VENARIA REALE, Italy (VN) – Nine North Americans start the 94th Giro d’Italia on Saturday, all bringing a wide range of experience, expectations and responsibilities to the season’s first grand tour.
Five are starting their first grand tour while Tyler Farrar is the only rider among the nine who has won a Giro stage. Michael Barry is the lone Canadian and the North American with the most experience here at the Giro.
BMC: Chris Barton, Chad Beyer and Chris Butler – All three are making their grand tour debuts. BMC didn’t bring Cadel Evans to this year’s Giro, so these three Giro rookies will have a chance to learn the ropes without having too much pressure to work for a top GC candidate. They will have freedom to ride into breakaways with the ultimate goal of making it to Milano to achieve the important milestone of completing a grand tour. “Our three young Americans have a good for them to show themselves and learn a big race,” said BMC sport director Fabio Baldato.
HTC-Highroad: Craig Lewis – Back for his second straight Giro, Lewis will be riding to help the team control breaks to set up Mark Cavendish and then later support Marco Pinotti and Kanstantsin in the mountains. He’ll also be looking to repeat his breakaway ride last season when he nearly won a stage attacking out a winning group in the Giro’s second week.
Team Sky: Michael Barry – By far the most experienced of the North American crew starting the Giro, Barry is the quintessential pro who will be helping out the team in all terrain. He’ll ride as Sky’s road captain and look to sneak into a breakaway to try to win a stage.
RadioShack: Bjorn Selander – Another promising young pro making his grand tour debut, Selander will be assigned of helping out team captain Tiago Machado in the intermediate mountains. Like any Giro debutante, the main goal is to survive and arrive to Milano.
Garmin-Cervélo: Tyler Farrar, Thomas Peterson and Peter Stetina – Farrar will be one of the favorites for victory in the sprint finishes, where he will bump elbows with rivals Mark Cavendish and Alessandro Petacchi. Farrar has two Giro wins on his palmares and would like to add at least one more before what will likely be an early exit from the Giro. Peterson, who made his grand tour debut last year at the Vuelta, is a workhorse who will be helping control breakaways on the sprint stages and then pull to help pace GC leader Christophe Le Mevel in the mountains. Stetina, meanwhile, will be making his Giro debut. Team brass have told the Colorado climber that his task is to learn the ropes, help out when he can and make it to Milano.
Garzelli No. 1 bib
With last year’s winner Ivan Basso skipping his Giro defense to focus on the Tour, former winner Stefano Garzelli of Acqua e Sapone will carry the Giro’s honorary No. 1 bib. That seems more by accident than anything, as race organizers created the start list based alphabetically on the team names.
Garzelli, 37, is riding what’s likely his final Giro. He won the maglia rosa back in 2000 when he was hailed as an heir apparent to Marco Pantani. Garzelli’s stock fell when he was kicked out of the 2002 Giro after testing positive, something that prompted then-Mapei backer Giorgio Squinzi to eventually leave the sport. Garzelli has since evolved into a proven stage-hunter and won the KoM jersey in 2009.
Garzelli tops what is an international peloton for the Giro, with 36 nationalities represented among the starters. Through 93 editions of the Giro, the race has been won by 28 non-Italian riders. The last were Russian Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC) in 2009 and Spaniard Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard) in 2008.
Andrea Noè (Farnese Vini) lines up as the oldest rider in the peloton, at a whopping 42, while Carlo Betancourt, a Colombian on Acqua e Sapone, is the youngest starter at 21.
Current Italian champion Giovanni Visconti (Farnese Vini) earns the bib number of 150, which will special significance because this year’s Giro is a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the unification of what became modern Italy.