Miguel Angel Lopez could come of age in Giro d'Italia
Ongoing investigation may hurt Froome triple crown bid
Eurosport 2, from 11.30am Friday
It is often said that the Giro d’Italia is the toughest race in the most beautiful place and the 101st edition promises to live up to that billing again.
The race for the Maglia Rosa begins in Jerusalem on Friday – the first time a Grand Tour has started outside Europe – with three stages in Israel before another three days on Sicily and before the field reach the Italian mainland.
In total the peloton will traverse more than 3,500km across 21 stages with eight summit finishes. Whoever leaves Rome with the pink jersey draped over their shoulders will have certainly earned it.
For Britain’s four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome that scenario would see him become only the seventh man to complete cycling’s triple crown, although last season’s Vuelta win could still be taken away from him depending on the outcome of an investigation into abnormal levels of Salbutamol found in a doping test in Spain.
Froome is used to the intense focus a Grand Tour contender comes under but understandably his performance will be scrutinised even further over the next three weeks.
Team Sky’s predictable tactics have served them well on the roads of France but one thing the Giro hasn’t been in recent years is predictable. The last two editions of the race have been decided on the penultimate and final stage and race organisers have done all they can to ensure that is the case again with three successive summit finishes on stages 18 to 20.
After a slow start to the year Froome put in a much better performance at last week’s Tour of the Alps to finish fourth but the pressure he is under could take its toll. If on song he is the likeliest winner but those concerns don't seem to have been fully factored into his price.
Defending champion Tom Dumoulin is next in the betting but he may well have wanted more than the 44km of time-trialling that is scheduled. The Dutchman proved that he can climb with the best in last year’s race and is sure to put in a bold bid, but while he was available at 16-1 in 2017, 9-4 is the best you will get this time around which is skinny given his underwhelming early-season performances at the Abu Dhabi Tour and Tirreno-Adriatico.
Home hopes will be pinned on Fabio Aru, who has finished third and second on his last two home-tour outings. While that will encourage some to back him, he finished more than a minute down on Froome and 79 seconds adrift of winner Thibaut Pinot at the Tour of the Alps, which tempers enthusiasm.
Pinot appears to save his best for the Giro but has never been in serious contention to win a Grand Tour despite his promise.
Therefore it may be worth be worth taking a chance on the new guard coming of age.
Colombian Nairo Quintana served notice of his ascension to cycling’s elite by winning the Giro aged 24 in 2014 and at the same age compatriot Miguel Angel Lopez has the ability to emulate him.
The plethora of arduous ascents will be no problem to Lopez, who won two stages at last year’s Vuelta, putting serious distance into the likes of seasoned GC contenders Froome and Vincenzo Nibali.
The lack of time-trialling is a definite plus for the slight Colombian and he arrives in form after finishing third at the Tour of the Alps, where his Astana team were easily the strongest outfit on show.
The Kazakh team won three of the race’s five stages, including Lopez’s win on the high mountain stage, with five members of their six-man squad finishing in the top 15 of the overall classification. The same teammates will be at Lopez’s side during the Giro.
May could be the month the man dubbed Superman announces himself as a new cycling hero.
M A Lopez
2pts e-w 6-1 Betfred
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