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Giro d'Italia 2015 Preview

9th May 2015

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Saturday marks the start of the first Grand Tour of the 2015 season. The 98th edition of the Giro d'Italia, which covers a total of 3481.8km, presents an interesting course that is sure to mix things up along the way. 

With a wide array of flat, undulating and mountainous stages for our viewing pleasure, comes an equally wide array of contenders sure to keep us glued to our TV screens for the next three weeks.

GiroOne candidate that can never be disregarded at a Grand Tour is the formidable Alberto Contador. Aiming to undertake the Giro-Tour double, Contador is entering into this race in fine form. He recently spent a fortnight training at altitude in Tenerife, where he reportedly climbed as many metres as he'll face throughout the entire Giro. Tinkoff-Saxo has assembled a strong team to support him over the next three weeks, including Ivan Basso, Roman Kreuziger and Michael Rogers, to ensure the Spaniard doesn't lose precious seconds, especially in the opening team time trial. As the only one of the main GC contenders to have won a Grand Tour, it would be hard to bet against Alberto Contador. 

Arguably, Contador's main contender comes in the form of Australian Richie Porte. Up until recently, the Team Sky rider led the UCI World Tour individual rankings, until Valverde’s dominant display at the Ardennes Classics, proving his consistency so far this season. In previous Grand Tours, Porte’s difficulty has ironically come from his lack of consistency, however, with three overall victories in stage races and multiple stage wins, the Australian is seemingly in the form of his career. With the likes of Mikel Nieve, Vasil Kiryienka and experienced road-captain Bernie Eisel supporting Porte in the mountains, it would be no surprise to see him on the podium in Milano.

Last year saw first and second place going to Colombians and this year with the absence of last year’s victor, Quintana, Etixx-Quickstep’s Rigoberto Uran is flying the Colombian flag. Finishing second two years in a row at the Giro d’Italia, he is slowly moving towards ‘nearly-man’ status, however, 2015 has already proved consistent for Uran. In all three stage races he has competed in this year, he has finished in the top five and, unlikely to keep up with the pure climbers, Uran will try to make up any losses during the brutal stage 14 time trial in which he will no doubt excel.

Somewhat of a revelation at last year's Giro d'Italia was Astana’s Fabio Aru. Managing to fend off the accomplished likes of Cadel Evans and Ryder Hesjedal, the young Italian climbed his way onto the podium, grasping a stage victory on his way. Although, due to a stomach virus, the 24 year-old’s racing days have been cut short this season making his form questionable. As long as Aru can limit his losses during the stage 14 individual time trial, don’t be surprised if the gifted-climber repeats his successes of last season.

At first glance, it's hard to see past these big names when it comes to the final podium. The starting roster, however, features several other world-class riders. It would not be wise to dismiss the likes of AG2R’s Domenico Pozzovivo, who always fares well at his home race, finishing in the top 10 of his past three Giros. Another name worth mentioning is Katusha’s Ilnur Zakarin. The young Russian took a surprising victory at the recent Tour of Romandie, ahead of the likes of Chris Froome. At only 23 years of age, Zakarin’s time trial potential could make him an outside bet for a top 10 finisher. To complete the top 10, look to riders such as, former winner, Ryder Hesjedal (Team Cannondale-Garmin), Jurgen van den Broeck (Lotto-Soudal), Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Vini Fantini), Ion Izagirre (Movistar) and Damiano Caruso (BMC).

With top sprinters like Cavendish, Kristoff and Kittel setting their sights on the Tour de France, the field is wide open for other strong men in the peloton to seize an opportunity at victory. On paper, the top man for the flat stages looks to be Lotto-Soudal’s Andre Greipel. Taking his third victory of the season at the Tour of Turkey, the strong German is setting his sights on stage wins at the Giro, before heading to the Tour de France in July. However, hoping to stop Greipel in his tracks are the likes of Lotto-Jumbo’s Moreno Hofland, who granted his team their first win of the season at the recent Tour de Yorkshire and Luca Mezgec of Giant-Alpecin, who took a stage win at last year’s Giro. It may be foolish to single out these riders, as the level of sprinters at this year’s race seems pretty equal. Greipel, Hofland and Mezgec will be joined by the likes of Giacomo Nizzolo, Elia Viviani, Sacha Modolo and Matteo Pelucchi. For the more undulating stages that may prove tougher for the sprinters, look to the stronger, more versatile riders, such as the tough Orica-GreenEDGE pairing of Michael Matthews and Simon Gerrans, and IAM’s Henrich Haussler.

Participating in their first Giro d'Italia are names that are sure to create fireworks. After missing the classics season due to injury, Tom Boonen is back in the saddle and has already made known his intentions to support Uran throughout. Sylvain Chavanel, IAM Cycling, has surprising never ridden a Giro before in his career. His teammate, and Australian champion, Henrich Haussler is also making his Giro d’Italia debut, a pairing that are sure to take any breakaway opportunities they can muster.

Stage 1 kicks off proceedings with a 17.6km team time trial from San Lorenzo al Mare to Sanremo. Last year's winners of the opening TTT in Belfast, Orica Green-EGDE, enter in as favourites to take the maglia rosa early on. With the likes of time trial specialists Luke Durbridge, Michael Hepburn and Simon Clarke included in the Australian team's lineup, history could be repeating itself, seeing Michael Matthews with a stint in pink again, thanks to a flat stage two to follow. With a tricky route, the teams with main GC contenders will be unlikely to take too many risks along the narrow course. Although teams such as Tinkoff-Saxo and Team Sky will have to make sure their team leaders don’t lose valuable time so early on.

So there you have it folks. Overall, it's hard to see past Contador for the overall, but I have no doubt the likes of Porte and Aru, will make life hard for El Pistolero. Although, as I learnt a long time ago, this is cycling; who knows who or what the next three weeks will uncover. 

To see a video preview of this year's Giro d'Italia, check out this video from the Global Cycling Network to hear their predictions!

Who do you think is going to stand on the final podium in Milan? Comment below!

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