Milan – The Italian Grand Tour ends on June 1 in the northeastern port city of Trieste, and there are a number of potential winners.
The Giro has several compelling stages, including the return of the gruelling Stelvio climb after it was cancelled in 2013 due to bad weather.
Here are five things to know about this year’s race:
As has become tradition every other year, the Giro d’Italia will start outside Italy. However, this is the first time that the Grande Partenza – or the Big Start – will take place outside of mainland Europe, with Belfast the departure point.
The Giro begins with a time time trial in Belfast. The city is also the start and finish point for Saturday’s 218km leg, which takes in picturesque rock formation, the Giant’s Causeway.
The following day starts in Armagh before crossing the border into the Republic of Ireland and finishing in Dublin.
Pink banners, bunting and flags have been put up to match the colour of the leader’s jersey, while public buildings have been illuminated with pink projections and even sheep have been painted.
Defending champion Vincenzo Nibali, 2008 winner Alberto Contador, reigning Tour de France winner Chris Froome and his Sky teammate Bradley Wiggins are all skipping the Italian classic to focus on this year’s Tour de France. Richie Porte also had to pull out of Sky’s squad due to a lack of form and illness.
Two of the favourites – Tour runner-up Nairo Quintana and Spanish rider Joaquin Rodriguez – have never won a Grand Tour.
Australian’s Cadel Evans – the 2011 Tour de France winner who finished third in last year’s Giro d'Italia – is also among the list of potential winners following his impressive victory at the Giro del Trentino.
“We’ve got a strong team backing me and I hope to do well,” Evans said. “We'll see how the legs go against the other guys before saying how much I like the route.
“But the route is hard, the Giro is always the hardest Grand Tour route. There are a lot of mountain finishes and I know I’ve got to be up there for three weeks and be good in the mountain time trial and individual time trial too.”
An Irish cyclist is unlikely to emerge triumphant from this year’s Giro d'Italia, but there are a couple keen to impress on home turf.
Two relatives of Irish cycling great Stephen Roche are riding in the race although Roche doesn’t expect either, son Nicolas or nephew Dan Martin, to emulate his 1987 victory.
“Nicolas or Dan are both quite capable of finishing in the first five,” Roche said. “To go into the top three is also possible, but from there on it’ll be very difficult.
“Dan is quite capable of just switching it on some day and getting a stage win, whereas Nicolas concentrates so much for the GC (general classification), he misses out sometimes on good opportunities. Nicolas could do a top five and maybe get a stage win. I would put my money on Dan for a stage win.”
DO YOU KNOW YOUR HISTORY?
The Giro d’Italia first took place in 1909, and was the brainchild of struggling Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport’s desire to increase sales.
It was following on from L’Auto’s organisation of the Tour de France and was eager to beat rival paper Corriere della Sera, which was also planning to create a cycling race around Italy.
Gazzetta dello Sport continues to organise and sponsor the Giro, and its link with the prestigious race is the reason for the association with the colour pink as the newspaper is printed on pink paper.
The 1909 race featured eight stages with an average distance of more than 300km, compared with the 183km average stage length this year. Some 115 cyclists crossed the finish line out of 115 starters in 1909. The first edition was decided on points and won by Luigi Ganna. Had it been a time-based event, Giovanni Rossignoli – who finished fourth – would have won, while Ganna would have been third.
This year’s race is dedicated to Marco Pantani on the 10th anniversary of the Italian climber’s death.
FACTS AND FIGURES
The route covers more than 3 200km, with 427.6km of it spent in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
There are 21 stages and three rest days. This year’s Giro is seen as balanced, with three time trials, eight finishes for sprinters and nine hilly or mountain stages.
The Giro has been won by an Italian 68 times. Four previous winners are competing in this edition: Italians Michele Scarponi, Ivan Basso and Damiano Cunego and Canadian Ryder Hesjedal. – Sapa-AP