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2005 Giro d’Italia – PEZ Picks The Favorites

The 2005 Giro d’Italia promises to be more competitive than it has been in years. The first Grand Tour on the ProTour calendar promises a ton of climbing, some fantastic sprints, agressive riding, and plenty, yes, plenty of beautiful Italian Bellas.

The Contenders: Maglia Rosa
The ProTour requirement for all ProTour teams to take part in all ProTour events is set to help the Giro d’Italia in all ways. The list of contenders for this year’s overall victory at this year’s Giro is long.

Damiano Cunego (Lampre/Caffita) — Any analysis of the favorites has to begin with the defending champion. Cunego impressed mightily last year as the upstart kid who dethroned the elder statesman teammate. This year, Cunego will not surprise anyone, and there will be no solo breakaway to gain nearly 2:30 minutes as Cunego did last year in the Giro’s stage 16 to Falzes. If Cunego is to win this year, he will have to win it straight up – as both grimpeur and time triallist. Cunego’s climbing abilities have never been questioned, but there are a number of riders lining up at the Giro this year who could very well be at least the match for Cunego in the mountains. The real question is how much time will Cunego lose in the two time trials? 79 km worth of time trialling is a LOT more than last year’s paltry sum of 59. Serhiy Hontchar was correct when saying that he lost last year’s Giro by one time trial – the second time trial that wasn’t there.

Will Cunego relegate Simoni and the rest of the field to pretenders?

Gilberto Simoni (Lampre/Caffita) — Simoni has looked positively impressive this year, even early on, with a solo victory atop the Mont Faron at Paris-Nice and just last week took a win at the Giro dell’Appennino. There is no question that Simoni is on form, the question is what will happen with Simoni and Cunego when the duo from Lampre-Caffita hit the mountains. They masquerade as friends right now, but there will be some highly contentious riding early on in the Giro to assert just who is top dog in the team. Look for a very motivated Simoni to come out on top.

Or will Simoni return to the incredible form of his 2003 victory?

Ivan Basso (CSC) — Basso looks to be the real contender to the Giro throne this year. The only thing that might hold Basso back is his double goal of going well in the Tour de France as well. Because of this double goal for 2005, Basso has not really showed himself in the races leading up to the Giro. He placed 18th in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, but openly admitted that because of his duel goals, he could not be on form for the early season races. Let’s expect a very in-form Basso though, and the one thing Basso has proved that no one else in cycling has? He can ride with Lance Armstrong in the mountains. Lance Armstrong is the best climber on the planet in the Tour de France, nearly untouchable, until last year when Basso hitched a ride and duelled admirably with the Boss. Cunego and Simoni, hell, no one else in this year’s Giro has ever gone toe to toe with Armstrong in the mountains. Basso could very well rip the race to shreds. Couple this with an excellent team in CSC as well as ever improving time trialling skills… I think your winner will be Ivan Basso.

Ivan Basso – the Lance slayer – might have something to say about the Lampre-Caffita juggernaut

Stefano Garzelli (Liquigas/Bianchi) — Along with Dario Cioni and ProTour leader Danilo DiLuca, Stefano Garzelli will be part of an impressively strong team. The question is whether Garzelli has what it takes to contend with Simoni, Cunego, and Basso in the mountains. After losing nearly 5 minutes on the first climbing stage at the Tour de Romandie, one has to wonder. Garzelli rebounded admirably after the Friday debacle at Romandie, but still not a great sign that the form is where it absolutely has to be.

Garzelli hopes to return to the top of the podium in ’05

Serhiy Honchar (Domina Vacanze) — It is absolutely impossible to say how well Honchar could go in this year’s Giro. The man has more or less been invisible for the first part of this season. Hell, he has been pretty much invisible since last year’s Giro as well. The 2004 Giro runner-up to Damiano Cunego impressed in of course the TT last year, but rode superbly in the mountains to defend his GC position. There are a lot more mountains in this year’s route, so he could be waging an uphill battle (pun intended). If he returns this year with the same form, he could surprise, but will not win – look for a top 5.

Tom Danielson (Discovery) — The first American hope in a long, long time at the Giro, Danielson enters the Giro on blazing form. Danielson has showed that he has the climbing prowess to go toe to toe with just about anyone in the mountains. He has two wins on two of the more mythical summits in cycling: Genting Highlands and as of two weeks ago – Brasstown Bald. Danielson’s time trialling continues to improve, which he demonstrated with a 7th place finish in the Tour de Georgia TT – only 1 minute behind winner and potential Tour de France contender, Floyd Landis. Let’s just say winning the Tour de Georgia could not have hurt Danielson’s confidence. Danielson also has the luxury of an able and experienced Giro rider in Paolo Savoldelli, not to mention an excellent team in general.

Perhaps another Brasstown Bald-esque performance is in the cards for Danielson

Euskaltel-Euskadi — This whole team has possibilities, namely in quiet Haimar Zubeldia and eternal hopeful, but never quite there Aitor Gonzalez. Zubeldia has proven that he has the class by finishing in the top 5 of an outrageously competitive 2003 Tour de France, but was a complete non-factor in last year’s Tour de France. If Zubeldia comes into this year’s Giro with the form of 2003, he could turn a lot of heads and hopefully bring the Euskaltel team their first win of the season. Aitor Gonzalez is yet another unknown, but if he somehow has found his rhythm once again amongst his fellow Basque countryman, Gonzalez could be a big time contender.

Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery) — Eyebrows were raised after Savoldelli placed very high – 2nd – in the Tour de Romandie Prologue, they turned to frowns though only two days later when he lost 5 minutes in the first mountain stage. Savoldelli is an unknown right now, just as Zubeldia, Hontchar, and Gonzalez are. Savoldelli has not raced well in over two years, but before that he won the Giro d’Italia, albeit a decimated Giro – where arguably the top 3 riders were all ousted: Garzelli, Simoni, and Casagrande. Let’s hope we see a rejuvenated Savoldelli this year.

Joseba Beloki (Liberty Seguros) — Talk about question marks, Beloki is probably the biggest one of all. Since his horrible wreck in the 2003 Tour de France, Joseba Beloki has not once showed an inkling of the brilliance of that year’s Tour de France. Beloki showed during that Tour that he was a major contender, a rider along the lines of Ullrich who actually had a chance of dethroning the Boss. If Beloki even comes back to 90% of that during this year’s Giro, we could be in for a treat. One gets the feeling though that it probably won’t happen. At least Beloki has finally put himself in an environment where he can be helped though – namely by his favorite DS, Manolo Saiz. We’ll continue to hope to see the Beloki of old though.

Let’s all hope Beloki’s luck is better than in 2003

Vladimir Karpets (Illes-Balears) — Last year’s Best Young Rider at the Tour de France has stayed under the radar since a brilliant Tour last year. It is not known whether he is doing the Tour again this year, at which point, one has to suspect that he will be using the Giro as training. If he is using the Giro as a big goal, then Karpets could definitely find himself well placed in the final GC.

The Contenders: Maglia Ciclamino
It would be foolhardy to not pick Alessandro Petacchi to win at least four stages of the Giro and the Maglia Ciclamino as well. It might even be foolish to predict anything less than every single sprinter’s stage to go to Petacchi. Petacchi is nothing short of unstoppable this season. As unbelievable as it may sound, but Petacchi seems to be going better THIS year than LAST year, when he took a few (read NINE) stages at the Giro.

With that said, this year’s Giro will have arguably the best group of sprinters in a long time (thank you ProTour). The contenders on the flat stages and for the overall points classification are all experienced and very fast. Robbie McEwen, last year’s Tour de France Green Jersey winner, is coming into the Giro after a very solid early season in which he won the Australian National Championship, but a somewhat unfortunate Spring, when he fell ill a number of times. Look for McEwen to nab at least one from the Ale-Jet.

Don’t count out Robbie Mac

Baden Cooke won the Tour points jersey just two years ago, but has had a rough time of sorts of late. He could and should be coming around soon. Stuart O’Grady and Erik Zabel are two amazing sprinters, yet they seem to lack that little bit of top end to contend with the absolute TOP sprinters (think Petacchi and McEwen), what they might lack in pure finishing speed, they more than make up for in class everywhere else in races. Zabel was 4th at this year’s Tour of Flanders, and just won at the Rund um den Henninger Turm. He is obviously on good form, and could be a threat on the middle mountain stages (along with someone like Paolo Bettini). The same goes for O’Grady.

Both Baden Cooke and Erik Zabel are looking for wins

Robbie McEwen’s Lotto/Davitamon teammate, Tom Steels is also going very well of late, and has shown time and time again that he is one of the fastest in the business when on form.

Looking for a real darkhorse? Look no further than Ivan Quaranta. Quaranta is arguably the fastest finisher on the planet, the only problem is that he hasn’t won a stage of the Giro in years, and he probably has only finished in the lead group in a handful of stages since his glory days of upsetting Mario Cipollini way back in 1999.

The Contenders: Maglia Verde
The mountain points jersey at this year’s Giro could be a hard fought battle between the smaller teams. Of course, if one GC rider really steps up and dominates in the mountains, he will most likely take home the Maglia Verde along with the Maglia Rosa, but if there is any leeway, look for the purest of the climbers to get away early on the big mountain stages and gobble up points as they go. Euskaltel has a number of able climbers, if Roberto Laiseka is on some good form, he could very well be a contender for the Maglia Verde. One of the little Colombians from Colombia/Selle Italia could also factor in the race for the mountains jersey. Panaria has a huge collection of fantastic climbers in Emanuele Sella, former Maglia Verde winner and in-form Julio Cuapio Perez, Freddy Gonzalez, and Paolo Tiralongo. If the Maglia Rosa doesn’t win the Maglia Verde, look for the winner to come from Panaria.

The Contenders: Intergiro
The Intergiro competition will probably go to some non-descript rider who gets in random early breakaways. The Intergiro competition is probably the oddest of the jerseys, as it is based on some kind of imaginary time bonus devoted solely to the Intergiro.

The Contenders: Stages
Obviously, most of the stages will fall to sprinters, and more than likely, will further pad the bank account of one Alessandro Petacchi. The high mountain stages will most likely favor the GC boys or a very fortunate climber (Cuapio?). There are but a few other chances for the other riders in terms of stage winning glory. QuickStep is sending a team to the Giro with the sole goal of poaching stage wins. They come stacked with Olympic champion Paolo Bettini, Het Volk winner Nick Nuyens, hardman Stefano Zanini, and many more stage gunners. Davitamon/Lotto also has a number of possibilities as well. Look for the teams that have no GC hopes (read T-Mobile, Rabobank, Credit Agricole, et al) to be firing bullets at every possible moment in hopes of stage glory.

Count on the QuickStep team and Paolo Bettini for some aggressive riding

For more fun, head to www.JeredGruber.com

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