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Porte, Martin among five foreigners aiming for Giro pink in 2014

Five riders will start the Giro in May with real hopes of upsetting the Italians in their home tour

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MILAN (VN) — With winter moving in on northern Italy and an investigation into missing funds drawing on, Giro d’Italia organizers are still proudly looking ahead. With less than six months until the 2014 edition starts in Belfast, several foreign riders have already locked the race into their schedules.

“My dream is to bring the Giro up to the same level as the Tour de France,” race director Michele Acquarone told VeloNews earlier this year. “I want riders to dream of the pink jersey and program their seasons around it in the same way that they do for the yellow jersey.”

Acquarone is waiting for an audit into a reported €13 million in missing funds to finish so that he can continue working on his dream. In the meantime, the rest of RCS Sport’s organization team is going ahead.

The Italians, of course, are committing to the 2014 Giro. Astana’s Fabio Aru and Michele Scarponi, Cannondale’s Ivan Basso and Moreno Moser, and Domenico Pozzovivo of Ag2r-La Mondiale have all marked it on their calendars. Colombian Nairo Quintana (Movistar), second at the Tour de France in 2013, may start the Giro in May, but is yet to confirm that move officially. Quintana notwithstanding, we look at five foreigners aiming for the Italian grand tour, which runs May 9 to June 1, with Trieste hosting the finale.

Richie Porte (Sky)

The Australian helped Sky win the past two editions of the Tour de France with Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome. Along the way, he improved leaps and bounds from the rookie who wore the Giro’s maglia rosa for three days in 2010. In 2013 Porte won Paris-Nice and finished second at Vuelta al País Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country). Riding in support of his Tour-winning captain, Porte also finished second, behind Froome, in the Critérium International and Critérium du Dauphiné.

The British super-team is now giving the Tasmanian the nod for the Giro d’Italia. “It’s the next step for me,” Porte said last month. “They want to develop me into a grand tour racer and that’s hopefully going to be my first big opportunity to lead a team.”

Sky will meet for its first camp in December and Porte’s plans should formalize at that point, but Velo’s Support Rider of the Year for 2013 appears set to step into the spotlight in Belfast in May.

Cadel Evans (BMC Racing)

Evans is at the other end of a cycling career, already having won the Tour de France. For 2014 the Australian, third in the 2013 Giro, is stepping back to let Tejay van Garderen lead BMC Racing’s team in France. Evans will hunt the maglia rosa that he has worn on two occasions, in his 2002 grand tour debut and in 2010.

“That works well for me,” the 36-year-old Aussie told VeloNews last month at the route presentation. “I always wanted to return to the Giro, too, after dedicating my last 10 years to the Tour.”

Evans suffered at the Tour in the last two years while he recovered from a virus. He said that he is feeling better and is aiming for nothing short of the win. “Certainly so,” he added. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t even bother going.”

After a late decision to start in Italy, Evans nearly had second overall this year, but slipped to third in blizzard-like conditions up Tre Cime di Lavaredo. He finished fifth in 2010 and will hope to stand atop the podium on the race’s final mountaintop finish, at Monte Zoncolan, the day before the overall finish.

Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp)

“I’m going to win,” the Irishman told VeloNews without blinking at the Tour of Beijing in October. “I know I’m capable of it and that’s why I’m heading to Italy.”

The time seems right for Martin to win a grand tour after bagging the Volta a Catalunya overall, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and a Tour stage this year. Though he’s only ridden the Italian race once, in 2010, the Giro, which typically is heavier on mountains than the Tour, suits the spindly 27-year-old. He could struggle with allergies, however, and the 46.4-kilometer time trial to Barolo.

Martin told Sky Sports on Thursday that an allergy specialist helped him overcome his problems, which proved in the Ardennes classics. Taking advantage of a long-range attack in the finale by teammate Ryder Hesjedal, Martin countered and rode to his first victory in a monument.

As for the day to Barolo? “I know it well, it’s good wine,” he joked in Beijing. “I don’t think it’ll be a problem with the number of mountains.”

Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha)

The Spaniard, seven times a top-five finisher in a three-week tour, still needs a grand tour win. He learned at this year’s Tour de France that he may be better off racing in Italy if he wants to add a victory to an already sparkling palmares. He finished third in Paris, but at 5:04, “Purito” was far from the win. The Giro’s sharp uphill finishes and load of mountains make the maglia rosa more attainable for the diminutive Spaniard than the Tour’s maillot jaune.

“The Giro’s my goal,” Rodríguez told local Catalan TV, Sport3. “I went well there last year, placing just 16 seconds behind Ryder Hesjedal. The Giro’s hard, hardly any flat stages and always with a twist – that’s what I like.”

Rodríguez, who has won two consecutive UCI WorldTour titles, should do well as the Giro avoids running up the coast to get north, instead zig-zagging up Italy’s spine. His duel with Hesjedal in the 2012 race, which Rodríguez lost by just 16 seconds, was an instant classic.

Giro technical director Mauro Vegni told VeloNews, “There are lot of climbs that you see in Tirreno-Adriatico. When you don’t ride up the coast but take the spine, in the Apennine Mountains, you are always going up and down.” That sort of punchy climb helped Rodríguez to the 2012 Flèche Wallonne title and the last two editions of the Giro di Lombardia.

Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step)

The Colombian placed second to Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) this year and made an off-season move that should see him back even stronger. Urán transferred from Sky to Omega Pharma, where the emphasis will be on the 2012 Olympic silver medalist winning a grand tour.

This year Urán started the Giro working for Wiggins and took leadership late in the game, after the 2012 Tour champ shed time and then abandoned. In 2014 Omega Pharma will give him backing from the start with former stage winner and fellow new arrival Thomas De Gendt in a support role.

“This is only the start,” Urán said after stepping off the podium this year in Brescia. “This gives me faith, maybe next time I can do better.”