Giro d’Italia contenders. No on Nibali.

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Our burning question is why Vincenzo Nibali is a favorite for this year’s Giro d’Italia.

Sure, he’s won all three grand tours with two Giros in the bank. But really, is he at the same level right now as Nairo Quintana (Movistar) or the red hot Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) or even the mercurial Frenchman Thibaut Pinot (FDJ)?

We like Nibali, his riding style and tranquillo attitude but we’re not seeing him on the podium in his home grand tour. This feels like a battle between Quintana and Thomas with Pinot, Mollema and Kruijswijk as wild cards.

Seriously, Nibali won last year’s Giro but that was largely a gift from Kruijswijk, who crashed into a snow bank in spectacular youtube fashion in the third week. Before that Nibali was at a loss physically and mentally, unable to explain his lack of power. There was talk of visiting doctors and new tests and just trying to finish the Giro with some measure of pride still intact.

Then Kruijswijk crashed and Nibali rallied but was that really a tour de force? We’re not disputing for a second that the Italian is an exceptional rider but it seems to us he’s also had some good luck. Like when both Froome and Contador crashed out of the 2014 Tour de France that Nibali went on to win. Same goes for the Giro twelve months ago. (To be fair, he lost the 2103 Vuelta a Espana to a freakishly good and shockingly strong old man named Chris Horner. That was pure bad luck.)

Nibali has taken his typical tranquillo approach to his Giro bid so we don’t really know the extent of his capabilities. He could be awesome or it could be another week two crisis wondering why his legs don’t work. Just hard to feel confident about the Shark of Messina at this point. It’s a bet based on faith and past track record.

That’s not even counting whether his new Bahrain-Merida squad is up to the task of performing at a high level for three weeks. Maybe, maybe not. We’re not prepared to sing those praises.

Meanwhile Geraint Thomas is killing it. He looked strong and confident in the Tour of the Alps and Sky sends a powerful squad to Italy, not even bothering with a sprinter. It’s all in for G.

We’re getting that scary Skybot dominance vibe and it doesn’t bode well for Vincenzo. We may yet see Thomas struggle with the same issues that Richie Porte had when he was Sky’s Giro captain – an inopportune crash, a day of illness, general bad luck. Nevertheless, Thomas’ stock is way, way up and for good, quantifiable reasons.

Even Frenchman Pinot has put up a few results this season that boost his shot at pink. His FDJ boss Marc Madiot is even making the half outrageous claim that his boy is on the same level as Quintana and Nibali. We appreciate his support for Pinot but we struggle with Pinot keeping it together for three weeks. Madiot says Pinot is better in colder conditions versus heat so that’s a plus in the Giro but we’re just not sold. Still, we can’t say that Nibali is ahead of Pinot on the pretend leaderboard.

As most critics and predictive types agree, Mollema comes into the Giro as a bit of a mystery. And speaking of conundrums, there is none bigger than American Tejay van Garderen (BMC).  He lost his Tour boss role to Richie Porte last year in France and will now try to rebuild his confidence and reputation in Italy. He’s got teammate Rohan Dennis for support and potential team rivalry. We’re pulling for Tejay to roll his dig diesel engine around Italy and end up on the podium.

And that guy who buried himself in the snowbank at the Colle Dell’Agnello last May? That’s another brain teaser – is Steven Kruijswijk ready to earn the Giro victory he had in the bag before he crashed? No answer to that riddle.

Our provisional Giro d’Italia podium is Quintana, Thomas and a special guest not named Nibali in third.

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