I held off writing a blog on the favourites till this point because as soon as I heard that Giro organisers RCS had inserted a team time trial in this year's edition, history told me that the events to unfold last Friday in Belfast would rule at least one GC contender out.
Still, one has to ask, as a Cycling Central reader in fact did, how does a guy crash twice in the space of a fortnight, at two moments when someone is least likely to crash?
I mean, at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, when is the last time you saw a guy slide out on the final left-hand corner before the finishing straight in Ans? And with the Belfast TTT, how many other riders/teams rode over that same section under the same conditions? For what it's worth, Movistar, for one, rode the entire course in the wet: "We had to do our whole TT under the rain, from the very start," Eusebio Unzue, the team's general manager said, "and especially the most complicated section, which was the downhill after the slopes to the palace. There wasn't much water on the road there, but enough to force us to cover it more slowly."
While I've got the boot in, I don't think Daniel Martin would've made the podium anyway, same goes for his team-mate and 2012 Giro champ Ryder Hesjedal, whose team limped home 3min26sec behind Orica-GreenEDGE (awesome ride, BTW Ã¢â¬â must have been another Three Page Plan from Whitey).
The Irishman had never made the top-10 in any previous Grand Tour Ã¢â¬â his best GC ride was 13th at the 2011 Vuelta a Espana, and most recent was a DNF at last year's Vuelta. (Guess what happened? He crashed on a hectic run-in to the finish of the seventh stage; the only one to do so.) And, in a recent interview with VeloNews, before LBL, Martin admitted he has trouble showing the requisite restraint required to be a successful stage racer, which, consequently, sees him unleash his talents at times suited to win stages and big one day and week-long races that have one big mountain stage - though unsuited to the calculated composure necessary to be a Grand Tour rider. As for Hesjedal, well, let's just say the Law of Karma seems to be in play here, because no rider has ever gone better post-confession. There's just too much internalised guilt.So, with 18 stages remaining, I'd say we're down to no more than five riders for the top step in Trieste Ã¢â¬â Cadel Evans, Nairo Quintana, Joaquim RodrÃguez, Rigoberto UrÃ¡n, and Domenico Pozzovivo. In other words, the same five we had before the start.
If someone's told you one of the aforementioned has already lost the Giro because of the TTT they're lying: this year's Corsa Rosa boasts 40 climbs, which equates to 38,000 vertical metres to be traversed, and, including the hill-climb time trial two days before the end, ten summit finishes, half of those coming on major mountain stages. I would expect the same, if not bigger, time gaps as last year, when Vincenzo Nibali savaged his adversaries and triumphed by 4'43 and 5'52 over Uran and Evans, respectively.
So, without further ado, in my best Secret Squirrel cable EnglishÃ¢â¬¦
Cadel Evans (BMC)
Why he will win: Out of Top Five, most experienced Grand Tour leader of all ('Purito' has done two more GTs but less in a leadership role). And only GT winner. Le Big Daddy is now past him but can still win the Giro or Vuelta, or any Ardennes Classics, should he choose. Form is spot-on; team is solid. For all critical mountain stages, must ride like he did on Stage 18 of the 2011 Tour de France to Col du Galibier. (Later admitted it was that stage, not the final TT in Grenoble, that won him the Tour; passive-aggressive, I call it.) Most dogged of the lot.
Why he won't: Becoming more erratic with age, occasionally prone to an inexplicably stupendous off day that rules him out of contention. Brent Bookwalter's pre-TTT crash has rendered the American ineffective so far. Aside from Steve Morabito and Samuel Sanchez could do with a little more support in the mountains (though likely to be mano-a-mano on the steep stuff, anyway). Against the likes of Quintana and Rodriguez time bonuses will hurt him; thankfully enjoys a respective 48 second and 1'26 buffer.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar)
Why he will win: The audacity of youth. Super fresh Ã¢â¬â had more than a month off racing before the Giro start; did wonders for him at last year's Tour. Best climber, by some margin. One of the few scalatore who can also time trial. Experienced team makes up for inexperience of leader. Point to prove after being overlooked for leadership role at Tour de France (and in favour of an 'ex-con', no less).
Why he won't: Too young. First Giro d'Italia. First Grand Tour in outright leadership capacity. At critical moments, sometimes attacks too early (think Ax-3 Domaines, Mont Ventoux at 2013 TdF). Form unknown; last race, Volta a Catalunya, at end of March, finished fifth to Rodriguez at (but only 10 seconds behind on GC, on a parcours that didn't really suit him).
Joaquim RodrÃguez (Katusha)
Why he will win: Experience. 2014 Giro is Purito's nineteenth Grand Tour. Finished top 10 in last 11 GTs he's ridden. Worked hard on improving his time trial, what used to be his Achilles' heel, and can now hold his own (the deeper in a race, the better). Won Catalunya comfortably, defended well. Approaching Last Chance Saloon Ã¢â¬â will throw everything in to win. Armed with punchy finish, will score plenty of bonus seconds.
Why he won't: Losing two Grand Tours in the same season (2012 Giro, Vuelta) while on the precipice of winning terrible for the head. Following Catalunya, poor lead-up, crashing twice in the Ardennes and finishing none (yet rode all three). Will need to adopt higher-risk strategy after team ran fourth-last in TTT (Katusha lost 1'33 to OGE), also taking into account likely two-plus minutes lost in stage 12 time trial. (Over 41.9km, expecting J-Rod to lose around three secs/km.)
Rigoberto UrÃ¡n (OPQS)
Why he will win: Because he'll ride in the shadows of Evans, Quintana and RodrÃguez and let them cancel each other out. Dark horse; in terms of overall victory, most pundits have overlooked the Colombian. Can climb and time trial very well. As expected, OPQS rode brilliant TTT. Mullet gone; will sweat less profusely. Miracles do happen.
Why he won't: Like Quintana, never gone into a Grand Tour as bona fide leader. Finished second to Nibali at last year's Giro but never looked a threat. Can be erratic. OPQS not a GC-oriented team (although that is slowly changing), let alone one for Grand Tours, so will presumably be isolated early. Mullet gone; prone to hypothermia in the Dolomites.
Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2R)
Why he will win: In best form ever. Fearless. Audacious. Pugnacious. Like Uran, can ride off teams of the big favourites. AG2R strong, largely underrated team. So small, he sometimes cannot be seen.
Why he won't: Good thing he's fearless, audacious and pugnacious because mostly crap in the ITT. (Notwithstanding his rabbit-out-of-the-hat performance at last year's Vuelta, third behind Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin over 38.8kmÃ¢â¬¦ bizarre anomaly.) Out of group of five favourites, only one not to have stood on a Grand Tour podium (best result sixth at 2013 Vuelta).