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Giro d'Italia

Columbia-Highroad covering its Giro bases

With Mark Cavendish primed for the sprints, and Michael Rogers and Thomas Lövkvist riding with no pressure for the GC, Columbia-Highroad has its bases covered on the eve of the Giro d’Italia. The squad brings a balanced team with a heavy emphasis on stage victories and breakaways with no pressure but quiet ambition to perform well in the GC.

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By Andrew Hood

With Mark Cavendish primed for the sprints, and Michael Rogers and Thomas Lövkvist riding with no pressure for the GC, Columbia-Highroad has its bases covered on the eve of the Giro d’Italia.

The squad brings a balanced team with a heavy emphasis on stage victories and breakaways with no pressure but quiet ambition to perform well in the GC.

“We bring a competitive squad to honor and respect the Giro,” said team manager Bob Stapleton during a team presentation Friday morning in Venice. “This is the greatest hits of Italy in one race. I think the Giro is going to be one of Europe’s great sporting events and we’ve brought a very strong team to make sure we honor it.”

Sprint ace Cavendish returns to the Giro to pick up where he left off last year, when he won two stages that helped confirm his spot as the sport’s ascending sprinter.

The Cannonball, building back into form following his successful spring campaign capped by victory at Milan-San Remo, will be the center of attention with an expected showdown with Alessandro Petacchi (LPR).

“I want to win stages and I want to wear the maglia rosa or the points jersey if possible as well. But I’m not under pressure because we’ve got such a versatile team that can perform well overall and on every stage,” Cavendish said. “To tell the truth, I’m not in top shape. I’ve had a super spring and I plan to have a super July, but as a sprinter, you can still win races without being in top form.”

Cavendish will have the help of Mark Renshaw to set him up for the sprints while the likes of Michael Barry and Edvald Boasson Hagen will keep the speed high in the closing kilometers to control the sprints.

A hilly and mountainous route, punctuated by six summit finishes, leaves fewer chances for the pure sprinters this year, but Cavendish is confident he can bring home a few victories.

“There are four or five opportunities for me this year but there are four or five for other sprinters as well. I’m more mature as a rider this year. I’m stronger, I’m climbing better and I’m more established,” he said. “The Giro is a beautiful race and Venice is a beautiful backdrop for the race. The Italians make the most of the special occasions and you can appreciate that. It’s a great race to ride.”

Cavendish isn’t counting out a shot at the maglia rosa. A strong performance in Saturday’s team time trial will be essential to be able to capitalize on those ambitions.

Riders such as Hagen, Marco Pinotti and Morris Possoni will have freedom to go on the hunt for stage victories, especially in the second half of the race.

“A guy like Edvald will be able to try to get into breakaways. He’s strong enough to get over the climbs and then he can win a sprint out of a small group,” said sport director Ralf Aldag. “We want to race aggressively. That’s how we always do it. We have a lot of ambitions in this race.”

The team’s GC hopes rest with Rogers and Lovkvist. Both are headed to the Tour de France but each said a strong Giro isn’t out of the cards.

“This is my first Giro so I don’t know what to expect. I know that I always feel good coming out of a grand tour, so we thought that racing here would help me in the Tour,” Lovkvist said. “I don’t have any real pressure. I want to make a test or two to see how the form is coming along.”

Rogers echoed that sentiment. The Giro is about preparing 100 percent for the Tour, but if he’s within striking distance of doing well, he might dig deeper.

“I’m feeling pretty good, to tell the truth. The main thing is to get ready for the Tour and there’s no better way to train than to race hard,” Rogers said. “We have a strong team here. I’d love to get a good result, but I don’t want to kill myself, either. Everyone knows the Italians are the ones to watch.”

Columbia should do well in the time trials, with riders such as Rogers and Pinotti favored to do well in the two tests against the clock.

Columbia-Highroad for the Giro D’Italia
• Michael Barry (Can)
• Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor)
• Mark Cavendish (GB)
• Thomas Lovkvist (Swe)
• Marco Pinotti (Ita)
• Morris Possoni (Ita)
• Mark Renshaw (Aus)
• Michael Rogers (Aus)
• Kanstantsin Sivtsov (Byl)