The race looks to be between just two riders if you look at the cycling betting, but there are plenty of riders waiting in the wings who could spoil their party.
Giro D'Italia 2016
May 6th to May 29th, 3486km
The Classics have come and gone, the prep races are done and dusted – it’s time for the first Grand Tour of the year in the Giro D’Italia – the Tour of Italy. It is the 99th edition of the race and the organisers have presented an exciting, challenging and tough three weeks of racing, which kicks off in the Netherlands on Friday May the 6th. If you're still figuring how to bet on cycling, read our how-to guide in order to cash in from this race!
Yes, that’s right, the Tour of Italy starts in the town of Apledoorn in the Netherlands with a 9.8km opening time trial. It's followed by two more flat stages in the Netherlands which should end in sprints, but could potentially be split by crosswinds in the open Dutch lowlands. It's the twelfth time that the race has started outside of Italy, with the ever-growing popularity of the Grand Tours and the appetite to take the races to an ever-wider audience, and plenty of cities around Europe are willing to pay up for the honour of hosting stages of the biggest races.
It's a varied course this year with something for everyone, including three time trials, seven medium mountain stages, four high mountain stages and potentially seven sprint stages. The opening time trial (not prologue!) is a flat and pretty straightforward event around the urban streets of Apledoorn. The race is starting on a Friday in order to allow the riders a rest day following the long transfer back to Italy after stage 3.
They couldn't have gone much further south though, as stage 4 starts in Catanzaro on the Tuesday on the 'sole' of the 'boot' of Italy. The rest of the route sees them head northwards through central Italy, taking in some hilly days in the Apennines before looping right over to the Dolomites and back left to finish in the Alps.
The first summit finish comes on stage 6 with a tough finish to Roccaraso, and it, together with the 40.4km 'Chianti Classico' time trial on stage 9 through the vineyards of the Chianti region should see the first major moves in the race by the GC hopefuls.
They continue northwards, heading east to the Dolomites, with stage ten looking particularly challenging and one for aggressive racing with lots of hills, including two inside the last 30kms and an uphill finish to the ski station in Sestola. Stage 11 and 12 look like being sprint stages, but 11 has two hills to get over in the last 10kms before they can sprint for the win.
Stage 13 is a tough '4-star' stage that runs close to the border with Slovenia, with four categorised climbs, including the climb of the Valle which is just 13kms from the end, followed by a 6.4km flat run to the finish. Stage 14 to Corvara, the ‘Queen Stage’ is a horrible stage, with six categorised climbs, including the 70km ascent to the top of Passo Pordoi, the Passo Campolongo, the Passo Giau and Passo Valparola before the descent to the finish in Corvara.
Stage 15 gives no respite to the riders as it's a 10.8km 'Cronoscalata' or mountain time trial. It starts flat for 2kms, but then kicks up and rises at 8.7% for the next 9kms, hitting 11% in parts. Stage 16 is lumpy and takes them over the Mendelpass, but it's a short punchy stage at 133kms and looks made for a breakaway, Stage 17 and 18 are much longer but should be stages for the sprinters left in the race as they head towards Lombardy and the Alps. Stage 19 is another brute with the 70km ascent up to the Colle delle Agnello, at 2744m high, the Cima Coppi prize for the highest point in the race. The descent down the other side takes them in to France and a final climb up to Risoul.
If the race is still undecided, stage 20 to Sant' Anna di Vanadio is sure to shake things up for one last time, with another brutal day in the mountains, with a second climb in two days that breaches 2,700m in the Col de la Bonette and the 20km ascent of the Colle Della Lombarda. The final stage is a short and easy run to Torino where they do eight laps of the finishing circuit before a likely sprint.
At 3,383kms it is just under 100kms shorter than last year’s race and it's unusual with regards to the format of recent Grand Tours with three time trials in total, with a nasty uphill one included in the mix.
This year's race though seems to have fallen well short in terms of attracting the top GT riders in the world, with Nibali probably fourth in the list at best behind Froome, Quintana and Contador. His biggest challengers look like being an in-form Mikel Landa and a confident Alejandro Valverde, despite his disappointment at Liege-Bastogne-Liege a few weeks back when he failed to justify favoritism. Just behind them there are a bunch of guys who fall under a ‘hopefuls’ bracket - Rigoberto Uran, Tom Dumoulin, Dom Pozzovivo and Ilnur Zakarin.
History, Tradition, Legend
This is a legendary race, littered with superstar names like Bartali, Coppi, Grimondi, Merckx, Hinault, Roche, Fignon, Bugno, Indurain, Pantani. More recently we have had Alberto Contador win it in style in 2015, Quintana in 2014 and Nibali in 2013.
The route this year will favour the climbers, as is almost always the case with the Giro, but this year you will also need to be good against the clock with the three time trials. The race may not be won in the time trials, but it could be lost and so anyone with GC ambitions better be on top form for the 'cronos'.
There are also plenty of opportunities for the sprinters, seven potential sprint stages should keep them happy and Kittel could have a field day, but he will face strong opposition from the likes of Viviani, Ewan, Demare, Pelucchi, Greipel and an in-form Nizzolo fresh from two 1sts and a 2nd in the Tour of Croatia. It's sure to be a great battle for the Points Jersey as well as for the coveted 'Maglia Rosa'.
Contenders and Favourites
The race looks to be between just two riders if you look at the betting, but there are plenty of riders waiting in the wings who could spoil their party. Come back later in the week for a full preview of the favourites and their chances. Follow me on @cyclingbetting for all the latest news and tips from the Giro d’Italia, cycling odds and clycling betting in general.