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Giro d'Italia

Giro: North American crew includes a champ, four rookies

The eight North Americans starting the 2016 Giro range from a former champ to four debutants at the Italian grand tour.

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Nine North Americans — three Canadians and six Americans — line up next week for the 99th Giro d’Italia.

From a former winner to Giro newbies, the breadth of experience coming into Italian grand tour is as diverse as the continent they represent. Ryder Hesjedal (Trek – Segafredo), a winner in 2012, will be among four former winners of the corsa rosa, while Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale), Larry Warbasse (IAM Cycling), Ian Boswell (Sky), and Joey Rosskopf (BMC Racing) all start the Giro for the first time.

Ambitions run the gamut as well, from Hesjedal hunting for the podium, to riders like Dombrowski, Svein Tuft (Orica – GreenEdge) and Boswell riding on teams with GC leaders, to Hugo Houle (Ag2r – La Mondiale), Rosskopf, and Chad Haga (Giant – Alpecin) on mixed squads with the green light to hunt for stages.

Michael Woods (Cannondale) will miss his highly anticipated grand tour debut after breaking his hand in a crash at Liège-Bastogne-Liège

Ryder Hesjedal (Trek – Segafredo)

Age: 35
Giro history: 7th start; 1st 2012, 5th 2015, 9th 2014
Goals: Podium and stage win
Hesjedal is the only Canadian to win a grand tour, and his dramatic, 16-second margin of victory over Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) was the fourth-narrowest in Giro history. Experience and patience are his strong suits. Time trialing is his lone handicap, but the Giro is always decided in the mountains, where Hesjedal comes into his own. Trek brings a mixed squad, with Fabian Cancellara and sprinters Giacomo Nizzolo and Boy Van Poppel, but Hesjedal will get help in the mountains with Laurent Didier and Riccardo Zoidl.

“I am a former winner, I feel like I owe the Giro a lot,” Hesjedal said. “The Giro is always tough. There’s always a lot more to it than what it looks like in the race book. A piece of paper doesn’t tell the tale. It will be a good race. The Giro always is.”

Ian Boswell (Sky)

Age: 25
Giro best: First appearance
Goals: Help team captain Mikel Landa deep in the mountains
In his fourth year with Sky, Boswell is poised for a breakout season. A strong Vuelta a España in his grand tour debut in 2015 confirmed his quality, which included an impressive breakaway — third in the queen stage across Andorra. Sky will be riding for Mikel Landa to win the franchise’s first Giro, so Boswell will be one of the Basque rider’s key helpers deep in the mountains.

“I’ve been a reliable teammate working my way up the pecking order. My goal was the Giro, and it’s awesome to be able to have a chance to race it and support Landa,” Boswell said. “I am able to ride on the flats if needed for [sprinter Elia] Viviani, but also I’ll be there in the mountains for Landa. I know the last stages well from my training camps at Isola 2000.”

Nathan Brown (Cannondale Pro Cycling)

Age: 24
Giro best: 67th in 2015, 11th in young rider competition
Goals: Work for captain Rigoberto Uran
Brown fills in for injured Canadian Mike Woods and enters his second Giro d’Italia with the same goals as the first: use his versatile engine to support Cannondale’s GC ambitions. As a solid time trialist and above-average climber, Brown will play a key role through the Giro’s numerous tough, rolling stages.

Hugo Houle (Ag2r – La Mondiale)

Age: 25
Giro best: 2nd start; 113th in 2015
Goals: Support rider for Jean-Christrophe Péraud and Domenico Pozzovivo
Houle has made steady progress on the French team, and will return to the Giro after a busy spring. He will be riding in the trenches to help the team’s push for the final podium.

“He discovered the race last year and he successfully finished his first Giro. Now he is coming back with more experience. He is making constant progress, especially in time trial stages,” said Ag2r sport director Laurent Biondi. “He went to his hometown in Canada to rest a little and now he is ready to compete again. He is a valuable rider that will protect and support his leaders by all means.”

Joey Rosskopf (BMC Racing)

Age: 26
Giro best: First appearance
Goals: Support rider, breakaways
A strong performer on the U.S. circuit, Rosskopf made a strong impression in his first full WorldTour season in 2015, riding to Madrid in his grand tour debut at the Vuelta. He will be on domestique duty for BMC, helping Philippe Gilbert for stage wins. Like others on the team, he will get chances to ride into breakaways.

“I was super-glad that I was able to finish the Vuelta last year,” Rosskopf said. “It was very satisfying, because it was a big goal. I didn’t know if I could finish. I made it a lot longer into the Vuelta with decent legs before I really started to fall apart.”

Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale)

Age: 24
Giro best: First appearance
Goals: Support rider, mountain breakaways
After a big 2015, with overall victory at the Tour of Utah as well as riding into the top-50 at the Vuelta, Dombrowski wll be one of Rigoberto Urán’s key helpers in the mountains.

“I’m looking forward to coming into the race with a clear leader and clear objective, with the experience of having ridden my first grand tour last year,” Dombrowski said. “I’m hoping to be a good support rider for Rigo, particularly in the mountain stages later in the race. Additionally, I’m looking forward to the stage over Col de la Bonette. I’ve spent a lot of time training at altitude in that area because it is close to where I am based in Nice. The riding is stunning, and I have friends and family that are going to be out on the road watching.”

Larry Warbasse (IAM Cycling)

Age: 25
Giro best: First appearance
Goals: Support rider, breakaways
Warbasse has been making steady progress in each season in the bigs, and is poised to step up in this year’s Giro. With a mixed IAM squad of stage-hunters and sprinters, Warbasse will get his chances to try his luck in breakaways. In last year’s Vuelta, he was active in several attacks, scoring an eighth in a final-week breakaway across the brutal mountains of Asturias. The Giro could suit him even better.

“I had good legs, and for the first time, I was able to show it,” Warbasse said of his Vuelta performance. “It was nice to get the confirmation that I was able to do a good ride in a grand tour. I am more confident for the future.”

Svein Tuft (Orica—GreenEdge)

Age: 38
Giro best: 5th start; pink jersey in 2014 with TTT victory
Goals: Support rider, road captain
Tuft is as tough as they get, and will be an anchor for Orica’s Giro squad. With Esteban Chaves aiming for the podium, Tuft will be road captain throughout the race, riding to protect the punchy Colombian climber on the flats. In 2014, he wore the pink jersey following Orica’s win in the opening team time trial, and was only one of two Orica riders to finish that grueling edition.

“I think the Giro is my favorite race,” Tuft said. “I love racing there, with the passion of the fans, and how hard the race is. You have to be good to win the Giro.”

Chad Haga (Giant – Alpecin)

Age: 27
Giro best: 2nd start; 99th in 2015, with 9th in stage 18
Goals: Support rider, breakaways
Haga’s return to the peloton following the horrendous team training crash in January is nothing short of miraculous. The piano-playing Texan was among the worse off from the head-on collision with a motorist, suffering a mix of broken bones, contusions, and bruising. Tom Dumoulin will be aiming for victory in the opening time trial, so Haga and others on the team will have their chances to hunt for a stage.

“Our target is to go for a stage victory,” said Giant sport director Marc Reef. “We’ll have different opportunities in the time trials and sprint stages. On top of that, we will apply an offensive strategy to aim for stage results from possible breakaways that survive until the finish.”