Specialized head to the Giro d'Italia
With both teams at the top of the official World Tour team rankings, and boasting a combined total of 33 race wins, it comes as no surprise to see Specialized top the unofficial best bike brand competition for 2018. Can they add to this tally at the first Grand Tour of the season? Form and momentum would certainly suggest so…
The Key Stages
The 2018 edition of the Giro d’Italia will no doubt be remembered for traversing unknown Grand Tour territory – heading to Israel for three, snappy stages and one of the most unique Grand Departs in decades.
The opening stage will take place in the historic city of Jerusalem: a short but undulating 9.7km individual time trial. With a mix of long drags and twisty bends, this is a course that suits both the time trialling purists and those opportunists packing an early race punch. The stage is set for Rohan Dennis to take the first maglia rosa, but the Quick-Step youngster, Maximilian Schachmann, could push the Aussie close, the German displaying some electric form in the recent Ardennes classics.
The first notable stage on the Italian mainland doesn’t fall until stage 6 when the riders will travel from Caltanissetta to the infamous Mt Etna. If the threat of a dormant volcano doesn’t provide the incentive for riders to fly up this climb, the GC stakes on offer certainly will. Look out for Bora-Hansgrohe’s climbing sensations, Patrick Konrad and Davide Formolo who will be eager to throw themselves into the GC fight early on.
Stage 9 comes just before the first rest day, an arduous 225km mountain stage lies in wait for the riders, a double climb capping off what is expected to be a hellish day in the saddle. The second week is stacked with four stages that serve up opportunities for breakaways and bunch sprints, before the climb to the almighty Monte Zoncolan on stage 14. The crowning jewel of this year’s Giro d’Italia, the Zoncolan is lying in wait to claim its victims before the race reaches its summit.
Stage 16 kicks off the business end of the race with a flat 34.2km individual time trial. Both Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin will rejoice upon witnessing this stage’s Parcours, but will they be able to slash the gaps the mountain goats may well have built up in the high mountains?
From the finish of stage 18 and the category 1 climb to Pratonevoso, and the finale of stage 20’s uphill drag to Cervinia, the mountains will cease to relent; the Cima Coppi on the unpaved upper slopes of the Colle Delle Finestre and five further cat.1 climbs littering the route. Fatigue, pain and exhaustion will no doubt run rife throughout the peloton across these stages, but if they can make it to summit in Cervinia, they’ll be treated to a flat, 115km customary ceremonial stage around the streets of Rome, a gift from the Giro organisers to the exhausted riders.
Riders to Watch
As the first Grand Tour of the season, a wealth of talent graces the start-line in Jerusalem, from defending champions and multiple Grand Tour winners, to young and budding debutants eager to take the fight to the favourites.
For the overall classification, the stage is set for an epic duel between 2017 Giro winner, Tom Dumoulin, and 2017 Tour and Vuelta conquerer, Chris Froome. Both come to this race with a similar game-plan – storm the time trials and hang on in the mountains – but its their teams that differ massively; Team Sky stacked to the rafters with super-domestiques while Team Sunweb are left feeling relatively light in terms of assistance for their team leader, not that the big Dutchman really needed their help last May.
Their main competition will come from the pure climbers and mountain goats – Astana boasting a roster full of these specialist riders. The Kazakh-based team will be backing their youngster, Miguel Angel Lopez, and will focus on ambush-style attacks to snatch the maglia rosa off the shoulders of Lopez’s competitors. Other mountain-men, eager to attack at high altitude, include Bora Hansgrohe’s Davide Formolo and Patrick Konrad, as well as recent Tour of the Alps winner – Thibaut Pinot.
In the sprints, it would be tough to look past the impressive roster of Quick-Step Floors – the Belgian outfit boasting Elia Viviani, the ‘Sprint King’ of 2018, as their team leader. Aboard their Specialized Tarmacs and Venges, machines dialled in for optimum speeds and aerodynamics in hectic bunch sprints, Quick-Step look set to continue their run of domination, Viviani likely cruising to a handful of stage wins in his home race. Bora-Hansgrohe, also aboard Specialized bikes, may push Viviani close – their speedy Irishman, Sam Bennett, destined for a stage win in this Grand Tour.
The Specialized set-up
As bike set-up becomes more and more important, riders are sending more and more time with team mechanics, ensuring every single component is dialled in for the ride ahead.
So far in 2018, the majority of Specialized’s wins have come aboard the S-Works Tarmac, with the Giro bearing even more fruit for the company’s first-choice frame. Viviani and his sprint-oriented team will be opting for the fastest possible set-up for the sprint stages, likely swapping the Tarmac all-rounder for the wind-slicing Venge Vias on the pan-flat stages 12 and 13 at the very least. With every tube and trailing edge on this frame optimised for speed, rivals of Viviani and Bennett will be hard-pressed to overhaul them. Fast-rolling Roval CLX 50 wheels wrapped with slick, S-Works Turbo Road tubeless tyres provide optimal kit for flying fast in the Giro bunch sprints.
As the race hits the high mountains, both Quick-Step Floors and Bora-Hansgrohe will transition to lighter wheelsets, opting for Roval CLX 32s on their S-Works Ultralight climbing. The S-Works Tarmac frame has been proven to be an extremely versatile piece of kit and will no doubt provide the base of each rider’s set-up throughout the 21 stages.
We think you’ll agree that Specialized has had a pretty epic start to the 2018 season, the Giro d’Italia promising even more success for our sponsored teams. Look out for the marine blue of Quick-Step in the sprints, and the turquoise and black livery of Bora as the race heads to the high mountains. This is going to be a mega Grand Tour for the Specialized camp!
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