By Julien Pretot
PARIS Reuters) - Ineos-Grenadiers, formerly Team Sky, have rarely shone at the Giro d'Italia but after having a Tour de France to forget, the British outfit have a lot to make up for as Geraint Thomas heads into the Corsa Rosa as the main favourite on Saturday.
A year after his 2012 Tour de France title, Bradley Wiggins focused on the Giro but abandoned his challenge through illness, Richie Porte pulled out injured in 2015, Mikel Landa retired ill in 2016 and Thomas left the race after a crash in 2017.
Four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome restored the team's pride by winning the Giro title thanks to a bold long-range attack in 2018, but the race remains the grand tour where Dave Brailsford's outfit have suffered the most.
Having lost their mojo on the Tour when defending champion Egan Bernal retired this year due to back and knee problems, Ineos-Grenadiers are now banking on the Giro in a rescheduled season.
The route, which features three individual time trials, favours Thomas over climbers like Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk and Dane Jakob Fuglsang or all-rounders like Vincenzo Nibali.
The Welshman was initially scheduled to ride the Tour, but his poor form in early August led Brailsford to schedule him for the Giro instead.
Thomas geared up with a promising showing in Tirreno-Adriatico and he now seems back to top shape.
"It might be a blessing in disguise because he might end up winning the Giro, while he might not have won the Tour, it's hard to imagine anyone would have surpassed (Slovenia's Tadej) Pogacar on the Tour," Wiggins, a cycling expert for Eurosport, told Reuters.
"Like most of the grands tours you have to avoid crashes and illness but I think he's very experienced, I think he'll win it."
Wiggins doesn't believe that Thomas's traumatic experience from 2017, when he abandoned after being hit by a race motorbike, will have any influence on the 2018 Tour winner.
"I don't think it will play on his mind. He doesn't let much get to him, he's very level headed," said Wiggins.
Riders and their staff will work in a bio-secure environment amid the COVID-19 crisis, just like on the Tour de France, but while they will be regularly tested for coronavirus, the Tour rule stating that two positive tests within a week would trigger the ejection of the team will not apply at the Giro.
Italy, the worst-hit country in Europe from the first COVID-19 wave, have since kept the situation under control.
Local hopes will fall on the shoulders of Nibali, the 2013 and 2016 winner who has been below par this season.
Britain have another ace up their sleeve in Mitchelton-Scott's Simon Yates, the Tirreno-Adriatico winner.
The outcome of the race, which is usually held in May, might also depend on the weather amid fears that some of the mountain climbs could be cancelled because of potential snowstorms.
(Additional reporting by Martyn Herman in London; Editing by Ken Ferris)