Euskaltel afront the first Grand Tour of the year with a team laden with climbers, three debutants and a leader with questionable form. Last year aside, the Giro's never been easy on the team, and this year promises to be no different. Here's the five things Euskaltel need to do (and not to do) to make the Giro d'Italia 2012 one to remember:
1) Stay vigilant in Denmark.
The Giro might not be the Tour de France, but the first few days of a Grand Tour is always chaotic - especially when they'll be racing on flat roads in Denmark. Another broken collarbone for Amets Txurruka, a bruised-up Iván Velasco or injuries to any of the three debutants is the last thing the team needs to begin a three-week tour with. Alas, don't take risks in the opening-day time trial, stay near the front on the remaining two days, and watch out for road furniture. It's vital the team stays pretty close in the peloton in the last 50 clicks.
2) Choose the breaks carefully.
Getting publicity, being protagonists and all that is fine, but there's no need to chase breaks on days destined for a sprint finish. There's bigger fish to fry further down the line, and I'd rather see the riders lay low the first week and start getting into potential stage-winning breaks once the mountains are on the menu. I can picture myself the debutants, particularly the ever-aggressive Adrián Sáez, will do their utmost to figure in a day-long break early on to merit their inclusion, but there's really no need to go for broke on every single stage. Pick out a few stages, make a plan, stick to the plan.
3) Take good care of Nieve - he deserves it.
If Nieve is in better shape than most seem to expect, or gets into shape during the first week, he's got what it takes to fight for a top five overall. Make no mistake about his talent. A Giro without a clear-cut favourite like Contador, Evans, Menchov or Nibali might also play into Nieve's hands, as he might be allowed to slip off the front on a stage or two if no one team is keen on taking control. If he ends up losing a lot of time early on, there's always the possibility of going for a stage later on. Anyway, he's become a pretty safe bet in Grand Tours over the last few years, so he's worth protecting.
4) Let Jon Izagirre do what he wants.
Easy. If he feels like getting into a break, be it in the mountains or on the flats, let him do it. If he feels like chilling out, okay. He might well turn out to be the "discovery" of this race, and will be a dangerous man on every terrain. His sports directors know exactly what this guy is capable of and will treat him accordingly. Lest not forget this is his maiden three-week race, so he might need time to adapt, but he'll deliver.
5) Stay out of the sprints.
There's no need to risk any high-speed crashes or anything like that when you haven't got a chance to win, so they'd do wise to let the sprinters do what they do best. Alone. It'll be chaotic enough anyway.