For this year’s Giro I’ll be taking an in-depth look at each of the team’s taking part in this year’s Giro d’Italia – 22 articles covering the Giro’s 22 teams over the course of the 21 stages (and one rest day) of this year’s race.
Each article will cover a team’s sponsors, the squad’s most important rider for the chosen stage, an unsung hero on the team who deserves more attention, and the reasons why you may or may not want to barrack for them to succeed.
The first cab off the rank is Team Giant-Alpecin, a team with one of the favourites to take the overall win and one of the most compelling collective stories in cycling this year. Enjoy!
Who are their sponsors?
Giant are the world’s largest manufacturer of bicycles for sport and recreation, and are based in Taiwan. Alpecin are a German manufacturer of caffeinated shampoos and hair care products, which has landed them in hot water after they started advertised their products as ‘doping for the hair’ a couple of years back.
Rider for today’s stage
Tonight’s opening stage is a 9.8km pan-flat time trial around the Dutch town of Apeldoorn, which looks set to favour muscular time trial specialists with ability to lay down huge power on straight sections and hold their speed through the race’s few corners.
Tom Dumoulin (pronounced Du-moo-lan) is one of the best time triallists in the world on his day (he finished third in the world time trial championships in 2014), so all of his targets for 2016 are in races against the watch – he’s one of the favourites to take Olympic gold in the time trial in Rio later this year.
After a breakout performance at last year’s Vuelta a España saw him climb with some of the best in the sport and come within one stage of an unlikely overall win, speculation was rife that Dumoulin would try to win the Giro overall, as the route plays to his strengths better than this year’s Tour de France or Vuelta.
Since then Dumoulin has poured cold water on rumours that he’s trying to win the overall title, insisting that he’s just of targeting victories in the race’s three time trials – the short blast around Apeldoorn tonight, a 40.5km effort across the rolling hills of Chianti on stage 9 and a 10.8km climb up the Alpe de Siusi on stage 15.
He took second place in the prologue of the recent Tour de Romandie, so he’s coming into form. Whether he will have the legs or the lungs to stick with the sport’s best climbers once the race heads into the mountains remains to be seen, but one thing’s for certain – there’ll be plenty of home fans and neutral supporters hoping he can take the stage win and the race’s first pink jersey tonight.
Giant-Alpecin have been at the centre of one of professional cycling’s most shocking stories in 2016, as six of their riders were involved in a crash with a car at a training camp in Spain in January. There were serious repercussions for Giant’s chances of early season success, as German sprinter John Degenkolb (the defending champion at Milan-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix) nearly lost a finger and young French climber Warren Barguil (pronounced bar-gill) fractured his wrist.
However, the most seriously injured rider was American Chad Haga (pronounced hey-ga), who required surgery on a number of gashes in his face, head and neck, and also fractured the orbital bone in his eye socket. After initially considering retiring from pro cycling, Haga has made a comeback to the professional ranks in recent weeks, riding both the Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in the last couple of weeks.
The American climber will be out to play his part in Giant’s plan to hunt for stage wins at this year’s Giro, and may be let off the leash in a breakaway on the race’s hillier days.
A stage win will be more than enough for a Giant-Alpecin team that’s only now recovering from the crash in January. Dumoulin’s probably their best chance to win a stage with the opening time trial, but overcoming the likes of former world hour record holder Alex Dowsett and time trialling legend Fabian Cancellara will be a tall order.
They’ll be backing German Nikias Arndt in the sprints, and he’s an outside chance to snag a stage win later on in the race.
Reason to cheer
It’s hard not to read Haga’s tweets from when he was in hospital and not crack a smile.
Reason to jeer
John Degenkolb and Warren Barguil, the team’s two biggest stars, have opted to skip the Giro in favour of the Tour de France.