With less than three weeks to the start of the Giro d’Italia, race organisers RCS have released a provisional start list.
In two week’s time, the peloton will be heading en masse to Belfast for the first three stages. Breaking from tradition, the race begins on Friday to allow for the travel and an extra race day. There are a number of strong contenders who are yet to win a Grand Tour, and it’s likely that we could see a first-time winner this season.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar) is the overwhelming favourite to take the maglia rosa when the race reaches Trieste. The young Colombian finished second at last year’s Tour de France and won the mountain’s classification along the way. He’s classed as one of the best climbers in the peloton and is expected to shine on the mountain heavy route.
Quintana will face some tough competition from his compatriot Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), who finished second in the last edition, and Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha). Rodríguez suffered a setback in his preparation for the race when he crashed at Amstel Gold, but the Spaniard is still confident that he can give Quintana a run for his money.
The last time a Grand Tour visited Ireland was the 1998 Tour de France, where there wasn’t a single Irish rider on the start list. This time around, three riders have been named among the 198 that will travel to the capital. This time they have three riders, two of which could finish in the top 10.
Cousins Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) and Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo) have been fairly quiet on their ambitions for the Italian race, but both have the potential to finish well up the standings. Philip Deignan is unlikely to feature in the upper echelons of the standings at the finish. But with the team time trial opening the race, he could find himself in pink before the race heads to Italy.
Deignan’s Team Sky is without Richie Porte, after they decided to pull him from the line-up. Porte was meant to lead the team, but has been suffering with illness early this season, affecting his preparation for the race. There was rumour that Bradley Wiggins would be called up to replace him, but the Brit has not been named in the provisional list. Peter Kennaugh could be the team’s best chance of a top finish. The Manxman impressed at the Tour de France last year, but it remains to be seen if he can handle the pressure of leading a team.
Cadel Evans (BMC) returns to the race after his strong showing in 2013. The Australian finished third and has set this year’s race as one of his main targets for the year. Defending champion Vincenzo Nibali is not returning to the race, leaving the home nation without a real contender for the victory. However, in Ivan Basso (Cannondale), Michele Scarponi (Astana) and Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R-La Mondiale), they have three riders who can make it into the top five.
Despite Mark Cavendish pulling out of the Giro to race at the Tour of California, there are still a strong field of sprinters in the line-up. Cavendish will be replaced by his lead out man Alessandro Petacchi, but the star sprinter will be Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano). The German dominated the sprint competition at the Tour de France and will be out to do it in Italy. He’s had a mixed start to the season, but will be full of confidence after his win at Scheldeprijs.
In his way will be Ben Swift (Sky). With the lack of a real general classification contender for Sky, he could find himself with a few more opportunities. The Briton has had an excellent year so far, with third place at Milan-San Remo. It is the second time that Swift will rider the Giro, after riding it in 2009, but this is certainly his best shot at a stage victory.
Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr) is also on the lookout for his first Grand Tour win. Bouhanni may struggle once the mountains come, but will put up a big fight in the early stages. Elia Viviani (Cannondale) is Italy’s best shot at a sprint victory, while Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) will be looking to capitalise on a strong spring campaign.
The Giro d’Italia will begin on May 9, with a 21.7km team time trial through the streets of Belfast.
Click here for the full provisional start list.