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In His Own Words: Sport Director Neil Stephens Previews the Giro d'Italia

Thu 2 May 2013

Ciao a tutti! A few days ago we introduced you to our Giro d’Italia roster. The riders and staff are excited as we look forward to the first Grand Tour of the year. No longer a first year team trying to find our place in the WorldTour, we will go into this year’s Giro with high expectations.

There will be some fantastic teams and riders as our competition in Italy. We’ll have to see who exactly is on the start line in Naples, but we’ll go for opportunities on every stage except for maybe the high mountain days. On the flat stages we will aim to deliver Matt Goss or Leigh Howard to the line victorious. On the medium mountain days, riders like Pieter Weening, Jens Keukeleire and Christian Meier will look for opportunities to get a result from a small group. Brett Lancaster, Svein Tuft, Jens Mouris and Luke Durbridge will be the go-to guys wherever and whenever we need their help – with both Svein and Durbo keen to give it a go in the first individual time trial.

Stage 1: Naples

It’s day one of the first Grand Tour of the year. We expect to see all of our biggest competitors on the start line ready to race. This stage is reasonably flat and a little dangerous, as is the first day of any Grand Tour. There are some tricky roads around Naples, which will add to the tension, and if it rains, it will be extremely difficult. As one of the stages that suit us most, we will be aiming for a win here.

Stage 2: Ischia – Forio (TTT)

The TTT is held on a little island called Ischia, and it’s going to be a really complicated stage for a logistical standpoint. Normally in the days before the Giro, the guys would ride the course a few times to get a good handle on it, talk tactics and be all around prepared. Unfortunately, the logistics work against us, and our boys will have to ride it sight unseen. It is far from ideal, but given our limitations we’ll do the best we can.

Stage 3: Sorrento – Marina di Ascea

The profile of this stage and where it falls in the tour means it could be perfect for the opportunists like Jens Keukeleire. A lot will depend on how the TTT unfolds the day before, but with second and third category climbs, it could be just hard enough to shed the pure sprinters.

Stage 4: Policastro – Serra San Bruno

In looking at the profile of this stage, I’d say it’s too difficult for our sprinters. There is a second category climb about 15 kilometres from the finish that will most likely reduce the size of the bunch for the finish or allow for a small break on the road to stay away.

Stage 5: Cosenza – Matera

This will be a great day for Gossy. The guys will need to be attentive early in the stage when the wind picks up to keep Gossy out of trouble. Coming into the finish there are a few small climbs that will soften the bunch, which is the kind of finish that suits us well.

Stage 6: Mola di Bari – Margherita di Savoia

The pure sprinters will most likely shine on this dead flat stage. To a degree, it could almost be too easy and better suited for other teams. That said, we’ll play our cards and won’t be content to let the race play out in front of us.

Stage 7: San Salvo – Pescara

Depending on how the GC is playing out at this point, it’s more than likely that a break will go down the road. It’s a really solid stage, a medium mountain day. I can envision us going on the attack further out and trying to ride the race really aggressively.

We’ll be down two guys because Svein and Luke, our time trial specialists, will try to rest up to a degree for tomorrow’s time trial. Anyone else would call a rest sitting in the lounge with his feet up, but to us it’s riding a 177 kilometre stage.

Stage 8: Gabicce Mare – Seltara (ITT)

The TT may look easy on paper, but it’s actually a solid stage. If the boys have good health when we arrive in Gabicce Mare, we should be in for a chance at a strong stage result.

Stage 9: Sansepolcro – Firenze

After yesterday’s time trial, the GC will have started to take shape. Most of the GC guys will have had a hard day in stage eight, so on a day like this a break is more likely to get to the finish. Pieter Weening will be our guy – he has shone on stages like this in the past, and hopefully he can shine again today.

Rest Day

Yes, a rest day is a great day. It’s a great day because it gives the guys a chance to sit back and assess how the tour has been going so far. We can address where we need to do things differently and ask ourselves if we have been under-achieving or over-achieving. In answering these questions, we will have a better idea of how to meet our goals in week two. Fatigue will be starting to set in at this point, so we have to take a hard look at how things are going because you can’t race hard every day for three weeks.

Stage 10: Cordenons – Montasio

On paper this looks like a stage where we can’t do much. It’s a really hard, high mountain day. Depending on how the first week has gone, this could be a stage for Pieter. At the same time, we can’t expect that every time the road picks up Pieter will be the guy. How we race today will very much depend on the first week. Maybe Jens Keukeleire has great climber legs, giving us another option in the mountains, and we end up riding for Pieter today and Jens in stage 11.

Stage 11: Tarviso - Vajont

Today is a medium mountain day. It might be easier than stage ten, but we will need to see how the boys are bouncing back. There is a major climb in the middle and a small kick to the finish. If Christian Meier hasn’t done too much work until this point, it could be a good day for him to go down the road in a break and get a result from a small group.

Stage 12: Longarone – Treviso
Stage 13: Busseto – Cherasco

For these two stages we will reassess how our sprint train is going and see where our priorities lie. On paper, stages 12 and 13 are ones where we have guys that can pull off a stage win.

Stage 14: Cervere – Bardonecchia
Stage 15: Cesana Torinese – Col du Galibier

Now we’ve got two high mountain days back to back, which are not ideally suited for us. Finishing on the Galibier on stage 15 is bloody hard. Naturally, the sprinters and their helpers will end up in the grupetto, and this is exactly what we want them to do. For guys like Christian and Jens, we may tell them to go as easy as possible to save as much energy as possible for other days when we really need them. It won’t matter if these guys finish 40th or 140th. The goal for these days will be to ride as ‘easy’ as possible in order to achieve a different goal on a day that suits us better.

Rest Day

Week three of a major stage race is a big thing. Everything can change from black to white between now and the end.

Stage 16: Valloire – Ivrea

Today could be a day for the opportunists but so much will depend on energy levels at this point. If we have the numbers, we have some good guys who can get over the last little pinch and pick up a result from a small group at the finish.

Stage 17: Caravaggio – Vincenza

This stage has a few lumps and bumps, which is more our cup of tea. A reduced bunch at the finish is good for us, but again we have to be patient to see how things pan out.

Stage 18: Mori – Polsa (ITT)

We’ve got time trial specialists but not necessarily anyone who will shine on an uphill time trial. Similar to stages 14 and 15, it may be a day when we tell the guys to ride within the limits - save it for another day when the stage really suits us.

Stage 19: Ponte di Legno – Val Martello
Stage 20: Silandro – Tre Cime di Lavaredo

These are the last two high mountain days of the tour. Again, they don’t ideally suit us, so we will have to assess how much energy the guys have left. In stages 18-20 the GC will be up for grabs so there will be really hard racing. We may just do our best to get through the mountains so we can fight for a win on the last stage.

Stage 21: Riese Pio X – Brescia

Finally, this is it. There would be no better way to finish the Giro than for the boys to throw their hands in the air at the stage finish in Brescia. No doubt, 100%, there will be a bunch sprint on this stage. We will have ‘saved’ our sprinters the best we can in the mountain stages for today. If we did that successfully, we will use all the resources we have left to go for the final stage win. 

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