Colombians have been successful in the giro d’Italia over recent years, and that looks set to continue in 2018.
The first big stage race of the year has kicked off in controversy. With the race starting in Jerusalem for the first time ever, Christopher Froome managed to shoot to the top of the headlines. With a potential ban hanging over his head, the four-time Tour winner nonetheless went ahead and started the race.
There are a host of threats to his bid to win a historic hat-trick of Grand Tours, among which lurk some Colombians. However it’s defending champion Tom Dumoulin who is the big noise. Dumoulin is clear that he wouldn’t have raced had he been in Froome’s position, but they awkwardly rode together in Israel.
The Israeli stages thankfully saw little in the way of fireworks as the first stage finished with Froome conceding 37 seconds to Dumoulin. Chaves was a further 9s behind, and López 10s off that, despite an unfortunate nosedive thanks to a wet zebra crossing. Dayer Quintana finished a valiant 174th with the rest of the Colombians dotted around the lower reaches, except ‘El bananito’ Carlos Betancur, who placed 11th in somewhat of a shock result.
Not much else happened of note for the Colombian contingent over the weekend in Israel, and it won’t be until we hit the mountains that the Colombians will have a chance to shine. And shine they probably will. Sprint superstar Fernando Gaviría won’t be there, but there’s climbers galore.
Top of the list has to be Esteban Chaves. He’s off form, having abandoned the Volta a Catalunya on the final day. He is also sharing leadership responsibilities with Simon Yates at Mitchelton-Scott. However, on a good day, the rolo is explosive and has proved his mettle in previous races – including the Giro in 2016. He was won the Herald Sun Tour in Australia, but was largely unimpressive at Paris-Nice, where he finished outside the time limit. One bright spot was a quiet top-ten TT finish. If he really can limit his losses against the clock, he could yet spring a surprise.
A potential dark horse is Miguel Ángel López. Dubbed Superman, the tiny climber is phenomenally explosive when the slopes start biting. His Astana team is rock solid and he’s the leader, so he’ll have plenty of support. He’s been in good form so far and will be looking to get in the mix at the front of the peloton, or to go for the climber’s jersey if he loses time early on. He’s a bit of an unknown quantity in three week races, but has finished on three podiums so far in shorter stage races this year. He was the breakout star in the last week of the Vuelta last year, but still maybe lacks a bit of nous.
There are plenty more escarabajos in the peloton as well. Sergio Henao should do well on the GC – top ten is achievable, even working for the world’s strongest asthmatic athlete – but is unlikely to be allowed to go for the blue mountain jersey. Of course, anything could happen with Froome, and if he gets ruled out or ejected then Henao might well find himself the leader of a strong team. For stages, or even the blue jersey, Jarlinson Pantano and Darwin Atapuma could be threats. Rounding out the list of Colombians are Dayer ‘not yet as good as his brother’ Quintana, Rodolfo Torres and the always enigmatic Carlos ‘lay off the empanadas’ Betancur. The latter is extraordinarily talented, yet struggles with form and fitness. He started well and has a strong team, so keep an eye on him.
The race itself is typically brutal and focused entirely on the climbers. The likes of López and Chaves will be in their element with no fewer than eight summit finishes in the race. The first of those comes on Thursday May 10 on Mount Etna, where the volcano might not explode, but a few riders should. It’s unlikely that anything big will be decided there, but all of the big boys will be taking a look at their rivals.
Look out for the weekend of May 19 and 20. Saturday features the colossal Zoncolan, with 22% sections over its ten kilometres, and the following day sees a ridiculous four category 1 climbs. With a rest day followed by the key time trial afterwards, this will see some furious racing as the climbers look to get ahead of Dumoulin and Froome.
If legs are still fairly fresh towards the end of the race, the three summit finishes in a row before the procession into Rome could see all kinds of fun and games for Colombia. There are all sorts of possibilities here: Chaves and/or López could well be there or thereabouts for the maglia rosa or the podium. They’re likely to be attacking after losing time earlier in the week in the time trial, so there’s lots of excitement.
Pantano, Betancur or Atapuma (plus either of the first two if they’ve blundered on the general classification) will be going for stage wins. The blue jersey probably won’t have been decided either, and with multiple bonuses for summit finishes, the Colombian contingent will fancy their chances.
All stages will be broadcasted by Señal Colombia channel, with finishes roughly scheduled between 10 and 11am.