While much of the attention in Britain is on Bradley Wiggins, cycling fans are getting ready for the first of the year’s three Grand Tours – the Giro d’Italia. Covering almost 3,500km, the 95th edition sees a number of leading cyclists looking to hold the coveted ‘Maglia Rosa’ when the race finishes in Milan on 27th May.
Last year saw Michele Scarponi be awarded the title after Alberto Contador’s failed appeal against his drug ban. However, the Italian has announced that he wants to win the title on the road this year, rather than after the suspension of a rival (9/4 Michele Scarponi to win Giro d’Italia). After finishing fourth in 2010 and second behind Contador in 2011, he is a strong favourite to clinch the overall victory.
However, his fellow countryman and two-time winner, Ivan Basso, will be looking to snatch the win and join the elite group of riders to have won the race three times or more, which includes legends such as Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merckx (5/1 Ivan Basso to win Giro d’Italia). He had a wretched start to the season, but he has declared himself pleased with his form during the Tour of Romandie and is hopeful of challenging for the title.
Frank Schleck was not originally expected to race in the Giro, but has come in to replace the injured Jakob Fuglsang, and will now be looking to capture his first Grand Tour title (12/1 Frank Schleck to win Giro d’Italia). He will lead the team here, rather than acting as a teammate for his brother as he often has in the Tour de France, and it opens up the possibility of a Schleck double in the Giro and the Tour.
Meanwhile, the Giro’s first stage is an 8.7km individual time trial through the streets of the Danish city of Herning. After his impressive victory in last week’s time trial, Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas is the strong favourite to win the stage, and become only the fourth British rider to wear the Maglia Rosa (2/1 Geraint Thomas to win Stage 1).
However, there are a host of riders that will be looking to upset the favourite. Chief amongst them is the young American, Taylor Phinney, who has already stated that he is targeting this stage (7/2 Taylor Phinney to win Stage 1). The local support will be for the Dane, Alex Rasmussen, who is a multiple time track world champion, and a time trial specialist (8/1 Alex Rasmussen to win Stage 1).
The most intriguing option for the first stage is the leader of Team Sky, Mark Cavendish. Although not usually known as a time-trial rider, this stage is potentially short enough that he could be a threat as he showed with his third-placed finish in the Tour of Romandie time trial last week (18/1 Mark Cavendish to win Stage 1). Cavendish will be targeting the red jersey for the points competition, but a good performance in the first stage would be a boost ahead of a busy few months for the reigning world champion.