Blazin' Saddles

Giro 2011: Sprinters guide

Blazin' Saddles

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With 40 major mountain climbs, seven summit finishes
and numerous transfers, the 94th edition of the Giro d'Italia will
hardly have the sprinters chomping at the bit.

In fact, following stage 12's likely bunch sprint in
Ravenna on Tuesday 19th May there are no flat finishes at all - so
don't expect many (if any) of the peloton's fast men to make it all the way to

It's a bit much to ask the sprinters to slog it out through
the mountains for more than a week and then not even reward them with a chance
to dispute the race's final stage. As such, it will be a big surprise if the
winner of this year's points jersey is the race's best sprinter or even the
winner of the race's most stages.

In fact, bizarrely enough, it is likely that a climber or a
GC rider picks up the Maglia Rossa points jersey - or someone like Danilo Di
Luca, who can climb as well as sprint.

That said, there are still six or seven stages which favour
a bunch sprint - and given the Giro's lofty status, fans should still see the
world's fastest men on two wheels battle it out for glory.

But don't expect the likes of Mark Cavendish and Tyler
Farrar - arguably two of the quickest men in this year's starting line up - to
run away with the spoils. A mixture of punchy climbs appearing before the
finish and slightly uphill roads to the line will take the advantage from the
hands of the pure sprinters and favour those with the requisite power and

Let's look at the main riders who should light up the
points jersey this May.

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(25, HTC-Highroad)

Without a doubt the quickest man on two wheels, Cavendish
plans to race all three Grand Tours this season but he enters the Giro short of
form after a rather quiet spring. Given the Giro's mountainous route, the Tour
will remain a priority so don't expect Cav to ride beyond stage 12. But
anything less than two wins would be seen as a failure from the Manxman, who
sat out last year's race in favour of the Tour of California.

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(37, Lampre)

With doping allegations continuing to hover around the Italian veteran, Petacchi enters the Giro on a cloud of
uncertainty. The Lampre sprinter has already voiced his unhappiness about the mountainous
route, but some of the uphill sprints should suit his powerful build. Having
retired from last year's Giro empty-handed after stage eight, Petacchi will want a final swansong on home soil - but any wins will have to come
early for he won't stick around long.

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(26, Garmin-Cervelo)

The American hasn't been in the best form since Cervelo and
Garmin merged but he will be looking to pick up where he left off at the Giro,
where last year he broke his Grand Tour duck by winning a brace of stages. With
such a strong team around him, Farrar should feature in all the bunch sprints
and a stage win looks likely.


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(Quick Step)

For ages the German was seen as the next best thing
and Ciolek will hope his summer move to Quick Step will reignite his career,
which looked so promising back in 2009 when the then-Milram rider won a stage
in the Vuelta. With Tom Boonen concentrating on the Tour and Vuelta this year,
Ciolek will have the support of his team-mates in this year's Giro - but will
he have the legs?


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(38, RadioShack)

Once a regular fixture on the front of the peloton, the
pint-sized Australian has not recorded a major Tour stage win since 2007. It
seems that age has caught up with the veteran, but with a new team McEwen will
be hoping he can turn things round and use his experience to mix it up with the
new generation.


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(30, Vacansoleil)

Having secured his first major Tour win in the 2009 Vuelta at
the age of 28, Bozic signalled his arrival late on in his career. But the
Slovenian rider has been a consistent performer for Vacansoleil over the last
few years and will look to celebrate his team's first ever Giro appearance with
a victory.


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Danilo Di
(35, Katusha)

Splitting opinion more than a jar of Marmite, the
controversial Italian is said to be riding for free at his new team Katusha
following his return from a doping ban. In 2009, Di Luca finished the Giro in
second place and picked up two stage wins on his way to sealing the points jersey
- only to see all these results revoked as part of his punishment for a
positive CERA test. Di Luca's current form over a three-week race remains to be
seen, but the Italian is a consistent performer and should make it all the way
to Milan so could well target the points jersey.

forget their team-mates...

Many of the sprinters above will be ably supported by
strong team-mates who could easily be classified as sprinters in their own
right. The likes of Mark Renshaw (HTC-Highroad), Danilo Hondo (Lampre), Wouter
Weylandt (Leopard-Trek), Davide Vigano (Leopard-Trek), Julian Dean
(Garmin-Cervelo) and Robert Hunter (RadioShack) may well be seen primarily as
lead-out men, but circumstance - along with their experience and speed - should
see these men notch up frequent top five finishes, perhaps even a win.


Brice Feillu, drafted into the Leopard-Trek squad late
following the withdrawal of Daniele Bennati, has a lot to prove after an
unsuccessful stint at Vacansoleil; Francisco Ventoso will be Movistar's man for
the sprints; English youngster Adam Blythe will feature for Omega Pharma-Lotto
in the absence of Andre Greipel; and Dutchman Theo Bos will likewise take the
reins from Oscar Freire in the Rabobank line-up.

Also keep an eye out for outsiders Danilo Napolitano (Acqua
& Sapone), Rafael Valls Ferri (Geox), Inaki Isasi (Euskaltel), Angelo
Vicioso (Androni Giocattoli), Sacha Modolo (Colnago) and Matteo Tosatto (Saxo
Bank Sunguard).

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