The 90th edition of the Giro d?Italia follows a classic route with something for everybody during three weeks of racing.
After the opening 25.6km team time trial in Sardinia, there are flat stages in the south for sprinters like Alessandro Petacchi and Robbie McEwen, hilly stages for attackers like world champion Paolo Bettini, and then tough mountain stages in the final week for overall contenders such as Damiano Cunego, Gilberto Simoni, Paolo Savoldelli and Danilo Di Luca.
For only the second time, the Giro starts in Sardinia, with the opening 25.6km team time trial on the tiny island of La Maddalena at the northern tip of Sardinia to celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Italian patriot Giuseppe Garibaldi.
The two remaining stages in Sardinia should both finish in sprints before a transfer to Salerno near Naples and the first uphill finish at Montevergine di Mercogliano, where Damiano Cunego won in 2004.
After a week of hilly stages in central Italy, stage ten also ends with a climb overlooking Genoa but the real mountains begin three days later with the thirteenth stage through the Alps to Briancon in France. The stage includes the Colle dell?Agnello and the Col d?Izoard, before the dive down to the finish.
Time trial specialists are at a distinct disadvantage this year with only 81 kilometres of racing against the clock and the mid-race test is a mountain time trial to the Oropa Sanctuary, where Marco Pantani stormed to victory in the 1999 Giro.
Yet again the spectacular Dolomite mountains will provide the best racing with mountaintop finishes on stage 15 to Tre Cime di Lavaredo and on stage 17 to Monte Zoncolan. A new, steeper road has been discovered and resurfaced for the Giro and the 11.9% average gradient will mean riders will use compact chainsets and low gears on what is now considered the hardest climb ever used in a professional bike race.
The final 43km from Lake Garda to Verona will be a last chance for the weaker climbers to pull back time before the finish in Milan on June 3 but yet again the winner of the Giro is expected to be a climber, with Damiano Cunego (Lampre), Gilberto Simoni (Saunier Duval) now favourites.
www.cyclingweekly.com will be covering all of the action, with daily stage reports, photo galleries and exclusive news.
GIRO D’ITALIA: STAGES
Saturday May 12: stage one: Caprera-La Maddalena (team time trial) 25.6km
Sunday May 13: stage two: Tempio Pausania-Bosa 205km
Monday May 14: stage three: Barumini-Cagliari 181km
Tuesday May 15: rest day
Wednesday May 16: stage four: Salerno-Montevergine di Mercogliano 153km
Thursday May 17: stage five: Teano-Frascati 173km
Friday May 18: stage six: Tivoli-Spoleto 177km
Saturday May 19: stage seven: Spoleto-Scarperia 254km
Sunday May 20: stage 8: Barberino di Mugello-Fiorano Modenese 200km
Monday May 21: stage nine: Reggio Emilia-Lido di Camaiore 177km
Tuesday May 22: stage ten: Lido di Camaiore-Santuario Nostra Signora Della Guardia 250km
Wednesday May 23: stage 11: Serravalle Scrivia-Pinerolo 198km
Thursday May 24: stage 12: Scalenghe-Briancon (France) 163km
Friday May 25: stage 13: Biella-Santuario di Oropa (individual time trial) 12.6km
Saturday May 26: stage 14: Cantu-Bergamo 192km
Sunday May 27: stage 15: Trento-Tre Cime di Lavaredo 184km
Monday May 28: Rest day
Tuesday May 29: stage 16: Agordo-Lienz (Austria) 189km
Wednesday May 30: stage 17: Lienz (Austria)-Monte Zoncolan 142km
Thursday May 31: stage 18: Udine-Riese Pie X 203km
Friday June 1: stage 19: Treviso-Comano Terme 179km
Saturday June 2: stage 20: Bardolino-Verona (individual time trial) 43km
Sunday June 3: stage 21: Vestone-Milan, 181km