Aussies at the Giro: what can we expect?

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2011 Tour de France winner Cadel Evans of Australia, right, follows overall leader Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland, left, during the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 207.5 kilometers (129 miles) with start in Epernay and finish in Metz, France, Friday July 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

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So here we go again, poised at the start of what is often the most entertaining of the Grand Tours. However you look at it the start list is a corker, even if your interest is purely those riding with a green and gold heart beating in their chests.

The possibilities are salivating to consider. And for a variety of reasons.

Ten Aussie riders will take to the start line in Naples and it will be great to see all ten make it to Brescia. But given some are in their first Grand Tour and others may have differing objectives, only time will tell.

Predictably Orica-GreenEDGE has the most locals with four: Matt Goss, Leigh Howard, Luke Durbridge and Brett Lancaster.

Earlier this season I wrote how Goss’s position as OGE’s number one sprinter could be soon under threat if results didn’t improve.

The threat is in the form of Leigh Howard and now they’ll be side by side at the Giro. But what’s the end game here?

Is Goss using the Giro to get some form for the Tour or, rather more dramatically, needing to do well at the Giro so he can ride in the Tour?

Recent history suggests the latter.

Goss has not enjoyed the best of seasons with illness seemingly affecting him since the brutal Milan-San Remo. Goss’ only win of the season was at the Tirreno-Adriatico (stage two), but he didn’t finish that race which, like so many early spring contests, was blighted by freezing cold and wet weather.

Goss also failed to finish Milan San Remo, Ghent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders and Tour of Romandie where he failed to start stage four.

The last race Goss actually finished was back in February at the Tour of Oman.

So what can we expect? Well considering how the season has gone so far, finishing the race will be an achievement.

And if Goss can repeat a stage win, as he claimed on stage 3 of last year’s Giro, we might just see some of his confidence return.

If he fails though then Leigh Howard is more than capable of taking over and the pressure on Goss will surely increase. It’s a big three weeks for Matt Goss.

Howard actually has more World Tour points than Goss this season, 228 to 102, and he has two wins under his belt, although none since early February.

Fresh off the Tour of Turkey, where his best place was sixth in stage two, Howard hasn’t been on the same race program as Goss since Ghent-Wevelgem where he finished a respectable 25th.

The withdrawal of Daryl Impey, whose wife is due to give birth, opened up a spot for Howard who will be making his Grand Tour debut.

The podium places at Paris-Nice and San Luis have also impressed OGE management and if Goss continues to struggle then Howard could be given opportunities he maybe wasn’t expecting.

Also making his Grand Tour debut is Luke Durbridge. At the very least, it’ll be brilliant to see the national champion’s jersey every day of the race.

With 89km of time trials, Durbo will have a great chance to impress, and the less mountainous parcours (compared to previous years at least) will increase the prospect of him seeing final day action.

He might even have his eye on stage seven, an undulating 177km stage that doesn’t sound too dissimilar to Bunningyong where Durbo enjoyed a massive day or two back in Janaury. Only the final five kms is flat and the distance isn’t as great as some of the other stages.

A solid Tour de Romandie and a taste of the Classics has been the perfect lead-up for Durbridge, who’ll be racing without pressure, except what he puts on himself.

Should Durbridge need some guidance then he can always ask Brett Lancaster for a few choice words.

Lancaster won a Giro stage eight years ago and this will be his seventh start in the Italian Tour. Lancaster didn’t finish Romandie last weekend, but has been riding stage races for most of the season.

With Impey unavailable, more pressure will land on Lancaster’s shoulders but the Queenslander should more than cope. If he does, it’s only going to benefit Durbridge.

Jack Bobridge is the only Aussie selected from Team Blanco.

Again it’s not been a great year for Jack, in fact this will only be his sixth race for 2013. Best place so far is 18th at the Nationals individual time trial in January.

Most recently he rode at Romandie but in between and before that he sent us some nice pics from a training camp in Tenerife.

Bobridge revealed in January he was struggling with Rheumatoid Arthritis, so whether that is behind his lack of racing this year, who knows. Regardless, after the brave but necessary decision to move away from Orica GreenEDGE, and the uncertain future for his new team, this might have to be the time where we finally see what Bobo has to offer.

Cameron Wurf (Cannondale) has been building up to his first Grand Tour for most of the season, so his races have really been about training blocks. Now that he has sorted out his TT position and how to stop his sunnies (dangerously) fogging up on mountain descents, he is looking forward to what he can achieve in a three-week race.

The absence of team leader Ivan Basso leaves the glory chasing to their sprinter Elia Viviani, and who knows, maybe a ‘no name’ in a break like Cameron Wurf. The recent climbing camp in Tenerife could pay some handy dividends.

Rory Sutherland will be relishing his first trip to the Giro since 2005 when he finished 108th. Racing in America since then, Sutherland re-joined the World Tour this year when he moved to Team Saxo-Tinkoff.

Tenth at last week’s Tour of Turkey, don’t expect to see a lot of Sutherland unless the Saxo boys are chasing down a break and then he’ll be the guy with his face in the wind.

Another Grand Tour debutant is Nathan Haas who knows exactly what he’ll be doing for the next three weeks – whatever defending champion Ryder Hesjedal needs. What a tough gig Haas has.

A solid spring saw him finish four Classics including Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Fleche-Wallonne and Amstel-Gold. He backed that up with another one-day race in Toscana last weekend.

How that prepares Haas for a three-week race is anyone’s guess, in fact if he does reach Brescia he’ll have doubled his racing days for the year.

I don’t know about hills, but it’ll certainly be a steep learning curve for Nathan Haas this May! If somehow Hesjedal can defend his title, it’ll be some experience.

The Aussie George Hincapie/Jens Voigt is at it again. Last year Adam Hansen finished all three Grand Tours. Now he looks set to do it all again, this time supporting Lars Bak.

The Dane won a stage at the Giro last year (stage 12) but in the absence of their three big names – Andre Greipel, Jurgen van den Broeck and Jelle Vanendert – we may not catch as much of the Lotto boys as we’re used to seeing.

Hansen hasn’t raced much this year which isn’t surprising if he’s up for three Grand Tours, but if Bak is to enjoy Giro success, it’s not going to happen without a lot of work from Hansen.

There’s been much written about Cadel Evans in 2013 with many, including me, tending to question his performances and his real place in the peloton when it comes to that race in July.

But right now July seems a long way off as Cadel gets set for the Giro under what will be nothing less than intense scrutiny.

He says it’s all about getting racing k’s in his legs for July. But that doesn’t mean he’s viewing the Giro as a training exercise. No, Cadel has set high ambitions for the Giro.

“On one hand getting ready for the Tour, the Giro’s great. On the other hand, I really like the Giro. I’m a competitive rider.

“I have a competitive instinct and I want to do well at the Giro. I do what I can to be as good as I can but also I just have to be realistic.”

In his last race at the Giro del Trentino despite losing time to his major rivals in July, Cadel looked like he was getting back to some solid form. Nothing to make anyone shudder, but certainly more than he’s shown for a while.

I reckon he’s going to do really well at the Giro, like top-five really well, because it’s a race Evans likes and deep down has unfinished business here.

What will be fascinating though is how this race leaves Cadel when it comes to what he really wants, another shot at yellow in July.

Mouth-watering!

Is it Sunday yet?