Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard)
Simply on another level and so far ahead that several other GC contenders ignored the fact he'd even attacked on Etna and began racing for second place. The race is far from over and talk of the maglia rosa being safe on his shoulders is somewhat premature but Contador has never lost a Grand Tour once he’s been in the lead. He’s not lost a Grand Tour in which he’s been a contender, period.
Leading up the Giro Cyclingnews spoke to a source close to Contador’s camp. They informed us that Contador wanted to use the Giro to unleash all his frustration at the sport for what he sees as the injustice handed to him. Stages, jerseys, the overall, everything was in his sights. It’s a scary thought.
Yet for all his exploits on the bike, the fact remains that Contador could still be erased from the record books if CAS decide to ban him for his positive test from last year’s Tour de France. Of course we're now assuming he'll win the Giro, but his June hearing essentially becomes the Giro’s postponed but crucial 22nd stage.
Roman Kreuziger (Astana)
Still just 25, Kreuziger has looked composed, assured and threatening throughout the first week of racing and but for a poor showing in the TTT, he would be Contador’s closest overall challenger. His display on Etna showed that the gaps between him, Nibali and Scarponi are minimal at this stage, something that will give the Astana leader a big morale boost. The next two weeks could define Kreuziger’s career.
Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale)
He hasn't put a foot wrong since the Giro began and is currently Contador’s chief rival on GC. That said, he'll need to maintain his consistency and hope that Contador has a bad day. Make that two bad days.
José Rujano (Androni Giocattoli)
Six minutes down on GC, but Rujano was the last man standing from the entire peloton in the face of Contador’s ferocious offensive. The pint-sized climber is a total wild card - staggeringly strong one day, utterly hopeless the next. However, with the Giro already set to Contador’s rhythm it could be someone like Rujano that knocks the Spaniard metronome out of sync. He won't win the Giro but he could shape a path for the winner.
Kanstantsin Sivtsov (HTC-Highroad)
With Pinotti close to five minutes down, Sivtsov has became HTC-Highroad’s leader for the GC. The Belarusian has won 3 stages in the race before (two were TTTs) and has worked for Pinotti and Rogers admirably in previous editions of the race. Now 28, Sivtsov has the perfect opportunity to stake his claim to be more than just a loyal helper. His dig on Etna that softened up Scarponi showed he’s got the legs. Can he go the distance?
Christophe Le Mevel (Garmin-Cervélo)
So far so good for the Frenchman, who has arrived in the Giro in fantastic shape, but he'll face a much sterner examination of his climbing prowess in the days to come.
Giovanni Visconti (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli)
What could he have done had his tricky knee not been a persistent thorn in his side? Because despite his problems the Italian has been in several breaks. The final week looks set for the pure climbers so he has a week to grab the stage win his efforts deserve.
With no GC contenders both teams set upon aggressive tactics in the first week and both were rewarded. Bart De Clercq grabbed a plucky stage win on Montevergine for Lotto, while Pieter Weening took a stage and a spell in pink for Rabobank.
Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD)
Scarponi has never competed against Contador as a Grand Tour rival but the Italian saw first hand how lethal his former teammate can be on the slopes of Etna. His position on GC is hardly weak and he’s still within striking distance, but unlike Kreuziger and Nibali, Scarponi played his full hand on Etna and was left wanting both physically and tactically. Unable to match Contador in one-on-one combat, the Italian will have to try another tactic.
A route designed against the sprinters
The fact that Contador leads the points competition says it all and bar Petacchi’s stage win they've been utterly shut out. Stage 12 should see a change but with such a demanding second phase of the race, it could be their final chance of the entire race. It seems a disappointment that we've rarely had the chance to see the fast men of the bunch have their chance.
Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha)
A minute lost in the TTT and then more time conceded on Etna, it’s not been a great Giro for the Spanish climber. With Danilo Di Luca a shadow of his former self, Katusha look bereft of ideas and motivation. Rodríguez, though, will take heart in the fact that he still has time to improve his GC position and that he may have lost enough time to be given some leeway.
Carlos Sastre (Geox-TMC)
Sastre has lost time at every crucial moment of the race. The Spaniard’s decline since 2008 has been much talked about but the reverse is in fact true. Other than his Tour win in 2008, he has rarely been little more than a top ten contender. Now 36 and with a new generation of riders already superior to him, it’s hard to see where Sastre can go. At this point, a stage win would mark a major success.
Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC)
A rider many believed could actually cause Contador some concern but with over a week of racing completed Menchov is back in 20th place, 3:18 down. Quite where he’s meant to make that time up is unknown.
Thomas Lövkvist (Sky)
The Swede came into the race with aspirations of a place in the top ten overall, and despite the mountainous route he would have privately had been hoping for even higher. Remember, Lövkvist was signed as a Grand Tour GC rider before Wiggins was even talking to Sky. This Giro was seen as his golden chance to shine but with one major mountain test - and one that even suited his skill set - he’s already 3:27 down on Contador in 21st place.