MILAN - Nairo Quintana is attempting to do what Alberto Contador couldn't. The Colombian is bidding to become the first rider since Marco Pantani in 1998 to win the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France in the same year.
Contador had the same aim two years ago but finished fifth in the Tour after winning the Giro. Quintana's challenge begins Friday when the 100th edition of the Giro starts on the island of Sardinia.
"We have never taken such a gamble before, yet we feel we're on the right path to success, training adequately to peak at both of them," the 27-year-old Quintana said.
"I'm confident, since I've contested the win in two Grand Tours on the same year - I didn't won both, but I've made the podium, come close or even won one of the two. Plus, it's exciting to chase the win in the 100th edition, it makes it even more attractive.
"And I feel like I've improved my body resistance and become more mature through the last year. That's why I think it's time for me to go after it, since my physical conditions are still decent. Some other riders go for it at the end of their careers - I want to have a try now that I'm still young."
Quintana won the Giro the only time he competed in it, in 2014, and the climbing specialist has finished on the podium all three times he's taken part in the Tour with two runner-up positions and one third place. He also won the Spanish Vuelta last year.
Quintana won in Italy earlier this year, in the Tirreno-Adriatico, while he finished first and second in two Spanish races.
"Two overall victories, with a stage win in each, and all of my teammates' performances as well as mine have been satisfactory," Quintana said. "We couldn't have asked for more before the Grand Tours and we hope to continue with that streak in the Giro.
"The whole team is making history and the achievements we've got early this season will be hard to improve in the future for this group."
For Quintana, there is one rival that stands out: Italian cyclist Vincenzo Nibali, who will lead the new Bahrain-Merida team.
"This is his race, he's at home, it's the 100th Giro," Quintana said. "He's sure to reach the start in very good shape, and with his team racing it together for the first time, they'll certainly want to make their mark.
"The other main contenders have pretty much equal chances, and we shouldn't rule out anyone."
The race sets off from the port town of Alghero on an undulating 203-kilometer (126-mile) route along the island's northern coast to Olbia.
There are then two more stages in Sardinia before a rest day to transfer to Sicily. Stage 4 starts in the coastal town of Cefalu and features the race's first uphill finish on the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna — where Nibali is hoping to claim the leader's pink jersey and ride with it into his hometown the following day.
"That's a very dangerous route because it's a real climb, which comes after just three stages," Nibali said. "Taking the pink jersey on that day, and then taking it to Messina would be fantastic. Even if the weight of the race will fall again on the whole team after just a few stages."
The 32-year-old Nibali is aiming to make it a hat trick of victories in his home Grand Tour.
Nibali is the only rider in this year's Giro to have won the trophy twice — in 2013 and 2016 — and the defending champion has built his season with the sole aim of equaling Bernard Hinault, the last triple winner of the Italian race.
Hinault claimed his last victory in 1985.
To celebrate the 100th edition, the race will visit all but four of Italy's 20 regions, while it will also include many of the iconic climbs from the Giro's history, including a finish at Oropa in the northwest region of Piedmont, where Marco Pantani won in 1999, and two ascents in a single stage of the high-altitude Stelvio Pass, near the Swiss border.
That stage, the 16th leg, begins with an ascent of the steep and narrow Mortirolo. The climb will be a tribute to Michele Scarponi, who died last month at the age of 37 after a collision with a van while training near his home.
Scarponi will also be honored at other moments during the race, while the caravan will observe a minute's silence before the flag off. The Astana team he was supposed to lead will be on the front line of the bunch for the very first part of the course.
The Giro ends on May 28 with a 28-kilometer (17.4 mile) individual time trial from Monza's Formula One track to Milan's cathedral.