Ten Teams to Watch in the Giro d'Italia

Breaking down the top GC contenders, three of the fastest sprint teams and a dark horse to watch out for

The 2012 Giro d’Italia promises to be an exciting one, as usual. A very challenging course will greet the riders beginning on May 5th in Herning, Denmark and ending May 27th in Milan. Though it is the mountains that will surely decide this year’s race, it is at least a very balanced race on paper. Though the mountains are prominent, there are still ample opportunities for the sprinters, time trialists and “rouleurs” (all around riders) to grab the winner’s flowers on numerous occasions along the route to Milan.

Here’s a simple breakdown of the riders and teams to watch over the next three weeks, and if this is all Greek to you, check out our Beginner's Guide to Watching—and Appreciating—the Giro d'Italia.

GC Contenders

Lampre-ISD
As the team of defending “champion” Michele Scraponi--thanks to last year’s winner Alberto Contador being stripped of the title after a doping conviction--Lampre must be seen as a contender. Scarponi would like nothing more than to earn a Giro win and his teammate Damiano Cunego has already done so (2004). Scarponi is the team’s leader, officially, but Cunego has shown glimpses of his former self in recent years and could at least provide cover for Scarponi when things get nervous.

Pro Team Astana
Home of Czech rider Roman Kreuziger, Astana brings a team of tough riders to support Kreuziger. Though he’s yet to win a grand tour, he was the winner of the Best Young Rider in last year’s race, finishing 6th overall. He may be a little bit of a long shot, but his explosive riding style means he can’t be ruled out.

Garmin-Barracuda
This American-born team brings a team deep with talent and ready to contend in multiple areas of the race, including the GC with Canadian Ryder Hesjedal and American veteran Christian Vande Velde. The rest of the team is very strong and will be able to lend support to their two captains. A time trial powerhouse, Garmin has to be watched to win the Team Time Trial and possibly take the maglia rosa. Hesjedal comes to the race as the team’s primary GC hope, but should he falter, Vande Velde is more than capable of stepping up- and is one of the best time trial riders in the race, which could be important with the final TT in Milan.

Katusha Team
A “global cycling project” created in Russia, only one rider on the team’s Giro roster is Russian and the team’s GC leader is Spanish. Joaquim Rodriguez is a feisty GC threat, with his only real weakness being his inability to time trial with the best GC contenders. However, with his climbing skills and ability to sprint from a small group, his trials weakness might not be an issue. His team may have a hard time defending the leader’s jersey if he takes it early in the race, so he’s likely looking to grab it late in the race and attempt to hold on. If nothing else, you can expect to see him or his teammates go after stage wins.

Liquigas-Cannondale
Seven Italians and two Polish riders will represent Liquigas this year. With former Giro winner and perennial Tour contender Ivan Basso as their GC captain, they are a major threat. Though Basso’s year has been riddled with injury, if his legs hold up over the three weeks, he’s easily the most dangerous rider in the race. With the ability to climb with the very best riders and TT like a specialist, he’s what the modern GC rider archetype looks like. The team is designed to produce a GC win and they will have the firepower to do it if Basso finds his rhythm... which his rivals surely pray doesn’t happen.

RadioShack-Nissan
One of the sport’s super teams, having merged the two powerhouse teams of RadioShack and Leopard-Trek from 2011. With one of the deepest rosters of any team in the world, they’ve come up surprisingly short so far this season. Team leader Frank Schleck was a late addition to the team’s Giro roster, replacing injured Jakob Fuglsang. Schleck was preparing to help his younger brother Andy attempt to win the Tour de France in July, after a disappointing spring campaign. With Fuglsang injured, Schleck has been forced to step up and take the helm of the team with less than perfect preparation. Having been on the podium of the Tour, Schleck obviously knows how to ride a three week race and will be a threat if his legs begin to fire. The rest of the team will be ready if he shows signs of promise, but if he doesn’t they’ll change strategy to hunting for stage wins.

Sprinters

Farnese Vini-Selle Italia
Riding bikes bearing the name of the winningest rider in Giro history, Mario Cippolini, you could practically expect this team to be fast... and they are. Andrea Guardini has proven to be one of the fastest sprinters in the world, especially in shorter stage races. Can he manage to contend for the finishes of the Giro, with all the climbing and the many long days? That remains to be seen, but it is certain he will try. Given the chance, he’s one of the best on the road- period.  Also home to Filippo Pozzato, a great one day specialist when healthy and motivated, this team should expect to grab the flowers at least once during this Giro.

Garmin-Barracuda
Doing double duty as a GC team and sprint team is often hard, if not impossible, but Garmin is ready to give it a shot again. American sprinter Tyler Farrar won two stages of the Giro in the past and is very motivated after a slow start this year to grab more stages. If the team rides the time trials that they are capable of, Farrar could easily find himself wearing the maglia rosa in the first week. Without a dedicated leadout train, Farrar will rely heavily on veteran sprinter Robbie Hunter to guide him to the finish and set him up for victory. They’ve proven they can do it and are going to be trying to prove it again.

Sky Procycling
With current World Champion and the undisputed best sprinter in the current peloton, Mark Cavendish, it is assured that Sky will take at least one win this Giro.  Though considered to be a bit arrogant by many (as are most sprinters), Cavendish is the world’s best sprinter on the road. Though accustomed to being ushered to the finish line with just 100-200m to go, then delivering an unbeatable blast of speed, Cavendish has developed as a sprinter in the past two years. On the extremely rare occasion that his leadout train falters, he has the natural speed and determination to win. The only real question is, how many stages will he win this year?

 

The Dark Horse

Team NetApp
One of the wildcard invites to this year’s Giro, this plucky group of relative no-names shocked the peloton with their win earlier this year in the Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali stage race, including the TTT. They’ve developed a tight bond through their “us against them” survival mode and have to be watched. Determination like theirs is a joy to watch, especially when they defy the odds and win. Expect to see them nearly kill themselves trying to win, and don’t be shocked if it works.

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