The Giro d’Italia – if it ended right now it would have been great, aggressive race, but the fact is that there are still two full weeks to go.
I did a race preview for, ‘a well known North American website’ so thought I’d take a rest day wander back and see how my tips for the top are doing:
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Italy & Astana)
All you need know to confirm how serious Astana are about this race is that last 200 metres flyer Guardini has been left at home – there’ll be no sprint stage distractions on this campaign.
Nibali was brilliant in Tirreno; he won Trentino and has men like Paolo Tiralongo, Fred Kessiakoff and Valerie Agnoli by his side.
He has to limit his losses in the long chrono, keep his powder dry until the Dolomites but grab any chances that arise on wet, technical days where he excels.
If he can do that, he can win.
‘The Shark of the Straights’ has certainly made the most of the bad weather and tricky descents but did much better than limit his losses in the chrono, taking the jersey in fine style.
But he has the jersey to defend for a fortnight – is he up to it?
I think so.
2: Sir Bradley Wiggins (GB & Sky)
Wiggins hasn’t had the same inexorable progress through the early season stage races as one year ago but with the best sports scientists, nutritionists and logistics men in the sport behind him, it’s hard to believe that he’ll be in anything other than imperious form for Naples.
His team is second to none; indeed, if someone has a robust enough cheque book to tempt Uran and Henao away from the News International team, they’re both potential Grand Tour winners.
And that’s before we mention Cataldo, Knees or Pate.
The TTT, long chrono and ‘diesel’ mountain TT are in his favour, too.
But Nibali has the team, too – and I believe that those nasty Dolomite days tip the balance in the Sicilian’s favour.
The race stuck to early Sky script for Sir Brad; Cav won stage one – Sky blasted the TTT with the team letting their young Italian, Puccio care take the jersey.
Stage three went well with Paolini taking the stage and the maglia rosa with Brad well there.
But on stage four, as young Battaglin proved he wasn’t just a ‘one win wonder,’ the first signs came that Brad wasn’t comfortable – and certainly not enjoying the narrow roads and rain, dropping 17 seconds, despite protests that he was delayed by a crash.
Stages five and six went back to the story board with no surprise in Degenkolb or Cavendish winning.
But on stage seven, as Adam Hansen at last got some glory we saw a different Bradley Wiggins to the majestic (arrogant?) knight who dominated the Tour and Olympics.
More like the nervous young Brad on the start line of Het Volk that Vik remembers from a decade ago – patently spooked by the tricky descents.
The Stage Eight TT had been where the Englishman was supposed to put his stamp on the race.
Instead it was his countryman and ex-team mate Alex Dowsett proving that there is ‘life after Sky’ and he’s not just a work horse to be told what to do.
Wiggins was second – with a puncture – not a triumph for Baron Wigan but hardly a disaster.
But on Stage Nine – as Katusha continued to show their grinta, with Belkov winning – there was even less joy for Wiggins, again exposed on the wet descents into Florence and finishing the day at 1:16 on Nibali in fourth spot on GC.
On paper, his position is far from untenable – but ideally he should be going into the mountains with a buffer, not with a deficit.
The man dominated stage racing in 2013, he’s Olympic time trial champion and a master of being in the right shape for the big event – and he’s been handling pressure since he was a junior.
All of that means that it’s way too early to write him off – but as one wag said on Facebook; ‘get Steve Peters on a plane to Italy!’
3: Ryder Hesjedal (Canada & Garmin)
Hesjedal was an unexpected but brilliant winner of a great Giro in 2012.
His usual long, steady build up sees him peaking at just the right time – setting up La Doyenne perfectly for Dan Martin.
He’s resourceful and unafraid to attack; and shouldn’t concede too much time to Wiggins in the time trials.
But Wiggins and Nibali just look too strong to me for Ryder to finish higher than third.
The TTT was a bad portent for Garmin, previous winners and specialists in the discipline they took a pasting – from which Hesjedal bounced back the next day with a aggressive display in the finale.
But he dropped a minute on Stage Nine and now lies some 3:11 and in 11th position behind Nibali – it’s difficult, but not impossible, to envisage a circumstance in which he can stand on the podium.
4: Michele Scarponi (Italy & Lampre)
I like Michele, he has grinta, quality and a sense of humour – but he needs to more careful about the company he keeps; even though they have the same name as a nice model of car.
Very hard to drop, resilient and intelligent – but he’ll hate that long chrono; and with Pozzato and Ferrari in his team it won’t be ‘all for Michele.’
A fact which will not have gone unnoticed to Scarponi’s rivals is that but for a crash on Stage Three, the Lampre man would be very close to leading this race, he’s currently fifth @ 1:24.
His chrono was rock solid and with his favourite stamping grounds to come I’m saying he’ll be on the podium in Brescia.
5: Robert Gesink (The Netherlands & Blanco)
The Dutch team’s brilliant start to 2013 has faded a little – a bit like Gesink’s campaign.
He was fourth at Murcia, sixth in Catalonia but a distant 54th in Romandie.
However, he’s experienced enough to know how to be on form for the big occasions; he was sixth in the Vuelta in 2012 after crashing out of the Tour – a not uncommon occurrence for the skinny man from Varsseveld.
But given the parcours, if he can keep it between the green bits then he could be there – and should come away with a stage win.
The man with a reputation for falling off so far has ridden a great race and is third on GC @ 1:15 with his natural habit of the high mountains still to come.
It bodes well for Gesink and that first Grand Tour podium is certainly a possibility.
And whilst my predictions for those five weren’t bad at all, I got it way wrong for a certain Mr. Cadel Evans (Australia & BMC).
Along with Robert Millar on Cyclingnews.com I thought we’d seen the best of the man who wore the maglia rosa as a pup, a decade ago.
It’s a long time since his star has shone – but the man is nothing if not experienced and professional.
I don’t think he’ll make the podium – but it’s good to see a champion back riding like one.
Two weeks to go; but just one week before Velo Veritas lands in Bergamo – proper cappuccino, a Gazzetta on every High Street and the most colourful race in the world to follow home.
I can’t wait!