The Giro d’Italia begins on Saturday 5th May on the sun-kissed island of Sardinia with numerous Vision riders contending for the Maglia Rosa on this, the 100th edition of the three-week Grand Tour.
Vincenzo Nibali, who uses Vision’s range of bars, is looking to win the Giro for the third time and defend the title he so gloriously won in 2016. Yes, the 32-year-old Italian’s enjoyed a quiet 2017 so far but history shows you ignore The Shark at your peril. Expect Nibali to really shift into gear on stage four on the island of his birth, Sicily. The 180km stage begins in Cefalu and ends atop the summit of Etna. The final climb features an average gradient of around 6% with a mild counter-slope with 500m to go. Nibali will also look for a memorable effort 24hrs later as the 157km stage ends in his birth city of Messina.
Nibali will be ably supported by fellow Vision-using teammate Javier Moreno. The former Movistar man will play domestique to Nibali with the puncheur a particularly useful ally on stage 16’s Queen Stage. The 227km day features a double pass over the Stelvio, first along the Bormio side, and then consuming a first-ever ascent on the Swiss side. If Javier Moreno can ensure his leader’s in contention at its crest, don’t bet against possibly the finest descender in the peloton – Nibali – breaking free down the 20km slopes to the finish.
Vision and Astana’s Fabio Aru unfortunately won’t be racing in Italy to challenge his countryman after crashing in training. A recent visit to the doctor resulted in total rest for 10 days, ruining the Italian’s Giro preparations, and so Astana withdrew their main man. But this bad news was dramatically eclipsed by the tragedy that was to follow.
Aru’s role as Giro team leader was taken up by the highly experienced Michele Scarponi – winner of the 2011 Giro d’Italia. But a day after returning from the Tour of the Alps, where he won the first stage, Scarponi lost his life in a collision with a van near his home town. Emotional tributes were paid by the Astana team and race organisers at the next WorldTour engagement – Liege-Bastogne-Liege – and an emotional winner Alejandro Valverde dedicated the win to his friend, while former colleague Nibali dedicated his Tour of Croatia victory similarly. Fitting tributes are expected to be paid to the much-loved Italian rider during the Giro.
You also can’t discount another Vision-using Italian – Davide Formolo of Cannondale-Drapac – from lighting up the race. Formolo came to prominence in 2015 when the 22-year-old soloed to a stage victory in La Spezia at his debut Giro. The Italian tifosi welcomed a new hero after Formolo launched a surprise attack just before the final climb. Formolo could well contend for GC, albeit has his sights are perhaps more realistically on that potentially infamous stage 16. Formolo was recently quoted as saying, ‘The Stelvio is one of my favourite climbs. I go there two or three weeks a year for training – my friend has a hotel there – so I know the roads really well. The climb is pretty important to me. Everything will depend on the race situation, but that would be nice.’
But one of Nibali’s greatest challenges could come from Vision and LottoNI-Jumbo’s Steven Kruijswijk. The 29-year-old rider was arguably the star of the 2016 Giro, forging a surprising but well-deserved 3min-plus lead by the time the riders lined up for stage 19. Kruijswijk looked set to become the first Dutch rider to win the Giro d’Italia, but a crash on the Colle dell’Agnelo and subsequent injuries nudged him off the podium. Like Nibali, his season’s been quiet so far but that’s often been the case with Kruijswijk. In 2016 he had passive rides in Paris-Nice, Catalonia and the Tour of Yorkshire before so nearly making history at the Giro.
As for where the race will be won, we’ve already mentioned a few of the key stages. But stage 18 could be the most pivotal. The Dolomites’ Queen Stage includes five consecutive categorised climbs without a single flat stretch in-between: Passo Pordoi, Passo Valparola, Passo Gardena, Passo Pinei and Pontives. The stage features a remarkable rise and drop of a little less than 4,000m in 137km, with average gradients of approx 7% and topping out at 15%.
And if that’s not decisive enough, there’s the final stage from Monza to Milan. The 28km individual time-trial could well go into legend as the day that decided the 2017 Giro. It certainly did in 2012 when Ryder Hesjedal beat Joaquim Rodriguez to take the title.
One thing’s certain, the 100th edition of the Giro d’Italia will be memorable…