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PEZ Previews: The 2014 GIRO d’ITALIA!
nibali_evans650 The 97th edition of the Giro d’Italia is kicking off this Friday in Belfast and once again PEZ will be there front and center to capture all the action roadside. Before the ‘Fight for Pink’ gets underway though lets have a closer look at the percorso and the favorites who are lining up.



‘All The World in Pink’ – yes, it’s that time again. The Tour may be bigger, the Vuelta may be earthier but there’s no race more glamorous than the Giro d’Italia – it’s all that pink and the beautiful countryside which the dramas are played out upon that make it so special. This will be edition 97 of the ‘pink race.’

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The 2013 Giro arrives in Giovinazzo, start town of this year’s 4th stage.

The Stats
The race was first run in 1909 but lost editions to the First and Second World Wars; the 1909 race was won by Luigi Ganna of Italy. And despite the best efforts of that man Merckx the race has been dominated by the home nation ever since its inception.

Of the 96 Giri thus far, 68 have been won by Italians, 41 different native names honour the palmares with Campionissimos Alfredo Binda and Fausto Coppi both on five each along with aforementioned Edouard Louis Joseph, Baron Merckx. And whilst 11 nations have won the race, Belgium is a distant second in the table of winners with ‘only’ seven, the other two coming from Messrs. Michel Pollentier and Johan De Munck in the 70’s.

The longest Giro was 1954 at 4337 kilometres with the longest stage in 1914 at 430 kilometres – they were men back then. The fastest Giro was 2010, 3483 kilometres at 39.707 won by Ivan Basso. The fastest stage was in 2012 when Andrea Guardini completed Stage 18 at 40.229 kph.

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Ivan Basso in pink during his record breaking win in 2010

The Corsa
All 18 of the UCI World Tour teams plus four wild card Pro Continental teams line up for Friday’s partenza. This year’s race – you will all be aware – starts in Ireland; and the first Middle Eastern Grand Tour prologue course is probably on a drawing board somewhere in Milano/Paris/Madrid as I write this.

It’s not the first time the race has started outside of Italia, there have been 11 foreign kick offs; San Marino first hosted a foreign start in 1965 with the most recent being Denmark in 2012. Call me a dinosaur and I know full well that Euros Rule but for me it’s a gimmick and nothing to do with the Giro; but don’t worry, I’m a dinosaur and will be extinct soon enough.

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Three days on the Emerald Isle with a Friday TTT to start are followed by an early and additional rest day on Monday. The new UCI regulations dictate no rest days until the first week has elapsed but this was circumvented by having three race days.

The transfer is a monster – all the way to the ‘heel’ of Italy from whence the race winds north through the Apennine chain and plains for a brutal last week in the north with five killer stages.

Stage 15 is 217 kilometres; the profile could have been drawn by a child, nice and flat until the end and then suddenly rearing straight up to finish on 1665 metres altitude at Plan Di Montecampione.

stage_15_profile
Stage 15’s profile

The rest day follows but everyone’s mind will be on stage 16 with two legendary climbs and a third good hard slap in the face to finish; the Passo Gavia at 2,618 m. Passo Stelvio 2,758 m. and a mountain top finish at the 2,059 m. at Val Martello all within 139 K. If you crack today, as many will, it’s over.

stage_16_profile
Stage 16 – ouch!

Stage 18 has the Passo San Pelligrino at 1,918 m. and a mountain top finish at 1.760 m. at Valsugana over 171 K and Stage 19 is a chrono – but most low pros will stay in the mechanics’ truck. At the end of 26.8 K of pain the contenders will be at the top of the Cima Grappa and at 1,712 m. altitude. Not the day to have bad legs.

stage_19_profile
Stage 19’s TT profile.

Stage 20’s 167 K of delights include the Passo Del Purra at 1,428 m. and the Sella Razio at 1,816 m. And there’s a sting in the tail with Monte Zoncolan at 1,730 m. – a savage swine of an ascent which the Pez himself suffered on here. Upon which the organisers will be hoping for a 2013 Angliru-esque Horner/Nibali cliff hanger finale . . .

After that it’s just down to Viviani to win Stage 21 into Trieste.

The Contenders
The jungle’s four most merciless predators, Contador, Froome, Nibali and Valverde are saving their blood lust for July and le Tour – but that doesn’t mean this will be a tame affair. There’s no real mega favourite which should make for a good race with more than just two or three riders fancying their chances and going for the podium.

nibali_evans
No defending champ Nibali this year – maybe pink for Cadel instead?

To analyze the favourites, here we open the files on the PEZ duodecad (Google it, folks.)

The first file we open is, ‘Damaged Goods’: It looked like Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha & Catalonia) had got it just right; with a slow build up, victory in his home Tour of Catalonia and great form for the Ardennes Classics before crossing the Irish Sea to challenge for the maglia rosa on a percorso to suit his climbing strengths.

But a crunching crash on the hard roads of Wallonia dictated otherwise and Rodriguez had to abandon The Amstel, skip the Fleche and quit Liege too – races he should have been a hot favourite for and an essential part of the ‘form’ jigsaw. He’s a tough wee character but it’s hard to win a Grand Tour at less than 100%.

What does this next file title say?

Ah, the ‘Maybe?’ file: Domenicco Pozzovivo (AG2R & Italy) displayed good form in the Tirreno and Trentino, sixth and eighth respectively, made the top 10 in Catalunya and was one of the men of the match in Liege, ending up fifth. His French AG2R equipe no longer ‘just make up the numbers’ so he has strong backing and has the climbing talent – a podium, maybe . . .

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Can Pozzovivo slide his way into pink this year?

Trek have given the number one dossard to talented Croatian Robert Kiserlovski; top 10 in Tirreno and Catalonia bode well, freed from his usual ‘domestique deluxe’ role, he can he go top 10 – maybe . . .

Our third file is ‘Eastern Promise’: the men from the far side of Europe and beyond have done well in the Giro with Berzin, Tonkov and Menchov all winning the race for Russia.

Poland’s hope for this year is Tinkoff’s Rafal Majka; he was seventh here last year, top ten in Paris-Nice and the Criterium International. His 13th in the Tour of Romandie doesn’t tell the whole story; he crashed at a bad moment and top six is possible for the man from Polska.

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But we’ll go back to the other fringe of the continent – and in the ‘Luck of the Irish’ file let’s have a look at Nico Roche (Tinkoff & Ireland). A brilliant stage win, a spell in the red leader’s jersey and fifth on GC in last year’s Vuelta proved that his Grand Tour race ambitions weren’t day dreams. His build up this year has been compromised by injury but he has grinta and we all want a fairy tale Irish stage winner in Ireland, don’t we?

Dan Martin is in that file too. The Garmin man was desperately unlucky to crash in finale at Liege when in a potentially race winning situation. He was second in the Fleche too, so the form is there. There is a ‘but’ however; he’s thus far never been robust enough to survive a three week stage race unscathed – maybe he’ll surprise us but a spectacular mountain stage win seems a better bet.

And now the ‘Most Likely To’ file: As Dave and I stood on the Tre Cime penultimate stage of last year’s Giro doing our best Scott of the Antarctic impersonations we were mightily surprised and impressed by a certain Fabio Aru (Astana & Italy).

fabio_aru

He was right there in the blizzard having supported his Capo, Nibali to overall victory all the way through the previous 19 stages. An U23 star in Italy up until 2012, he’s moved seamlessly into the World Tour and seventh in Trentino bodes well for the man who – if not this year – will soon be a contender for the podium.

Let’s blow the dust off this one, ‘Oldies But Goodies’:

Ivan Basso (Cannondale & Italy) – we thought it was over for Ivan after the 2012 Giro as he burned up his team, churned on like a Mack truck but couldn’t find the accelerations when they were needed – fifth was as good as he could get. He had to skip the race last year due to saddle sores but surprised us all with a very strong showing in the Vuelta until he fell victim to foul weather conditions.

He’s 36 years-old, has been a pro for nearly two decades and whilst his form hasn’t been sparkling thus far in 2014 it’s to still a little bit too early to back fill his grave.

On that subject, I gave Cadel Evans (BMC & Australia) short shrift in my 2013 Giro preview, I thought it was over for ‘Cuddles’ – and then he popped up and finished on the podium. It’s good for the humility to be wrong, now and again.

evans_preview

There’s definitely no short shrift this year, not after his winning Trentino and an excellent Tour Down Under where he won a stage and was second on GC. He was also good in Haut Var, the Strade Bianche and Basque Country. He has the legs, his head must be good, the team is strong on the road and logistically – he could just maybe win this bike race.

Michele Scarponi (Astana & Italy) has some questionable numbers in his speed dial, granted – but he has grinta and a ready smile, even after the toughest stage. It’s hard to dislike the man. A prolific winner in Italy, he’s claimed Giro stages and the GC in the past – top ten placings in the Ruta Del Sol, Tirreno and Trentino mean it’s not time to collect his pension just yet. A podium is unlikely – despite a case hardened team around him – but a top ten is highly likely.

Some say that it’s because there’s much more room in the team fridges these days that the Colombians are resurgent, their birth and upbringing at high altitude giving them a big advantage over us sea level mortals; whatever the reason, the ‘Colombian Roasters’ file is hot to the touch.

Yours truly didn’t include him in the ‘Tour Favourites’ list for 2013; but Nairo Quintana (Movistar) soon placed me firmly in my box with a stage win, best climber, best U23 and second on GC – no need to rub it in, Dude! In line with the ‘new ways’ he hasn’t raced a lot, this year – but he did win San Luis; it took Contador to beat him in Tirreno and he was only 10 seconds back on winner Rodriguez in Catalonia in fifth spot. In other words, he’s in good shape.

tdf13-quintana

Movistar are giving him the kind of team mates you’d want around you if it came to a do or die shoot out with the Federales and the team management is second to none when it comes to tactics. He can win.

In the same file we have the other man who we can think can win this Giro – a countryman of Quintana’s and with the might and guile of QuickStep behind him, Rigoberto Uran is a real deal potential winner. Originally a track rider with national championships to his credit in his youth, that speed has stayed with him; he was second in the 2012 Olympic Road Race and second overall in this race for Sky last year after Bradley Wiggins quit. He hasn’t sparkled at all in 2014 but in this era it’s all about the form being there on the day or 24 days, in this case.

If pushed I’ll say Quintana from Uran and Evans.

PEZ will be there with the best race reports and roadside coverage – just like always, and . . . .

What’s that?

A beer choice for the Giro?

It has to be Moretti la Rossa: ‘A double bock beer produced using high quality 100% malted barley, giving it a rich sweet taste and an intense fragrance of roasted malt. The amber colour that characterizes the beer, comes from kind of malt used in the recipe (malt is dried, roasted barley).

Another key ingredients is hops, the variety used is particularly aromatic, giving a characteristic bitter aftertaste and a delicate fragrance to the beer. The Master Brewers advise a service temperature between 10° and 12° C’

 

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