The Italian Grand Tour, the Giro d’Italia will start with a record 23 teams in May. The organiser announced the news today, inviting all 18 first division teams and five second division teams to race.

Great Britain’s first division team, Sky, will join the other first division ProTeams and the Giro’s wild card selections: Geox-TMC, Acqua & Sapone, Androni Giocattoli, Colnago-CSF Inox and Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli. Both 2008 Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre and 2009 Giro winner Denis Menchov race for team Geox.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) granted Giro d’Italia organiser special permission to start its race with over 200 cyclists. With 23 nine-man teams, 207 cyclists will start the race’s 94th edition.

The Grand Tours – the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a España – have recently started with only 22 nine-man teams, or 198 cyclists.

The Giro d’Italia begins on May 7 in Turin with a team time trial and ends on May 29 in Milan with an individual time trial. It includes seven mountain stages, three consecutive stages on the third weekend: Grossglockner, Zoncolan and Val di Fassa.

Mount Etna, Europe’s most active volcano, is the Giro’s most southern point. The cyclists will climb it twice in stage nine, finishing on the second time up. The Giro d’Italia’s last visit was over 20 years ago in 1989 when Portugal’s Acacio Da Silva won the stage took the race leader’s pink jersey.

Spaniard Alberto Contador will be the race favourite. He won the race in 2008 and Tour de France three times: last year, 2009 and 2007.

“The Giro is my first big goal of the season,” Contador told newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport last week. “It’s the stage race that I enjoyed the most. Along the roads, there’s passion like nowhere else. “

Contador decided to race last week while still facing a possible ban for a doping positive at last year’s Tour de France. He tested positive for banned drug, Clenbuterol on July 21, the race’s second rest day in Pau. The Spanish Cycling Federation (RFEC) acquitted him on February 15, but the UCI is likely to appeal the decision. It will decide whether it will appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) by March 24.

He won the Vuelta a Murcia on Sunday, his first race since the Tour de France. However, if found guilty, he’d lose the Murcia and his third Tour title, plus face a one- to two-year ban.

Other Giro favourites include Sky’s Thomas Löfkvist, Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas), Michele Scarponi (Lampre) and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale). Nibali won the Vuelta a España last year and received the nod from team Liquigas management to defend its Giro title. Last year’s winner, Liquigas’ Ivan Basso will likely skip the race to focus on winning the Tour de France.

“The dream drives me,” Basso said last month. “The Tour has been the dream for my whole career.”

Giro d’Italia 2011: Teams

Ag2r La Mondiale

Astana

BMC Racing

Euskaltel-Euskadi

HTC-Highroad

Katusha

Lampre-ISD

Liquigas-Cannondale

Movistar

OmegaPharma-Lotto

Quick Step

Rabobank

Saxo Bank-SunGard

Sky

Garmin-Cervélo

Leopard-Trek

RadioShack

Vacansoleil-DCM

Wild cards

Acqua & Sapone

Androni Giocattoli

Colnago-CSF Inox

Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli

Geox-TMC

Related links



Contador confirms Giro d’Italia participation



Cycling Weekly’s Giro d’Italia news section