It is 12 years since a foreign rider won the Giro d?Italia, but Astana?s last-gasp admission to the race threatens to upset that run of home dominance.
Since Russian Pavel Tonkov?s victory in 1996, the Giro has been won by Italian riders.
The tifosi still harbour hopes of seeing one of their own triumph, either with the old warrior Gilberto Simoni, defending champion Danilo Di Luca or one of the young guns Riccardo Ricco and Vincenzo Nibali.
Damiano Cunego?s decision to skip the Giro in order to focus on the Tour de France weakens the home challenge considerably, particularly given his form in the Ardennes Classics last month.
In common with recent years the route is demanding, much harder than the challenges offered by the other two grand tours. The mountain stages towards the end of the Giro are brutal.
The race kicks off on Saturday (May 10) with a team time trial in Palermo, on the island of Sicily. The following day?s stage will bring back memories of the 1994 World Championships, held on the island. It?s uncompromising countryside and certainly won?t fall into the lap of the sprinters.
In fact, there aren?t many clear-cut chances for the sprinters, who must have been buoyed by the news of Alessandro Petacchi?s suspension for taking a puff too many on his asthma inhaler.
Stage three to Milazzo, stage four at Catanzaro and stage nine to San Vincenzo should offer the bunch sprinters a chance but all feature tricky little hills in the final 30 kilometres which will shell out a few.
Stage five to Contursi Termi is the first day the general classification contenders have to be wide awake. They hit the hills and finish on a nasty drag up to Contursi Terme. Stage six to Peschici is a beast. A whopping 265 kilometres and lumpy all the way. If the wind blows in off the coast, they?ll be in for a very long day in the saddle.
If that doesn?t deaden the legs stage seven to Pescocostanzo will. The final climb isn?t the steepest but it?s nine kilometres long.
The Pesaro to Urbino time trial on stage 10 is made for the powerful riders against the clock. It?s not a pure test because of the two hills on the 39-kilometre route, but the finale drags up all the way.
If Mark Cavendish is going to win one, stage 12 to Carpi and stage 13 to Citadella are the ones he?ll single out in the roadbook. They are both flat, devoid of the tricky hills in the closing stages, and on the short side.
Then it?s into the mountains. Stage 14 is an uphill finish at Alpe de Pampeago. Stage 15 is a monster, with the Pordoi, San Pellegrino, Giau and Falzarego passes on the menu before the arrival at the top of the vicious Marmolada.
Stage 16 is the keenly-anticipated mountain time trial to the Plan de Corones ? as long as it doesn?t snow. The mountain was on the menu two years ago but the weather was bad and the stage was shortened. Strategically this is a very important stage but it?s risky to pin everything on this day in case it gets cut.
After a couple of days of respite, it?s back into the mountains for the stage 19 climb to Presolana. It?s a 228-kilometre stage that climbs and descends in quick succession for the final 50 kilometres. Stage 20 sees the return of the Gavia and the Mortirolo, then the climb of Aprica, which is relatively tame in comparison, before a downhill run to Tirano.
And if the race is still in the balance, there?s the final time trial to Milan to sort it all out but, after all that climbing, it would be a bold fan to predict a nail-biting finale.
We’ll be covering the 2008 Giro d’Italia in full here on www.cyclingweekly.com, with stage reports, results, photos, comment, interviews and analysis.
|GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: THE STAGES|
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|One||Saturday May 10||Palermo||Palermo||23.6km TTT|
|Two||Sunday May 11||Cefalu||Agrigento||207km|
|Three||Monday May 12||Catania||Milazzo||221 km|
|Four||Tuesday May 13||Maggio Pizzo Calabro||Catanzaro||183 km|
|Five||Wednesday May 14||Belvedere Marittimo||Contursi Terme||203 km|
|Six||Thursday May 15||Potenza||Peschici||265 km|
|Seven||Friday May 16||Vasto||Pescocostanzo||180 km|
|Eight||Saturday May 17||Rivisondoli||Tivoli||208 km|
|Nine||Sunday May 18||Civitavecchia||San Vincenzo||218 km|
|10||Tuesday May 20||Pesaro||Urbino ITT||39.4km|
|11||Wednesday May 21||Urbania||Cesena||199 km|
|12||Thursday May 22||Forli||Carpi||172 km|
|13||Friday May 23||Modena||Cittadella||192 km|
|14||Saturday May 24||Verona||Alpe di Pempeago||195 km|
|15||Sunday May 25||Arabba||Passo Fedaia/Marmolada||153 km|
|16||Monday May 26||San Vigilio di Marebbe||Plan de Corones||12.9km ITT|
|17||Wednesday May 28||Sondrio||Locarno||146 km|
|18||Thursday May 29||Mendrisio||Varese||147 km|
|19||Friday May 30||Legnano||Presolana||228 km|
|20||Saturday May 31||Rovetta||Tirano||224 km|
|21||Sunday June 1||Cesano Maderno||Milano||28.5 km ITT|
|GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: THE TEAMS|
Team leaders named in brackets
AG2R-LA MONDIALE (Valjavec, Nocentini)
BARLOWORLD (Soler, Gasparotto, Cummings, Thomas)
CAISSE D’EPARGNE (Karpets, J. Rodriguez, Rujano)
COFIDIS (Nuyens, Verbrugghe)
CSF GROUP-NAVIGARE (Sella, Richeze, Laverde)
DIQUIGIOVANNI-ANDRONI (Simoni, Hondo, Nardello)
EUSKALTEL EUSKADI (Landaluze)
FRANCAISE DES JEUX (Le Boulanger)
GEROLSTEINER (Rebellin, Forster, Fothen)
HIGH ROAD (Cavendish, Pinotti)
LAMPRE (Bruseghin, Lorenzetto)
LIQUIGAS (Bennati, Nibali, Pellizotti, Wegelius)
LPR BRAKES (Di Luca, Savoldelli)
QUICK STEP (Bettini, Garate, Visconti)
RABOBANK (Menchov, Brown)
SAUNIER DUVAL-SCOTT (Riccò, Piepoli)
SLIPSTREAM (Backstedt, Millar, Vandevelde, Zabriskie)
TEAM CSC (McGee, Voigt, O’Grady)
TEAM MILRAM (Zabel, Astarloa)
TINKOFF CREDIT SYSTEMS (Petrov, Brutt, Ignatiev, Mazzanti)
GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: NEWS
Cavendish: This is my biggest win [stage four]
Millar celebrates Slipstream Giro d’Italia success
Bettini looking for final Giro glory
Astana’s troubled build-up to the Giro
Petacchi banned for Salbutamol positive
Yates and Astana make last minute rush to Giro
GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: PHOTOS
Giro d’Italia 2008: Photo gallery. New photos added daily
GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: FEATURES
Giro Britannia: how the Brits are doing in Italy
Giro d’Italia 2008 preview
Giro d’Italia 2008: who will win?
Giro d’Italia 2008: The British are coming
Giro d’Italia on Eurosport: TV schedule