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SANREMO, Italy (VN) — André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) is sprint star number one in the Giro d’Italia, starting Saturday on the Italian Riviera, with cycling’s other big-name speedsters racing elsewhere.
Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick-Step), Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin), Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), and Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) all decided to skip the Giro in favor of the Tour de France.
“Don’t ask me why,” Greipel said of the missing sprinters.
“There are good ones here. We have Sacha Modolo [Lampre-Merida], Alessandro Petacchi [Southeast], Luka Mezgec [Giant-Alpecin], who is in good form and climbed well in the Tour de Romandie, and you can’t count out Michael Matthews [Orica-GreenEdge].”
Petacchi won six stages and the green jersey in the Tour de France, and zipped all over Italy to collect 22 Giro victories in his 14 race starts. In 2015, however, the 41-year-old is the race’s oldest competitor. His last Giro win came in 2011.
Italian Modolo and Slovenian Mezgec have yet to reach the same star status that ‘The Gorilla’ Greipel carries with his two Giro stage victories, four in the Vuelta a España, and six from the Tour.
Australian Michael Matthews is rising quickly. Last year, he helped his team win the time trial in Belfast and took the pink jersey the next day in stage two. He carried it for six days and sprinted to win the uphill finish in Montecassino.
Greipel and Matthews plan to race both the Giro and Tour this year, but their rivals are following different paths to the Tour.
After an exhausting 2013 season, Cavendish skipped the 2014 Giro and decided to do the same again in 2015 to focus on adding more Tour victories to his already impressive haul of 25. Sagan came off a demanding classics campaign and took a break. At the Amgen Tour of California, he’ll rebuild toward the Tour, where he won three green jerseys.
Kittel and Bouhanni both raced the 2014 Giro. Kittel won the first two sprint stages before abandoning and leaving the door open for Bouhanni to take home three victories.
A virus wiped out Kittel so far this season, but he hopes to return in time for the Tour de France. On Thursday, he withdrew from the Tour of California. Last year, he was sprinter number one with four stage wins. Bouhanni was forced to miss the race, with team FDJ focused on Arnaud Démare. Now with team Cofidis, he is planning his season around his home race.
That leaves few sprinters for the Giro d’Italia, this year running from May 9 to 31, which has seven possible sprint stages on offer.
“I gladly wanted to return to Giro d’Italia after racing the Tour of Belgium four times,” Greipel said. He hasn’t raced the Giro since 2010.
“This year, I’m focused on quality over quantity. The Giro always has a special place for me with my first grand tour win in 2008.”
With the lack of big guns, the door is propped open for other riders like Spaniard JJ Lobato (Movistar) and Italians Elia Viviani (Sky) and Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Factory Racing). As Greipel did in 2008, they could win their first grand tour stage in this 2015 Giro.
After a team time trial Saturday in Sanremo, the race should see its first sprint finish Sunday in Genoa.