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Wide open!

Who will lead Cavendish out?

Richard Moore Posted 2nd May 2012 view comments

The Giro d'Italia, which starts in Copenhagen on Saturday, looks wide open.

There is no obvious favourite, and only one rider in the field, Ivan Basso, who has a Grand Tour victory to his name. But Basso, the Giro winner two years ago, has been having a miserable time of it, struggling to finish races. On Sunday he completed the Tour de Romandie, but 33rd overall doesn't suggest that the 2010 champion is in Giro-winning form.

Will Swift lead Cavendish out?

Will Swift lead Cavendish out?

The absence of a big star - not just on the Giro start list, but in Italian cycling in general - is an issue alluded to by the new Giro director, Michele Acquarone, in a revealing interview in the Giro d'Italia Official 2012 Programme.

"I'm afraid that when Ivan Basso or Vincenzo Nibali comes to see us, there are no traffic jams," said Acquarone. It's not that he likes traffic jams, you understand. Just that he wants stars who create the same kind of "chaos" on the roads around the offices of the Giro organisation, RCS, as when famous wrestlers pop in. (Wrestlers?)

Cavendish admitted Swift would be "wicked" in this role, but claimed not to have given it much thought.

Richard Moore
Quotes of the week

The Italians still hanker after the late Marco Pantani, added Acquarone. Nobody has replaced him in the hearts of the tifosi.

Yet, despite that, the Giro, as an event, retains an irresistible allure. In Italy it is "a major national event which mobilises everyone," and there has always been something about the Giro that makes it the favourite race of many an aficionado (perhaps simply the fact that it isn't the populist choice, the Tour de France).

"The toughest race in the most beautiful place," is Acquarone's preferred slogan - presumably it sounds better in Italian.

The only real star

If there is a dearth of stars to contest the maglia rosa (pink jersey), the flat stages promise much. Acquarone describes Mark Cavendish as "the only real international star in cycling," and he is one of several top sprinters who will start in Copenhagen, including former HTC teammates Matt Goss and Mark Renshaw, as well as Tyler Farrar, Thor Hushovd and an in-form Theo Bos.

One of the most interesting sub-plots will be to see how Cavendish and Team Sky approach the Giro. The team is loaded with riders capable of forming an effective lead-out train - Bernhard Eisel, Juan Antonio Flecha, Peter Kennaugh, Ian Stannard, Geraint Thomas and Ben Swift - plus a couple of Colombian climbers, Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran.

"It's a team that's going for stage wins," Cavendish told me on Saturday, after putting in a long, hard shift defending Bradley Wiggins' yellow jersey at the Tour de Romandie. "We've got the Colombians to go for mountain stages, we've got a team for the team time trial [in Verona on stage 4], and we should go well on the sprint days. It's a complete team for stage wins."

Cav's lead-out man

Thomas, who is using the Giro as preparation for the team pursuit at the London Olympics, and Swift, who has abandoned that particular dream, could act as Cavendish's lead-out man. Cavendish admitted Swift would be "wicked" in this role, but claimed not to have given it much thought.

The Giro line-up certainly has the look of the sprinter's team about it: the A-squad. The team for the Tour could look very different, with the emphasis more on supporting Wiggins than Cavendish. We shall see.

Meanwhile, another interesting claim made by Acquarone in his interview was that the Giro could one day start in London. "I'm pretty confident that, given how much cycling has grown in the UK, there will be interest in the Giro coming to London.

"But this interest will only become apparent from September onwards, when London will take a long, deep breath and start assessing how successful the Games have been. That's when a dialogue can perhaps begin."

Twitter.com/richardmoore73

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