With defending Giro d'Italia champion Alberto Contador sidelined and many top riders focusing on the Tour De France, the 2012 Giro d'Italia should be a wide-open race for the Maglia Rosa in Milano on May 27th.
Charlie Wegelius is a veteran of nine Giro d'Italias and is a new sport director at Garmin-Barracuda this season. Wegelius gave Road Bike Action his take on the 2012 Giro, saying "in one sense, the 2012 Giro will be unusual because of the start in Denmark, The wind and terrain there are much different than what is usual for the Giro. But it is also a classic Giro with a lot of action compacted into the last week with a finishing time trial. I think the 2012 Giro d'Italia is a good balance of innovation and tradition.
After Alberto Contador was stripped of his 2011 Giro crown, Lampre-ISD’s Michele Scarponi inherited the title and will be awarded his first Maglia Rosa from 2011 at the Giro start in Herning. The feisty Italian from the Marche region, who is off to a slower start in 2012 than last season is really motivated to finally confirm his talent with an outright win in the 2012 Giro.
“This (Maglia Rosa) will be a nice reward for the fine Giro d’Italia I rode last year, but I want to feel the real emotion of winning the Maglia Rosa on the road. This is the real motivation of the 2012 Giro for me,” Scarponi explained. “Compared to 2011, this year’s Giro has more possibilities to riders who can go well on the flat to get to the last week in a decent position on GC. But in that last week, it’s clear that the final stages are very,very hard, so it’s going to be riders who are strong climbers who’ll fight it out for this Giro win.”
Despite the great performances this spring from Liquigas-Cannondale’s Vincenzo Nibali, his teammate Ivan Basso will be the standard bearer for the Italian outfit at the 20-12 Giro, while Nibali will concentrate on the Tour de France. Basso got off to a poor start in 2012, and is looking for salvation. At 34, Ivan the Terrible may hve his last chance for another Grand Tour win at this year’s Giro. Basso bounced back well in April after an altitude training camp in the Canary Islands and the mountainous Giro del Trentino and Tour of Romandie and will now ride the Giro for the first time since 2010, a race he won in fine style. Basso recently told La Gazzetta dello Sport “My recent races didn’t given me any results, but a lot of morale and better condition. I rode well, with high intensity and if I can make the same jump in condition between Romandie and the Giro as I did between Trentino and Romandie, then I’ll be alright,” Basso explained.
Although he faded in the final TT of the 2011 Giro to fifth place, Katusha’s Spanish climber Joaquin Rodriguez is hoping for much more in this years Italian Grand Tour. Currently ranked 6th in the World Tour rankings. Rodriguez is the highest ranked rider starting the 2012 Giro. He won two stages at the 2011 Giro but slipped out of contention when he crashed heavily on Stage 16 and los the Maglia Verde of best climber. Rodriguez said “I’m sure that if I hadn’t had that fall, I would have been able to do better overall,” he explained. I like the 2012 Giro and hope to do a lot better because the final week is perfect for me.”
Although he was not slated to start the 2012 Giro d’Italia, Fränk Schleck will lead the RadioShack-Nissan-Trek outfit, due to a recent knee injury that sidelined his teammate Jakob Fuglsang. The lanky Luxemburger could be a real dark horse for Giro d’Italia glory this year. Schleck explained his selection, saying “My season was directed at peaking in the Tour de France, but when you think about it, this situation creates opportunity for me. For sure, I will come to the start with a different preparation than the other GC riders, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. My condition is not so bad and it can only grow the coming weeks. The Giro is one of the big monuments of cycling as well, so it is at least a big challenge for me.”
RadioShack-Nissan-Trek manager Johan Bruyneel said he was confident Schleck could lead the squad. "I see a lot of opportunities for Frank as well as for the team”, Bruyneel said. “Fränk is a born leader and our team needs a leader. Although some bad luck and other circumstances did not provide the right results for Fränk so far in 2012, he has shown in the last few weeks that his condition has already reached a high level. I’m confident he can surprise us in the coming weeks. It all reminds me of the 2008 Giro when, one week before the start, we got an invitation for the race. In the end we won the overall."
One rider that will surely give Scarponi, Basso, Rodriguez and Schleck a run for their money at the 2012 Giro is Astana’s Roman Kreuziger. The 26 year old Czech rider has steadily become a contender and his sports director Giuseppe Martinelli, who directed Marco Pantani and Damiano Cunego to their Giro wins, is optimistic about Kreuziger’s chances. “Kreuziger’s sixth place in 2011, (now fifth after the DQ of Contador) was about right for Roman,” Martinelli told la Gazzetta dello Sport.
“The route of the 2012 Giro is even more suited to his riding style, and Astana will be built around Kreuziger. Roman is a better rider than in 2011. The strongest challenger seems to be Scarponi, and maybe Basso, who’s had a difficult spring but his path seems like that of 2010 (where he won his second Giro).”
Ambitious French climber John Gadret is looking to move up at the 2012 Giro as well; the diminutive Ag2r-La Mondiale man hopes the climbs of the tough last week will make the difference for his podium ambitions.
Euskaltel-Euskadi lost potential Giro leader Igor Anton to a crash and broken collarbone at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, so Mikel Nieve, who won a tough mountain stage at the 2011 Giro, will now lead the Basque brigade.
Originally slated to start in Washington D.C., the economic downturn in the US and some missteps by the race management put the idea of the 2012 Giro d'Italia in America on ice, probably forever. So far in it's 103 year history, the Giro d'Italia has started in the Netherlands twice since 2002 (Groningen 2002 & Amsterdam 2010), and this year the Giro heads even farther north to the Jutland peninsula of Denmark, where the Italian Grand Tour will spend its first three days. On May 5, a 8.7km prologue time trial in Bjarne Riis's hometown of Herning will kick things off, and the next two stages on Jutland's rolling terrain will be hit by winds that may provoke plenty of crashes. Stage 3 to Horsens will be dedicated to the memory of the late Wouter Weylandt (who died in a crash in the 2011 Giro).
After an air transfer and rest day, the Giro d'Italia hostilities will resume back home in Italia with a 32.2km team time trial around Verona on Stage 4. Next up is a sprinters stage along the Adriatic coast to Fano, then several days across the difficult, rolling terrain in the Marche region. Stage 8 will see the Giro's first summit finish after 229km in Lago Laceno south of Naples, where Alex Zülle won a stage in 1998.
After a busy first week where the 2012 Giro d'Italia will reach it's southernmost point, the race heads north with sprinters stages in Frosinone, Assisi and Montecatini. Stage 14, the 205 km run from Cherasco in Piemonte to the first major summit finish atop the 28km long climb of Cervinia should finally change the running order in the Giro big time. Stage 15 offers no respite from the climbing. It stars out flat in Busto Arsizio west of Milano, but then heads into the mountains east of Lake Como with another summit finish atop the steep Pian dei Resinelli climb near Lecco.
After a rest day on Monday May 21, the final week of the Giro d'Italia is very difficult, with four tough climbing stages and one sprinters stage, concluding with a flat 31.5km ITT in Milan. After a rolling Stage 16 from Limone sul Garda to Falzes with an uphill finish, things get really serious on Stage 17, a magnificent 187km stage from Falzes across the hear of the Dolomiti Mountains via Passo Valparola, Passo Duran, Forcella Staulanza and the tough Passo Giau before descending to the finish to Cortina d'Ampezzo.
After an interlude of a flat sprinters Stage 18 to Vedelago, the Giro's final two mountain stages are incredibly hard. Friday's 197km Stage 19 from Treviso via the long drag up the 20km Passo Manghen to a mountain circuit that climbs Passo Pampeago twice with a summit finish at Alpe di Pampeago. This is a brutal stage where greats like Marco Pantani and Gilberto Simoni have won and should cause a major selection at the 2012 Giro.
Saturday's Stage 20 is the tappone (the big stage) the 2012 Giro, 218km over from Caldes / Val di Sole, over the long, steep Passo Mortirolo to finish atop the highest point in Grand Tour history at 2,832 metres atop the 22.4km ascent of Passo Stelvio. This incredible, spectacular stage will likely decide the outcome of the 2012 Giro d'Italia. Sunday's final 31.5 km ITT around Milano will likely provide an anticlimax to the Giro, as most of the podium places will likely be decided the previous two mountain stages.