Nibali and his Vision-equipped Bahrain-Merida teammates will be a team to watch
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.
The Astana squad face a tough emotional challenge to overcome the death of their team leader Michele Scarponi. The tough physical challenge of the Giro will be welcome
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.
Michelle Scarponi, pictured here at the recent Tour of the Alps where he won the opening stage – the man and the athlete – will be sorely missed