It would be wrong to think that Cannondale-Drapac is riding the 100th Giro d’Italia without a designated team leader; in truth they have nine leaders, with each of the nine riders alternating their roles and goals depending on the terrain of the 21 stages. They are nine mavericks, nine mercenaries, nine talented riders who are determined to leave their mark out on the road during the next three weeks.
Davide Formolo will target the overall classification and hopes to finish as high up as possible in the top 10 after slimming down and changing his training accordingly. But he will also go for stage victories if he sees a chance while riding as close as possible to the other overall contenders in the mountains.
Michael Woods, Alex Howes, Kristijan Koren, Tom-Jelte Slagter and Davide Villella will target the rolling stages, going into the breakaways and trying late moves in the hope of winning a stage.
Pierre Rolland, Hugh Carthy and Joe Dombrowski are Cannondale-Drapac’s best climbers. They will help Formolo but also have the freedom to target mountain stages. The Frenchman has years of experience of going on the attack at the Tour de France. He could also target the blue climber’s jersey, while Carthy could challenge fellow Briton Adam Yates for the best young rider’s white jersey. Dombrowski is still searching for his best form after an injury-hit spring, but he proved last year that he can compete in the breakaways in the final week.
"We’re a team of attackers, we want to light up the race every day and try to win," Formolo explained to Cyclingnews with his natural confidence higher than ever after his strong performance at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
"Five or six of us can win stages. We all know how to race and how to move in the peloton. You’re going to see a lot of green argyle jerseys up the road this year. Last year we rode for Rigoberto Urán but he unfortunately fell ill. This year we've got more freedom. We don’t have a fully protected leader to worry about like some teams, but we’re actually stronger individually and so as a consequence as a team.”
Formolo won a stage at the Giro d’Italia in 2015 when he was still only 22. He would love to win again but knows he has other responsibilities due to his excellent form and hard work this spring.
"If you have good form you can be up there overall, and I think I've proved I've got good form," he said. "That's boosted my confidence. We'll see how I get on in the third week. I'll try to save energy as much as possible and then try to get some results in the mountains.
"I think I can be up there with riders like Kruijswijk, Thomas, Landa and other outsiders for the GC. The final placings will be decided in the final week. The top 10 will depend on how we all handle the first two weeks."
On Thursday, the Cannondale-Drapac riders went for one last training ride on the stunning roads near their hotel in Sassari, in northern Sardinia. As ever, the atmosphere was relaxed but focused. The riders tested their new bikes and clothing and shook out their legs before the first stage. On Friday, they face the opening stage from Alghero to Olbia along Sardinia's northern coastline and spectacular beaches.
For most it is their first time in Sardinia, and Italian is their third or fourth language. Formolo has automatically become the team’s official translator when ordering mid-ride espresso coffees or that extra plate of pasta in the hotel.
Hugh Carthy is more introverted than Formolo. He is equally determined and ambitious but wants to ride his first ever Giro d'Italia his way, flying below the radar.
"In the last few days I've been trying to get myself mentally ready, physically there wasn't much more to do. It was about relaxing and arriving at the Giro with fire in my belly," he told Cyclingnews.
"You've got to be ready to perform every day in Grand Tours, even on a stage that doesn’t suit you. You've got to be ready for anything. It's a mental battle, you've got to know how to take the rough with the smooth," Carthy said.
"I'm trying to be relaxed and the team is helping do that. I'm not putting pressure on me, they're not putting pressure on me and they're not letting anyone else put pressure on me. That's how it's going to stay too."
Some of the Cannondale-Drapac riders are Giro d’Italia debutants. Others have ridden numerous times. Rolland has ridden 12 Grand Tours but is about to start just his second Giro d’Italia, however. Woods is about to get is first ever taste of Grand Tour racing. His excitement was contagious and sums up the team spirit at Cannondale-Drapac.
"It's my first Giro, so it's special but I don't want to get ahead of myself because I'm going into the unknown," he told Cyclingnews.
"Last year I was on the team roster for every Grand Tour, but I managed to mess it up through some bad decision and just bad luck. Because I missed those starts, this one is so special. I want to wrap myself up in bubble wrap until the start."
Woods is known for his aggressive racing and huge attacks. They don't often come off, but that will rightly not stop him and his teammates from trying time and time again in the next three weeks.
"Were going to really opportunistic. That's my favourite way to race and the team's favourite way to race," Woods said.
"I'm going to target single stages. The big thing is making it into the last week. If I can get there in good shape, I think I can really do some damage."
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