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92nd Giro d'Italia - The Favorites
By Staff
Date: 5/8/2009
92nd Giro d'Italia - The Favorites

92nd Giro d'Italia - The Favorites
The teams and leaders... who can win the 2009 Giro?

By Chris Graetz

The battle of the Maglia Rosa is a wide open event. Tour de France Champion Lance Armstrong is taking part in his first Giro. His intention all year was to challenge for the win but a broken collarbone in March hampered that and he hasn’t been able to reach sufficient form so Astana’s man is Levi Leipheimer who has always been a consistent performer in Grand Tours; not to mention Levi is on a roll this year taking three week long stage races.

Ivan Basso is making his comeback from a 2 year ban. The Italian will look to add a second Maglia Rosa to his collection. Last year’s Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre is in the mix as well as the ultra consistent Russian from Rabobank, Denis Menchov. We could even say that Mauricio Soler is making his comeback after an injury interrupted 2008. There are other Italian’s too who might win. Stefano Garzelli, Danilo Di Luca, Damiano Cunego and Gilberto Simoni All 4 winning the Giro before with the latter winning it twice.

Will an Italian win it or will a foreign rider take the win? Here are the contenders for the 2009 Giro d'Italia. Who will take home the Maglia Rosa?

Levi Leipheimer
USA (35)
Levi has never ridden the Giro before because he has  ridden the Tour de France for his team-mates over the past decade; Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador. He was second in the Vuelta to team-mate Contador last year and was third the year before in the Tour de France. Not bad as a "domestique". But come Saturday, Levi won’t be a domestique, he will lead the team in blue and gold.

His form this year has been unquestionably superb. First overall in the Tour of California for the third year running in February, he also collected the hat trick win of the time trial. He was first overall in the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon and again won the time trial in stage two. He was first on stage 2 of the Sea Otter Road Race and just last week he was first overall in the Tour of the Gila where he won stage 1 and the time trial in stage 3. Leipheimer has established palmares in Grand Tours and he has help of team mate Lance Armstrong who was targeting the overall in the Giro but after a crash in March he is now riding for Leipheimer hoping for the Tour de France. If he rides for Leipheimer now, he will get his support in July. A win/win for both riders.

Lance Armstrong, well, we all know his story. Professional in 1992, struck down by cancer a few years later and won 7 Tour de France’s in a row from 1999 - 2005. He was second overall last week in the Tour of the Gila so he well back to form despite his crash. Astana has one of the strongest squads on tap for the Giro with American's Armstrong and Horner; and quite likely the one with the most compbined stage race wins. Expect big things from Leipheimer who will quite likely win his first Grand Tour this year and that will be the Giro.
Leipheimer Prediction: 1st
Armstrong Prediction: 7th

Ivan Basso
Italy (31)
Giro Palmares: 1st - 2006 Stage Wins: 6
Basso turned professional in 1999 and took his first Giro win at at 28 years old. Over the last few years however, he hasn't raced serving 2 year ban for doping when admitted to his role in Operation Puerto. He returned to racing with Liquigas in October 2008 where his first race was the Japan Cup where he finished 3rd. This year his form has been strong and consistent; he was fifth overall in Tirreno-Adriatico including a third in stage 6. He won the Giro del Trentino overall and came second in stage 2.

Basso rode his first Giro in 2005 where he finished a respectable 28th winning stages 17 and 18. He won three stages in 2006 on his way to taking home the maglia rosa. This is Ivan's first time back to the Giro since his win and he is targeting the Giro as the major goal for his season. Basso is touted as the top favorite for the race this year, he has all the qualities and experience to fulfill those expectations, he is also a fierce competitor and once in the leaders mantle is not content to simply defend the jersey. He can be counted on to attack or counter if the opportunity presents itself.

Basso has help in his team-mate Franco Pellizotti. Pellizotti turned professional in 2001. Pellizotti was 4th overall in last year’s edition and won stage 16 in the process. He also won his first in stage (10) in 2006 finishing 8th overall. If Basso falters, then look for Liquigas to play Pellizotti to take over the reigns of team leader.
Basso Prediction: 5th
Pellizotti Prediction: 9th

Damiano Cunego
Country: Italy (27)
Giro Palmares: 1st 2004 - Stage Wins: 4
A former winner here back in 2004, Cunego is having his best year to date. He was first overall in the Settimana Ciclistica Internazionale (Coppi-Bartali) where he won stages 2 and 3 and was second in stage 4. He was 6th overall in the Tour of the Basque country and in the classics he was 5th in Amstel Gold, 3rd in Fleche Wallonne and 7th in Leige. Cunego started his professional career in 2002.

Regarding the Giro, Cunego has always been a factor in the final outcome. He won 4 stages on his way to victory in 2004 at 22 years of age.  In 2006 he was 4th overall and 2007 he was 5th. He has always performed well on the big stages and this year he is bringing the best form he has had ever into this race. He has a strong and balanced team.

Team-mate in Marzio Bruseghin, celebrating his 12th year as a pro, finished third in the Giro last year, has won two stages. Will Lampre play Marzio or Cunego for the final the question... either way they have two headliners to to choose from depending how the fates fall in the opening ten days.

However, Cunego is riding in awesome form and is a major force to be reckoned with. It was a toss up between Cunego or Leipheimer for the win but I went with the American basically because of the time trials in this year’s edition covering nearly 100km.
Damiano Cunego Prediction: 2nd
Marzio Bruseghin Prediction: 12th

Danilo Di Luca
Italy (33)
LPR Brakes/Farnese Vini
Giro History: 1st 2007 - Stage Wins: 6
Danilo Di Luca is another former winner having a go to win his home tour a second time. He started his professional career in 1998. His best result this year was 8th overall in the Giro del Trentino where he grabbed a victory in stage 4. That was a handy time to come into form as that race was only 2 weeks ago.

Di Luca has always been solid in the Giro; the successful one day rider and winner of the world cup succeeded in morphing into a stage racer showing first with a 4th overall in 2005 taking stage wins in stages 3 and 5. In 2007 he won the Maglia Rosa claiming stages 4 and 12.Though not a specialist in anti-gravity tests,  the man can climb and is a fighter often looking done for on a climb and fighting back to join the leaders at the top. Danilo's only worry might be the strength of his team. But with him starting to hit top form and the fact that he has a good record here and wants to perform well in front of home fans, I see him finishing in the top 5.
Prediction: 4th

Denis Menchov
Russia (31)
Giro Palmares: 5th 2008, Stage Wins: 0
Denis Menchov is a consistent contender in grand tours and has won the Vuelta on two occasions in 2005 and 2007. He turned professional in 2000. In March he gave his first sign of form with a 1st overall in the Ronde van Murcia coming third in stages 3 and 4. He was 5th overall in the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon coming second in stage 4. Last week in the Tour of Romandie he was 11th overall in his preparation race for the Giro.

The Giro is a main target for Menchov this year and as a testimony to that he is surrounded by climbers on the team. Rabobank left out Australian sprinter Graeme Brown to accommodate best support available to the Russian. He was 5th here in 2008. In the tour last year he was 4th overall. Menchov is a strong climber and reasonable time trialist; and with a strong team around him look for him to finish in the top ranks.
Prediction: 3rd

Gilberto Simoni
Italy (37)
Team: Serramenti PVC
Giro Palmares: 1st 2001, 2003 Stage Wins: 8
Gilberto Simoni is the only rider in this field that has won the Giro on two occasions. He turned professional in 1994 and at 37 years of age is nearing the end of his career. His best results this year include a 1st in Stage 3 of the Vuelta Mexico Telmex in early March. Recently he was 6th overall in the Giro warm-up race the Giro del Trentino. He was 4th in stage 2.

As far as the Giro is concerned, Gilberto  is Mr. Consistent. He was third overall in his first Giro in 1999 capturing a stage win, followed up third overall again in 2000 capturing yet another stage win. He then secured the overall win in 2001 claiming another stage win along the way. Gibo took a stage in the 2002 edition and won the Giro for the second time in 2003 winning stage 14. Not only did he win the Maglia Rosa, he locked the points classification that year too.  In 2004 and 2005 he was third and second overall respectively. In 2006 he was third again and in 2007 came second. It is a remarkable record and accomplishment in the last decade.

Gibo is a rider who can’t be discounted no matter his age. Don’t write him off for win number 3. He has help in team-mate Michel Scarponi. Michele Scarponi is 29 years of age and turned professional in 2002. He has posted good results in the Grand Tours in the past even though he has been a domestique. He should be a good help for Simoni and his best result this year was winning Tirreno-Adriatico.

We also shouldn't forget that Gianni Savio's team has set an enviable record of wins this year from its start in the the Tour de Langkawi to the stage races this Spring. The Serramenti PVC team should provide Gibo the support he needs to throw himself into an all out effort to win; and if it were to happen it would be the cause of elebrations for the many tifosi the man has around the world.
Gilberto Simoni Prediction: 6th
Michele Scarponi Prediction: 15th

Stefano Garzelli
Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo
Italy (35)
Giro Palmares: 1st (2000) 7 stage wins
Garzelli is another former winner, having won in 2000 after turning professional in 1997. His results this year have been excellent and he has ridden aggressively; third overall in the Giro della Provincia di Grosseto having come second in stage 3 back in February. On March 1st, he was 3rd in the Classica de Almeria. He followed that up with second overall in the Tirreno-Adriatico where he came second in stage 6. Three weeks ago in the Giro di Trentino he was 4th overall. He was second in stage 3 and 3rd in stage 4 showing his preparation is for the race are on track.

He was 6th overall in the 2004 edition and won stage 19.  Garzelli is among the 35 and older legs in this years Giro, is likely to be a force to be reckoned with; however, he doesn’t have big team support pf the other favorites and I see him finishing just outside of the top 10.
Prediction: 13th

Carlos Sastre
Spain (34)
Cervélo TestTeam
Giro Palmares: 43rd, Stage wins 0
Carlos Sastre is last year’s Tour de France winner; Carlos turned professional in 1998 and has solid results in all the grand tours. This year he hasn’t ridden that well with no major results to talk about other than 24th overall in the Tour of the Basque country. He moved to Cervello from CSC last year.

In the 2006 Giro he rode for Ivan Basso. Basso won and he came 43rd, the first of three grand tours he would ride that year. He’s finished second twice in the Vuelta including a third last year. Besides his Tour de France victory he was third and fourth overall in 2007 and 2008; one can't question his ability in a three week stage race. His lack of team support is a worry and he may be more occupied with the race for preparing for the Tour; but would still want to ride a good race to thank the Giro organizers for inviting Cervélo.
Prediction: 11th

Tadej Valjavec
Slovakia (32)
Ag2r la Mondiale
Giro Palmares: 9th (2004) Stage wins: 0
Tadej Valjavec hasn’t had a rock solid year on the bike. He turned professional in 2000; his best result this year was 9th in stage 3 of the tour of Romandie last week. He finished 29th overall. He is however preparing for the Giro and his team has come in with intentions to get him into the top 10.

Tadej has ridden the Giro four times in his career: In 2004 he came 9th. In 2005 he was 15th overall (second in the queen stage, stage 14). 2006 was a disappointing year for him, 36th; but the rider bounced back in 2008 at 13th overall after not riding the 2007 edition. He is a talented climber and consistently performs well in mountain stages. His downside may be the team will be balancing their efforts for stage wins and support for the Slovene. That aside the team though not the strongest is pledged to support the rider, and if they can manage that Tadej will have the opportunity to ride for himself when it will count to achieve his best placing. Anything outside of top 10 will a disappointment, but I think we can expect attacks that might add a stage win to the riders Giro palmares.
Prediction: 10th

Mauricio Soler
Columbia (26)
Giro Palmares:
Mauricio Soler burst onto the scene in his first Grand Tour in dramatic style in the 2007 Tour de France after turning professional in 2006. He won his first stage in stage 9 up the Col du Galibier and won the king of the mountains classification that year. That has been the last Grand Tour he has ridden due to injury and illness despite only riding a few stages in the 2008 edition.

His best result this year has been second overall in Settimana Ciclistica Lombarda. Expect to see the Columbian ripping up the roads when they tilt upwards; and with over a third of the stage this year geared to his talents I expect him to finish in the top 10. Soler will have plenty of support leading to the climbs with Felix Cardenax, Augustyn and Diego Caccia.

South Africa’s John Lee Augustyn, in his second year as a pro looked very good in his first Tour de France last year before crashing and falling half way down a hill. I expect solid rides from these two riders with one maybe securing a stage victory. Augustyn might try a breakaway sometime during the three weeks. Don't rule out Soler even pushing for top 5. It would not surprise me with the talent he has.
Mauricio Soler Prediction: 8th
John Lee Augustyn Prediction: 17th

Kanstantsin Sivtsov
Belarus (26)
Giro Palmares: Stage Wins: 0
the Belarussian turned professional in 2001. He has the honour of being Team Columbia’s leader in the Giro and the benefit of a strong team to support his chances: Marco Pinotti, Thomas Lovkvist, Possoni, Barry and Michael Rogers will be the main support in the early climbs. I don’t expect him to finish high in the overall but I do expect him to take a stage win. However, Stapleton's squad is often much stronger than the apparent sum of the talents it has gathered... and this team could launch a surprise with Kanstantsin at the cutting edge.

Sivtsov was 9th overall in Tirreno-Adriatico and 10th overall in the Tour of Romandie. Expect big things from this guy in the future Grand Tours. His best result in a Grand Tour was 17th in last year’s Tour de France. He will learn from this experience as being team leader in a Grand Tour. With guys like Rogers, Pinotti and Lovkvist next to him, who knows how high he will climb. Team Columbia’s main objective is Mark Cavendish whilst looking after Sivtsov for the overall.
Prediction: 14th

Christian Vande Velde
USA (32)
Giro Palmares: 1 TTT 2008
Christian Vande Velde is Garmin’s main hope for glory. He is ultimate target is the Tour de France, Christian is following his same preparation riding in the Giro again; one can't dispute the result. He started his career in 1998 and was part of Armstrong’s team in his 1999 and 2001 Tour de France wins.

Vande Velde won stage 4 of Paris Nice back in March and his best result since was a 3rd in stage 4 of the Tour of the Basque country. He’s held the Maglia Rosa for 2 days after his team won the Team Time Trial in last year’s edition which a repeat of will be the opening target for the team this year.

Tom Danielson is a team-mate of his which could end up being their highest ranked rider in Rome. Danielson turned professional in 1999. He has a good pedigree come Grand Tours. He was 7th overall in the 2005 Vuelta and then 6th overall the following year. This year he finished 9th in the cold and wet tour of California. I would expect that both these riders won’t finish top 10 but both are a realistic chance for a stage win.
Christian Vande Velde Prediction: 16th
Tom Danielson Prediction: 18th

My picks for the Top 20 for the centenary edition of the Giro d'Italia:
1. Levi Leipheimer (Astana)
2. Damiano Cunego (Lampre)
3. Denis Menchov (Rabobank)
4. Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes)
5. Ivan Basso (Liquigas)
6. Gilberto Simoni (Serramenti PVC)
7. Lance Armstrong (Astana)
8. Mauricio Soler (Barloworld)
9. Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas)
10. Tadej Valjavec (AG2R)
11. Carlos Sastre (Cervello)
12. Marzio Bruzeghin (Lampre)
13. Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone-Caffe Mokambo
14. Kanstantsin Siutsou (Columbia)
15. Michele Scarponi (Serramenti PVC)
16. Christian Vande Velde (Garmin)
17. John Lee Augustyn (Barloworld)
18. Tom Danielson (Garmin)
19. Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse)
20. Yaroslav Popovych (Astana)

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