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PEZ Preview: La Corsa Rosa – The Contenders
The Giro holds a special place for everyone at PEZ, it has something the other Tours don’t – and we don’t just mean grappa! This year’s Giro looks to be an incredible knife fight with tough time trials and harder mountain stages – PEZ takes a look at the possible contenders to bring home the Maglia Rosa when the 06 Edition ends in Milano.


The 2006 Edition of the Giro d’Italia could well make last year’s epic edition look like an industrial park crit. It’s unfortunate that Le Tour doesn’t follow in the footsteps of the Giro, which has taken course design to a new art…perhaps a sadistic one, but the fans love it, and the racers did their part last year and put on a show, as a result, the race has made a huge comeback of late. It seems that now, if you’re a climber, the Giro is the place to go, because there is no other Grand Tour that loads on the climbs of ridiculous proportions with such unerring efficiency – the Tour and Vuelta are tough for sure, but they ain’t no Giro.


Checklist For Victory
Let’s take a look at the possibilities for a winner in Milano in about four weeks time. What will it take to win in 2006?

1.) You’d better be a REALLY good climber.

2.) Being a bad mofo on the TT-rig won’t hurt, but it probably won’t win you the Giro.

3.) A solid team to guide you through le montagne, hopefully gain you some seconds in the TTT.

4.) Um, being the best in the entire world at climbing wouldn’t hurt.


Better Be Climbing Like Pantani Come The Final Week
The race starts in Belgium with an opening time trial of just over 6k, it’s not classified as a Prologue, as there seems to be a fair chance for some significant time gaps with the inclusion of a 2k hill and super technical parcours. After that, the Giro tromps around southern Belgium for a bit, paying homage to the Italians that populate much of southern Belgium.



A little four-day trip to Belgium starts it off.


After only four stages, it’s rest time and a transfer down to Italia. The riders will be rueing this early rest day later on, when they get whaled on for days on end with no rest, but so it goes when the National Tour goes travelling.



Italy is where the action will go down though.


The Italian segment of the Tour of Italy is where the love will surely be felt. Alessandro Petacchi threatened to not even do his home tour, as he felt there were far too few opportunities for the sprinters, and that it was much too tough – you know it has to be good when Ale-Jet doesn’t want to show up. Petacchi has made his NAME winning at the Giro.

So there are some sprinting stages, some intermediate mountain stages, but the only things that really end up mattering are the time trials and the big time mountain excursions. Time trials seem to be making a sort of comeback at the Giro, but nothing too major. A lot has been made of the team time trial and the longer individual time trial in 2006, but there’s a very good chance that the Stage 1 TT (should be called a Prologue but isn’t), TTT, and long TT, won’t amount to the losses an unfortunate contender could drop on the finishing climb to Plan De Corones or any of the other obscene mountain stages. Nobody out there would like to lose considerable time in the time trials, but this is certainly the Grand Tour where a pathetic time triallist like say, Damiano Cunego or Jose Rujano, could profit big time. Why isn’t Alejandro Valverde doing the Giro?



The Number One man for 2006.


A Fair Assumption
Let’s say that Ivan Basso is the best time triallist at the Giro, and he has the team that will probably do the best in the team time trial as well. Compare it to someone like say, Damiano Cunego. Cunego will lose probably lose under 30 seconds in the Prologue, maybe a minute or so in the TTT, maybe three minutes in the individual time trial – say he loses 5 minutes total in the time trials. Cunego will in turn have an enormous advantage over Basso on a summit finish like Corones which kicks to 24% – Basso ain’t big, but he’s no Rujano or Cunego. Though Basso is arguably the best climber in the world on Tour de France climbs, he might find himself lacking when it comes to ridonculous climbs like Corones or the Mortirolo. Then again, we haven’t seen Basso on too many climbs like those found in this year’s Giro. It wouldn’t be smart to bet against Basso, as it seems that any challenge thrown at the quiet BA has always been met and taken care of.



Savoldelli, Simoni, and Rujano.


Without Further Ado: The Contenders
Of course, when looking for possible winners in 2006, a logical start would be the finishing order from 2005. Paolo Savoldelli took the overall win in what was the best Grand Tour in years – maybe even more suspenseful than the 2003 edition of Le Tour…maybe not, but still, the 05 Giro had it all, and Il Falco managed to hold on by the hair of his chinny chin chin – why? He stomped 2nd and 3rd in the time trials and held on through the mountains, even winning the first mountaintop finish over Ivan Basso. It was apparent though that he was lacking when the road got vehemently screwy like it did on the Finestre.

His two other podium pals, Simoni and Rujano, however, loved the slopes of the Finestre, and if they’re going similarly to last year, they’ll probably do cart-wheels when they think about the Corones on Stage 17, or the Mortirolo which follows shortly thereafter. Gilberto Simoni has a habit of going well up the REALLY steep stuff, a few years back, it was Simoni who stuck it to everyone up the Zoncolan – a climb where some people were rocking triple’s. It’s 2006 though, and triple chainrings are so 20th Century, riders will be rollin on compact cranks in 2006: Tom Danielson is planning on using a 33×29. That Corones climb must be really easy.

Ivan Basso didn’t finish close to the podium last year, though he won two stages and placed second two other times. He was smacked down by a mystery stomach bug, and that could arguably have been the only reason he didn’t win the overall. Basso was without a doubt the strongest rider at last year’s Giro, but being the strongest and actually winning are two different things. Lance Armstrong had a knack for being the strongest and winning as well. Basso has to hope for a little good luck for 2006 – if he can have that, there’s a very fair chance that he’ll end up on top in Milano.



Savoldelli in Pink for a third time? Methinks that might be asking for too much.


Paolo Savoldelli is no slouch though. He has two Giro wins on his palmares, but he lacks in one big time skill – going uphill with the very best. The three crucial mountain stages – 16, 17, 19, and 20 – all include mythically hard climbs. Stage 16 has the Bondone, Stage 17 the soon-to-be infamous Corones, Stage 19 finishes on the San Pellegrino, and Stage 20 includes only the Tonale, Gavia, and Mortirolo. It would truly be a surprise if Savoldelli finishes in the Top 5.



Danielson isn’t an official leader, but we’ll most likely be seeing a lot of him as long as he stays injury-free.


It won’t be a surprise, however, if Tom Danielson does something special. Danielson has always been a huge hype when it comes to climbing, but it appears that now, more than ever, his class as a climber is truly without question. The only reason he didn’t win Georgia a few weeks back? He ran into a Floyd Landis who might very well go and win the Tour de France this summer.

Savoldelli and Danielson have the added bonus of one of the top two teams along with CSC. The team reads very nearly like one of Armstrong’s Tour de France squads, and we all know how well those squads did at protecting Big Tex.



Kid Cunego will be a hot favorite.


The Return Of The Kid
Damiano Cunego had a disastrous run of it in 2005, but not to is fault, as he came down with mono and that put paid to any real chances at overall glory for the youngster. In 2006 though, Cunego is back and roaring along taking just about any small-group sprint that doesn’t have some guy named Valverde in it. Cunego is plenty quick, but can climb with unbelievable speed, and will finally have a team built entirely around him now that Gilberto Simoni has gone bye-bye to Saunier Duval. Cunego is a contender for the overall, but will find his way into the top 5 – at least.


2nd, 3rd, And 4th Last Year…
Gilberto Simoni finished 2nd in 2005, narrowly holding off the hard-charging Jose Rujano. A little behind them, came the white-clad hero, Danilo Di Luca. All three of these riders have the Giro as their number one goal for 2006.



Gilberto Simoni will be an under-dog of sorts in 2006, but we like him much better that way.


Simoni is of course a former two-time winner of the Giro, and even though he’s advancing a bit in the year department, he’s pretty freaking fast uphill, and something special when the road tips to nearly vertical. His time trialling abilities are suspect at best, but he doesn’t really seem to care all that much, and why should he, if I could go uphill that fast, I’d TT on a Big Wheel.



The final week should make Rujano a happy, happy man.


The scary thing is that Jose Rujano can probably go uphill faster than Simoni, and probably faster than Tommy D. It’ll be interesting to see Basso and Rujano go toe to toe, but when it comes to a rider custom built for uphill motion, Rujano is the poster boy. Weighing in at barely over 100 pounds, Rujano looks like he could use a smaller bike, and he’s probably already on a 48. Rujano has had a slow start to 2006, as he pulled off a Terrell Owens-like hold-out for most of the year so far, but seems to have gotten over himself and realized that he had better race the Giro, since this is probably the best chance he’ll ever have at an overall win. He doesn’t seem to be on top form just yet, but he has nearly three weeks before the Giro gets really serious.



Was it smart for Di Luca to focus his whole year on the Giro?


Danilo Di Luca, along with Rujano, was the surprise of the 2005 Giro. Di Luca was always known as a Classics-man. He had won stages of the Giro before, but had really never given any indication that he could actually WIN the thing. For 2006, Di Luca has devoted everything to the possibility of overall glory. Di Luca was absent for most of the Spring, preferring to focus on his preparation for the Giro. One has to wonder if this complete focus will prove fruitful. When it comes time to list contenders, Di Luca doesn’t exactly seem an A-List possibility – top 5 sure, but the overall?

One bonus he does have is Dario Cioni riding shotgun. The ex-mtb champ finished 4th on Giro gc in ’04, was flying at Romandie last week, and told us this morning he’s feeling great. He’ll also be on tap doing PEZ-Clusive diaries rigt here – don’t miss those.



Can Bradley McGee pull off another ride like 2004?


Returning To Find The Magic?
Two years ago, Bradley McGee rode the Giro in remarkable fashion, finally coming good on what everyone had expected from him – a GC player. McGee rode to a fine top 10 finish in 2004, and then went on to the All-Star game known as Le Tour in 2005, only to get worked over backwards and forwards. McGee might see the Giro as another opportunity to find his way in the cutthroat world of GC contenders. You gotta root for the guy though, because you know he will be majorly out-gunned when the roads go heavenward in quick fashion. The Maglia Rosa early on in the Giro could be a very fair goal – Stage 1′s TT is tailor-made for McGee.


A Few Stage Contenders
As mentioned before, this year’s Giro is a brute, a mean, ill-tempered, upward moving monster. For that reason, Alessandro Petacchi almost said nay to the Giro. You know it has to be REALLY bad when Peta, a true Italian, nearly decides to forego the tour that has made him a name.



This year’s Giro is a bit tough for Petacchi, but he should still pull down at least three stage wins.


Petacchi will be there though, and by his count has only about six possibilities for stage victories, but six is plenty enough if he has his game on speedy. Robbie McEwen returns this year as well, probably only to dupe Petacchi and hopefully frustrate the hell out of the regal Italian. McEwen must love his role as angry, little-man, underdog, even when he’s really arguably one of the top 2 sprinters on the planet. The real question is – where is McEwen going to abandon? He won’t finish, the only question is where he’s going to drop-out and use his perennial excuse: “I’ve got the Tour de France to prepare for.”



Robbie Mac will continue his rivalry with Ale-Jet starting this weekend.


McEwen and Petacchi should have some excellent duels early on, and if they mess up in any way, there are a number of other speedsters waiting to take care of things – Graeme Brown comes to mind, as does Paolo Bettini, who could very well get some time in pink early on in this year’s Giro. Perhaps he could do some solid mountain stages as well once he realizes that he weighs 60 kilos and is one of the strongest riders in the world and really has no right NOT to go up mountains really fast. If nothing else, Bettini should have a smoking chance at getting the Points Jersey for a second year in a row.



Bettini should score at least a stage win.


Keep It PEZ Boys And Girls
Yes, yes, indeed, keep it tuned to PEZ for all of May for stories, interviews, pictures, inside scoop – you name it, we’ve got it in May.
• Ed Hood reporting live from Belgium
• PEZ-Clusive Dario Cioni race diary
• Ale Federico live Stages 7 & 8
• Daily Race Reports
• More GRAPPA di PEZ in the exciting final week


VAI, VAI, VAI!!!






 

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