The Giro d’Italia might be my favourite pro-cycling race of the year.
The one day classics through March and April are action packed and dramatic, and there are plenty of decent one-week stage races dotted through the season, but give me the drawn out tension of a three week bike race every time. There’s also the sheer Italian-ness of the Giro that does it for me, over the Tour de France and the Vuelta Espana.
The 2016 edition of the Giro promises to be no different than any other year.
Obviously it involves mountains, and lots of ‘em, and May is early in the year to be riding up to altitude so snow, rain, and cold are guaranteed at some point.
For example, to cross the Col de la Bonette (2715 metres) on Stage 20 this year, it’s likely a tunnel will need to be sliced through the snow and ice to reveal the tarmac beneath. That already sounds like another classic Giro made-for-TV moment.
The weather in May might be unpredictable, but with every edition of the Giro d’Italia certain things are all but guaranteed.
Along with the masochism of the mountains, there will be a handful of domestic Italian teams who opportunistically turn each stage into a high-speed frenzy of cat and mouse. There will be a lot of pink; a pink jersey, pink bikes, pink buildings, and pink water flowing from some impossibly beautiful town square fountain.
Oh, and Mario Cipollini will be around to pass comment on proceedings.
He’ll tell us all how well he’s riding (at the age of 49, and long retired), show off his muscles and suntan, and feed the press his usual succession of lines which are part poetry, and part caricature of the Italian alpha male.
When interviewed by Rouleur magazine recently they cheekily asked Super Mario: “You don’t want to return to racing?”
To which he replied: “I’d only need a month and a half of training to beat all of the Italian sprinters. Some of them I even beat now. Just don’t ask me to give any names; they have contracts and I’d get them in trouble.”
Never short of confidence, our Mario.
But seriously, who are the contenders to win?
With the Giro d’Italia beginning in May early odds are being placed on Vincenzo Nibali to win the title. He’s the great Italian hope (particularly with Fabio Aru pencilled in for the Tour de France instead), but he’s a man whose form and mood can be unpredictable. It’s fair to say he had one or two issues with the cycling media last year, but on home turf he should be among friends – and when he’s good, he’s good.
Team Sky’s Basque climber Mikel Landa is under-raced so far this season due to illness, but Team Sky seem to rate him so highly as to consider him the next big thing. Is Landa Chris Froome’s heir apparent? Could he possible play catch up, ride himself into form, and win his first Grand Tour?
He’s a contender, for sure.
Alejandro Valverde will be there, aged thirty-six, thinning on top, and everyone’s favourite pantomime villain. It’s hard to believe this is his first time at the Giro but in true Valverde style he’ll be there or thereabouts. He’ll never look like winning the race but he’ll probably end up on the podium.
What about Tom Dumoulin, the surprise second placed finisher at the 2015 Vuelta? It seems implausible to suggest he’s a contender to win this Giro, but then it seemed just as far fetched that he would get anywhere near the podium at the Vuelta, so who knows?
And then there’s Chaves, Uran, Hesjedal, Zakarin, Majka…?
Add in to the mix the inherent Italian flair for intrigue, drama, and politics, and you’ve got something approaching a three week long soap opera about to unfold.