Team Sky’s squad for the 95th edition of the Giro d’Italia has been finalised and sees Mark Cavendish head up a formidable nine-man line-up.
The 26-year-old World Road Race Champion is set to make his fourth appearance in Italy’s biggest bike race and looking to add to his tally of seven stage wins.
Joining Cavendish are Bernhard Eisel, Juan Antonio Flecha, Sergio Henao, Peter Kennaugh, Ian Stannard, Ben Swift, Geraint Thomas and Rigoberto Urán.
Eisel (31) and Flecha (34) make the team on the back of strong Classics campaigns which saw them take podium places at E3 Harelbeke and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad respectively. The duo have amassed 27 Grand Tours between them and that experience will aid the team greatly in their drive for success.
Kennaugh (22) and Swift (24) are returning to the road after their gold medal-winning performances at the World Track Championships along with the ever-impressive Thomas (25), who backed up his team pursuit win in Melbourne with a victory for Team Sky in the opening prologue at the Tour de Romandie. Stannard (24) is the fifth British rider and will play a vital team role, just as he did in the Classics.
Colombian duo Henao (24) and Urán (25) round out the squad and both will be aiming to impress in the mountains.
The action gets under way in the Danish town of Herning on Saturday 5 May and culminates in Milan on Sunday 27 May.
Cavendish is looking forward to making his mark in the race, having picked up four wins already in 2012 - Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne plus stage successes at the Tour of Qatar (two) and Tirreno-Adriatico.
He said: “The Giro is one of my favourite races of the season and I’m very happy to be riding it. We’ve got a good squad to go and win stages. Geraint, Pete and Swifty have just come off the track so they should have that explosive power which will be important in the first week, and the rest of the team have all done well in the Classics.
“We want to win the team time trial as well and hopefully that will get us the pink jersey. If we could achieve that it would be a massive honour for the team.
“It should be a really good three weeks because we’re all friends and have a good understanding on the road. The Tour de Romandie has allowed me to get some miles in the legs so come the start in Denmark I’ll be raring to go.”
Thomas will be one of the men trying to help Cavendish get off to a fast start as well as making his own mark in the prologue following his victory in the opening time trial at Romandie recently. He explained: “I’m really looking forward to the Giro, especially as I haven’t ridden a great deal on the road this season. I took part in the race once before in 2008 and found it to be a lot less stressful than the Tour de France. The atmosphere is fantastic and Italy is a special country to ride in.
“Starting in Denmark should also be interesting and I will be motivated to ride a good prologue. Then I’ll be looking to help Cav in the sprints and getting stuck in with the team time trial. The last week looks hard but I can’t wait to get going.”
And Swift’s versatility should also be in evidence as he makes his return to Italy, saying: “The Giro will always be a special race for me because it was the first Grand Tour I rode back in 2009 and I lived in Italy whilst on the British Academy. I’ve always had a good relationship with the Italian fans too and they are very knowledgeable and passionate about cycling.
“My main job will be helping Cav but if an opportunity arises for a stage win myself I'll definitely try and take it, whether that's in a sprint or from a breakaway. It's going to be a great experience starting in Denmark and there should be plenty of chances for Team Sky to show what we can do.”
The man in charge of tactics for the three weeks of the race is Sports Director Steven de Jongh and he’s delighted with the balance of his nine-man team, saying: “We have a very strong squad here which we feel can be competitive on several fronts. In Mark Cavendish we have the fastest sprinter in the world and he will be looking to get some stage wins under his belt as quickly as possible.
“The team time trial is another big target of ours and we’ll definitely be looking to show what we can do there as well.
“Once the race hits the mountains Rigoberto and Sergio will become our focus and if Rigo can continue the good form he showed over the spring then he is more than capable of achieving a high placing in the General Classification.”