Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) will start the 96th Giro d’Italia on Saturday (May 4) as hot favourite to win the red jersey of points winner.
But the former world road race champion, eight times a winner already this season, will not expect to have things all his own way and could face a challenge for the maglia rosso from unexpected quarters, as he did last year when he lost out to climber, Joaquim Rodriguez, on the final day.
Giro organisers announced last November that two intermediate sprints would be introduced to every stage and that both would carry time bonuses. Additionally, time bonuses of five, three, and two seconds will be awarded to the first three men across the finish line each day. Both developments will inspire competition for Cavendish from riders who do not traditionally target sprints.
The Manx Missile will have to make hay on the Giro’s six flat stages to amass a points total large enough to top those accrued by riders well-placed for intermediate sprints on mountainous stages. He is well placed to do so, with Omega Pharma-QuickStep declaring they have built their Giro squad around him.
While the absence of his chief rivals for the title of fastest man on two wheels – Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale Pro Cycling) – is an undoubted bonus to Cavendish, he will face a strong challenge from a host of contenders. Here’s a look at three men who will represent the greatest threat to the Manx Missile’s ambitions for the maglia rosso.
John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano)
The latest in a fine tradition of German sprinters, Degenkolb enjoyed a superb 2012, winning five stages of the Vuelta a Espana, supplanting team-mate and countryman, Marcel Kittel, as the greatest threat to Andre Greipel’s supremacy as the best German road sprinter. While Kittel has returned to the spectular form of his 2011 campaign, Degenkolb has suffered a downbeat start to 2013, with ninth at the Ronde his highest finish in a major race.
Fourth at today’s Rund um den Finanzplatz, however, outsprinted by Greipel, might be a sign of form flourishing at the right time for the Giro. The pan flat profile presented by the final 75km of stage one, and the gently undulating final stage perhaps present Degenkolb’s best chances.
Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEDGE)
Goss will be the focus of his team’s efforts at the Giro, much as OPQS will centre its campaign on Cavendish. The Australian sprinter picked up his sole Grand Tour victory of a 2012 campaign that perhaps deserved greater reward for his efforts. So often the nearly man, Goss’ victory on stage three of the 2012 edition came only after Roberto Ferrari took down Cavendish and maglia rosa, Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) in a kamikaze move.
Goss has already beaten Cavendish fair and square this year however, as well as Greipel and Peter Sagan (Cannondale Pro Cycling) when winning the second stage of Tirreno-Adriatico. He will be ably supported by the captain of his lead out train, Brett Lancaster, who has contested every edition of the corsa rosa since 2005. A flat-lander, rather than a rider gifted with a Sagan-esque or Gilbert-like ability to sprint up climbs, Goss’ best chance might come on stage six.
Elia Viviani (Cannondale Pro Cycling)
Young, but unquestionably talented, 24-year-old Elia Viviani will spearhead the flat stage ambitions of the home nation;s biggest team. While Peter Sagan and Moreno Moser recover from the Classics and prepare for the Tour, Viviani, the third of Cannondale’s three young musketeers has his chance to shine.
He has spoken boldly of his desire to win the opining stage and claim the maglia rosa while the race remains on the flat, and he has the ability to do so. His campaign last year was book-ended by significant victories on the road, at the Tour de San Luis and the Tour of Beijing, amid a season in which he represented Italy on the track and the road at the Olympic Games. With no track engagments to consider, and the backing of a team management who want little more from him than to take his chances and gain experience, Viviani could give the home fans something to cheer if Nibali’s quest for overall victory goes awry.
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