Giro d’Italia counting stars for 2013 race with Wiggins, Hesjedal, Nibali

The 2013 Giro is attracting big names and will likely see more by the time May 4 arrives

MILAN (VN) — Giro d’Italia organizers are looking eagerly towards the new year and a star-studded 2013 edition. RCS Sport is already able to count Bradley Wiggins, who will target the Giro over the Tour de France, home favorite Vincenzo Nibali and reigning champ Ryder Hesjedal among the GC contenders. The names will become certain in five months’ time when the race starts in Naples on May 4, but the Italians are starting to rub their hands with delight.

Sky principal David Brailsford this week confirmed Wiggins’ earlier statements about 2013’s grand tour plan. Wiggins will race the Giro and open the door for fellow Brit, Chris Froome to lead in the Tour, where he finished second overall last year.

“We are just getting back into training now and need to do quite a lot of planning,” Brailsford said at a conference, according to The Telegraph. “But it does look as though the plan going into next year, which has still not completely been signed off, is that the Tour of Italy would be a very good target for Bradley and leave Froomy then to focus on the Tour de France.”

Wiggins won the 2012 Tour by 3:21 over Froome and 6:19 over Nibali. He will return to the Giro after last racing in 2010, when he won the opening time trial and wore the pink jersey.

Nibali will race after a one-year hiatus. Astana signed the Sicilian from Liquigas-Cannondale to lead its grand tour team. He won the Vuelta a España in 2010, but has failed in his attempts to take the Italian or French titles. Nibali focused on the Giro in 2011, finishing second behind Michele Scarponi, and this year on the Tour, where he was third. Now, it is time to return home.

“I’d hope that in 2014 that everyone else is focused elsewhere and leaves the Tour to us,” Astana’s team manager, Giuseppe Martinelli told VeloNews. “In 2013, the first goal is the Giro.”

It is Hesjedal’s goal, too. He will return to defend his title and go on to fight for the Tour title, the same double he attempted in 2012 before crashing out in Metz.

“I know that’s possible, that’s what I will focus on and not about what other people say is possible and what other people are doing,” Hesjedal told VeloNews at the Giro presentation last month. “I’m happy with that, that I can take my chances at the Giro and still have the Tour after that or whatever the goals are.”

As if it were not enough to have Wiggins, Nibali and Hesjedal, organizers may also see Alberto Contador line up. The Saxo-Tinkoff Spaniard has a checkered past in the race, having won in 2011 only to see the title stripped as part of a doping suspension. That same suspension depleted Saxo of its points, which it needs to stay in the first division. The UCI will award the licenses on December 10 and essentially decide Contador’s program. If the team has to rely on a wildcard invites to the Tour, Contador indicated this week that he would prefer to skip it.

Ivan Basso will race the Giro and leave Cannondale teammate Peter Sagan to Tour stages and the green jersey. Robert Gesink may lead Rabobank’s white label team in Italy. Despite placing third, Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM) will instead race the Tour. New teammate, José Rujano will be Vacansoleil’s captain in Italy. If the Padua investigation does not stop him for good, Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) will be at the Giro, too.

Wiggins may take Richie Porte for support and one of Sky’s two talented, young Colombians. Rigoberto Urán, last year’s best young rider could team with Wiggins and leave Sergio Henao to support Froome in France.

The last time the Giro enjoyed such a deep and international, albeit colorful, field was in 2009 with Basso, Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, Carlos Sastre, Damiano Cunego, Danilo Di Luca and Denis Menchov. Menchov won that showdown after a nail-biting time trial finale, in which he crashed on rain-slickened cobblestones in Rome.

New race director, Michele Acquarone told VeloNews last year, “I want to get the Giro up to that level where it’s considered a great race with the Tour. The riders need to know that the great champions won both races. Those days of preparing only for the Tour like Armstrong are over.”