In 2007, the British duel was predicted to take place between David Millar and Bradley Wiggins in the streets of London for the prologue of the Tour de France, but it never materialized. The pair may well prove to be the main protagonists of tomorrow's Giro d'Italia opener in another prestigious European city, Amsterdam.
None of the 198 participants has been able to properly reconnoitre the course of the prologue of the 93rd Giro d'Italia because of the traffic in Amsterdam, but they have been speculating over the main qualities required to win the stage 1 time trial: is it speed or power? The riders will be able to ride on the course on Saturday morning, after which they'll be more aware of what to expect.
Marco Pinotti, winner of the prologue at the Tour of Romandie last week, names Millar and [Alexandre] Vinokourov as time triallists he thinks will be strongest. "It's for pure chronomen," said the Italian engineer who took a few minutes before the presentation of the girini (the contenders of the Giro) to visit the Anne Frank museum.
Several riders chose Team Sky captain Wiggins as their bet for the first maglia rosa.
"Track riders like Wiggins who can travel at the highest speed have the biggest chances of winning," said Dutchman Rick Flens of Rabobank who is expected to perform well on home soil after finishing fifth in the prologue of the Tour of Romandie. As he hails from Oostzaan only ten kilometres away from the centre of Amsterdam, he's the régional de l'étape.
"I've only seen a video of the course," Flens continued. "I know the corners but the long streets will make the difference. For riders like me who rely more on power, it'll be difficult to compete against the fastest guys, but I hope for a top 10. I also hope the weather will be the same for everybody and it will be a fair race. Amsterdam deserves to have such a great event."
If not Flens, the best Dutchman might be Omega Pharma-Lotto's Michael Elijzen who also hails from the region. Sunday's stage finish in Utrecht is just 10 kilometres away from his birthplace. "This prologue [sic] is very special to me," he said. "It's a very different course from the one I won at the Eneco Tour and the competition here is a little bit higher. Now I'm also not in such a good form as at the Eneco Tour but I'm feeling good enough to target a top 10 as well."
For the British duo, the main competition might not come from the local riders, but a pair of Australian specialists. Recently crowned track world champions Cameron Meyer and Jack Bobridge will be on the line for Garmin-Transitions. Yet Meyer already played down his chances after being sick, as did Bobridge.
"I'm not gonna win tomorrow," said Bobridge. "I'll give 100% but I'm still chasing my road form after the period on the track. Maybe after the Giro, I'll be good enough to have a go at the time trial at the Tour de Suisse, but for now I'd be happy to have the opportunity to help Tyler [Farrar] or [David] Millar to defend the pink jersey."
Luke Roberts, another rider who hails from Adelaide with track cycling background, is hoping to challenge Wiggins. "This is my first Giro," Roberts, now riding for Team Milram, said. "I haven't done a lot of training specifically for this prologue [sic], my objectives are more in the second week. I'm coming fresh because I haven't raced since Paris-Roubaix. It's exciting to be here with 13 other Australians racing. For the prologue, the other of our compatriots to watch is Richie Porte."
Porte, a neo pro from Saxo Bank, is among three Tasmanians along with HTC-Columbia's Matt Goss and Androni's Cameron Wurf who help bring the total number of Australians in the race to 13.
Porte recently won the 23.4km individual time trial at the Tour of Romandie, but his performance at the prologue of the Swiss race was not a good predictor for his performance tomorrow. "This prologue for the Giro d'Italia looks technical but it doesn't bother me as long as I don't crash like in Romandie," he said. "I think I can be up there tomorrow. It's not really my distance but after last week, I won't rule out anything."