Team Sky has named its final line-up for the 100th edition of the Giro d'Italia, selecting a team geared exclusively around the bid for the general classification, led jointly by Geraint Thomas and Mikel Landa.
Despite being a 'protected' rider at last year's Tour de France, this is Thomas' first real shot at Grand Tour leadership, while Landa will be hoping for a repeat of the form that led him to the podium in 2015.
"Our focus for the race will be to compete on GC," said Dave Brailsford in an announcement from the team on Friday, and indeed there is no room for sprinter Elia Viviani, who has competed in the last four editions and had outlined the race as a key target of his 2017 season.
There are two lengthy time trials on this year's route but equally important in terms of the fight for the pink jersey are the mountains of the second and third weeks. Kenny Elissonde, Diego Rosa, Sebastian Henao, and Philip Deignan will support the leaders in that terrain.
Salvatore Puccio and Michael Golas are domestiques who are expected to work on the flat and in the early phases of key stages, while Vasil Kiryienka, a tireless workhorse as well as a potential winner of road and time trial stages, returns for his 17th Grand Tour.
"We've looked at the challenges this edition of the Giro presents and picked a team which we believe can fully support both of our leaders," added Brailsford. "The last week of this Giro will be particularly demanding and the severity of those stages will be determining factors, so making sure we have climbing support in the high mountains has been a key consideration.
"Both Mikel and Geraint are coming into the race in excellent form and it's exciting that they will be leading Team Sky into the 100th Giro d'Italia. They are two different types of rider and we see this as creating a real opportunity for us. In Grand Tour terms the first serious tests come early on and so we will arrive in Sardinia focused and ready to race from kilometre one."
Thomas and Landa confident after the Tour of the Alps
Compared with the Tour de France, where they have four victories from the last five editions, Team Sky have had a troubled relationship with the rather more lawless Giro. Bradley Wiggins, Richie Porte and Landa all failed to finish in recent years despite bring team leaders.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) are the top two favourites this time around, both having won the race in the past, but Thomas's form in recent weeks – a stage and the overall at the Tour of the Alps and a stage and 5th at Tirreno-Adriatico – suggests he could compete in a field that is certainly not lacking in quality or depth.
"My preparation has gone really well and I'm ready," said Thomas. "I can't wait to get there now. The Tour of the Alps was my last race before the Giro and so to win there was obviously a boost to my morale. I know it's going to be a really strong field at the Giro and it will be a tough, unpredictable race but I'm looking forward to it.”
The form of Landa, who abandoned through illness last year in his debut Grand Tour with Team Sky, has been less emphatic but fifth overall at the Tour of the Alps suggests he's moving in the right direction and, in a recent interview with Marca, he insisted he's heading into the race on an equal footing to Thomas.
"The Giro is going to be a big challenge but I feel that I am in good form and it's a challenge I am ready for," Landa said in the Sky statement. "As always, it is a race for the climbers and I think that will suit me. We have a strong team and I'm really looking forward to returning to the Giro with Team Sky."
Team Sky for the Giro d’Italia: Mikel Landa, Geraint Thomas, Philip Deignan, Kenny Elissonde, Michal Golas, Sebastian Henao, Vasil Kiryienka, Salvatore Puccio and Diego Rosa.
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