Five reasons why you should watch the Giro d’Italia this year

French John Gadret (AG2R La Mondiale) rides during the individual uphill time trial in stage 16 of the 93rd Giro d’Italia, from San Vigilio di Marebbe to Plan de Corones, on May 25, 2010 in Plan de Corones. (Luk Beines/AFP/Getty Images)

By Klaus, Special to Universal Sports |

It feels like it was a year ago, perhaps because it was exactly a year ago, that I boldly stated on this very website that choosing between the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France is a bit like picking a side in one of those arguments that is as old as time itself. Ginger or Mary Ann? Cats or dogs? The Beatles or the Rolling Stones? VHS or Beta? Mary-Kate Olsen or Ashley Olsen? Luckily, cycling fans don’t have to decide which race they’d like to watch, and can happily enjoy both. But as they watch, they should know that a leading authority on the matter (me) has already ruled in regards to which of the grand tours is in fact the grandest of them all. The Giro.

Yes, part of the Giro’s magic has to do with seeing grown men fight over a tight fitting pink jersey, but by and large the Giro’s appeal boils down to the reckless abandon with which the Giro is often approached by many … including its organizers.

It’s true that this year’s race promises to be more a more sane affair than last year’s Giro. Apparently, lengthy transfers, going up an active volcano twice, and the need for nets to catch riders that could potentially go off the unpaved descent in the Monte Crostis ruffled some feathers in the peloton last year. Even without these interesting features, there are still plenty of reasons why this year’s Giro will be a wildly interesting one. And luckily, none of those reasons include having to put nets in order to catch riders who might be flying off cliffs.

1. The race won’t be neutralized by a dominant rider, or an inhuman amount of climbing
Last year’s Giro promised to be one of the most interesting, due to the unbelievable amount of climbing it included. The reality, however, was that the quantity, length and steepness of the climbs virtually neutralized the race. With Alberto Contador taking the pink jersey early on in the race, other riders were afraid to attack, in fear of wasting energy that they’d need in order to merely get to the end of the race in one piece. It’s certainly true that Contador’s control of the Giro last year was impressive, but the inability (or unwillingness) of others to attack made the race dissolve into a boring affair that was at times reminiscent of watching someone else’s childhood home movies. This year’s race will be different, but will still feature iconic mountain passes like the Stelvio, which comes the day before the final time trial in Milan.

2. Pure Climbers can shine
Racing in the 1980s was peppered with pure climbers, riders who excelled in the high mountains, but lost amounts of time measured in calendar pages (not merely minutes) in flat stages and time trials. While we still catch glimpses of such riders at the Tour, the Giro is where we normally see the likes of Jose Rujano shine. This year will be no different. With a reduced amount of climbing, we can expect riders like Colnago-CSFs Domenico Pozzovivo and the tiny Venezuelan Rujano (who even horse jockeys manage to tower over) give their all in order to claim prestigious (and scarce) mountainous stages. If chosen by their teams, Liquigas-Cannondale’s Cayetano Sarmiento and Movistar’s Nairo Quintana are also riders to watch.

3. Sprinter’s delight
Do climbing stages bore you? Do you look forward to long flat stages where a breakaway is predictably caught within two kilometers of the finish, only to have those rare creatures known as sprinters (and their lead-out trains) battle it out at the finish line? If so, this year’s Giro is one you’ll enjoy. New race director Michel Acquarone has given sprinters several stages that they’ll gladly fight over, many more than the average Giro.

Additionally, Mark Cavendish is likely to be exiting the race before it’s over, as he’ll merely use the Giro to prepare for both the Tour and the Olympics. His absence for part of the race should mean that several other riders will have a chance to fight stage wins (his teammate Bernard Eisel included). Though no longer a pure sprinter, BMC’s Thor Hushovd will no doubt be a part of those stages, as will Oscar Gatto and Matthew Goss. A Contador-less Saxo Bank will look for sprint wins with the Haedo brothers. And this being the Giro, maybe we’ll get really lucky, and a retired Mario Cipollini will make a mid-race cameo appearance, as he did in 2009.

4. Stars and Stripes forever
In 1988, American Andy Hampsten won the Italian grand tour, an accomplishment that no other American has replicated. While it’s unlikely that this year will see a repeat of Hampsten’s feat (particularly the part where he gained the leader’s jersey during a brutal snowstorm), it’s worth mentioning that American Taylor Phinney will be there (targeting time trials), as will Christian Vande Velde, who will ride in support of his Canadian teammate Ryder Hesjedal. Vande Velde would welcome another stint in pink, since he was the first American to sport the coveted maglia rosa since Hampsten. As teams make their final selections, even more prominent American riders will no doubt be selected for the Italian race. Just don’t expect the Italians to replace the pink jersey with an Evel Knievel-inspired stars and stripes number if an American takes the lead.

5. Who shall inherit the race? The youthful (and lesser known) shall.
Historically, team directors tend to give younger or less experienced riders in their team a certain amount of leeway during the Giro. It’s for this reason that the Italian grand tour gives us a chance to enjoy watching different riders who are often obscured during the month of July, but are nevertheless talented and exciting ones to watch. AG2Rs John Gadret is one such rider, who will look to improve on his fourth spot (third after Contador’s disqualification). Other riders to watch, include José Serpa (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela)

Another promising hopeful is Rigoberto Urán, who will lead Team Sky alongside his fellow Colombian (and climbing specialist) Sergio Heano. Though it’s unlikely that Urán will win the race overall, this marks the first time that a Colombian has led a team at the Giro since the 1980s. Known for their explosive climbing power and unpredictability, Colombians have been known to bring excitement to races like the Giro. Perhaps this year will be no different.

But who’s going to win?

What would a preview of a race like the Giro be without some predictions? Not much. I will now give you mine, though I advice you to think twice about putting money down on my picks. I am, after all, the guy who put money on Drago when watching Rocky IV for the first time. With that in mind, allow me to tell you that if Vincenzo Nibali rides the Giro, he’ll win it. Whether or not he’ll attend is still up in the air, as Liquigas-Cannondale sorts out their ongoing Basso/Nibali issues. If not, look for a dark horse to take the final pink jersey home, perhaps someone like John Gadret, whose fighting spirit (remember that he refused to give his team leader, Roche, his wheel at the Tour last year after a puncture) could be an advantage is a hotly contested race like this year’s Giro. Am I crazy for suggesting that Gadret could win a grand tour? Maybe, but then again, I really thought Drago had a chance against Rocky.

So there you have it. Five reasons why this year’s Giro is one you must see. Keep in mind that even more reasons to watch the race will emerge as other teams reveal their rosters. And this being the Giro, it’s certainly possible that some excitement may come as a result of severe snowstorms, insanely steep climbs and unpaved descents that require safety nets. Oh, and if a volcano in the vicinity of the race starts erupting at one point, don’t be alarmed. That’s just another sign that you’re watching the grandest of the grand tours. The Giro d’Italia.

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