May 04, 2006

La Corsa Rosa - A preview of the 2006 Giro d'Italia: With mountains aplenty, this year's Tour of Italy should be a very exciting race. Here's a quick look at the riders to look out for over the next three weeks

The 89th edition of the Giro d'Italia - Italy's equivalent of the Tour de France - begins on Saturday and looks like it could be a classic race, with plenty of genuine contenders and an extremely tough course. I mean extremely tough.

Beginning in Belgium to commemorate the 50th anniversiry Bois de Cazier mining disaster, in which many Italian immigrants were killed, the race spends the first four days over fairly flat terrain. Here the sprinters like Alessandro Petacchi and Robbie McEwen will be eager to grab at least one victory, because once the race heads back to Italy for the stage 5 team time trial, the flat stages become few and far between.

Once the TTT is out of the way, the pain begins, as almost every stage from this point on includes some pretty meaty climbs. In all, there are 7 major mountain stages, and 5 summit finishes. One of the stages - 17 - finishes on the never-before-used climb of the Plan de Corones, which has a 5.5 kilometre finishing stretch of completely unpaved road. Doesn't sound too bad? At it's steepest point it has a section with a 24% gradient. That's steep, even for pro bike racers. In short, this year's Giro makes the Tour look like a ride in the park.

Here is a quick look at which riders will be vying for the pink jersey at the end of the three-week race:

Paolo Savoldelli: Two-time winner (and reigning champion), Savoldelli will be ably supported by a strong Discovery Channel team. However, "il Falco" may start to struggle at the back end of the race, as he isn't known for his strong climbing abilities.

Ivan Basso: Although a heavy favourite for the Tour, Basso has never performed well in his home race. Last year he was sitting pretty in the pink jersey before a stomach bug knocked him out of the race. If he can cope with the pressure, he could be the champion in Milan come May 28.

Damiano Cunego: Winner of the Giro in '04, the young superstar is a major favourite to take the title. Already the winner of six races this year, Cunego loves the steep mountains, and the lack of a really long time trial (stage 11, 50 km is the only major test against the clock) is also in his favour.

Gilberto Simoni: Another rider who has 2 Giro titles on his palmares, Gibo is a pure climber. With the race profile definitely in his favour, the main concern about Simoni is his age. Does the 34 year old still have the stamina to be up there with the best in such a gruelling race? Furthermore, he joined a new team (Saunier Duval) in the winter, and may not be supported in the same way as Savoldelli, Basso or Cunego.

Danilo Di Luca: A great all-rounder, Di Luca was the winner of the first ever UCI Pro Tour in 2005. This year, he's foregone all attempts at defending his title and set everything on his ambition of winning the Giro. Although a competent climber, it's unlikely that he'll be able to follow the other mountain-goats if they really put the hammer down. The best he can probably hope for is a repeat of his top 4 finish last year.

Jose Rujano: This tiny Venezuelan rider could be one of the real surprises of the tour. Weighing just over 100 lbs soaking wet, 24 year old Rujano burst onto the European scene last year, winning the Giro green jersey for best mountain climber. An absolute joy to watch when the road tilts upwards, he could pose a real threat in the final week of the race when everyone else is starting to wilt. Could upset the Italians, without a doubt.

Tom Danielson: The next American hope? Danielson has been touted for a while now as a rider who can do well in the three-week tours, but has yet to post any major results in Europe. However, he is a brilliant climber with lots of promise, so look for him to ride a solid race and maybe win a stage or two in the final week.

Whoever wins the Giro, it should be a fantastic race, with proper action-packed stages. Whichever one of the riders is in pink at the end of it, one things is for sure: on such a demanding route, they truly would have earned their maglia rosa.

posted by afx237vi to commentary at 09:33 AM - 0 comments

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