Thursday, May 2, 2013

2013 Giro d'Italia Race Preview

The Spring Classics are behind us, and it's now time to turn our attention to the first Grand Tour of the year and one of the greatest races on the calendar (and my personal favorite stage race): the Giro d'Italia.

Each day I will pick winners and post stage previews, recaps and results, accessible on the menus to the right.

2013 Giro d'Italia Race Preview

The 2013 96th edition of the Giro d'Italia begins in Naples on May 4 and finishes in Brescia on the 26th. This year's course looks more balanced than last year's, with opportunities for riders of all types to seek glory. It will cover 3454.8 kilometers over 21 stages for a an average of about 162 km per stage. The total of just the road stages (excluding the TTs) is about 3362 km, for an average road stage length of 177 km. I prefer to average the road stages alone, because the TTs are another beast altogether, and if we average in the Time Trials then we might as well also average in the rest days.This course favors a genuine all-rounder.

note: You can click on any image to blow it up.


1 Team Time Trial of 17.4 km. It's supposed to be pretty technical, so even at that distance it should establish the first General Classification splits. It comes on stage 2.

2 Individual time-trials: The first, on stage 8 is a slightly bumpy, but mostly flat 54.8 km effort with a long slight ramp up to the finish line and a 1 km steep kick at the end that hits 13% and averages 9%. This is one to suit the serious time trialists and probably not steep or hilly enough to favor the climbing TT'ers. At that distance the top TT'ers should be able to put minutes rather than seconds between themselves and the lesser capable clock specialists. Pure climbers will need to take significant time back in the mountains to offset what they will surely lose in the long TT.

The second ITT comes on stage 18, right before two of the most important mountain stages of the race, and is a climbing TT of 20.6 km. It qualifies as a category 2 climb, starting from the velodrome in Mori at 107 meters of elevation up to Polsa at 1205 meters up, averaging a little under 6% overall and maxing out at 10% briefly around 5 1/2 km from the summit. Basically, a steady, if not steep, climbing effort that should help separate the wheat from the chaff.

Together the 3 Time Trials Total 92.8 km of TT'ing. About 22 km more than last year. A fact that would have aided an all-rounder's decision to race the GDT (like Wiggins and Evans).

I tend to not necessarily agree with the published stage breakdowns, and most often, rightly so. A stage labelled as a sprint stage may not end with a sprint, etc. So I do my own stage breakdowns and they tend to be more accurate when all is said and done. Here's how i see the rest of the stages:

7 uphill finishes including 5 high mountaintop finishes (MTF): (note: some are saying "8 uphill finishes". I assume they are including stage 4 which finishes with about a 6km downhill run after a cat. 2 climb of about 10 km. The profile shows what looks like a slight ramp up to the finish line after the descent. This could be an opportunity for a late break to get away, but it is also likely that the GC contenders will want to be alert and stay up front. A big effort from one contender could force the other GC guys to race hard to the finish, the results of which could look on paper like an MTF. Either way, any time gaps should be small.

9 potential Sprint stages incl. 4 clear bunch sprint stages: Stages 1, 6, 12, and 21 should definitely end in bunch sprints. Stages 3, 5, 13, 16 and 17, with punchy little climbs close to the finish (and some cobbles thrown in on 16), offer potential late break success, but could just as easily end in sprints if the fastmen's teams work to control attacks.

9 potential breakaway stages (and the 5 most likely): Stages 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13 (more likely a sprint finish), 16, and 17 all offer  potential breakaway success. Stage 3 boasts a cat. 3 that summits about 17 km from the finish line with what is supposed to be a technical descent to the finish, which might tempt a stage hunter to try a late attack. In my opinion the stages that offer the best opportunities for successful breakaways will come on stages 4, 7, 9, 16 and 17. Stages 4 and 16 have short sections of pave near the end. Stage 11 is ripe for a puncheur, some of whom may not be among the overall GC contenders.

The official race site lists: "5 medium mountain stages, 1 with an uphill finish". I find that kind of description to be relatively meaningless--unless you are keeping notes on performance at various altitudes stage-by-stage.

The rest days come on the Mondays after stages 9 to Firenze, and after stage 15 to the Galibier. Their presence often dictates how the peloton will ride prior to and just after the rest days.

Time Bonuses return to all road stages this year. The first three finishers receive time bonuses of :20, :12, and :08 respectively, and the intermediate sprints each day offer bonuses of :05, :03, and :01 to the first three to reach the intermediate sprint lines.

THE KEY STAGES for the overall GC contenders are the two ITTs on stages 8 and 18, and the mountaintop finishes packed into the second half of the race on stages 10, 14, 15, 19 and 20:

Stage 10 the first real high mountain stage features two cat. 1's over 1500 meters high, including the long MTF atop Altopiano del Montasio (22 km averaging just over 5%, ramping up to 20% about 3.5 k from the finish), which follows the nasty Passo Cason di Lanza after a 28 km descent to the base of Altopiano. The Passo Cason is itself a 15.4 k climb averaging about 6%, but hitting maxes around 16%. This should wake up any GC contenders who napped through the first week.

Stage 14 (168 km) follows the mostly uphill course northwest to the Alps and the 17.5 km 4% drag up to Sestriere, at over 2000 meters, then descends 1,000 m over 21 km before climbing to Bardonecchia for the final ascent to Jafferau (which, depending on who you ask, is about a 7.2 km climb averaging around 9%. (According to the last 5k averages over 10%). After the finish the road continues upward, unpaved, to higher altitudes than the riders will have to worry about…yet.

Stage 15 (149 km) has almost no flat sections at all. It's all climbing, up and down, over the cat. 1 Col du Mont Cenis early, into France, and ending with the challenging and French-Tour-famous Telegraphe-Galibier duo. The Tour de France high point reached via the Telegraphe represents the tougher side to climb. Rather than average the 35 km climb from the bottom of the Telegraphe to the top of the Galibier, which is divided part-way up by a 5km easy section, I tally the two consecutive hills independently. The cat. 2 Telegraphe climb from St. Michel de Maurienne is about 12 km at an average gradient between 7 and 7 1/2 %, maxing out at around 10% near the top, and boasting 14 hairpin bends. The riders have about a 5km descent to recover a little before passing through Valloire and onto the Galibier, which climbs about 18 km averaging about 7% and maxing out at 10% at the top, 2645 meters high (about 8,700 feet). The mountain road is full of switchbacks and tunnels, and near the finish has the monument to Henri Desgranges, founder of the Tour de France. I think Marco Pantani now has a monument up there, too. With a rest day ahead, the contenders may choose to leave it all out on the road today. [note: Andy Schleck won a very difficult stage that finished atop the Galibier in the 2011 Tour de France. Four of the riders who made the top 10 that day will be in this race.]

Stage 19 (139 km) is a high-altitude day with three consecutive big mountains and little respite. It starts with the punishing climb into the Dolomites, up the harder side of the feared Passo Gavia. This is where American Andy Hampsten put on a memorable vicious attack through a blizzard in the 1988 Giro that gained him precious time toward his eventual win and turned everyone into ice cubes (see photo, right). The Gavia is about 17 1/2 k at 8%, with a few very steep sections scattered on the mountain, maxing out at 16%, summiting at about 2620 meters (8600 feet) only 23 km into the stage. The road then descends 25 k to Bormio where it quickly begins the grueling 21 km ascent of the Stelvio. You may recall Thomas DeGendt's inspired win here on stage 20 of last year's Giro. Splashed with its notorious switchbacks, the Stelvio is the highest pass in Italy, the highest point of this race, the highest point of last year's season, and except for the USAPCC's Independence Pass in Colorado, would be again this season. We should see snow up there--hopefully not on the road. Averaging 7.1 % the Stelvio climbs 21.5 km up to about 2760 m (over 9,050 feet) with a couple of very nasty, steep kms near the top. This year the race goes over the Stelvio Pass, and down the other side (with the dozens of switchbacks), plunging 1900 m in 25 km, skirting the Swiss border, then rolls along for about 20 k toward the final climb, the Monte Martello. The Martello climb is 22 1/2 km long and climbs from 662 meters of elevation up to 2059 meters. It is a cat. 1 that averages just over 6% with the 8 or 9 km mid-section constantly varying in gradient so that the riders won't easily be able to settle into a rhythm. It levels out a bit about 5 kms before the summit, then ends on a 1.5 km 7+% lunge to the finish line.

Climbing Tre Cime, sort of...
Stage 20 (203 km) is another challenging route through the Dolomites with five categorized climbs, a cat. 1 summit finish, and at over 200 km long could be the decisive stage of this Giro. At any rate, it's the last chance the contenders will have to gain time on each other. After an easy opening 65 kms the riders reach the first climb, the 1745m high, 26 km long, cat. 2 Passo Costalunga, which averages 5.5%. The riders will descend 15 kms down the other side to Moena where they will immediately climb to the top of another cat. 2, the Passo di San Pellegrino (11.4 km at 6.8%). After the San Pellegrino's 20 km long, 1150 m drop to the valley below, the race continues up the Passo Giau's leg-draining, 15 km climb to 2236 m. Many say the Giau is one of the toughest climbs in the region. The last 10k of the climb averages just over 9% and maxes out around 14%. The Giau was the final climb on last year's stage 17, and saw the peloton cracked to bits before the stage finished with the 17 km descent to Cortina d'Ampezzo. This year the peloton will continue through the ski-town and up the 8.1 km, 7.1% cat. 2 climb to the Tre Croci Pass. Following a 6km rolling segue, the climbers will face the final climb of the race: A painfully steep, explosive effort averaging over 12%, hitting grades above 18%, and never dropping below 10% for the final 4 kms to the 2304-meter high summit (7560 feet) of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo.

As with all the high summits weather can be a spoiler sometimes, forcing the race organizers to shorten stages or skip climbs, so let's hope we get to see all these peaks in this edition!

You'll notice the short length of many stages. The race organizers hope this will enliven the race. It should encourage some more hopeful attacks and breakaway attempts, and ought to mean faster stages.

As usual, much of the race information, including all stage profiles can be found at


With Team Katusha finally getting their Pro-Tour license reinstated in mid February, all 19 Pro-Tour teams will be lining up to contend the Giro this year (as opposed to the usual 18) along with the usual four wildcard selections. That makes 23 teams for a total of 207 riders. This year's wildcards were selected before Katusha were granted their license to race at the Pro-Tour level, and the RCS decided to simply include all rather than revoke one of the wildcard invitations. I agree with the call in this case. This year's Tour de France, by contrast, wil only include the usual 22 teams, so only three wildcards were made available--and they all went to French teams. Here is a list of all the 23 teams competing at the 2013 GDT:



Astana Pro Team

BMC Racing Team

Cannondale Pro Cycling


Omega Pharma–Quick Step Cycling Team


Sky Procycling

Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team

Movistar Team 

AG2R La Mondiale 

Euskaltel Euskadi

Blanco Pro Cycling Team

Garmin Sharp

Team Argos–Shimano 

Team Saxo–Tinkoff


Lotto Belisol


WILDCARDS (Pro Continental teams

Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela
Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox
Vini Fantini-Selle Italia



It is commonly accepted that Wiggins and Nibali are the favorites this year for the overall classification. Some have a wider favorites selection. I’m going to break a few of them down by discipline and then pick winners. The names are followed by age and team in parentheses.

Bradley Wiggins (33-SKY): Last year’s Tour De France winner had collected wins at Paris-Nice, The Tour of Romandie, the Criterium du Dauphine, and many TT and stage wins along the way before lining up at the Grand Boucle in 2012. He also followed it with a 42-second thrashing of Tony Martin to win the Olympic Time Trial. Turning his attention to the Giro this year (while Team Sky teammate Chris Froome prepares to lead their TDF squad in July. Although every week or so Wiggins seems to change his tune as to whether he will be leading the Sky TDF defense in July, or riding in support of Froome. More on that saga to come) Wiggins comes in the overall favorite despite much less impressive results this year leading up to the Giro. He hasn’t logged a road win yet. In fact his only race win so far was a 14 km team time trial at the Giro del Trentino. He did make top-10 on several stages this early season, and came in 5th at the Volta a Catalunya, so it’s not like he is not in shape. The ornery British “miracle man” [see my post on Wiggins “amazing” transformation] will look to gain as much time as possible in the TT’s to offset any weakness he shows in the high mountains. He has reconned the route (mentioning that he thought the road surface for the 55k TT on stage 8 wasn’t very good), and is expecting to peak during the race (where last year he came under some criticism for peaking too early in prep for the Tour). He brings a very strong supporting squad with him, including Sergio Henao, Rigoberto Uran, Dario Cataldo and an in-form Kanstantsin Siutsou.  Wiggo has a very good chance of making the podium and possibly winning.

"Wiggo" and Vincenzo Nibali

Vincenzo Nibali (28-AST): Nibali returns to the Giro after skipping last year’s edition to focus on the Tour de France—where he finished 3rd--this time with his new team, Astana. He finished the 2010 Giro in 3rd, and the 2011 Giro in 2nd overall. This season he has shown very good form, with overall wins at two stage races: Tirreno-Adriatico and the Giro del Trentino. He is climbing with the best, his time trialing has shown improvement, and if ever there was a year for him to win the great Italian grand tour I believe it is this year. He summited the Trentino stage 3 climb to Vetriolo Terme alongside his rival, Wiggins, two weeks ago, and was able to drop Wiggins on the final climb of the race (though Wiggins did experience a mechanical on the slope) by over a minute and a-half. Astana brings a good support team for the “Shark”, including neo-pro climbing sensation Fabio Aru, who will be competing in his first grand tour.

Other top GC contenders include:

Robert Gesink: Team Blanco’s Dutch climber comes in as a solid podium favorite. Last year Gesink won the Tour of California and placed 6th in the Vuelta a España. The Blanco captain has yet to win a race this year, though he has shown good form with a 6th place finish at the Volta a Catalunya in late March; 4th at the now one-day Tour of Murcia; and 3rd at the Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana, another one-day race in late February. In each of those 1-day races Gesink finished with the same time as the winner.  He has enjoyed some success at the Tour de France (5th overall in 2010), but most of his Grand Tour success has come at the late-summer Vuelta a España, where he finished 7th overall in 2008, then 6th in 2009, and 6th again last year.

Perhaps surprisingly, after nine grand tour appearances this is The Condor of Varsseveld’s first attempt at the Giro. Maybe more surprising, he is still only 26 years old.

Cadel Evans:  The 2011 Tour de France winner decided earlier this spring to ride the Giro d’Italia in addition to his already planned, main goal of the season, The Tour de France. He’s back at the Giro for the first time since 2010, when he finished 5th overall. With modest goals for this, his first of two 2013 Grand Tours, Evans comes in as a potential high finisher, but not likely a serious threat to the top step of the podium. Although with the well-experienced Australian in the mix--especially with this well-rounded parcours and over 90 Time Trial kilometers—you just never know. Evans looks to be in decent form with three stage races already under his belt, and an 8th place finish at the Giro del Trentino two weeks back. He was 3rd in Oman back in February, but the real issue is how much energy will he be willing to leave out on the Italian roads without compromising his chances in July. He says he wants a stage win, but if the legs work I bet he’ll go for more. I don’t have him finishing on the podium however. Not a bad bet for a top 10 though.

Sammy Sanchez (EUS) 
Last year's champ Ryder Hesjedal (GRS) 
Michele Scarponi (LAM)
Beñat Intxausti (MOV);  

Some pure climbers who are going to have a hard time with the 55km ITT on stage 8, but who otherwise might be among the top GC contenders:  Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R), Rigoberto Uran (SKY), Carlos Betancur (AG2R), Miguel Rubiano (AND), Giampaolo Caruso (KAT), Mauro Santambrogio (VIN), Robert Kiserlovski (RLT);

Other riders to watch:  35-year old, Connecticut native Tom Danielson (GRS), Darwin Atapuma (COL), Steven Kruijswijk (BLA), Sergio Henao (SKY), Taylor Phinney (BMC), Wilco Kelderman (OPQ), and Przemyslaw Niemiec (LAM), Damiano Caruso (CAN) Ivan Basso's last-minute replacement, and old-timers Danilo "The Killer" Di Luca, and 2000 Giro winner Stefano Garzelli--both backing up Santambrogio for Vini Fantini. (I suppose it is possible that I just threw their names in out of nostalgia, since I'm not expecting much from either near-retiree. I believe this GDT will mark both veterans' swan songs.)

Top sprinters to watch are Mark Cavendish (OPQ), Matty Goss (OGE), John Degenkolb (ARG), Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ), Daniele Bennati (TST), Francesco Chicchi (VIN), Francisco Ventoso (MOV), Elia Viviani (CAN), and Oscar Gatto (VIN).  

Several others are certainly capable of animating the race or even puling off a stage win here or there, like: Stefano Pirazzi and Sacha Modolo (BAR), Giacomo Nizzolo and Tiago Machado (RLT), Lars Bak, Adam Hansen and Kenny De Haes (LTB), Matti Breschel, Manuele Boaro, Mads Christensen, and Rafal Majka (TST), Gianluca Brambilla, Michael Golas, Jerome Pineau and Serge Pauwels (OPQ), Eros Capecchi, Jose Herrada, Pablo Lastras, and Giovanni Visconti (MOV), Peter Weening and Leigh Howard (OGE), Dario Cataldo and Kanstantsin Siutsou (SKY), Valerio Agnoli, Paolo Tiralongo, and Frederick Kessiakoff (AST), Steve Morabito and Daniel Oss (BMC), Pavel Brutt, Luca Paolini, and Angel Vicioso (KAT), Emanuele Sella, Diego Rosa, Franco Pellizotti and Fabio Felline (AND), Egoi Martinez, Gorka Verdugo, and Pablo Urtasun (EUS), Sandy Casar and Arnold Jeannesson (FDJ), Peter Stetina, Christian Vandevelde, and Nathan Haas (GRS), Hubert Dupont, Ben Gastauer, Davide Appollonio, and Manuel Belletti (AG2R), Grega Bole, Martijn Keizer, Pim Ligthart, Marco Marcato, Rob Ruijgh (VCD), and Matteo Rabottini (VIN), just to name a few.  To those I left out: you have three weeks to convince me to add your name next time.

Jersey Hunters

Young Rider's Jersey (Maglia Bianca):  OPQ's Wilco Kelderman might have the white jersey on his back come Brescia. The only other 25-and-unders I see legitimately vying for the prize this year are Fabio Aru (AST) and Carlos Betancur (AG2R). Betancur has shown great form this spring and may give Kelderman a run for his money.

Sprinter's Jersey (Maglia Rosso Passione): Cavendish has stated a goal of winning at least one stage, and hopefully an early shot at the Maglia Rosa. His focus on the Tour de France this year might mean he could grab a stage or two and then leave when the mountains turn against him. While his accumulation of climbing kilometers has softened the mountains' effect on him, I'm not sure I see him finishing the race. So that leaves the jersey open to anyone else who can show consistency in the sprints, like Aussie Matt Goss or young French National Champion Nacer Bouhanni. That is if a sprinter can keep the jersey off the back of a climber (or all-rounder). With sprint points being allocated for all road stages, sprint and climb alike, It is likely that one of the GC guys will come away with the red jersey, like Wiggins or Nibali. Remember last year when Purito nipped Cav by one point on stage 20 to win the jersey?

Mountain Jersey: Probably the most difficult jersey to predict, the maglia azzurra is open to whichever plucky rider finds the legs to go on repeated attacks in the mountains and collect the most points over the summits throughout the three weeks of racing. Four of the five most recent winners are here this year. Past mountain jersey winners [again, followed by age, team, and year(s) won] who are participating in this year's edition include: Juanma Garate (37-Blanco-2006), Emanuele Sella (32-Androni Giocattoli-2008), Stefano Garzelli (39-Vini Fantini-2009, 2011), and last year's winner Matteo Rabottini (25-Vini Fantini-2012).  Since most teams with high general classification contenders will need their climbing domestiques to shepherd their leader through the mountains, the independent-type rider who goes for the mountain jersey often will come from a team without a genuine GC contender--or a team whose GC man has fallen out of contention--someone who can have the freedom to go off on his own or in a small breakaway group. Maybe Team Bardiani's Stefano Pirazzi or Green Edge's Canadian Christian Meier, or perhaps we might see a repeat winner in Rabottini?

1 comment:

  1. Love the overview! It looks great and reads like a Giro guidebook.