The Roar
The Roar


Four reasons to watch the 2016 Giro d'Italia

Vincenzo Nibali can relax - today is a day for the sprinters. (Photo via Team Sky).
4th May, 2016

Nothing captures the beauty, the suffering and the brutality of professional road cycling like a Grand Tour.

The sprints are faster, the mountains higher and the climbs steeper than anything that has come before. Careers are forged or abandoned on the slopes of mythical bergs.

To finish requires herculean effort. To win requires even more.

For most casual sports fans, the Tour de France is their Grand Tour of choice, and it’s easy to see why. The ASO present a slick, well-organised, well-promoted race. Unfortunately, it can also be predictable and formulaic.

For a truly unpredictable, frayed at the edges, slightly less-well organised, rough-and-tumble experience, let me present the Giro d’Italia.

The Giro has everything le Tour has and more. Plus it starts this Friday. If that alone doesn’t make you want to watch, then consider the following.

The race for general classification
As we all know, the Tour de France is little more than a 21-stage victory parade for Team Sky. It’s their race. It’s the focus of their season. It matters not that Alberto Contador or Nairo Quintana are two of the greatest climbers ever, Chris Froome and his army of Sky automatons are better.

There will be no such predictability at the Giro, however. Froome won’t be there. Instead, Sky have handed the keys of team leadership over to Mikel Landa.


The Spaniard finished third here last year (riding for Astana) so he has a chance, but does he have the support? Especially when everyone knows that Sky’s true desire lays elsewhere in July.

No, the real battle for general classification will be fought out between local hope Vincenzo ‘The Shark’ Nibali (Astana), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff). There’s your podium right there, but the order is anyone’s guess.

Nibali is a class act and a consistent big-race performer. He is one of only a handful of riders to have won all three Grand Tours and has placed in the top five on five other occasions. In fact, discounting his disqualification for hitching a ride on a team car at last year’s Vuelta a Espana, Nibali has finished no lower than seventh in his last ten Grand Tour starts – a run of top tens that stretches back to 2009. They are good numbers.

His match up with Valverde should prove fascinating. The evergreen Spaniard has fronted the starting line at 18 Grand Tours, but surprisingly, this is his first Giro. Of those 18 starts though, he has finished on the podium seven times (for one win at the 2009 Vuelta) and recorded a remarkable 14 top ten results!

His form leading up to this race is good too. Already this year he has claimed the Vuelta a Andalucia and Vuelta a Castilla y Leon stage races, as well as the Fleche Wallonne one-day classic.

In contrast, Nibali’s form has been sketchy. His only stage race victory this year was at the early season Tour of Oman. Since then he has been slightly off the pace, finishing sixth overall at Tirreno-Adriatico and an uninspiring 21st at the Giro del Trentino.

But The Shark is a proud man and I expect him to lift for his home tour.


The third rider to watch is Polish rising star Majka. With two Giro top tens, three Tour de France mountain stages, and a podium at the Vuelta a Espana within the last three years, he has to be considered.

He is a talented climber whose steady progression has him on an upward trajectory. His results haven’t been spectacular yet this year, but he loves the Giro, and will relish the role of being his team’s protected rider.

Of course, these three won’t have things all their own way. AG2R pair Domenico Pozzovivo and Christophe Peraud, Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale), Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE), Tom Dumoulin (Giant Alpecin), Ryder Hesjedal (Trek-Segafredo), Rein Taaramae (Katusha), Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Vini Fantini) and Landa, among others, will try to assert their authority on the GC at some stage.

The race really is wide open.

A genuine Aussie sprinter
The Giro is usually tough on sprinters, offering them little incentive to come and play. But this year is different. This year the organisers have found some flat ground for the fast men and, like seagulls after discarded chips, they are flocking to the start line.

Marcel Kittel (Etixx Quickstep) and Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) are sprinting royalty and need no introduction, but they will be challenged by Elia Viviani (Sky), Milan-San Remo winner Arnaud Demare (FDJ), Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) and Aussie whiz kid Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEDGE).

Ewan is perhaps the most exciting young cyclist to hit the professional peloton since Peter Sagan. He has blistering speed and his much talked-about extreme aero sprinting position has to be seen to be believed. No-one gets lower. Comparisons to Robbie McEwen or Mark Cavendish are not overstated and his battles with seasoned campaigners such as Greipel and Kittel will be reason enough to tune in.


Ewan has already tasted Grand Tour success, beating John Degenkolb and Sagan over the line in Stage 5 of last year’s Vuelta a Espana. He may not make it over the mountains to the end of this Giro, but a couple of stage wins before he departs the race is not a pipedream. He is a genuine threat.

Watch him here though, because he won’t be at the Tour.

Individual time trials
Okay, I know, individual time trials are like watching paint dry, and many of us seasoned Grand Tour watchers treat them as an opportunity to catch up on some sleep. Not this time though.

The Giro has three ITTs this year and our own Orica-GreenEDGE has stacked its team with time trial specialists. Michael Hepburn (2014 national time trial champion) and Damien Howson (2013 world Under-23 time trial champion) will be licking their lips at the prospect of going up against the likes of Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo).

OGE have made an artform out of winning early stages at Grand Tours and it wouldn’t surprise if either Hepburn or Howson find themselves wearing the Maglia Rosa at the completion of Day 1, as the Giro opens with a ten-kilometre time trial through the streets of Apeldoorn.

Throw in Canadian import Svein Tuft (second at the 2008 world time trial championships) and the Australian team are serious about racing against the clock.

While they have a general classification contender in the effervescent Colombian Esteban Chaves, the team will still be playing the opportunist, chasing stage wins where they can and riding to their strengths – and the time trial is definitely one of them!


Lots of Aussies
This year’s Giro has Aussies everywhere – 12 of them in fact, spread across eight different teams. They aren’t just making up numbers either.

Expect to see Heinrich Haussler and Leigh Howard (both from IAM Cycling) contesting sprints on stages that are just that bit too difficult for the pure sprinters.

You’ll certainly catch a glimspe of Simon Clarke (Cannondale) and Nathan Haas (Dimenison Data) jumping into breakaways.

You won’t miss Adam Hansen (Lotto Soudal) either. The old war horse is lining up for his 14th consecutive Grand Tour, a record that will probably never be broken.

Then there is two-time national champion Jack Bobridge (Trek-Segafredo). He will be a potential stage winner despite being on domestique duties for most of the race.

Rory Sutherland (Movistar), Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff) and David Tanner (IAM cycling) are others to look out for, as they doing the heavy lifting for their respective teams.

And, of course, we have already mentioned the Orica-GreenEDGE trio of Ewan, Hepburn and Howson.


So forget the Tour, the Giro is now.

Sit back, settle down and enjoy the show. You won’t be disappointed.