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2016 Giro d'Italia Countdown 2016: Day 1

Hello and welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage of the final build-up to the Giro d'Italia. We're just over 48 hours from Friday's opening time trial in Apeldoorn, the teams and riders have already arrived in the Netherlands, and the bulk of them are due to appear before the press in Apeldoorn today.

First on the set list are the Giant-Alpecin team of local favourite Tom Dumoulin. The Dutchman has designs on taking the maglia rosa in Friday's opening time trial, but - as he has been doing such the winter - he was at pain to point out that he doesn't set out expressly with aspirations of a high overall finish in Turin in three weeks' time.

 

The time trial at the Rio 2016 Olympics, Dumoulin maintains, is his overriding target for the year. "Like I said many times before, this year there’s something special happening in Rio de Janiero. It’s only one time in four years that this chance reveals itself, it’s a course that suits me really well. After Vuelta last year we had some talks about what to do, and now I showed that I’m able to ride GC in Grand Tours but still this dream and this ambition to go for the Olympics is very big, so we decided to focus more on the time trials this year, and we’ll do that in the Giro d’Italia. We’ll focus on the first day and the ninth stage, and also the climbing TT should suit me well," Dumoulin said. "I haven’t done an altuitude camp like I might if I was going for GC. The focus is definitely different and I don’t think we’ll have a Dutch champion of the Giro d’Italia."

 

Patrick Fletcher is on hand for us at the Giant-Alpecin press conference and he'll have the full story in due course, but for now he can tell us that Dumoulin has yet to reconnoitre the Apeldoorn course. As the Dutchman told Cyclingnews in January, an early recon of the Utrecht time trial at last year's Tour proved of little benefit in the grand scheme of things. 

 

"Just because I didn’t do a recon doesn’t mean I’m more relaxed. Who says I’m more relaxed?" Dumoulin says now. "Last May we went to Utrecht to see the course, they blocked the road and had a good look at it. On the day itself, I knew the course but I could have done some corners better, and that’s strange for someone who has seen it six times. It gave me a good impression, but that was it.

"Sometimes I see a course once and I know it. In Utrecht I saw it six times and I still didn’t really know it, so that told me I wasn’t focused.

"Like in Romandie I only saw the TT course in the morning of the TT itself. I did it one time on the bike and one time in the car and I knew it, so I’m confident this course won’t be any trouble."

 

 The Giant Alpecin press conference has come to an end and Dumoulin has been swamped by the Dutch press, eager to have more insight from the time trialist ahead of Friday's stage. The rider himself is keep to stress that Fabian Cancellara is the main favourite to pull on the first maglia rosa of the race.

In their head to head in time trials Cancellara leads 10-5. However in their last prologue encounter it was Dumoulin who came out on top at the Tour de Suisse, taking victory ahead of Cancellara who finished in second place.

 

Away from the Giro d'Italia and we have another edition of the CN podcast. This week we take a look at British Cycling and the allegations surrounding sexism and discrimination. You can hear from Rod Ellingworth, Emma Pooley, BC and Chris Boardman. It's just here.

 

Chag Haga is also part of the team here for Giant Alpecin. CN's Alasdair Fotheringham spoke to him a few minutes ago:
 

“I’m happy to be racing, and even more so at the Giro d’Italia. I’m one step closer to being back to real normal as a racer. This race was my one big goal at the start of the year and so after the crash it became my big focus to get back to the point where I could race it again. I’m happy with my fitness at the moment even if I’m still a little bit intimidated at the thought of three weeks of what I went through at Romandie last week.”

 

We've also looked ahead to the sprint stages in this Giro d'Italia with this excellent guide to the relevant stages and the key sprinters in the race. 

 

There are plenty more press conferences to come, with Gazprom, Cannondale, IAM Cycling, BMC and Lotto Soudal all appearing at the media centre in Apeldoorn in the early afternoon. Mikel Landa and Sky face the press at 17.30 local time, and 30 minutes later, Vincenzo Nibali and his Astana squad will do likewise.

We'll have Landa and Nibali's final thoughts ahead of the Grande Partenza in due course, but while you wait, you can read what the two favourites have had to say earlier in the build-up to the Giro. Nibali talks Vinokourov, Aru and bringing it all back home at the Giro here, while Landa talks keeping his eyes on the prize here.

 

As well as the slew of press conferences today, we'll also be speaking with Fabian Cancellara in a little while and you can tweet your questions by using the hashtag #AskFabian.

 

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) will hold his pre-Giro press conference tomorrow afternoon, but he is the subject of a lengthy interview in this morning's Gazzetta dello Sport. Valverde is making his Giro debut, but he has quite the history with Grand Tours in Italy nonetheless. When the Tour de France went south of the Alps in 2008, CONI tested Valverde's blood and matched it to a blood bag seized from Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes during Operacion Puerto. After a lengthy process, Valverde was eventually handed a two-year ban.

 

"It was what it was," Valverde told Gazzetta of the episode. "My parents taught me to turn the page and look ahead with optimism. I don’t think about the bad things that I suffered, I focus on the good parts of life. I have nothing against Italy and the Italians. And I’ve realised that the Italians don’t have anything against me. In fact, at Tirreno and Milan-San Remo, I felt welcome and loved. It’s nice. Now I can promise one thing: I’ll also ride to give spettacolo. I’ll return their passion."

 

Patrick Fletcher has some more from Tom Dumoulin. The Dutchman has ridden three races against the clock this season and ridden three time trials in 2016 and has finished second on each occasion, most recently at the Tour de Romandie. He'll be looking to put that to rights on Friday.

 

"It bothers me because I just want to win but at the same time it motivates me. It’s not like I’m craving for a victory or I’m lost without a victory," Dumoulin said. "I wish I would live longer in the flow of a victory – whenever I get a victory I love that feeling but already the next day I’m down to earth and back to normal. That same feeling goes for disappointment, but then it’s a good thing.

 

"In Romandie it was quite disappointing, and I cursed a little bit afterwards – despecially the second time trial when I was so close – but the next day I was a happy person again. I did two really good time trials, made no mistakes and twice there was someone better – that’s easy to cope with."

 

Ahead of the Giro, the UCI held a presentation of the technology it is currently employing to detect mechanical doping. “There is a message to the cheaters who are thinking of using this method: Don’t. Because we will catch you," UCI president Brian Cookson said. "The very first time this technology was deployed, we caught somebody and that’s a major disincentive to anyone else.” Stephen Farrand made the trek to Aigle yesterday to find out more, and you can read his full story here.

 

For the third year in a row, the Giro sets out without its reigning champion. Like Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana before him, Alberto Contador has eyes only for the Tour de France this year, and so the honour of wearing the number 1 dossard has been given to Domenico Pozzovivo of Ag2r-La Mondiale. He wore it last year too, of course, when he crashed out of the Giro on stage 3 to Sestri Levante.

 

Michele Scarponi wore dossard number 1 in 2014, incidentally, and he too was forced out by a crash. A heavy fall at this year's Tirreno-Adriatico looked to have compromised Scarponi's 2016 Giro, but he returned to action at the Giro del Trentino last month and he lines out as part of Nibali's Astana guard here.

 

Meanwhile, Giro director Mauro Vegni has given a vote of confidence to the UCI's current mechanical doping testing regimen. He told Gazzetta dello Sport that RCS had been willing to fund the purchase of thermal imaging cameras "but they turned out not to be necessary." You can read more details here.

 

The Giro's recent northern European starts, in Denmark in 2012 and in Ireland in 2014, featured their share of cold and rain, but for Friday's prologue at least should take place in pleasant conditions. Conditions are dry and clear in Apeldoorn at the moment and are expected to stay that way through the weekend, with temperatures due to rise from the current 15 degrees.

Gazprom have now arrived in the press centre in Apeldoorn. There was a full house for Giant-Alpecin, but the Russian squad has attracted a rather sparser attendance. Patrick Fletcher is on hand for us, and tells us that the team's press officer was the first speaker: “I see there aren’t many people – only those most passionate about cycling Maybe we had a bad time being on at lunchtime…"

 

Gazprom-RusVelo's invitation - at the expense of Gianni Savio's Androni Giocattoli - was something of a surprise, but team leader Sergey Firsanov has enjoyed a solid start to 2016. The 33-year-old won the Settimana Coppi e Bartali and Giro dell'Appennino, and placed fourth overall at the Giro del Trentino.

 

We spoke to team manager Renat Khamidulin back in January following Gazprom-RusVelo's invitation, and the former Grassi-Mapei rider and Eurosport commentator gave us an introduction to his team

 

Firsanov turned professional back in 2005 with Latvian outfit Rietumu–Delfin and has been operating off Broadway for most of his career. He joined the Russian Global Cycling Project – which has Katusha at its head – in 2011, when he signed for the Itera-Katusha Continental team, and he ‘graduated’ to RusVelo the following year. This Giro will be his first Grand Tour. “I have felt really good from the beginning of the season,” Firsanov says. “The Giro is the first experience for me in such a long and great race. Let’s see what I can do.”

 

Gazprom-RusVelo manager Renat Khamidulin speaks: "We believe we have a very complete team. We have a man for GC in Firsanov. But we’ll attack and try to win stages. We will attack every day. We’ll try to win solo, we have fast riders so will try to win in the sprints and we have riders who can do a good time trial, so I’m confident."

 

Sergei Ivanov, the team’s directeur sportif and a former Amstel Gold Race winner, talks about the Russian influence in this year’s Giro, with three Russian teams – two of which are fully made up of Russian riders: “For us it’s very important. I saw the riders, Katusha start with a Russian team, we start with a Russian team, and Tikoff start with some Russian riders. That’s a great thing, and I hope it’s not the last time it happens in a big race like this.”

 

Speaking in January, meanwhile, Khamidulin was at pains to stress that his Gazprom-Rusvelo team would not ride in support of Katusha and Ilnur Zakarin's GC aspirations, insisting that they separate entities, despite being part of the Russian Global Cycling Project. “No, our team is absolutely independent of Katusha,” Khamidulin said then. “Absolutely no, it’s not possible. We ride for ourselves and we’re looking to get results for ourselves. Things like that should never happen in cycling and the UCI does a lot of work to prevent it from happening. We’d never ride in the service of another team.”

 

Tom Dumoulin's thoughts in full from the earlier Giant-Alpecin press conference are now online and you can read them here. The Dutchman has tipped Fabian Cancellara to wear the first maglia rosa of the race.

 

Cannondale duo Rigoberto Uran and Davide Formolo are the next riders to arrive at the press centre. Second overall in 2013 and 2014, Uran sets out as something of a dark horse this time around after a solid if unspectacular spring campaign. 

 

“I know the race very well and I’ve prepared specifically for it. I’m on a good team that’s been working all year to prepare for this race,” Uran says. “It’s special to be here in Holland which will be a bit different. The level will be very high, especially in the last week, but I’m hoping for a good result. The team is young and strong, and we’ve come here wanting to win this Giro. I’ve been close before, but I’ved never achieved what I wanted to in the Giro.”

 

Still only 23 years old, Formolo is asked what he can achieve at this year's race, with one Italian journalist pointing out that Fausto Coppi won his first Giro at just 20 years of age. No pressure, then...

 

“Last year was my first Grand Tour. It was a great Giro and a great first experience,” Formolo says of a race marked by his solo stage win in La Spezia. “This year, I’m here to support Rigo, to be with him in the crucial moments. That’s my big objective. Maybe over the course of the 21 days, I can find some space for myself too.”

 

 IAM Cycling are about to kick off their press conference here. We'll be able to bring you quotes and reactions as soon as we can.

IAM Cycling are in front of the microphones and their DS is in a modest frame of mind:


"Our objective will be to try to win a stage. We have an offensive team here, and also a team built to be able to do the sprints. For sure that’s where we can try to get the stage win. For the rest of the stages we’ll try our best in the breakaway and see how it goes."

 

Matteo Pelucchi, second on stage 6 last year, says he’s once again going all out to get a first Giro stage win. He reels off a list of names of his main rivals but reserves special mention for two: “The two main threats are Kittel and Greipel – that’s for sure.”

 

Matthias Brandle, a former UCI Hour Record holder, is asked if he considers himself a favourite for Friday’s opening time trial in Apeldoorn.

“Cancellara and Dumoulin are the favourites but there are also outsiders, and I consider myself an outsider. There’s no reason why an outsider can’t get a good result.”

IAM have left the stage for now but we have BMC coming into the hall in less than 40 minutes.

A quick reminder for our recent podcast, featuring Chris Boardman, Rod Ellingworth, Emma Pooley and the President of BC, Brian Howden. You can listen to the episode, right here.

BMC will be up on stage in about 10 minutes. They've had to shake up their team a little after Philippe Gilbert broke his finger ahead of the Ardennes Classics. They've got Darwin Atapuma who could mount a GC challenge but the team has said they are looking for stage wins first and foremost

While the Giro d'Italia is dominating things at the moment, there is news elsewhere in the world. We've collated a few key stories in our latest edition of our news shorts, including the South African laboratory suspended by WADA and LottoNL-Jumbo securing another two years of sponsorship from the Dutch Lotto. You can read those and more here

 

BMC's press conference is well underway. We'll have news from that later with Lotto-Soudal, Astana and Sky still to come this afternoon.

 

As well as Dumoulin, we spoke to Chad Haga at the Giant-Alpecin press conference. The American is on the comeback trail after suffering horrible injuries when he and his teammates were hit by a car on the wrong side of the road. He told Cyclingnews that racing the Giro d'Italia is a step closer to being a normal rider again. You can read what he had to say here

 

BMC have left the stage and made way for Lotto-Soudal. The Belgian team have Andre Greipel in their line-up again. Will he continue his run of a stage win per participation? Well, there are plenty of opportunities for the sprinters. In fact, you can read our sprint preview right here

 

There will plenty of ways to follow the Giro d'Italia over the coming weeks, including our own live coverage and the Tour Tracker (which you can find a link to above) and we've put together all the information you need to ensure you don't miss a thing with our guide to watching the Giro d'Italia

 

Rigoberto Uran was speaking to the press earlier, we'll have a full story soon but this is some of what he had to say.

 

“I’m still the same person, what is changing with time is that there is a greater pressure each year from the team,” Uran said. “But I also put more pressure on myself.”

 

“It’s because I’ve been close to getting the overall victory, but it hasn’t arrived yet, so the pressure [to win] gets higher as time goes by. However, I’m handling that well. I know what I’ve done right and what I’ve done wrong in the past, and even if there are more rivals, I’m ready to challenge again for the Giro victory.”

 

André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) won in Castiglione della Pescaia last year and the German is back looking for a repeat this time around. Twelve months ago, he left the Giro after two weeks in order to prepare for the Tour de France and, well, he broadly hinted that he will do something similar this time around. “The goal is to win a stage, and then see day by day, especially in the last week,” he said. “The last week is quite hard. We’ll see what we do at the rest of the Giro.”

Tim Wellens finished 54th overall in his debut Giro two years ago, and despite his climbing potential, he says that he has no aspirations of a high finish on general classification this time out. “If I go for GC, maybe I can be tenth with a lot of luck, so I prefer to gamble and save my strength for stage victories,” Wellens says. “For me, it’s more beautiful.”“If I go for GC, maybe I can be tenth with a lot of luck, so I prefer to gamble and save my strength for stage victories,” Wellens says. “For me, it’s more beautiful.”

 

Ag2r-La Mondiale are the next team to visit the media centre, with Domenico Pozzovivo called upon to explain the team's approach. The Italian will share leadership this year with Jean-Christopher Peraud, second overall at the 2014 Tour de France. "We don’t have one leader; we have two leaders. We’re both here to get one of us in the top five and both in the top ten," Pozzovivo said. "We’re looking absolutely at GC but then we want to win stages, specifically mountain stages.”

 

Pozzovivo's best Giro finish was his 5th place of 2014, but he has captured just one stage win in the corsa rosa over the years, when he soloed to victory at Lago Laceno in 2012. At that point, a week into the most open Giro in recent memory, Pozzovivo was even seen as a possible overall winner but he dropped to 8th in the final days of racing as Ryder Hesjdedal took a surprise win.

 

Jean-Christophe Péraud plans to retire at the end of the current season, but he didn't want to bring the curtain down on his career without sampling the Giro. “I’m here to ride a race I’ve never done before. This is the third Grand Tour for me. I know about the love for cycling in Italy so I’m excited about experiencing that," says Péraud, who turns 39 on May 22. “At Trentino I had some good feelings, so I’m not here just to participate, but to perform. The goal is top 10 but if the opportunity is there to go better, I won’t let up.”

 

As we mentioned this morning, Pozzovivo's 2015 Giro came to an untimely end on stage 3, when he was involved in a heavy crash on the descent of the Barbagelata. “To be honest I had no memory of it happening in the first place,” Pozzovivo says when asked if the incident sticks in mind. “I saw images of course, then I saw how it happened, but no, I’ve forgotten about it and I raced hard last year. I’m not a superstitious person, so I don’t think about it, and it won’t stop me giving my best at this Giro d’Italia.”

 

Mikel Landa and Team Sky have entered the building. After winning the Giro del Trentino, the Basque is viewed by many as the greatest threat to home favourite Vincenzo Nibali, though winning in Trentino is no guarantee of Giro success, as Richie Porte (2015) and Cadel Evans (2014) can attest.

 

Asked if he is concerned about peaking too soon, Landa's response is curt: “No. I think I’ll get better as the race goes on.”

 

Landa's supporting cast at the Giro was supposed to include Sergio Henao, but the Colombian has been withheld from racing after the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation raised questions about the blood values in his biological passport. It has not yet been confirmed whether formal proceedings will be opened against him. “For me it’s a blow, we get on well together," Landa says of Henao. "He had an important role in the mountains. I hope to see him back as soon as possible. Luckily a team like Sky is full of great riders. Mikel Nieve stepped in at the last minute and he will perform the role just as well.”

 

Sky’s Elia Viviani won the opening road stage in Genoa a year ago, and he is looking to repeat the feat this year, despite the team’s emphasis on the general classification battle. “I’m here to win stages. I won one last year and it was fantastic, and I want to taste that again,” Viviani said. “The red jersey would be nice, but stage wins are more important and I have work to do to support Mikel – that’s the main goal of the team.”

 

Patrick Fletcher has more from the Sky press conference: 'Landa, speaking to TV crews, is asked if he has picked out a stage he’d most like to win. “One of the time trials,” he jokes, before pointing to the more realistic prospect of a win somewhere in the mountains.

Has much changed since he has become a team leader in his own right?

“I’ve had to get to know the riders around me, decide who I’d like to have around me. Apart from that not much, a few more details and responsibilities but I haven’t felt great pressure.”'

 

Sky have exited stage left, and now Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) has taken up residence in the press conference room, where Alasdair Fotheringham is already installed.

 

Nibali is asked if he is concerned about his pre-Giro form. "Looking at Trentino, it was very hard, but the reality is that I'm pretty calm and confident," Nibali says. "I'm very prepared. I'm not overly happy with how it went in Trentino, but I worked very hard, building towards this Giro."

 

Asked about his rivals for the maglia rosa, Nibali says: “Looking at the latest form and last year, Landa is young and he’s going for GC, and recent results confirm he’ll be one of biggest adversaries. Then there are the younger ones, and for sure there’ll be a surprise or two. And then of course, there’s Tom Dumoulin and Esteban Chaves.”

 

On the course, Nibali says: “The mountains, starting with the Dolomites, will be crucial. Before that, the [Chianti] time trial is going to be first key battle. There are so many curves, it’s very technical. But there other lumpy stages, too. I don’t want to forget the Arezzo stages, which includes some strade bianche so we’ll really get a feel for who’s going to be in top form there. Stage by stage, there are always going to be surprises, but it’s difficult to say which will be most important. The Dolomites are hard, but then you’ve got the stress of the last week. It all depends on how we are going to race.”

 

Asked if taking a significant chunk of time out of Landa in the Chianti time trial is essential, Nibali says: “The time trial is in my favour, and of course Landa, we know him well, and we know that time trialling has always been his weak point. But there’s not just Landa. There are lots of other important riders here, like Valverde, Dumoulin, they can do very well too. We’ll see.”

 

There's also a question for Jakob Fulgsang, who will be a key lieutenant for Nibali over the next three weeks. "I have to try to be up there in general classification, as another card to play, a plan B," he says. "But we’ll see. It's a bit like in the 2014 Tour, when I had a bad time and fell out of GC with a crash, but it worked out fine because Vincenzo won.”

 

The final word falls to Michele Scarponi. Rarely one to give a considered answer when a glib one will do, the Italian on this occasion gives a very succinct vote of confidence to his team leader here: "In this precise moment and knowing his condition, I’d much prefer to be with Nibali than against him."

 

We'll have the full stories from the Sky and Astana press conferences online in due course. For now, you can read what Rigoberto Uran had to say about his Giro here and Chad Haga's pre-race thoughts here.

 

Thanks for joining our rolling coverage of the build-up to the start of the Giro d'Italia. We'll be back with more tomorrow, and then we'll have live coverage of every stage, starting with Friday's opening time trial in Apeldoorn.

 

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