2008 Giro d'Italia Preview
The 2008 Giro d'Italia will be a climber's race. The race has four time trials, but at 28.5 km, 36 km, 13.8 km, and 23.5 km, none is especially long. Only six of the 21 stages will be sprinter's stages. Eight of the stages will be mountain or high mountain stages, so the climbers can be expected to shine.
The race will begin in Sicily. Stage 1 will be a 28.5-km team time trial in Palermo. Stage 2 will be a 207-km, rugged, hilly ride from Cefalu to Agrigento. The sprinters will get their first chance for glory in Stage 3, a flat, 208-km run from Catania to Milazzo.
The riders will transfer to the Italian mainland for Stage 4, a 187-km run from Pizzo Calabro to Catanzaro-Lungomare that will have a mountainous first half but that should end in a sprint. Three of the next four stages will be rolling affairs, with Stage 7, a 179-km ride from Vasto to Pestoconstanzo, being a mountain stage in the Apennines. Stage 8, a 200-km ride from Rivisondoli to Tivoli, should end in a great escape, while Stage 9, a flat, 194-km run from Civitavecchia to San Vincenzo, should see a sprinter win. Stage 10 will be a 36-km time trial from Pesaro to Urbino. The first of two rest days follows the time trial.
Stage 11, a 193-km ride from Urbania to Marco Pantani's hometown of Cesena, will be a rolling affair, and Stages 12 and 13 should give sprinters chances to win. Stages 14 and 15, however, will begin the transformation of the race. The Giro will enter the Dolomites.
Stage 14, a 195-km ride from Verona to Alpe di Pampeago/Val Di Fiemme, will take the riders to Passo Manghen en route to the finishing climb. Stage 15 will be the queen stage of this year's Giro. The 153-km ride from Arrabba to Passo Fedaia/Marmolada will feature six categorized climbs, including the Passo di San Pellegrino, Passo Giau, and the Passo Fedaia. Stage 16 will be a 13.8-km mountain time trial from San Virgilio Di Marebbe to Plan De Corones. The second rest day will follow Stage 16.
Stage 17 will be a flat, 192-km run from Sondrio, Italy to Locarno, Switzerland. A sprinter should take it. Stage 18 will be a rolling, 182-km run from Mendrisio to Varese. Stage 19 will take the racers into the Alps. That stage will be a 228-km ride from Legnano to Presolana/Monte Pora that will feature the Passo del Vivione, the Passo Del Presolana, and the finishing climb. Stage 20, a 224-km ride from Rovetta to Tirano, will feature the Passo Gavia and the Passo Del Mortirolo. Stage 21, a 23.5-km individual time trial from Cesano Maderno to Milan, will settle any remaining doubts about the winner.
Who will the winner be? The two leading candidates for victory are Denis Menchov (Rabobank) and Alberto Contador (Astana). Menchov, an excellent climber, has shown that he has Giro-winning form with his fourth place in last week's Tour of Romandy. Contador, the 2007 Tour champion, has won the Tour of Castilla and Leon and the Tour of the Basque Country. Contador has the better team, with Romandy Tour winner Andreas Kloden and Levi Leipheimer on his squad. Either Menchov or Contador, most likely the latter, should win the 2008 Giro.
Other riders could have a determining influence on the race. Gilberto Simoni (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni) is at the head of this class. The two-time Giro winner is not as fast as he used to be, but he is still a strong climber, and a two-time champion can never be ruled out. Look for Simoni to make a strong showing in the Dolomites and the Alps.
Paolo Savoldelli (LPR Brakes), like Simoni a two-time Giro champion, should make a prominent appearance in this year's Giro, but his climbing, which has been erratic in recent years, should keep him off of the podium. Savoldelli's descending and time-trialing, however, should keep "Il Falco" in the top ten. Look for Savoldelli to impress in the race's flat time trials.
Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes) should also figure prominently in the Giro. The 2007 champion got little time to savor his victory after being implicated in two doping cases and being suspended for three months. The distraction of these cases and the challenge of Menchov and Contador should push Di Luca off of the top step of the podium and probably off of the podium altogether. He will content himself with a stage win.
Riccardo Ricco (Saunier Duval) finished sixth and won a stage in last year's Giro debut. Last year, he had Simoni and Leonardo Piepoli to mentor him. Simoni is gone, but Piepoli remains with Saunier Duval. Look for Ricco to make a bid for the podium.
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