Giro d'Italia 2013: Who will win?
Ryder Hesjedal wins 2012 Giro d'Italia
In the run up to the 2013 Giro d'Italia (May 4-26), it has been difficult to look past Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) as potential winners of the pink jersey. While Sky has maintained its seemingly unbeatable stage race model into 2013, Nibali has been dominant in Italian races.
But Grand Tours never run exactly in accordance with the script. In last year's Giro, for instance, eventual winner Ryder Hesjedal went into the race as something of an outsider, while virtually no-one predicted a podium for Thomas de Ghent (Vacansoleil).
Many riders will not yet have shown their hand and grand tours are always characterised by multiple twists and turns, so despite Wiggins and Nibali's apparent superiority, there are many riders who could defeat them.
One of them won't be Ivan Basso. The Cannondale rider will not start due to a painful cyst.
Bradley Wiggins, 33, Sky
Last year's Tour de France champion has not found success as easy to come by this year, managing fifth place in both the Tour of Cataluyna and Giro del Trentino and still missing a first win of the season, but he will still go into the Giro as favourite. His rivals are yet to find a successful counter-strategy to overcome Sky's Tour-winning model of protecting their leader with a suffocatingly metronomic pace, and with a sizeable number of time-trialing kilometres and riders as strong as Rigoberto Uran, Sergio Henao and Kanstantsin Siutsou to support him it will be very difficult to gain any time on the Brit.
Vincenzo Nibali, 28, Astana
Nibali goes into the race seeking to complete the grand slam of Italian stage races, having already won the Tirreno Adriatico and Giro del Trentino earlier this year. The 28-year old has developed into one of the world's leading riders in recent years, and the Giro d'Italia is the main race missing from the Italian's palmares. To win it he will probably have to drop Wiggins at some point, which is something he has struggled with in the past, particularly in last year's Tour; even in his recent win in Trentino, Wiggins was distanced due to the misfortune of a mechanical.
Ryder Hesjedal, 32, Garmin-Sharp
No defending champion has won the Giro since Miguel Indurain in 1993, but Hesjedal goes into the race with that aim. The Canadian's 2013 has followed a very similar pattern to his 2012, with a series of quiet showings in stage races followed by an aggressive Ardennes weekend, before abandoning the Tour de Romandie to finalise his Giro preparations. But though his build up has been the same, the race scenario will not be; he goes into this year's edition as a marked man lacking the leeway he possessed in 2012, and faces a field with bigger names to overcome.
Cadel Evans, 36, BMC
The oldest post-war Tour de France winner is looking to become the oldest winner of the Giro, and the extent to which age has caught up with him will shape his ability to do so. There is a suspicion that Evans peaked two years ago with his Tour win, as his form has been strikingly inconsistent since then. But it must be remembered that the Australian was written off by many prior to his 2011 success, so could feasibly pull off another surprise.
Samuel Sanchez, 35, Euskaltel-Euskadi
Sanchez has done nothing of note since crashing out of last year's Tour de France, and time is running out for the 35-year-old to achieve a first grand tour victory. 18th at Tirreno and 15th at the Tour of Basque country indicate that his form is not quite there yet, but the Spaniard has a very reliable grand tour record with top seven finishes in every one of his past seven attempts, excluding last year's Tour crash. Look out for him and Nibali to attack on descents.
Michele Scarponi, 33, Lampre-Merida
Having been awarded the 2011 Giro retrospectively following Alberto Contador's doping conviction, Scarponi will look to win in more straightforward circumstances this time round. His form leading up to the race has been hit and miss, with an underwhelming ride at the Giro del Trentinio sandwiched between third at the Tour of Catalunya and fifth at Liege-Bastogne-Liege. In 2011 he was able to out-climb Nibali, but with two more years in his legs will struggle to do so in this year's race.
Others to Watch
Mark Cavendish, 27, Omega Pharma-QuickStep
Much to every other sprinter's dismay, the Manx Missile will take his place on the start-line in Naples to compete in his fourth Giro in five years. To add to his 10 stage wins he will have to overcome the likes of Matt Goss, John Degenkolb and Elia Viviani, while his Omega Pharma-QuickStep team will call upon the on-form Gianni Meersman for hillier stages.
Mauro Santambrogio, 28, Vini Fantini-Selle Italia
Every Giro, the Italian wildcards produce attacking riders that come into their own in the mountains, and this year Vini Fantini's Mauro Santambrogio looks the most likely candidate to match the favourites on the highest slopes. As the only rider to match Nibali he finished second at the Giro del Trentino, and has since won the GP Industria, meaning that Santambrogio could be the Giro's surprise package.
Stefano Pirazzi, 26, Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox
In recent Giros, Pirazzi has gained a reputation as an exciting pursuer of fruitless attacks, but thus far has nothing to show for his efforts. A seventh place at the Giro del Trentino however suggests the young Italian is improving as a climber, so look out for him to improve upon his second place finish in last year's mountains classification.