A Rainbow descends over Italy

The first Grand Tour of the season gets under way on Saturday afternoon. The Giro d’Italia starts with a prologue time trial around the streets of Amsterdam. The Australian Cadel Evans has been pegged as the favourite by every bookmaker out there. I admit that I’ve written about Cadel Evans a lot this season, but he is the World Champion after all, and it is very refreshing to see the rainbow jersey in the shake up for the G.C. in major stage races. Evans raced the Giro once before back in 2002 when he wore the pink jersey but exploded in the mountains and lost the lead to eventual winner Paolo Savoldelli. This year, Evans is back and is going for the win.

If the Aussie was to wear pink into Verona at the end of May, he would become only the 4th man to win the Giro as World Champion. Alfredo Binda managed the feat twice in 1928 and 1933, as did Eddy Merckx in 1968 (at the age of 22) and 1972. The third man to achieve this distinction is Guiseppe Saronni, the Italian managed the amazing feat of winning the three major Italian races, Milan San Remo, the Tour of Lombardy and the Giro while wearing the rainbow jersey (thanks to Richard Lee for this stat). All of these feats occured many many years ago, so what of the recent G.C. achievements of world champions at the Giro?

It was almost 15 years ago that a World Champion reached the podium of the Giro when the Spaniard Abraham Olano finished 3rd in 1996. World Champions Moser, Gimondi and Kubler all did the same in 1978, 1974 and 1952 respectively. In fact, Cadel Evans is the most dangerous G.C. threat to have worn the rainbow jersey since Olano won in Duitama in 1995. Of the World Champions at the Giro since Olano, only Oscar Camenzind performed well in the G.C. coming in 11th in 1999. The only other World Champions to take part in the Giro since then were Cipollini, Astarloa and Bettini.

Due to the type of riders which have been winning the World Road Race in recent years, it’s not just the Giro which has had a distinct lack of rainbow colours atop the podium in recent years. The last World Champion to stand on the Tour de France podium was Gianni Bugno when he came 3rd in 1992. There have been four men who can say they have won the Tour as World Champion, Greg Lemond, Bernard Hinault, Eddy Merckx and Louison Bobet. With 16 Tour de France victories between them, that’s a pretty formidable list and it obviously takes a special rider to achieve the feat. An honourable mention must go to Abraham Olano, who is the only current World Champion besides Eddy Merckx to have finished in the top 10 of both the Giro and the Tour.

The stats for the Vuelta a Espana make for more sorry reading. There has only been one current World Champion to have won the Vuelta. That was the sprinter Freddy Maertens back in 1977 when he won an incredible 13 stages. Hennie Kuiper finished 6th in 1976 and Jean Stablinski finished 9th in 1963 (the first time a World Champion even entered the Vuelta), but apart from these three riders, no other World Champions have ever made a dent in the G.C. at the Vuelta. In fact, not since 1999 has a World Champion even finished the race! Perhaps this is not so surprising as the Vuelta, unfortunately, has become a training race for those wishing to perform well at the World Championships. Riders with ambitions tend to drop out of the Spanish Grand Tour to prepare for the upcoming Worlds, and obviously the incumbent World Champion wants to defend his crown as best he can. Another reason for the lack of World Champions at the Vuelta is perhaps because it is a race so often dominated by Spaniards and there have only ever been three Spanish World Champions.

To punctuate this series of random facts is perhaps the randomest fact of all which I happened across earlier today. Plucked, unashamedly, directly from Wikipedia comes a stat about the Amstel Gold race. There have been 30 different winners of the Amstel Gold race in the past 30 years, made all the more remarkable because in the four years previous to that, the race was won each time by the same man, Jan Raas.

Moving on, there is one Irish rider taking part in this month’s Giro d’Italia, that is the climber Dan Martin of the Garmin-Transitions squad. He was informed relatively late of his team’s decision to enter him in the race but Jonathan Vaughters seems confident that Martin is coming into form at just the right time for the first Grand Tour of the year. I was informed earlier today by Chris Alfred that you can get odds of 12/1 for Dan Martin to finish in the top 10 of the Giro. I think this is a great bet, and here’s why:

  • There are only 23.7 individual time trial kilometres in the race (not including the mountain time trial), which is perhaps the weakest aspect to Martin’s racing.
  • However, there is a mountain time trial in which Martin should excel.
  • There is a team time trial where his Garmin team are traditionally strong and this year they bring a formidable bunch of time trialists. David Millar – Winner of TTs in all three Grand Tours. Cameron Meyer – Australian Champion. Svein Tuft – Canadian Champion and Silver Medallist at the 2008 Worlds. Jack Bobridge – World and Australian U23 Champion. Along with Christian Vande Velde who has been very consistent in time trials over the years. If Martin can hang on to the back of this bunch as they finish the team time trial (which they will probably win) he will be catapulted into a great position on G.C. and should leave him ahead of the favourites with weaker TT teams such as Evans, Garzelli, Vinokourov and Sastre.
  • There aren’t too many dead certs to finish in the top 10 0verall. There is Sastre, Evans, Garzelli, Basso and perhaps Vino and Nibali. After these riders there’s the likes of Wiggins, Vande Velde, Scarponi, Cunego, Simoni and Tondo who are all either not interested in the G.C. and are simply training for the Tour, or are simply interested in stage wins.

I’ll definitely be throwing a few bob on Martin to finish in the top 10. His allergies have caused him problems thus far but he has said they tend to subside once the Spring is over. If he stays upright and out of trouble I don’t see any reason why he can’t achieve a top G.C. finish and emulate his compatriot Philip Deignan in finishing in the top 10 in a Grand Tour.

I’ll miss the first two stages over the weekend as I’ll be off at Old Trafford watching on with false hope as Man United try and wrestle the league away from Chelsea. But the stages are Sky plussed and I’ll be eager to watch them come Monday!

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