• The "Trofeo Senza Fine" on the podium of the presentation of Giro d'Italia 2016 at Alpedoorn (ANSA)Source: ANSA
Three weeks of extremely tough climbing, time trialling and everything in between will decide who wears the coveted pink jersey into Torino on the 29th.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

Cycling Central
5 May 2016 - 7:22 PM  UPDATED 6 May 2016 - 8:18 AM

A top cast of hopefuls will line up for the first three days on racing in the Netherlands, before traversing the spine of Italy, from the south to the north. Along the way the peloton will wind its way through the Apennines and tackle over 60km of time-trialling before the final showdown in the Alps.

It is a very balanced course, and the winner will have to be a complete rider who can deal with the tests against the clock, lots of hard climbing, long stages and backing up and performing every day for three weeks.

Limiting losses on a bad day is just as important as maximising gains on a good one and the teams of the contenders become even more important when their leader is struggling. If a rider is significantly stronger on the climbs that will be the logical path to victory, with a number of summit finishes at the end of long climbs, as well as the 10.8km mountain time-trial. 

Nibali's form under scrutiny ahead of Giro start
A big question mark hangs over Vincenzo Nibali's form as the 2014 Tour de France champion targets a second Giro d'Italia title.

The Italian tifosi will be hoping that a local can win the race, and they have a very good shot with the favourite for the race in Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). Nibali has been in mixed form this season, winning impressively in Oman before a lukewarm performance in the recent Giro del Trentino had him only looking mediocre.

The only rider in the field to have won all three Grand Tours, Nibali has both the experience and the class to win the Giro. He isn’t particularly suited to the course however, he will lose time in the prologue and the 40.5 kilometre time trial in Chianti, and will likely be trailing as he enters the third week of racing.

He will relish any poor weather or particularly hard days in the saddle, and on the toughest climbs he will have to take as much time as possible to balance out his losses against the clock.

Behind the obvious favourite there are a host of riders looking to take that next step, or in some cases return, to the top step of the podium.

Landa leads Sky at the Giro d'Italia
Mikel Landa will head up Team Sky's challenge at the Giro d'Italia starting on Friday as the leader of its nine-man team.

Mikel Landa (Sky) will be thinking about how close he came last year to winning whilst riding in support of Astana's Fabio Aru. His third place in that race will have him thinking what might have been if he was let off the leash, as he was often made to wait for Aru, most memorably on the queen stage where race leader Contador was on the ropes.

The 2015 race was lost for him in the long time trial, where Contador put minutes into him, and with some even better time-triallists amongst the contenders here, Landa will have to be on the top of his game in the mountains to take back the minutes that he is set to lose again.

Thankfully for the Spaniard, he does appear to be in ominous form, easily winning the traditional Giro lead up race in Trentino a few weeks back. The question will be if he can make the most of his newfound leadership role.

Veteran of the sport Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) will be competing in his first ever Giro d’Italia, a surprising fact given everything the Spaniard has accomplished. That is mainly because Valverde targets the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana most seasons, but it will be interesting to see how he goes about racing the Giro.

It has been evident in his preparation that he has been holding something back for this race, as he opted out of the cobbled classics and then took only limited form into the Ardennes races, winning Fleche Wallonne before being off the pace in the harder Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Valverde is perhaps the most complete rider in the peloton, and will appreciate the variety of stages on offer here, and even if he doesn’t win the overall, you can count on him for a win or three along the way.

Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) will be out to show that last year’s defiant Vuelta a Espana display wasn’t a one-off, and he’ll have the perfect opportunity to show that here. There are plenty of time-trialling kilometres, and most of the climbs are longer and consistent in gradient. Dumoulin can put himself in an uncomfortable gear for the rest and simply use his power to grind them off his wheel.

With the race starting in his native Netherlands, He will be keen to take the leader’s jersey early and as last year’s Vuelta showed, once he has it on it is very tough to take it off him. What will hold him back is the same problem he had at the Vuelta, a lack of quality climbing support after Giant-Alpecin did little in the off season to bolster his support in the mountains.

Another revelation from last year’s Vuelta was Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) who lit up the climbs with his punchy attacks as much as the podium with his smile. His team have also said that he has done a lot of work on his time-trialling, which was a problem for the diminutive Colombian in the past.

He also doesn’t have any form on the board this season and last year’s Giro was a poor one for the 26 year-old as he was an anonymous 55th overall. So there’s plenty for him to overcome, but he said that he used that Giro performance last season as a mental spur for his Vuelta showing. So it is likely that he’ll be back ready to prove himself again.

There are a number of other worthy contenders, with Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale), Rafal Majka (Tinkoff), Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R) and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) all in with a very real chance of taking out the race on their best form.

The Giro not just a race for the climbers. The sprinters will have plenty of chances to party, with somewhere between seven and ten stages looking likely to end in bunch sprints. The first taste will be in the Dutch depart for the race, with two stages likely to give an insight in the battle to come. All Australian eyes will be on pocket rocket Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) with his racing against the best in the world being anticipated way back in January as he swept all before him at the Santos Tour Down Under.

Blocking his path to victory will be German pair of Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and Marcel Kittel (Etixx-Quickstep) who have been two of the most dominant sprinters in past seasons. In particular Kittel looks to be in ominous form at the moment, sweeping to an unexpected win over tough terrain at the Tour of Romandie, where the big German would normally be the first dropped. He is the fastest on paper, and if his leadout train does the job, he’ll be hard to beat.

Elia Viviani (Sky) and Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida) will be flying the flag for Italy in the sprints. If Viviani can position himself well, he’s proven that he is faster than most. On the flip side Modolo doesn’t have any problems with the argy-bargy that occurs in the final kilometres of a sprint stage, but lacks the top end speed of others present here at the start.

Ewan isn’t the only young gun present, as 22 year-old Jakub Mareczko (Wilier-Southeast) has been winning at a prodigious rate in the next level down across the world. He stepped things up with two wins in the recent Tour of Turkey, beating Greipel and Modolo in the process to confirm his talent. Don’t be surprised to see the unfamiliar name of Mareczko mixing it up with the best.

Surely set to be one of the most memorable editions of the Giro D’Italia for some time, as the balance of the course and the quality of the field leaves little doubt that it will be a Giro for the ages.