With the likes of Chris Froome, Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali all concentrating on the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia is set to be a wide-open race with no clear favourite.
That is not to say it is lacking in talent, because the start line is packed with former Grand Tour winners and podium finishers, many of whom appear to be reaching peak form.
Here, we look at ten riders who could challenge for the maglia rosa and places on the podium…
Nairo Quintana (Movistar)
The diminutive Colombian climbing expert finished second behind Froome at last year’s Tour but opted to race the Giro this time around as he looks to earn a first Grand Tour win. And with nine summit finishes animating a severely hilly route, the parcours appears perfectly suited to his style. Quintana has an Achilles heel in that his time-trialling is poor, but that will be partly negated by the fact the second individual TT is an uphill test on Cima Grappa, where the 24-year-old should shine. His second place at the 2013 Tour is also ample proof that Quintana can sustain a three-week challenge.
SkyBet odds: 10/11
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha)
The 34-year-old Spaniard has become somewhat of a nearly man in Grand Tour racing in recent years, having finished on the podium but missed out on victory at each of the Tour, Giro and Vuelta a Espana in the past two seasons. However, the 2014 Giro offers an ideal chance to lay those ghosts to rest given its mountainous route and the absence of Froome, Contador and Nibali. Rodriguez is arguably the most explosive climber in the sport and will consequently relish the nine summit finishes, while, like Quintana, he will be lent a helping hand by the fact the stage 19 time trial on Cima Grappa is uphill. He also takes good form into the race, after winning the Volta a Catalunya in March.
SkyBet odds: 5/2
Cadel Evans (BMC)
The veteran Australian, now 37, may not have age on his side, but the old legs have delivered some strong results this year and it looks like his bid for a second Grand Tour victory to go with his 2011 Tour win is a serious one. The season has actually been up and down for Evans, with a runner-up finish at the Santos Tour Down Under in January being followed by a woeful showing at Tirreno-Adriatico in March. However, he rediscovered his form to win the Giro del Trentino last month and a stage win on a summit finish in that race suggested he will be in the thick of the action on the Giro’s myriad mountain stages.
SkyBet odds: 10/1
Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step)
Another Colombian climbing expert, Uran finished second at last year’s Giro and will be keen to go one better this time around. The 27-year-old moved to Omega Pharma – Quick-Step from Team Sky over the winter in order to lead a team at a Grand Tour and will no doubt be looking to make the most of the opportunity the Belgian squad has afforded him. However, Uran appears to have a tough ask ahead of him given that he has struggled to find form so far this season, with the Tour of Oman, Tirreno-Adriatico, the Volta a Catalunya and the Tour de Romandie all yielding disappointing results. Another podium finish is not beyond his reach, but a victory appears to be.
SkyBet odds: 14/1
Michele Scarponi (Astana)
The veteran Italian plays second fiddle to compatriot Nibali at Astana these days but with his more celebrated team-mate focusing on the Tour de France this year, Scarponi is the Kazakh squad’s main man at the Giro. Winner of the 2011 edition, it would take a remarkable performance to repeat that feat three years on, but the 34-year-old remains one of the top climbers in the peloton and used that ability to finish fourth overall last year. He will be looking to get near that achievement this time around, if not challenge for a place on the podium.
SkyBet odds: 25/1
Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale)
The tiny Italian is one of the finest climbers in the peloton and will therefore be licking his lips at the prospect of the Giro’s nine summit finishes. He has also had a strong season so far, finishing sixth overall at both the Tour of Oman and Tirreno-Adriatico, eighth at the Volta a Catalunya and then second behind Evans at the Giro del Trentino. Whether the 31-year-old can sustain a challenge for a place on the podium over three weeks remains to be seen, but expect him to be somewhere in the picture.
SkyBet odds: 25/1
Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp)
The Irishman is likely to share leadership duties of Garmin-Sharp with Ryder Hesjedal (see below), with whoever performs best in the opening half of the race then assuming sole leadership for the concluding stages. Martin emerged as a general classification contender by winning last year’s Volta a Catalunya and can climb with the best on his day. However, he has endured a difficult year so far, with a 16th place in his defence of his Catalunya crown being his best result. However, a second place in La Fleche Wallone, a hilly one-day Classic, at the end of April suggested he could be rediscovering his form at precisely the right time. Victory is almost certainly beyond him, but a place in the top-10 should be in his sights.
SkyBet odds: 28/1
Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo)
Like Garmin-Sharp, Tinkoff-Saxo head into the Giro with two potential leaders, the first of who is the promising young Polish rider Majka. The 24-year-old finished an impressive seventh overall at last year’s Giro and will no doubt be keen to continue his progression up the general classification this time around. He is a strong climber who should consistently be in or around the final group on the summit finishes, but will need to find an extra gear from his performances earlier in the season, which have not been outstanding. Other than a fourth at the three-stage Criterium International, his best result is 20th and the Volta ao Algarve. A top 10 at the Giro should be within his reach, but the podium could be a step too far.
SkyBet odds: 40/1
Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp)
The 33-year-old won the 2012 Giro in impressive style – beating Rodriguez after a nip-and-tuck battle – but he then promptly fell off the radar and has consistently failed to regain anything like the sort of the form that saw him claim Canada’s first victory in a Grand Tour. The defence of his title was cut short last year by ill health, so 2014 represents another chance to show 2012 was no fluke. Like Martin, he has struggled for results this year, with a 15th place at the Volta a Catalunya being his best return, so he too is likely to be hoping for a place in the top 10. Anything better will be a bonus.
SkyBet odds: 50/1
Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo)
Tinkoff-Saxo’s second card to play is Roche, who emerged as a genuine general classification contender by finishing fifth at last year’s Vuelta a Espana, where he also claimed a win on a summit finish. He will be looking for another top five at the Giro, but results so far this season suggest that could be a tough, particular given the depth of talent on the start line. The 29-year-old Irishman finished only 50th at the Tour of Oman and just 40th at Tirreno-Adriatico, and consequently rode the Tour de Romandie last week in a late bid to find form.
SkyBet odds: 100/1