• In form, on cue: Tom Dumoulin is aiming for a successful title defence at the 2018 Giro d'Italia. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Ever since the route announcement last November, the 2018 Giro d'Italia has been a politically charged affair. A cast of contenders and a course to match has potential to make the racing equally electrified, writes Anthony Tan.
Cycling Central
27 Apr 2018 - 3:44 PM  UPDATED 27 Apr 2018 - 9:47 PM

That a precedent has been set saying you cannot win the Giro and Tour unless you're on drugs has seemed not to deter the two biggest favourites at this year's Corsa Rosa.

In 2011 Alberto Contador, considered one of the best Grand Tour riders of his generation, if not the best, won the Giro then ran fifth at the Tour, before having those results stripped for his doping infraction at the 2010 Tour. Four years later, as far as results went, history repeated itself: first and fifth again for El Pistolero.

For Dumoulin and Pinot the decision to ride may be in part due to the stranglehold Team Sky have had on the Tour since 2012, when Bradley Wiggins won in the metronomic fashion the British outfit has become renowned, revered, and ridiculed, for.

A year later, in 2016, Vincenzo Nibali, one of only six to have won all three Grand Tours, a feat achieved after his 2014 Tour victory, like Contador, tried and failed: first and 30th at the Giro and Tour, respectively. Further proof was provided last year courtesy of Nairo Quintana; second and 12th was as good as it got for the Colombian.

"Sometimes you win the bet, and sometimes you lose, and this time we didn't win," Quintana said after the twelfth leg of last year's Tour to Peyragudes, at which point he was already four minutes down and had lost all hope of a podium finish. "Another year we'll do it better. We'll prepare for the Tour like on other occasions (without riding the Giro), and we will arrive in better condition."

Tom Dumoulin and Chris Froome obviously weren't paying attention. Or simply don't care. "Of course there is an element of risk involved in targeting the Giro before the Tour," said the latter, "but I think I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t give this race a go."

Either does Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), apparently, recent winner of the Tour of the Alps, the five-day race providing a litmus test for the Giro in the way the Critérium du Dauphiné does for the Tour. All three have the Giro-Tour double on their 2018 racing menu, and after a deliberately slow start to the season, the trio appear to be coming into shape right on cue.

For Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) and Pinot the decision to ride both may be in part due to the stranglehold Team Sky have had on the Tour since 2012, when Bradley Wiggins won in the metronomic fashion the British outfit has become renowned, revered, and ridiculed, for. You feel race director Christian Prudhomme would kill for the even a quarter of the spontaneity that has characterised a number of recent Giri d'Italia and Vueltas a España, yet, try as he has to influence the narrative, Sky and Froome and have mostly managed to control the uncontrollable.

Of course, one thing they could not avoid was the leaking of Froome's test results from September 7 last year, immediately following Stage 18 of the Vuelta, which showed twice the permitted levels of salbutamol in his urine.

What he's doing here, then, you ask?

Read a December 13 statement from the UCI: "The presence of a Specified Substance such as salbutamol in a sample does not result in the imposition of such mandatory provisional suspension against the rider."

Personality-wise there appears few similarities, yet Lance Armstrong and Froome do have a few traits in common: an uncanny ability to compartmentalise what is going around them, and to remain undistracted as they prepare for their sporting objectives - even when an unfavourable decision could lead to any results achieved, past and future, null and void. In fact, it sometimes feels the uncertainty surrounding their fate is more of an encumbrance and annoyance for outsiders than themselves. Dealing with, and thriving in, pressurised situations is all part and parcel of being a leader - and both have demonstrated they're remarkably good at it.

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That's not to say Froome is oblivious to his impending fate.

Those pesky journalists continue to remind - not that he needs to be. "I also recognise the wider issues and as I have said before, I am doing everything I can, together with the team, to help resolve them as quickly as possible," reiterated Team Sky's numero uno a week out from the May 4 Grande Partenza. "In the meantime I am focused on racing. I would love to win the maglia rosa, but I am under no illusions whatsoever about how hard the race will be."

Notwithstanding his superlative physical attributes that have enabled him to win four out of the last five Tours de France, arguably, it is Froome's experience as a leader - and winner, no less - in multiple Grand Tours that sets him apart, and has the potential to make the 2018 Giro a lopsided affair. All talk of the Kenyan-born Brit's powers being on the wane were expunged when he realised the Tour-Vuelta double. He turns 33 on May 20, the fifteenth stage to Sappada and the fifth of eight high-mountain legs in this 101st edition that, at least on paper, lives up to 'the toughest race in the world's most beautiful place' moniker.

Dumoulin, as defending champ, and Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates), winner of the 2015 Vuelta, have just the one three-week win to their name; Pinot, Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott) and Miguel Ángel López (Astana Pro Team) are yet to make their first strike. It would be somewhat surprising, though nonetheless enthralling, to see any of the aforementioned unseat Froome.

Behind this sextet there is a category of notables who would consider a top-10 a significant achievement, a top-five a big bonus, a podium a rabbit-out-of-the-hat ride, and overall victory a triumph against all odds. Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida), Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing), Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Carlos Betancur (Movistar), Louis Meintjes (Dimension Data), Michael Woods (EF Education First-Drapac), George Bennett (Lotto Nl-Jumbo), Gianluca Brambilla (Trek-Segafredo) all fit the "it's not up to us to control the bike race" mould. (Read: We're unproven, we're entitled to sit on, so we mostly will.)

From the ethical dilemma surrounding Froome to the Grande Partenza host city that was briefly labelled West Jerusalem on organiser RCS Sport's maps before the Israeli government threatened to withdraw all support - ever since the route announcement on November 29 last year, controversy has never been more than a passeggiata away.

From the way their longest-serving post-war leader ruled the country (yes, he of the 'bunga bunga' tribe), that's how the Giro likes it. The toughest race in two of world's most politicised places begins next Friday not in West Jerusalem or East Jerusalem; just Jerusalem.