By Maureen Upton, Special to VeloNews
In Thursday night’s unseasonably chilly night air at Porto Antico, Genoa, 189 cyclists shivered through the official presentation of the 19-team lineup for the 87th Giro d’Italia.
Waiting for their stage call, the Lampre team clipped in and out, bounced on their forks, and mused about this year’s Giro, observing that stages 3 and 7 would be key.
Vladimir Miholievic (Alessio-Bianchi) agreed about stage 3, which finishes atop the Corno alle Scale in the Apennines. The final 3.2km of that 12km climb is on a 14-percent grade, and Miholievic noted, “It’s hard to have a big climb so early on, before you have a feel for the rhythm of the race.” As for stage 7, to Montevergine Di Mercogliano, it concludes with a 17.1km climb averaging 5 percent.
At the next day’s press conference, the triumvirate of Gilberto Simoni (Saeco), Stefano Garzelli (Vini Caldirola-Nobili Rubinetterie) and Yaroslav Popovich (Landbouwkrediet-Colnago) weighed in on the opportunities and threats awaiting them over the next 21 days. Also present were Igor Astarloa (Lampre), Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) and Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo).
Simoni foresees his strength building as the race progresses, and expects to gain his greatest benefits from the time trial and difficult climbs in week three. As to speculation that he may feel threatened by his up-and-coming teammate, Damiano Cunego, Simoni said he’s not afraid of Cunego but perhaps others should be – the young rider has a bright future and could be seen as an alternate team leader.
Garzelli, for his part, plans to race hard and steady from day one, hoping to build an early lead. Recalling that one bad day early on in the 2003 race created a split between himself and Simoni, Garzelli noted that having some 15 additional racing days under his belt at this year’s starting line should bode well for his strength in the final week.
Popovich, too, intends to have a strong race, particularly in the final week, when, like Garzelli, he encountered difficulties in 2003. He finished third in 2003, and hopes for a top-five finish and perhaps a stage win this time around.
Rebellin also craves an early stage win, but doesn’t have high hopes for a top overall finish since his season is nearing its end. And quite a season it’s been. He won three races in one week – Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallone and Liège-Bastogne-Liège – thus making cycling history.
Who’s the man to watch this year? Garzelli’s list of potential rivals included Popovich, Cunego, and Tadej Valjavec (Phonak). But overall, the riders seem to favor Simoni to win – including Simoni himself.
“Unfortunately,” Simoni noted, “the outcome isn’t decided by vote.”