Eddy Merckx believes Alberto Contador will win the Giro d’Italia but has predicted that the numerous mountain finishes and the presence of key rivals Vincenzo Nibali, Michele Scarponi and Roman Kreuziger will create a very open race.
Merckx spent most of his career racing for Italian teams and earned the nickname of ‘the Cannibal’ after winning all the jerseys at the 1968 Giro d’Italia. He will be a special guest on Italian television during the final week of the race when the mountains stages are expected to decide the winner of the of the maglia rosa. “Italy is my second home. I became Merckx here and learnt everything during my time racing in Italy. I feel very Italian.” he told Gazzetta dello Sport.
“This year’s route is hard, really hard. But the Giro is always hard; it was even in my day. The best mountains are in Italy and for the fortune of Italian cycling; they’re in the north and the south of the country. Only Italy can host a stage like the one at the summit of Mount Etna.”
“This year’s Giro will be won in the mountains. I don’t really think the final time trial to Milan will count too much after all those climbs. The hardest and most dangerous climb is the Zoncolan. Fortunately it wasn’t around in my time…”
Italian cycling has been hit by further doping scandals in recent weeks. Yet Merckx insisted he is optimistic about the future of the sport, refuting the idea that a hard race route incites riders to dope.
“That’s rubbish. I don’t agree when people say the race routes incite people to dope. That’s got nothing to do with it,” he said.
“Cycling is a real sport and the riders are real athletes, not softies. Despite everything cycling has been through it’s still a credible sport. I think we’re actually coming out of the tunnel; we’re the sport that does more controls than any other. I’m optimistic for the future of this sport.”
Contador is more complete
Merckx won the Giro d’Italia five times during his career because he was strong in the mountains and in time trials, and because he was never afraid to attack. He picks Contador to win this year’s race because he believes the Spaniard has similar characteristics. But he was not afraid to criticise him after his positive test for Clenbuterol at last year’s Tour de France.
“He’s the most complete rider in the Giro. I like the way he races because he doesn’t hold back, he’s aggressive and he isn’t a donkey, he’s a classy rider,” Merckx said.
“I just hope he’s is innocent otherwise it’d be a disaster. I don’t know the details of it all but his defence and claims about meat containing Clenbuterol don’t convince me. Let’s hope he’s proved to be right!”
Merckx expects Nibali to improve on his third place of 2010 as he matures and improves even more. He also admires Scarponi and names Kreuziger for a place on the final podium in Milan on May 29.
“It won’t be easy for Contador because I think Nibali is good too. He’s doesn’t say much but you can see he’s developed gradually. That’s much better than exploding on the scene and then suddenly disappearing,” Merckx said.
“He’s got his feet on the ground and he’s used to working hard. But he’s 26 now and it’s time for him to prove himself. I remember two years ago at the Tour de France when he stayed with Contador on the Ventoux. Since then he’s grown year by year.”
“We should also keep an eye on Scarponi. He’s not young any more but he could win because he’s very strong in the mountains. It’s going to be a very open race. Contador is the favourite, Nibali is the outsider and I think Kreuziger could finish on the podium.”