The Giro d’Italia celebrates a magnificent milestone this year, with the 100th Edition of the great race. Many people’s favorite Grand Tour, it always excites and delights with stunning scenery and great racing.
Giro d' Italia starts on Friday, May the 5th in Sardinia, where the race takes in three stages, before hopping to Sicily for two more stages, including the first spectacular finish of the race to the summit of Mt Etna. There’s also a stage that finishes in Messina, Vincenzo Nibali’s hometown, Nibali, of course, won this race in spectacular fashion last year, coming from almost five minutes back with 3 stages to go to win.
Once they hit the mainland the race organizers have managed to hit almost every region of Italy, bar just four regions. The race finishes in Milan though, in a nod to where the race finished in the first edition in 1909. The race literally traverses the whole country though, from toe to top, in a challenging and interesting course that should do justice to a celebration of 100 editions of the great race.
The race includes two-time trials - one a long 39km test on stage 10 in the wine region of Sagrantino, the second is 28kms long and is the final act in the race. The last six stages are going to be brutal and crucial to the outcome of the race – starting with stage 16’s 227km monster that first goes over the Mortirolo, then the Stelvio then back over the Stelvio from the Umbrail Pass on the Swiss side.
Stage 18 vies with stage 16 for the title of ‘Queen Stage’ – it may be 90kms shorter at just 137kms, but it is a beast – five climbs in total, including the Pordoi, Valporola and the summit finish to Ortisei/St Ulrich. Stage 19 sees another summit finish to Piancavallo, which averages 7.3% over 15.4kms. And the race ends with a Time trial – if the race is close, it could be a fascinating finish to the race. It’s up to the climbers to distance themselves from the time triallists, or the race could flip on its head on the very final day.
Of course, it’s a quality field that lines up for the 100th edition of the race, we have the biggest draw in Italian cycling here in Vincenzo Nibali, they practically ensured he’d commit to starting by including a stage in his hometown of Messina. But he isn’t the biggest favorite for the race though, that, of course, is former winner Nairo Quintana, who is just 11/10 among the betting odds to land the first part of his attempt at the elusive Giro/Tour double.
We may not have Chris Froome, but it means that Geraint Thomas gets his first chance to lead Team Sky in a grand Tour, something he has devoted his whole season to date too so far. He skipped the spring Classics but looked ready for the Giro with his victory in the Tour of the Alps just over a week ago. The fifth placed rider in the Tour of the Alps was his team-mate Mikel Landa, and he offers Sky a very viable second candidate for a tilt at the title.
Thibaut Pinot could be a genuine contender here too given his strong showing in the Tour of the Alps (2nd overall, a stage win and two 2nds, a 3rd and a 5th place) and his 3rd in Tirreno-Adriatico, a top 6 is definitely a possibility if he can stay strong into the final week.
We also have Steven Kruijswijk who should have won the race last year but for his unfortunate crash on stage 19 as well as Bauke Mollema of team Trek who should also be good enough for a top ten finish. Adam Yates is riding superbly this year and he looks to follow up on his fantastic 4th place finish in the Tour de France last year, when he was just 21” behind Nairo Quintana.
Ilnur Zakarin is Katusha’s main man and Tejay Van Garderen, Pierre Rolland, Sergey Firsanov, Darwin Atapuma and Domenico Pozzovivo will all be fighting for the top ten places too.
It is sure to be a great start to the Grand Tour trilogy, Quintana and Nibali will have a great battle, and there are lots of guys sitting behind who could give them a run for their money should they have an off-day or two.
As for who my picks are for the race, I can’t see past Nairo Quintana – he will pull away from all his rivals in the final week and should have sufficient a cushion on the time triallists to hold on. At 888Sport he’s short at just 11/10, but I think he is almost a certainty. I think Steven Kruijswijk has a good chance to make amends for last years’ disaster and should be backed at 10/1 each way at Ladbrokes.
As for some of the other markets on offer, Omar Fraile is my pick for the King of the Mountains classification and is an ok bet at 13/2 each-way. Giacomo Nizzolo is my cycling pick again this year for the Sprinters jersey, he took it in fine style for the last two years running and although he’s just coming back from an injury he should go well here, and most importantly last the three weeks when a lot of the other sprinters will have retired ahead of the big mountains.