italia 2015 preview

By: Caley Fretz
Photography by: BrakeThrough Media and Tim de Waele

The toughest race in the world’s most beautiful place. That’s the Giro d’Italia’s tagline these days, and the superlatives are appropriate. Everyone loves the Giro — the racers love it, even when it’s raining and cold; the fans, or tifosi in Italian, are rabid for it.

This year’s edition promises a tight contest between the GC rider of his generation, Alberto Contador, and a crop of up-and-coming riders and super domestiques, many let off leash by their teams for the first time, each determined to take the Tinkoff-Saxo rider down.

Contador’s goal of winning both the Giro and the Tour de France in the same year complicates his effort, and plays into his opponent’s hands.

The Giro, then, will be what it always is: wild, unpredictable, and beautiful.

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Built around a long, counter-clockwise loop around Italy, beginning in San Lorenzo al Mare with a technical team time trial and ending with a fast sprint into downtown Milan, the 2015 Giro d’Italia promises to provide the tension, revelation, and beauty to which we’ve become accustomed. The route this year, as has become tradition at the Giro, offers little respite from end to end.

Stage 1, team time trial: The Giro opens with a team time trial from San Lorenzo al Mare to Sanremo. It’s only 17km long, but part of that is on a narrow bike path — the time gaps won’t be particularly large, but a crash, like the one that took out half of the Garmin-Sharp team in the opening team time trial stage of last year’s race, could put an early end to GC hopes.

Orica-GreenEdge, winners of last year’s opening TTT, are the favorites to do so again. BMC and Etixx-Quick-Step are bringing a crew of strong time trialists, though, and could surprise the Aussie squad.

Stage 5, first uphill finish: A window into the three-week GC fight will open on stage 5, a 152km ride from La Spezia to Abetone, which includes a category 2 uphill finish in the heart of the Appenines. It’s unlikely that major time splits will occur, but the stage is still a chance for the climbers to posture a bit.

The race then heads south, through a series of rolling and flat stages. Stage 7 will be the last opportunity for the sprinters until the finish in Milan — don’t be surprised if some choose to exit the race at this point.

Stage 14, the long time trial: A 59.4-kilometer time trial will shake up the GC, particularly among a group of favorites with widely varying time trial abilities. The course has two small climbs, but will they be enough to keep climbers like Fabio Aru (Astana) and Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) in contention? We shall see.

Stage 16, the Mortirolo: The tough finish in Aprica on stage 16, the day after the rest day, could prove decisive. That stage also includes the fearsome Mortirolo, topping out just 34km from the finish line. The race will explode.

Stage 20, dirt road climbing: The penultimate stage includes the Cima Coppi, or highest point of the race, as it passes over the rough dirt of the Colle delle Finestre before finishing atop Sestriere. If the GC battle is not already decided, this is the last day to make something happen.

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Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo): Contador is the five-star favorite, despite his stated ambitions to win both the Giro and Tour de France in the same year. Victory in Italy could come down to how he has organized his season. There is a careful physical calculus required to make sure he’s fit enough to win the Giro while not burning all his matches before the Tour. If he gets it wrong, he could lose both.

Richie Porte (Team Sky): On paper, Porte should be the heavy favorite. Based purely on springtime results, he has the best legs of 2015. He won the Giro del Trentino, won the Volta Catalunya, and won Paris-Nice. But he’s struggled to put together three full weeks of racing in the past — a one-week stage race is not the same as a grand tour. Nonetheless, he’s the most credible challenger to Contador.

Rigoberto Urán (Etixx-Quick-Step): He’s been on the podium both of the last two years, and can certainly get there again. He’d need an exceptional ride in the long time trial to pull one over on Porte and Contador, but nothing is impossible. It’s thanks to that long TT that Uran’s podium potential is at an all-time high — he’s been getting better against the clock every year and is the Colombian national champion in the discipline.

Fabio Aru (Astana): Italy’s great hope comes in the form of the spindly Aru, perhaps the best pure climber in the race. Is there enough vertical in the Giro for him to overcome the deficit he’s sure to incur in the long time trial? Well, this is the Giro: Of course there is. If Aru is on form, he could chip away at the others on every mountaintop finish and surprise the world.

Aru had a stomach virus earlier in the spring, and missed out on the valuable training he was hoping to find at the Giro del Trentino and Tour de Romandie. His form, at this point, is an unknown.

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Damiano Caruso (BMC) has the class, and this year he comes to the race with the full might of BMC racing behind him. The team will do well in the team time trial, and he can climb with the best when on form.

Domenico Pozzivivo (Ag2r La Mondiale), all 117 pounds of him, is always one of the best climbers in the race. He can time trial surprisingly well, too. He was fifth last year, and the podium is within reach this May.

Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) was added to Katusha’s roster at the last minute after winning the Tour de Romandie, ahead of Tour de France hopefuls Chris Froome (Sky), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), and Pinot Thibaut (FDJ), as well as Giro contender Urán. With just a single solid result to his name, it’s impossible to say how Zakarin will ride a three week grand tour. But he can time trial, and the 59km TT should suit him perfectly.