In Palermo, Italy
Alberto Contador was sipping a beer on the beach in Spain last week when he received a phone call from Astana team boss Johan Bruyneel.
The news caught the defending Tour de France champion by surprise: Pack your bags, you’re heading to the Giro d’Italia.
“I was sitting at a chiringuito on the beach with my girlfriend, now here I am at the Giro!” Contador told VeloNews on Friday. “I wasn’t expecting to be at this Giro, so we’ll see how it goes.”
With a world champion, winners of all three of last year’s grand tours and a top-notch field of sprinters, does the Giro d’Italia boast the best lineup of the season?
If you ask the riders ahead of Saturday’s start of the 91st Giro, they seem to agree.
“Without any shadow of a doubt, this year’s Giro has the best field of any race,” said defending champion Danilo Di Luca (LPR). “We have a deep field in the Giro this year. Whoever wins this Giro can be proud of what they achieve.”
Argentinian Ariel Maximiliano Richeze, who rides for CSF, tested positive for doping last month and has been withdrawn from the Giro d'Italia, his team announced Friday.
Richeze tested positive for an anabolic steroid during his victory in the fourth stage of the Circuit de la Sarthe on April 11 in the French city of Le Mans. He went on to win the seventh stage of the Tour of Turkey on April 20.
His withdrawal on the eve of the Giro means CSF will join the peloton with just eight riders.
The principal climbs in the 2008 edition of the Giro d'Italia:
Stage 7: Vasto - Pescocostanzo, 180 km
Rionero Sannitico: 10 km climb at 6.3 average gradient
climb to Pescocostanzo: 2.8 km at 6
Stage 11: Urbania - Cesena, 199 km
Monte Carpegna: 6 km at 9.9
Stage 14: Verona - Alpe di Pampeago, 195 km
Passo Manghen: 23.4 km at 7.1
climb to summit finish at Alpe di Pampeago: 7.7 km at 9.6
Stage 15: Arabbo - Passo Fedaia, 153 km
Passo Pordoi: 9.2 km at 6.9
Passo di San Pellegrino: 11.8 km at 6.4
Passo Giau: 15.7 km at 7.9
Climbers who can keep their time trial losses to a minimum will be among the top contenders for the pink jersey in the Giro d'Italia which clicks into gear Saturday.
The 91st edition of the Giro begins with a team time trial, and includes three other, individual, races against the clock as it snakes its way up from Sicily towards the crucial mountains stages in the Dolomites.
With five mountain-top finishes in total, including one uphill time trial, the race's top prize is more than likely to be claimed by a master climber.
Editor’s note: Watch for John Wilcockson’s Friday morning column on a regular basis, taking you inside the world of cycling. This week he introduces one of the young, unsung heroes of the European peloton.
Matt Lloyd loves racing in Italy. So when he lines up Saturday with his Silence-Lotto team at the Giro d’Italia he’ll feel right at home.
In Palermo, Italy
Perhaps it’s only appropriate that during the 20th anniversary year of Andy Hampsten’s historic 1988 Giro d’Italia victory that another American rider could recapture the maglia rosa.
While it’s too early to say if one of six U.S. riders from three teams starting the 91st Giro can survive the grueling Dolomites with a shot for final victory, there’s a very real possibility that one of them could grab pink jersey in Saturday’s team time trial.
The Italian sports newspaper, Gazzetta dello Sport reported on Saturday that Giro d'Italia organizers may be ready to do an about-face and invite the Astana team to this year’s race.
At least one team official has confirmed that the invitation has already been extended.
The team issued a statement on Sunday, confirming the invitation and that it will bring its three top riders to the event: Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer and the winner of the Tour of Romandie, Andreas Klöden.
Astana general manager Johan Bruyneel gladly accepted the invitation.
Ryder Hesjedal is making the most of his new opportunity to race against the best in Europe. Following the collapse of the Phonak team in 2006, Hesjedal raced on the North American circuit last season before signing with Slipstream-Chipotle to return to Europe this year.
The Canadian ex-mountain biker has quietly been posting some of Slipstream-Chipotle’s best results this spring, capped by a top-10 at Tirreno-Adriatico.