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The Giro del Trentino is the final preparation race for Bradley Wiggins ahead of the Giro. Last year he started a trend up being competitive in all of his preparation races, and indications this year are that he has no plans to change this...

Photo: Sirotti

BRADLEY WIGGINS

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DOMENICO POZZOVIVO

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FRANCO PELLIZOTTI

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MICHELE SCARPONI

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PIERRE ROLLAND

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PRZEMYSLAW NIEMIEC

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TOUR OF THE ALPS

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VINCENZO NIBALI

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16.04.2013 @ 10:05 Posted by Jesper Johannesen

While the classics are about to come to an end, the cycling world prepares to turn its attention from the one-day races to the Grand Tours. The first of those, the Giro d'Italia, starts less than two weeks after the conclusion of the Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and most of the major GC contenders in the Italian race will use this week's traditional warm-up race, the Giro del Trentino, to finalize their preparations.

 

For many years most riders regarded the Tour de Romandie with its long history and hard climbs as the perfect preparation for the Giro d'Italia. The finish of the Swiss race just one week prior to the start of the big objective made it the perfect event to fine-tune the condition ahead of the major battles in the Italian mountains. Meanwhile, the mountainous Giro del Trentino held one week earlier was a mostly Italian affair in which the home country's heroes could gauge their form ahead of their big national event.

 

In recent years, this trend has changed. While the Swiss race is now mostly the final early-season objective for some of the Tour de France contenders or a perfect occasion for the classics riders to showcase their form one last time before a well-deserved rest, the Italian race has emerged as the preferred preparation not only for the Italian riders but also the biggest international stars.

 

The race has still mostly been won by Italians but Alexandre Vinokourov's victory in the 2010 edition proved that foreign Giro contenders could also be competitive. Last year the race saw a further internationalization of its line-up with Astana, Ag2r-La Mondiale and BMC all using the race as a key build-up for their Giro captains Roman Kreuziger, John Gadret and Marco Pinotti respectively.

 

This year the trend has been made even more evident as Team Sky join the three above-mentioned teams on the start line and with Vincenzo Nibali and Bradley Wiggins both part of the provisional line-up, the race has been able to attract both of the bookmakers' pre-race favourites for the Giro. They will be joined by the likes of defending champion Domenico Pozzovivo, Cadel Evans, Ivan Basso, Michele Scarponi and Franco Pellizotti to form an incredible field with plenty of expected Giro contenders.

 

It is no surprise to see the race emerge as the preferred preparation event for the Italian grand tour. Held in the Dolomites, it offers an important opportunity to test the legs in mountains similar to the ones found in May's big race and with limited kilometres of flat roads in the Trentino region, it is one of the most pronounced mountain races of the year. Furthermore, the race finishes more than two weeks before the start of the Italian grand tour, and these years riders seem to prefer more rest ahead of the start of a three-week race.

 

The race plays the same role for the Tour de France as the Criterium du Dauphine does for the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Burgos for the Vuelta a Espana. All three races are held in some of the mountainous parts of their countries and take place just a few weeks prior to their national grand tour. Hence, it is no surprise to see all three races gaining popularity as preparation races in recent years.

 

Last year organizers made an interesting experiment by including the excessively steep Punta Veleno climb in an already extremely mountainous course. Hence, it was no surprise to see the race evolve into a battle between the tiniest of the pure climbers with the likes of Jose Rujano, Sylwester Szmyd and Domenico Pozzovivo battling it out on the frightening slopes. The latter proved to be far superior to his opposition and took a memorable stage win before showing an impressive display of dominance when he brought home the race win by controlling the final hard mountain stage. As usual the race was a good indicator of things to come and the small Italian was a main protagonist in his home grand tour a few weeks later as he took home a stage win on his way to an overall 8th place. This year he is back to defend his title as he spearheads his new Ag2r team in his final preparation event for the Giro.

 

The course

Last year's extreme route was maybe a little bit too hard if the race wants to attract the biggest stars and thus it is no surprise to see organizers present a more balanced course for this year's edition. However, it is almost impossible to put together a race in Trentino without entering the mountains, and the climbers have every reason to lick their lips in anticipation of this week's racing.

 

In previous years, the race used to have a sprint stage but since 2010 the fast men have not had an opportunity to show off their kick. This year they may get a chance in the first of two stages on the opening day of racing but even though the final part of the race is flat, it will take a rider with formidable climbing skills to remain in contention, and the stage is certainly not one for your traditional bunch kick expert.

 

In its entirety, the 128,5km is held on Austrian roads, starting and finishing in Lienz, and for most of the day the riders will travel on completely flat roads. However, the 5,2km long Inselberg climb will be tackled in the final part of the race and with the fifth kilometer having an average gradient of more than 8%, it will be the perfect launch pad for attacks. At the top, a steep 7,2km descent awaits the riders before the flat final 5,5km run-in to the finish line in Lienz. The most likely scenario is a sprint from a smaller group but it will be a hard task for the few sprinters on the start line to remain in contention on the Inselberg climb.

 

The race has usually had a time trial on its program but last year the traditional individual event at the shores of Lake Garda was replaced by a team time trial. A BMC team led by Taylor Phinney used the possibility to get their race off to a perfect start and this year the collective event is back on the menu. The short 14,1km stage will be contested on the roads around Lienz and offers the perfect opportunity for a rider like Wiggins to get a head start before the race enters the mountains. The short distance will, however, mean that time differences will be minimal.

 

The first of two mountaintop finishes will be tackled on the second day of racing. The mammoth 220km stage starts in the Austrian city of Sillian before it crosses the Italian border to finish at the summit of the Vetriolo Terme climb. After a descending start to the race, the riders hit the first serious climb of the race, the category 1 Passo Lavazé, after 107km of racing. The 12,5km long climb has a maximum gradient of 11,5% and with the last half being the hardest it poses a serious challenge. After the descent, the riders will travel along flat roads before they hit the day's final climb. At more than 13,2km, it is a regular affair with the grade almost constantly between 8% and 9% and there is no doubt that it will be the scene of the first big mountain battle.

 

The next day offers an opportunity for attackers with strong climbing legs. It is up and down all day on the 176,1km route from Pergine Valsugana to Cordino. In the opening part of the stage, riders will climb the 10,2km long Fai della Paganella climb before continuing in mountainous terrain all day long. The final climb, the 4,3km long Daone climb, is not overly difficult and will not be enough to create selection among the favourites. The final 16km are mostly downhill before a flat final run-in to the line and it would be a surprise not to see a breakaway battle it out for the victory.

 

As always in Trentino, nothing will be decided before the final day of racing. Organizers have chosen to end the race with another mountaintop finish in the 166,8km stage from Arco to the top of the Sega di Ala climb. After a mostly flat opening part of the race, the climbing gets serious with 47,2km still remaining. The riders will have to tackle the 7,5km long Brentonico climb before a short descent and a flat stretch lead to the foot of the day's final challenge. The 11,5km long Sega di Ala climb seems to be the hardest of the whole race with several steep pitches of more than 10% gradient. The ascent is the perfect scene to host the finish of one of the most mountainous races of the year and we should face a dramatic battle on the steep slopes as the Giro contenders test each other just two weeks prior to their main season objective.

 

The weather

It is always risky business to organize races in the Dolomites in the middle of April. Bad weather has the potential to force a cancellation of the expected mountain battles, and this year is of course no different. However, organizers have chosen to skip the biggest mountains in the 2013 edition, and the Passo Lavazé (1808m) on the second day of racing will be the highest point of the race. Furthermore, the second and fourth stages will finish just 1500m and 1239m above sea level, and this makes it more likely that snow and ice will not force an undesired route change.

 

For once, the weather seems to greet the riders with plenty of sunshine throughout the 4 days of racing. Rain is forecasted for Tuesday afternoon but there will be no risk of a cancellation of the flat team time trial. Two sunny days on Wednesday and Thursday should give the riders perfect conditions as they prepare for the Italian grand tour.

 

However, rain or even snow is forecasted for the final day of racing and this could present a problem for organizers. With the final climb being the only exception, the race is, however, held below the 1000m mark and weather circumstances should not be harsh enough to force any route changes. Helped by the Clerk of the Weather, we should thus look forward to four hard days of mountainous racing.

 

The favorites

The Giro del Trentino is the final preparation race for defending Tour champion Bradley Wiggins (Sky) ahead of his big season objective of adding the Giro d'Italia to his already long palmares. Last year he started a trend up being competitive in all of his preparation races, and indications this year are that he has no plans to change this approach.

 

He has had limited racing this year and used his February events to warm up his engine but when he entered his first big European stage race in the Volta a Catalunya in March, he was right in the mix. It was unusual to see the Brit choose the Catalonian race as one of his preferred races as the lack of a time trial made it much less suited to his characteristics than almost all other stage races on the WorldTour calendar. Nonetheless, he proved that he was on the right track and he ended up 5th behind pure climbers Daniel Martin, Joaquin Rodriguez, Michele Scarponi and Nairo Quintana. Furthermore, he was probably only overshadowed by Quintana, Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde on the ascents and he even bucked the trend and attacked his companions in the mountains.

 

With a couple of weeks of training in his legs, he should be even stronger in this week's Italian race, and there is little doubt that the Tour de France winner will go all out to take the victory like he did in the Criterium du Dauphine just weeks prior to last year's Tour de France. The Trentino race is also not perfectly suited to his talents and once again the lack of a time trial will hamper his chances. However, he is surrounded by a strong team and with the likes of Dario Cataldo, Peter Kennaugh, Christian Knees, Danny Pate and Kanstantsin Siutsou all on the roster it would be a big surprise if Sky does not give their captain a head start before the mountain stages by winning the team time trial.

 

With Wiggins in a very likely pole position, it will once again be another display of Sky's strength in the mountains, and we will probably see the Sky train at the head of the peloton using the usual strategy of pacing their leader to the top. With his key mountain domestiques busy in the Ardennes, his team is, however, not as strong on the climbs as usual, and it will be up to Cataldo, Siutsou and Joseph Dombrowski to set a hard tempo in the crucial second and fourth stages. Wiggins himself then has to show that he is able to respond to the attacks from a number of very strong competitors.

 

The race is even more important for Wiggins as it will be his only opportunity to acquaint himself with the Italian climbs which are of a very different nature than the ones in France. Usually much steeper and less regular, they suit the Brit much less than the key climbs of the Tour, and the climbs invite to a much more attacking race than the slopes of France. Hence, the race will present a key opportunity for Wiggins to test the results of his attempt to improve on his explosiveness. While the regular final climb on the second day of racing should suit the Sky captain, we will get a very important gauge of his chances in the Giro when he tackles the steep slopes on the final day of racing.

 

Wiggins' most obvious threat is the man marked out as his main rival in the Giro d'Italia, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). As it is the case for his British rival, the race should be his last stage race ahead of the Italian grand tour but he also plans to line up on Sunday in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege in an attempt to improve on last year's 2nd place. Unlike the Tour de France winner, he is usually not at his best in his final build-up races and he was unable to compete with the best in Trentino in 2011 and the Criterium du Dauphine last year. Thus it is not unlikely to see the Italian struggle in the mountains and it would be no surprise for him to end some way down the final overall rankings.

 

If he is at his best, he will, however, be a very dangerous man. With the likes of Paolo Tiralongo, Fabio Aru, Valerio Agnoli, Tanel Kangert, Alexandr Dyachenko and Fredrik Kessiakoff, he is surrounded by a very strong team of climbers which should be able to put Sky under pressure in the mountains and Tiralongo even gives the team another formidable GC option. Even though Kangert, Dyachenko and Kessiakoff give the team options in the team time trial, the team will, however, find it very difficult to compete with Sky, and Nibali will most likely find himself in the position of having to gain back time in the mountains. As a relentless attacker, he could be the man to handle that situation and few have forgotten how he managed to turn around the expected outcome of the Tirreno-Adriatico with a gutsy attack on the epic penultimate day of racing.

 

Michele Scarponi (Lampre) is the other most obvious threat to Wiggins' crown. The 2011 Giro winner never managed to find his usual level last year but indications are that he is back to his best. After having finally resolved the problems concerning his relations to banned doctor Michele Ferrari, he had a belated season start in the GP Camaiore where he was 10th before he was a main protagonist in the Paris-Nice in which an untimely puncture kept him out of the overall top 10. His last race was the Volta a Catalunya in late March and in the Spanish event he was one of the strongest on the climbs. A gutsy move and strong riding on the final day in Barcelona landed him a podium spot before he headed to Etna for a high-altitude training camp in preparation of the Giro.

 

This week's race marks his return to competition and his long absence puts some doubts over his current level of form. He is usually not at his best in Trentino - he was 6th in the race in 2011 while he was way off the pace in last year's disappointing season - but nonetheless his strength as a climber makes him a danger man. He will be well-supported in the mountains but as usual he will start the race on the back foot as his team is expected to lose time in the team time trial. The race mainly serves as preparation for the Giro and the Liege-Bastogne-Liege but it would be a mistake to write off the wily Italian.

 

Last year's winner Domenico Pozzovivo is another formidable contender. Having left the Bardiani team, he is now part of the French Ag2r squad and he will take over the captain role in the Giro from John Gadret who targets the Tour de France this year. He has had a solid start to the season with a 9th place in the Tour of Oman and an 11th in the Tirreno-Adriatico before a hunger knock took him out of GC contention in his last race, the Volta a Catalunya. Since then he has been quietly building his form for the Giro and there is no doubt that he will be eager to defend his title.

 

However, the route is not as favourable to the tiny climber as last year's. He benefited greatly from the extremely steep slopes of the Punta Veleno climb in the 2012 edition but this year the climbs are much more moderate which opens the door for a much wider range of contenders. Furthermore, his team has always lost plenty of time in the team time trials and nothing suggests that it should be any different tomorrow. Finally, the much higher level of competition sees the Italian face a bigger challenge than he did last year.

 

Pierre Rolland (Europcar) is a really dangerous outsider and maybe the rider with the best condition right now. Having endured a slow start to the season, he has been on fire in the French races during the month of April. He crushed the opposition on a hard queen stage in the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe and he sealed overall victory the next day. Last week he was 3rd in the hard French one-day race Paris-Camembert after having instigated the key move on the race's final climb.

 

He now enters his favoured terrain in the high mountains and this marks him out as an even stronger contender. The race may primarily be his final preparation for the Liege-Bastogne-Liege but he will probably not hold anything back, should he be in contention for the win. Like most of Wiggins' rivals he is hampered by the team time trial but his current strength makes it possible for him to make up for the loss in the mountains. With Voeckler's crash in yesterday's Amstel Gold Race, there is no doubt that the best young rider of the 2011 Tour de France will be eager to give his team a reason to celebrate.

 

It would be a surprise to see Ivan Basso win the race as the veteran Italian is rarely the best in his preparation races. Nonetheless, he won the 2009 edition of the Trentino race and was 5th as he built up for his 2010 Giro victory. Once again the race is important in his lead-up to the Giro but as his diesel engine usually requires plenty of racing to get going, he also plans to race the Tour de Romandie.

 

His results in recent years indicate that the best years are behind the veteran Italian but it would be a mistake to completely write off the double Giro winner. In both 2011 and 2012 crashes severely hampered his build-up to his major targets but this year his early season has been perfect. As usual, he was way off the pace in his first races but he was an encouraging 4th in his last race, the Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali. Since then he has prepared the Giro at altitude on Tenerife, and the Giro del Trentino is usually his first chance of the season to show off his strength. His Cannondale team is pretty strong in the team time trial and he will probably not lose as much to Wiggins on the opening day as most of his major competitors.

 

Franco Pellizotti (Androni) has prepared quietly for the Giro after he returned from suspension a year ago. He has not been among the best in the early season and like most of his Giro rivals he now returns to competition at the end of a long period of hard training. His two-year break raises several questions concerning his level in a three-week race but his performances last year showed that he still has the ability to be competitive in shorter races. He won the Italian championships, was 3rd in the Giro dell'Emilia and 4th in both the Vuelta a Burgos and the Giro di Padania which proves that he is still one of the strongest Italians on the climbs. He is another favourite expected  to lose time in the team time trial but there is little doubt that he will be in the mix as soon as the race hits the mountains.

 

Finally, Premyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida) deserves a mention. The Pole was a constant presence at the pointy end of the Italian races for a number of years before he finally got his chance at the highest level in 2011. Having spent the first 18 months as a valuable domestique, he got the chance to show himself in last year's Vuelta where he was 15th overall. The grand tour experience has had a good effect on him and he has been very strong in the early part of the season with a 9th place in the Tirreno-Adriatico and a 7th place in the Volta a Catalunya. An overall win for the Pole would be a surprise but he could be the man to shine for the Lampre team while Scarponi continues his build-up for the Giro in which he will once against be assisted by his treasured Polish teammate.

 

Starting on Tuesday, you can follow the action from the race on CyclingQuotes.com/live.

 

***** Bradley Wiggins

**** Vincenzo Nibali, Michele Scarponi

*** Domenico Pozzovivo, Ivan Basso, Pierre Rolland, Franco Pellizotti, Przemyslaw Niemiec

** Mauro Santambrogio, Hubert Dupont , Maxime Bouet, Cadel Evans, Matteo Rabottini, Davide Rebellin, Sergio Pardilla, Miguel Angel Rubiano Chavez, Paolo Tiralongo

* Ivan Santaromita, Cayetano Sarmiento, Jose Serpa, Davide Malacarne, Emanuele Sella, Francesco Manuel Bongiorno, Stefano Locatelli, Jonathan Monsalve, Stefano Garzelli, Andre Cardoso, Leopold König, Sergey Firsanov

 

Stage winner picks:

Stage 1a: Roberto Ferrari, Elia Viviani, Fabio Felline, Manuel Belletti, Oscar Gatto, Enrico Battaglin

Stage 1b: Team Sky, Astana,, BMC, Cannondale, Team NetApp-Endura

Stage 2: Pierre Rolland, Domenico Pozzovivo, Michele Scarponi, Vincenzo Nibali, Bradley Wiggins

Stage 3: Valerio Agnoli, Davide Malacarne, Emanuele Sella, Stefano Pirazzi, Fabio Duarte, Amets Txurruka

Stage 4: Domenico Pozzovivo, Pierre Rolland, Michele Scarponi, Vincenzo Nibali, Franco Pellizotti

 

Stage profiles:

 

Stage 1a: Lienz - Lienz, 128,5km

 

Stage 1b: Lienz-Lienz, 14,1km TTT

 

Stage 2: Sillian-Vetriolo Terme, 224,8km

 

Stage 3: Pergine Valsugana-Condino, 176,1km

 

Stage 4: Arco-Sega di Ala, 166,8km

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