Giro d'Italia, the contenders: Bradley Wiggins to be rivalled by Vincenzo Nibali
Bradley Wiggins is just one of a number of riders who could win the Giro d'Italia. Matt Westby looks at the contenders
Last Updated: 30/04/13 9:47am
The three-week marathon is the first Grand Tour of the season and its coveted maglia rosa - the winner's pink jersey - is one of the most prestigious prizes in the sport.
Here, we look at the men most likely to be wearing it on the podium in Brescia on May 26.
Sir Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky)
The Team Sky leader is already a cycling legend, but is looking to extend his legacy by adding a second Grand Tour victory to the Tour de France title he won last summer. That achievement inevitably places him among the Giro favourites, and is further underlined by the fact he will be supported by a strong Team Sky squad packed with climbing talent.
The only question mark hanging over Wiggins's credentials are his lack of results so far this season. Heading into last year's Tour, he won Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie and the Criterium du Dauphine. This year, however, his best stage-race finishes have been fifth in both the Volta a Catalunya and Giro del Trentino. One area where the race is heavily weighed in Wiggins's favour, though, is the three time trials, a discipline in which he specialises. Even if he loses time in the mountains, he should be able to gain it back - and more - is the races against the clock.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)
Whereas Wiggins has lacked results so far in 2013, Vincenzo Nibali has won both of Italy's two spring stage races, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Giro del Trentino. Both victories were hard-earned, with Nibali showing a distinct improvement in his climbing from last year's Tour, when he had to settle for third place behind Wiggins and Chris Froome.
Like Wiggins, Nibali is a former Grand Tour winner, having won the red jersey at the 2010 Vuelta a Espana, but the Italian's home three-week race has so far eluded him. He moved teams to Astana this year in a bid to improve his chances and, as with Wiggins, he will be backed up by a high-pedigree cast of team-mates. Riding in front of his home fans will also be an incentive, while a series of testing descents should play to his strengths as one of the best downhill riders in the peloton.
Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp)
Ryder Hesjedal returns as the defending champion and will be keen to show that his heroics of 12 months ago were no fluke. The 32-year-old became Canada's first Grand Tour winner at the 2012 Giro by matching the race's top climbers and then snatching victory on the decisive time trial. Like Wiggins, Hesjedal will relish the 90km of time-trialling in this year's race.
The similarities with the Briton don't end there, though, because Hesjedal also goes into the race lacking high-profile wins in 2013. He was overshadowed by his team-mate Dan Martin at both the Volta a Catalunya in March and Liege-Bastogne-Liege in April, albeit having seen an impressive lone attack fall narrowly short in the latter. As a result, Hesjedal goes into the race as somewhat of an unknown quantity. However, his performances at the Ardennes Classics suggest his form is on an upward curve and with a flatter parcours than last year, there is no reason to doubt his ability to win a second Giro in succession.
Cadel Evans (BMC)
Cadel Evans has endured a difficult season so far, but his Grand Tour pedigree, dogged climbing and time-trialling ability command respect and he must be considered among the men to beat at the Giro. Now 36, the Australian proved he has all the tools to win a three-week stage race by claiming victory at the 2011 Tour de France and is another rider who can count on strong support from his team, BMC.
Like Wiggins, he lacks wins from the 2013 campaign so far, having struggled at both Tirreno-Adriatico and the Giro del Trentino, but he showed good form at February's Tour of Oman on his way to finishing third overall behind Chris Froome and Alberto Contador. If he can get back to that level, expect him to be in contention.
Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida)
Just a few months ago, there was no guarantee that Michele Scarponi would be racing at the Giro as he served out a doping ban, but the veteran Italian returned to action at the beginning of March and has shown glimpses of the form that saw him crowned Giro champion in 2011. A bold attack on the final stage of the Volta a Catalunya lifted him on to the final podium, and another strong showing at Liege-Bastogne-Liege saw him infiltrate a late breakaway and finish fifth.
Scarponi is unlikely to be able to match Wiggins in the time trials, but should he get up a head of steam in the mountains and continue the aggressive riding he has shown since his comeback, he had the potential to create some gaps and be there or thereabouts in Brescia.
Others to watch
Mauro Santambrogio (Vini Fantini)
Mauro Santambrogio goes into the Giro d'Italia on the back of impressive season so far in 2013. The 28-year-old Italian has proved himself as one of the best climbers in the peloton with top-10 finishes in now fewer than three stage races. He started the campaign by finishing sixth at the testing Tour de San Luis in Argentina and then followed that up with seventh overall at Tirreno-Adriatico.
He then further announced himself by finishing runner-up behind Nibali at the Giro del Trentino, after claiming second places on two of the race's three mountain stages. Should he be able to continue that form - and even improve on it - a place in the top 10 is almost guaranteed and a podium place should not be written off.
Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale)
Another Italian whose credentials cannot be discounted is the diminutive Domenic Pozzovivo. The 30-year-old climbing specialist finished eighth at last year's Giro while riding for Colnago, but has since moved up to the WorldTour team Ag2r-La Mondiale in a bid to improve his Grand Tour chances.
A stronger support squad should, on paper, bump him up the general classification this time around, and if he climbs to his potential, there are only a handful of riders in the peloton who can live with his pace. However, Pozzovivo has so far struggled in the colours of his new team, finishing only 11th overall at Tirreno-Adriatico and abandoning the Giro del Trentino after a fall.
Sergio Henao (Team Sky)
All Team Sky eyes will be on Sir Bradley Wiggins, but his super-climbing, Colombian domestique Sergio Henao should not be discounted and could well finish high on the general classification. The 25-year-old ended last year's race in the top 10, but is now another season wiser and stronger.
He has also enjoyed his best campaign to date so far, figuring prominently in the hilly Ardennes Classics and taking third overall at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. His time-trialling ability is not up to the standard of his climbing, but should anything happen to Wiggins, Team Sky's focus could well turn to Henao.
Carlos Betancur (Ag2r-La Mondiale)
Colombian riders are on the rise in professional cycling and, like Henao, Carlos Betancur is one of the foremost among them. Still just 23, his stage-race results in the early part of the season were underwhelming, but his form in the immediate build-up to the Giro has been far more impressive.
He took second place behind Henao on stage three of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and then enjoyed an excellent Ardennes Classics campaign, finishing third in La Fleche Wallonne and fourth at Liege-Bastogne-Liege. A punchy climber who is also handy in a reduced-bunch sprint, Betancur will relish the mountain stages of the Giro.