Nice summation work by the endlessly experienced Andrew Hood at Velonews on the top three Giro d’Italia favorites.
While there are the usual dark horses and second tier riders in with a shout (as the Brits like to say), it does feel like the top three of Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Mikel Landa (Sky) are head and shoulders and power outputs above the rest.
The three also seem very evenly matched, which should make tactics and in-race strategy more critical than usual. And we all know that Nibali (along with Alberto Contador) is a master of the improvisational attack when rivals least expect. Given he’s one of the fastest, most fearless descenders in the peloton, he can also spring an attack going up hill or down.
The Shark from Messina also seems to go well when the meteorological condition are horrendous — witness his Giro win back in 2013. The Italian grand tour often has a few stages where bad weather dictates events and Nibali is the kind of rider who turns those factors to his advantage.
All that said, as Hood pointed out, he’s been “invisible” since his win on Green Mountain in the Tour of Oman. Lots of the usual talk about Nibali knowing how to get ready, he’ll be ready, but then again, he said he was ready for the last Tour de France and we all know how that turned out.
As for the 36 year old Alejandro Valverde, his steadiness and consistency will no doubt keep him near the top of the GC standings. He’s known for being a tactically astute rider but again, as Hood noted, consistency and smarts can get you the last step on a Tour podium but in a more attacking, unpredictable and aggressive race like the Giro, the careful approach may not get your the jersey and champagne. However, it’s more than possible that two of these three rivals would certainly work together to distance the third if the opportunity presents itself. Valverde ain’t no fool.
The wildcard — if there is such a thing in a top three list — is Landa. All the talk was about his slow start and illness in the beginning of this season. He had to skip a few races but came good, winning the Giro del Trentino a few weeks back. That bodes well and there’s always the chance to ride yourself into that final bit of form as the Giro progresses. However, the Giro is crazy and if there’s an attack from Nibali in week one, will Landa have the legs to respond?
We’d also have to wonder about the fit with his new team Sky. So far, so good on that front but this is his big objective and the pressure is truly on. Specifically, we’re thinking about the collision between a fluid and volatile Giro and Sky’s structured and sometimes rigid approach to stage racing. How will Landa’s aggressive nature play out in that stressful environment. Going to be intriguing to watch how Sky and Landa might respond to the unscripted attacks of Nibali, Valverde or any of the other top riders shooting for the podium.
Our sense is that Landa is still at least a year away from winning the Giro and Valverde might get caught out on a stage — as he was in the Tour de France on several occasions. Nevertheless, we’re not prepared to go all-in on Nibali even though he has the extra incentives of a contract year and his home grand Tour.
Guess that’s why this Giro d’Italia is a such a wide open race. Ryder Hesjedal, anyone?