Who is going to win the Giro d'Italia?

Start of the Giro 2010. Picture credit Flckr: cc brassynn
As Italy's Giro d'Italia sets off in Sardinia today, with a three-week battle for a pink jumper, Cycling UK's Duncan Dollimore explains why he loves the race and why Big Bike Revival is Eurosport's UK sponsor of the Giro. Plus Cycling UK's pundits predict who will be parading pink in Milan.

Pretty in Pink

For many people, May Day marks the transition from spring to summer, with the lilacs and tulips blooming in myriad colours. In Italy, however, May is definitely the pink month, with the world’s best cyclists wheel to wheel in the Giro d'Italia, fighting for the right to wear a pink jumper, the Maglia Rosa.

At Cycling UK, we tend to leave reporting of competitive cycle races to others, but the story of the Giro is not just about which super-fit athlete is fastest, it’s a journey through Italian history and beautiful landscapes; a tale full of drama and passion for cycling.

Three weeks in May, and the 100th edition

The Giro is the first of three so-called Grand Tours which take place throughout each year in Italy, France and Spain respectively. Whilst the Tour de France might be the most prestigious of these three-week races to win, most fans will tell you that the Giro is the most beautiful to watch, and often the most exciting. Quite simply it is vibrant, emotional and unpredictable: it’s Italian.

This year is the 100th edition of the Giro, with the organisers respecting the history of the race with an epic route through Italy which traverses many of the mountain climbs that have long set the scene for battles lost and won. Conscious of that rich history, Cycling UK is absolutely delighted to be associated with such a classic event this year.

Big Bike Revival - a pink attitude

As part of our Big Bike Revival (BBR) project, we want to help people re-discover those long-forgotten and neglected bicycles in their garages, and encourage them to get back on their bikes. To spread the word about BBR, Cycling UK has agreed to be Eurosport’s sole UK sponsor of the Giro this year, with clips running during the Eurosport live coverage and highlights programmes specifically promoting BBR.

Before you ask “what’s professional cycle racing got to do with everyday cycling”, just take a minute to think this through. The race fans who follow the Giro might not need to be convinced about the joys of cycling, but they will have neighbours, friends, work colleagues and relatives who we want to reach out to with BBR. We want people watching the Giro to hear about BBR, and encourage those who’ve lost the love for their bikes to take them to a BBR event, get them fixed, and get back cycling.

Pink is said to be more an attitude than a colour, and we want to harness that attitude this summer to put more bums on saddles. We need your help to do this, but via our Eurosport sponsorship we also hope that some pink passion will help harness support for BBR via Eurosport, the Giro, and the armchair race pundits. 

Sardinia, Sicily and the Stelvio

The Giro starts today, 5 May, with a 206 km stage from Alghera to Olbia in Sardinia, the first of three Sardinian stages before the race heads to Sicily and a mountain summit finish on the slopes of the Mount Etna volcano next Tuesday. From Sicily the race heads to mainland Italy, winding its way north to the next summit finish to Blockhaus on stage 9.

It is, however, in the mighty Dolomites that the race for overall victory is likely to be decided, with stages 16 and 18 both contenders for the title of Queen Stage, the phrase used to describe the most challenging and potentially decisive stage of the race, and two of the five key stages. The riders tackle the iconic climb of Passo dello Stelvio twice on stage 16, in addition to the mighty Motirolo, with stage 18 including a further five mountains concluding with a summit finish.

Remembering Scarponi

Twenty two teams will contest this year's Giro, most with nine riders. One team, Astana, will line up with only eight riders, one short in honour of their former team leader and 2011 Giro winner Michele Scarponi. One of the most popular riders in the professional peloton, 37 year-old Scarponi was in sparkling form in April, winning a stage of the Tour of the Alps as part of his preparation to lead Astana at the Giro. He then set off for a short training ride on 22 April, from his home in Fillotrano in the central Le Marche region of Italy, but never returned after being hit by a van at a crossroad, the driver reportedly having failed to see him.  

In one of many poignant tributes to a much-loved rider in recent weeks, the organisers of the Giro have dedicated the Motirolo climb on stage 16 to Michele Scarponi, and, whoever wins the Giro, the loudest cheers and fondest tears will surely follow any stage win by an Astana rider, of whom Dario Cataldo and Luis Leon Sanchez are likely candidates.  

Matt Mallinder's 'safe' prediction            

All the specialist cycle racing magazines and websites have their tips for likely Giro winners, but far more interesting are of course the picks of Cycling UK's has-been racers, all of whom can still talk the talk, but with the ravages of time, not all of whom can get away with wearing tight pink lycra.

Membership Director Matt Mallinder's pick is surprisingly predictable, and somewhat lacking in imagination. Boringly, Matt has tipped the overwhelmingly favourite, Colombian climber and 2014 Giro winner Nairo Quintana from the Movistar team. Quintana comes into the Giro having won the last Grand Tour in 2016, the Vuelta in Spain, and this year's Tirreno-Adriatico stage race in March. A safe bet from Matt following his head rather than his heart.

Sharpe's selection - youth and patriotism

Marketing Officer Jon Sharpe, whose memory of what it's like to race competitively is less clouded than mine or Matt's, is flying the flag for Britain, tipping 24 year old Orica-Scott rider Adam Yates, who was fourth and best young rider in last year's Tour De France. After a podium place on the Tirreno- Adriatico, and having shown good form in the April Ardennes Classics, Jon's pick is a more passionate and patriotic nod to an emerging talent.

Adam and his twin brother and fellow Orica-Scott rider Simon are lads from the town of my birth, Bury in Lancashire, who started their cycling journey with the Bury Clarion cycling club. As a former Bury CTC member, I will be delighted if Jon's on the money with his form guide, but I fear it may be a year early for Adam to take the top spot on the podium. 

Duncan goes Dutch

In the 100th edition, I was sorely tempted to pick an Italian rider for victory, the obvious choice being the winner in 2013 and 2016, Bahrain-Merida rider Vincenzo Nibali, knicknamed 'il Squalo di Messina' or the Shark of Messina, because you don't see him until he attacks. The Shark is, however, most of the race pundits' second favourite behind Quintana, and the centenary event deserves a more romantic and swashbuckling tale. With that in mind, my choice is last year's unluckiest rider, Steven Kruijswijk from the LottoNL-Jumbo team.

Leading the race and wearing pink into stage 19, Kruijswijk crashed heavily on the descent of the Coll dell'Agnello, losing nearly five minutes to Nibali, and the pink jersey. He looked a likely and deserved winner last year until his crash, and one year on he's my tip to be wearing pink when he time trials into Milan on May 28.

Eurosport coverage and free to-air on Quest

If my brief preview of the Giro 2017 has wetted your appetite for more, those of you with Eurosport subscription can watch the race live with coverage starting most days around noon, and a highlights programme for an hour at 8.00pm. Those not subscribed to Eurosport can however also view the recorded highlights at 10.00pm on the free to-air channel Quest, one of Eurosport's sister channels available free to UK viewers. 

Whoever wins the Giro, and whatever dramas unfold, I know it will be spectacular, because it always is. Of course this year, Cycling UK is also sponsoring the Eurosport coverage to promote the Big Bike Revival. I hope you enjoy the spectacle the next month has in store, from sunshine in Sardinia to snow on the Stelvio, and when you see our BBR advert on screen please do give a thought to who you know who might need a nudge to get their bike revived, tell them about BBR, and join us in thinking pink to promote the Big Bike Revival and help others discover the gift of cycling. 

Who do you think will win the Giro d'Italia? Let us know in the comments box below (you must be logged in first).