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90th Giro d'Italia - GT

Italy, May 12-June 3, 2007

Preview: May 10, 2007

Open Giro on the horizon

Mountain men line up for Dolomite showdown

By Gregor Brown

The 90th Giro d'Italia should be one of most wide open editions in recent years with some solid favourites set to battle from Sardegna to the high mountains. The exclusion of previously dominant Ivan Basso will open the account for riders like Gilberto Simoni, Danilo Di Luca, and Damiano Cunego.

The parcours is tipped in favour of the climbers, but this is the Giro d'Italia. RCS Sport, organizers of the race, typically present a more vertically challenging course compared to the race's July counterpart, the Tour de France. Climbers will have to deal with the opening team time trial and the first round of flat stages before the fireworks begin.

Gilberto Simoni
Photo ©: Sirotti
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Climbers' chances come early with stages like Montevergine Di Mercogliano and Santuario Nostra Signora Della Guardia, but the serious climbing doesn't begin until a foray into the Alps. The stage to Briançon (stage 12) will significantly sort out the top end of the GC before a transfer to the west, marked by a tribute to Il Pirata, Marco Pantani.

Stage 13 to Santuario Di Oropa is a 13-kilometre individual mountain time trial. It is a throwback to the stage that Pantani won in 1999 and will mark the beginning of the Corsa Rosa's leg-shattering finale. In the third week, there are two notably painful stages; the first, a seldom-used trek to Tre Cima di Lavaredo and the second, a premiere of the westerly route up Monte Zoncolan.

The Verona time trial will change up the mountain mix with its 42-kilometre run starting from Bardolino.

The stage to Zoncolan that should favour two-time winner, Gibo, Gilberto Simoni (Saunier Duval-Prodir). He clinched that stage, from a different side (from Priola), in 2003 before going on to win his second Giro crown. He will count on experience and knowledge to drive his yellow armada.

He will call upon close companion and up-and-comer Riccardo Riccò. The rider from Modena has been lighting up the Italian races since turning professional in 2006 and will likely take a stage while helping Simoni. The duo, and its other seven riders, will be captained by Pietro Algeri, constructor of Simoni's first win in 2001.

Danilo Di Luca
Photo ©: Régis Garnier
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What could happen is an early scrabble for stages and the Maglia Rosa by opportunist GC contenders. Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) will be licking their lips at the prospect of racing up the 10 percent gradients of the Mercogliano and the 14 percent grade of Santuario Nostra Signora Della Guardia. These early stages could see the leader's jersey passed around.

'The Killer' Di Luca, will ooze confidence thanks to his Monument win in Liège-Bastogne-Liège just two weeks prior to the start. Of the favourites, he has the least likely chance of returning home with the race win; however, early stage victories could boost his and the team's confidence before their march north.

Damiano Cunego (Lampre)
Photo ©: Sirotti
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Di Luca will look to riders like Noè, Spezialetti, and Wegelius for support. These men have made the Giro a habit and will give Di Luca a fighting chance. A surprise could be Di Luca's teammate, Vincenzo Nibali. The third year professional will make his debut in the Giro and may just be a man for the future (or near future).

"I remember the 1965 Tour de France when an unknown Felice Gimondi took part. In Paris he was in the Maillot Jaune. Why dismiss the hypothesis that Nibali is able to be one of the revelations of this Giro?" said Italian National DS Franco Ballerini about the 22 year-old rider from Sicily last week.

Another rider boosted by recent success is Damiano Cunego. The 2004 Giro winner won the Giro del Trentino in late April, just like he did in three years ago before taking the Giro's overall victory. He will be supported by eight dedicated riders, Team Manager Giuseppe Saronni, and Directeur Sportif Giuseppe Martinelli. In an addition to Cunego's 2004 win, Martinelli also saw to the win by Pantani in 1998.

Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone-Caffe Mokambo)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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Looking further down the start list one has to give a nod to riders like Paolo Savoldelli (Astana), two-time Giro winner and second overall in Romandie, Pietro Caucchioli (Crédit Agricole), Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel), and 2000 Champion Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo).

The race is not all mountains and the sprinters will have their opportunities. Look for head-to-head battles between Robbie McEwen (Predictor-Lotto), Alessandro Petacchi (Milram), Danilo Napolitano (Lampre-Fondital), Graeme Brown (Rabobank), and others in stages like the ones to Cagliari (stage 3), Lido Di Camaiore (stage 9), and Riese Pio X (stage 18).

Cyclingnews will be covering the Giro d'Italia live every day starting from 14:00 local time (CEST)/10:00 EDT (USA East)/7:00 PDT (USA West)/22:00 AEST (Australia East).

To view Cyclingnews' feature on the 2007 route launch, click here.

Friday, May 11, 2007: Pre-race reconnaissance

For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Roberto Bettini/www.bettiniphoto.net