Starting abroad is almost as frequent an occurrence for the Giro d’Italia as it is for the Tour de France – the Italian Grand Tour’s first was in 1965 in San Marino, just seven years after the Tour’s first start from foreign soil, in Amsterdam in 1954. The most recent Giro start outside Italy took place in Herning, Denmark in 2012.
This time, the 198 riders and 22 teams of the 2014 Giro d’Italia have arguably gone even further afield with Friday’s ground-breaking start in the Northern Irish capital. This is the first time since the Tour de France began in Dublin in 1998 that there has been a Grand Tour start on Irish soil, and the three stages there – particularly given the unpredictable weather at this time of year – are expected to draw a massive response from local cycling fans.
After Monday May 11th’s return from Dublin to Italy, the hardest segment of the Giro d’Italia, though, will be in the third week, with four high mountain stages, all of them with summit finishes, in five days. Stage 16’s ascent to Val Martello, cancelled last year because of snow, is the first of these difficult challenges, but stage 19’s mountain time trial to Grappa and stage 20’s finish atop of the Monte Zoncolan will definitively decide the outcome of the overall classification.
In terms of the UCI WorldTour rankings, neither individual classification leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) with 308 points, nor his closest pursuer, Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) with 264 points are taking part.
Giro, a golden opportunity for Rodriguez, Martin and Quintana
However, several of the toughest UCI WorldTour long-term contenders are all present at the start line in Belfast. They include last year’s UCI WorldTour winner Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp), sixth in 2013’s final UCI WorldTour ranking and Nairo Quintana (Movistar), who ended eighth.
The Giro d’Italia therefore represents a golden opportunity for all of these riders – three of the major contenders for outright victory – to make inroads on their rivals. Quintana is currently the best placed in the UCI WorldTour individual ranking – 14th overall with 138 points – whilst another top Giro d’Italia favourite, former Tour de France winner Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) is 17th.
In the teams classification, Omega Pharma – Quick Step currently dominate the ranking with 700 points, 132 points clear of their closest rivals Movistar, who have 538 points, whilst Russians Katusha are lying third with 529 and Team Sky are fourth with 436. The Belgian squad, therefore, will very likely remain leaders after the Giro, but further down the ranking there may well be some significant alterations in teams’ relative positions.
Australia and Great Britain chasing Belgium’s second place
The UCI WorldTour nations ranking currently has a similar profile. One countrly, Spain, is in a commanding position, with 805 points and their advantage on second placed Belgium, with 567 points, is such that it is highly unlikely the Spaniards will be dislodged from the top spot in one Grand Tour. However, both Australia, with 516 points and Great Britain, with 425, are close enough behind Belgium to perhaps move into second place overall. Could they then challenge Spain for the top spot over the summer? Don’t rule it out.
Cycling’s first Grand Tour of 2014, then, is set to have its usual major impact on the UCI WorldTour, establishing or reinforcing a hierarchy of teams, nations and individual riders that may well be difficult to alter in the following UCI WorldTour rounds, given there are fewer and fewer opportunities remaining to regain lost ground. Check back on June 1st to see how one of the key segments of the UCI WorldTour has altered this year’s rankings: there could be some big surprises.