Ordinarily, the 96th running of the Giro del Piemonte wouldnâ€™t warrant a preview of its own, but this yearâ€™s edition of the Italian semi-classic offers several interesting plot lines.Â Hereâ€™s a brief rundown of what to watch:
1. Philippe Gilbert won last yearâ€™s race, the third event of his Sabatini-Paris-Tours-Piemonte-Lombardia grand slam.Â Winless so far this October, Gilbert would certainly appreciate at least one victory to show for his late-season efforts.Â But without Cadel Evans at his side, will the Belgian have the firepower to escape in a race that often comes down to a sprint?Â Omega Pharma-Lotto might be better off putting their eggs in Van Avermaetâ€™s basket.
2. Coincidentally, Van Avermaetâ€™s bound for BMC next year, the current home of Gilbertâ€™s former Lombardy Week lieutenant, Cadel Evans.Â Evans rode impressively at Worlds ten days ago.Â Heâ€™s a contender for what would be his first victory without the rainbow jersey.
3. And speaking of Worlds, Piemonte will be our first (and second-to-last chance) to see Cerveloâ€™s Thor Hushovd in his new striped shirt this season.Â If he has managed to maintain the fitness that saw him take win World title in Australia, we might not wait long to see the new champâ€™s first victory.
4. As for Filippo Pozzato, heâ€™s faced much criticism following sub-par performances the past two Sundays.Â With many singling-out the Italian for his race-negating tactics, Piemonte could be Pippoâ€™s best chance to prove everyone wrong.Â His in-form teammate, Alexandre Kolobnev, wonâ€™t be racing, so heâ€™ll have his teamâ€™s full support.Â Can he silence his doubters?
5. Garminâ€™s Dan Martin is one of the hottest riders in the bunch following his impressive August and second-place in Saturdayâ€™s Giro dell Emilia.Â A solid ride Thursday and the young Irishman will cement his place on the list of favorites for Saturdayâ€™s monument.
6. And finally, Liquigasâ€™ Daniele Bennati takes the line hoping to earn his third Piemonte victory (he won in 2006 and 2008).Â The Italian was disappointed to have been left home for Worldsâ€”even after he was one of a handful of men personally selected by Paolo Bettini to make a mid-season reconnaissance trip.Â Heâ€™ll have a chance Thursday to send a message to those who felt his absence was warranted.Â After all, revenge is a dish best served with fresh grated parmesan.
And my picks?
Gilbert, Evans, and Martin will do their best to break things upâ€”perhaps with some help from Pozzato.Â But in the end, I think weâ€™ll see a small group hit the line together, with Hushovd getting his first win as World Champion over Bennati, Breschel, and Van Avermaet.
What about you?Â Who are your picks for Thursday?
Share your comments below.