In a few hours the 2006 Giro d'Italia begins. Grand Tour season is now about to kick off. All of the pundits have been making guesses and proclomations. The press has been following every rider and questioning every team director looking for some sign of what will happen over the next three weeks.
Here's my prediction; somebody will win and somebody will get second and third. I know- that's a crappy little tease. Here's my excuse though; I've been too busy to really follow who is on form and who isn't. What team looks good and what team looks like they are in over their heads? Dunno...
Kidding and smart ass comments aside, I think this will be a great Giro. It could even be one of the best in many, many years. Here's why;
1) Basso is very motivated to win. After last year's bad luck and the promise he made to his dieing mother that he would win the Giro for her, he's coming to this race super motivated and with a very strong team to back him up. Basso may lack the killer instinct that people say he needs, but you can't deny the guy has a lot of heart.
2) DiLuca wants to improve on his performance from last year, when he shocked the cycling world with his amazing ride. He has made no secret of his intentions for the Giro and his desire to win it. He showed amazing strength and courage last year and this year he comes with the full focus of his season being the Giro. He's got to be a candidate for the podium's top spot.
3) Simoni wants to win a third Giro and prove he can still ride with the best Giro riders of his time. He's a gutsy rider with known climbing skills. This year's race should be better for him, with the possible exception of the team time trial. He'll have to rally his troops to ride their hearts out and minimize the time losses. Once the Giro points uphill, which this one does quite a bit, he should start putting time into his rivals.
4) Ulrich? I don't really know what to think of Jan. He hasn't shown his hand yet this year. He always rides in to form at the end of a long race, so maybe he'll get his legs under him in time to actually do something. Otherwise it will be 3 weeks of very hard training for him. Personally, I think this will just be a great way to get in to shape before the Tour.
5) Savoldelli wants to win again. He's an Italian after all, even if he's riding for an "American" team. He's showing up with good form, as seen at Romandie, and will have a team built around getting him to the podium. Discovery has to know that the Tour will be nothing like previous years and has to also know that the Giro is their best chance to get a Grand Tour win this year.
6) Cunego, if actually healthy and ready, could be a real threat. After his stunning and audacious win two years ago, the Italian press deemed him the next Coppi. Well, last year saw him struggle to find form and it was revealed that he was sick the entire year with Mononucleosis (or something similar). The kid is strong and talented. Given the right conditions, he can win again.
7) Jose Rujano, the Venezuelan bombshell from last year's Giro could be a threat this year- thanks to all the climbing. However, I don't think it will happen. Between the fact that he is leaving the Selle Italia team after the Giro, to ride for another team (?), and the fact that he hasn't really raced at all this year I just don't think he has the legs or motivation this year. I think this Giro will be training to prepare for the Tour and maybe a chance to take a stage in the mountains, if the tiny little guy finds his legs in time.
8) Sprinters are going to get the dirty end of the stick this year. As a sprinter myself, I should be upset about this, but I think it will yield a better Giro. Petacchi, McEwen, Brown and all the other fast guys will have fewer chances to win stages and less motivation to stick around for the end of the race. Bettini is likely to be the only fast guy to reach the final stage. Though he is a great sprinter, he isn't a "Super Sprinter" like the Petacchis and McEwens of the peloton. Sprinters always make the most of what they are given, but the fight will be a bit different this year.
Overall, I think the Giro will be really exciting to watch and read about. As is always the case of any Grand Tour, there will be great stories to come from the race. New heroes to root for and new fallen heroes to pity. It's always the same, just different...