Few riders carry the same treasury of experience into this year's Giro d'Italia as Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida). The Basilicata native has lined out in the corsa rosa in all bar two editions since his debut in 2005, and has found over the years that his condition in late April has proved a reliable indicator for what he can achieve in May.
After catching the eye at last month's Tour of the Alps, Pozzovivo quietly inserted himself near the head of the list of challengers looking to upset the anticipated duel between defending champion Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) and Chris Froome (Team Sky). In following second place in that race with 5th at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Pozzovivo only further highlighted his credentials.
"My sensations coming into this race are in keeping with my best Giri, including last year," Pozzovivo told Cyclingnews as he waited to go onstage at the team presentation in Safra Square on Thursday. "I'll hope to improve a bit in the classification too, maybe even finish on the podium if everything goes as it should. I did a few extra days of altitude training this year and I hope the condition can last to the finish."
Pozzovivo was beaten only by Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) at the Tour of the Alps, and he highlighted the Frenchman an obvious dangerman, particularly on the Giro's early summit finishes at Mount Etna, Montevergine and Gran Sasso d'Italia.
"The overall level of performance was very high at the Tour of the Alps, and obviously, the winner, Pinot, was the one who looked the best. I think on the first climbs, he'll be the hardest rider to beat," Pozzovivo said. "But I expect Froome and [Fabio] Aru will improve, and [Miguel Angel] Lopez has been good since the start of the season, and I think he'll do a very strong Giro."
There were murmurs that Froome had deliberately ridden within himself en route to his fourth place overall at the Tour of the Alps, but, having observed the Briton at close quarters, Pozzovivo is not a subscriber to the theory. Froome lines out at the Giro despite his adverse analytical finding for salbutamol at last year's Vuelta a España, and – contrary to Thursday's declaration from race director Mauro Vegni – risks losing his eventual result from the Giro if he is sanctioned for a doping offence.
"I don't think he was hiding anything at the Tour of the Alps, I think he really wanted to get a win before this Giro," Pozzovivo said. "He didn't manage it, but it was only because he came up against stronger adversaries. He wasn't hiding anything. On the first stage to Alpe di Pampeago, especially, we were all in similar condition and we were all on the limit."
Pozzovivo has placed in the top 10 of the Giro on five occasions, with his best finish of 5th place coming in 2014. On that occasion, the Italian looked poised for a podium berth at the end of the second week, but faded slightly in the final days before the finish in Trieste. The Alpine finale to this year's Giro is particularly vicious but the race allows little opportunity for a rider to spare himself for the denouement.
"In modern cycling, it's hard to save yourself in the opening stages. Maybe you could do it ten years ago, but not anymore," Pozzovivo said. "There are very few stages in a Grand Tour these days that aren't really keenly contested. You can try not to overdo things in the first week, but it's difficult to ride within yourself."
Pozzovivo will begin his Giro on Friday seeking to limit his losses to Dumoulin, Froome et al in a technical 9.7km time trial that could open substantial early gaps between the favourites. Training on the course has been off limits in the build-up to the race, and the 35-year-old will see it for the first time on Friday morning.
"I've only been able to imagine it from looking at the maps," Pozzovivo smiled. "In general, I'm pretty good at interpreting a course without having seen it, but I'll still need to ride it in the morning just to understand what gears to use. I think and hope that I'll be able to keep the damage to within 40 seconds."
As for his final placing in Rome in three weeks' time, meanwhile, Pozzovivo has imposed no such restrictions. "Settling for a certain result beforehand is not a good way to approach a Grand Tour," he said. "You can't put limits on yourself."
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