The first Grand Tour of the season starts on Saturday, and Jack Houghton thinks Richie Porte might be the value bet, with a potential surprise-winner lurking deeper in the market...
"Richie Porte has been imperious this season, winning three stage-races, a host of other races, and topping the world rankings for a time."
It's now officially too long ago for me to mention my successful tipping of Ryder Hesjedal at [60.0] to win the Giro in 2012, so if I'm going to have a similar strap-line to underpin all my cycling predictions in the future, I'm going to have to create a new one this year.
Well if there's going to be a big-priced winner in 2015 it's most likely to be Ilnur Zakarin at around [30.0]. He surprised a star-studded field in the Tour de Romandie last week by taking overall honours, with a particularly impressive time trial which saw him finishing close to the imperious Tony Martin despite having to change bikes due to a mechanical issue.
Given this year's race contains the pivotal Stage 14 - the longest time trial, at 60km, to grace the Giro for a number of years - the winner will have to be someone who can perform against the clock, and Zakarin, despite being relatively unknown (he is only 25, and recently returned from a two-year drug suspension), might have the strongest claims in that department.
He doesn't, though, have as strong as support team as more established riders, and might be a better bet at around [8.0] in the Top 3 market.
The most established of those riders is the multiple Grand Tour winner Alberto Contador, who is reportedly aiming for a Giro-Tour double this year. He's had a solid-enough start to the season and has apparently recovered from injuries sustained at the Volta a Catalunya. He hasn't been seen competitively of late, instead focusing on his training in Tenerife, and probably deserves to head the market at around [2.0], but I'm not sure I'd want to be taking those odds given that his form remains partially in doubt.
Richie Porte probably represents the better value for overall victory at around [3.9]. He's been imperious this season, winning three stage-races, a host of other races, and topping the world rankings for a time. Given that inconsistency has been his weakness in the past - with one poor day often ending previous attempts at Grand Tour success - these recent results may herald a new dawn of reliability for Porte who, crucially, is both a better time trialer, and has a stronger team, than his rival Contador.
Elsewhere in the General Classification, it's hard to find much to get excited about. Rigoberto Uran ([10.0]), Domenico Pozzovivo ([50.0]) and Ryder Hesjedal ([100.0]) are all likely to have prominent days in the race, and could possibly cause an upset if the top two in the betting underperform, but they are very much bit-part players.
Fabio Aru, seen by many as the future of Italian cycling, burst onto the scene in the Giro last year and will be expected to make a bid for glory by the home crowd. However, I'll be looking to lay the young Italian at around [1.6] in the Young Rider Classification market, as he is recovering from a bout of dysentery, which has seen him shed 5kgs from an already emaciated frame. He's an unlikely finisher.
The Points and Mountain Classifications at the Giro look, as always, impossible to figure out, and are therefore markets to avoid at this stage. Instead, look to Andre Greipel and Luka Mezgec to fight out flat-stage finishes, with the latter likely to represent the best value.
Also watch out for Orica Green Edge in the opening Team Time Trial. They won the opening stage at last year's Giro and are well-placed for a repeat this time around.
Back Richie Porte at [3.9] in Winner market.
Back Ilnur Zakarin at [8.0] in Top 3 market.
Lay Fabio Aru at [1.6] in Young Rider Classification market.