So much rhetoric has centred on the sprinters at the 2012 Giro d’Italia, one startling stat has been largely overlooked as a result, writes Anthony Tan.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

While most of the talk surrounding the 95th Giro has revolved around the
abundance of sprinters, there are three notable exceptions: Alessandro
Petacchi (Lampre-ISD), André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) and Tom Boonen
(Omega Pharma-Quick Step).

And with pundits waxing lyrical about
the fast finishers, it has actually detracted from what I regard as a
far more startling observation. One that over the course of the next
three weeks will become more intriguing still, and is bound to have you,
the cycling fans, grinning like a pig in poo.

The fact is this: the 2012 Giro is wide open and there are up to 10 riders that can win 'la corsa rosa'.

Overall champion in 2006 and 2010, Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale),
said so himself: "It'll be a very open Giro because of the tough,
intriguing parcours and also because of the men I'm up against. There
isn't one rider who stands out from the others; just lots of outstanding
athletes who all have their own strengths."

With
a change of management, as former race director Angelo Zomegnan
received a swift kick up the backside for his sadistic route of
yesteryear and was later escorted to the exit (replaced by MD of RCS
Sport and race director, Michele Acquarone and Mauro Vegni,
respectively), this year's percorso bodes well for all.

"Last
year, we climbed Everest; if we'd piled all of the mountains on top of
each other we'd have ended up on the moon. It was too extreme, too
complicated, and it asked too much of the riders and everyone else,
too," Acquarone said in an interview with cycling journalist Daniel
Friebe, in the official Giro guide. (On an aside, Friebe and another
British scribe, Richard Moore, comprised my travelling trio at the 2010
Tour de France. It was a hoot and there were enough tales from our
travels to have created a deeply disturbing black comedy, even if
Friebe's lack of driving prowess in the Pyrenées almost thrice killed
us.)

"The fans were the first to say, 'Oh, this is too much'. So
even if Angelo [Zomegnan] had stayed, we'd have designed a Giro like
this one in 2012," continued Acquarone. "Because we've taken the best of
2010 and tried to eliminate the worst of 2009 and 2011 to design the
best possible Giro. There's something for the sprinters, some mixed
stages, lots of mountain stages and a queen stage which has really been
designed for the fans, with the climbs they wanted to see."

The
last bit is indeed true. In 2011 the RCS Sport head honcho did a Twitter
and Facebook poll to ask fans what would be their dream stage, and the 'tifosi' overwhelmingly asked for the inclusion of two classic climbs: the Passo di Mortirolo and Passo di Stelvio.

Acquarone responded in kind, choosing to incorporate the agonising ascents on the queen stage, or 'il tappone',
and on the penultimate day, no less. Over 219 literally breath-taking
kilometres in the heart of the Dolomites, the peloton (or what's left of
the sure-to-be-ragged lot) will traverse five categorised climbs that
conclude with an ascent of the 'easier' side of the vertiginous
Mortirolo (11.4km at 10.5%) and just to leave them completely legless, a
mountaintop finish atop the 22.4km Stelvio.

And, by the way,
there's no procession the next day: a 31.5km mostly flat individual time
trial around Milan concludes proceedings for Stage 21.

However,
put that aside and, for a few moments, consider the 10 contenders: Ivan
Basso (Liquigas), Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD), Ryder Hesjedal
(Garmin-Barracuda), John Gadret (AG2R La Mondiale), Roman Kreuziger
(Astana), Domenico Pozzovivo (Colnago-CSF Inox), Joaquím Rodríguez
(Katusha), José Rujano (Androni Giocattoli), Michele Scarponi
(Lampre-ISD), Fränk Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek).

What's the one thing they have in common?

Answer:
unlike last year's whitewash at the hands of Alberto Contador who won
the race by a chasm-sized six-minute margin (and who would later lose
his crown for something he may or may not have done), not one of these
riders is miles above the rest in terms of talent, or current form.

My
dark-horse? Pozzovivo, a man you may not have heard much (or at all)
of before and the recent winner of the four-day Giro del Trentino that
finished just a fortnight ago, where he beat the likes of Cunego,
Sylvester Szmyd (Liquigas-Cannondale), Rujano, Kreuziger and Marco
Pinotti (BMC). He's 29 years old, a prodigious scalatore (climber) and in 2005, finished ninth overall in his first Giro d'Italia. He's also in the best shape of his eight-year career.

At
5'5" (1.65 metres) short and a flyweight 53 kilos, if he wasn't a pro
bike rider, Diminutive Domenico could well be mistaken for being Mike
Tomalaris's 10-year-old son if you saw him in school uniform. He and
Rujano, in fact, who is an inch shorter and five kilos lighter still.