The first Grand Tour of the year is upon us - the Giro d'Italia. Three tough weeks of slog along the roads, through the flat-lands, and over the mountains of Italy - all starting for the first time ever with 3 stages in Denmark.
Its a much more balanced Giro this year, especially compared to the brutally mountainous routes the riders were given over the last few years. This opens the race up a bit, however there aren't as many 'big names' contesting the overall compared to previous years either.
So down to business - who can win the Giro d'Italia this year?
1. Romain Kreuziger (Astana)
Kreuziger has been 'the next big thing' for a few years now, and is overdue for a Grand Tour breakthrough. He can both climb and time-trial, which sets him nicely for the three weeks ahead. He has also started the year well, coming 3rd overall in Tirreno-Adriatico, and placing well on the hilly stages of the Giro del Trentino last week.
I'm expecting Kreuziger to have his breakthrough win this year in Italy, and to stand on the final podium in the leader's pink jersey as winner!
2. Ivan Basso (Liquigas)
Ivan Basso is both an easy and difficult pick for this year's race. Easy because he is a two-time winner of this race, and has been a consistent Grand Tour performer over many years. Difficult because he hasn't shown any form this year at all, and is moving into the twilight of his career.
You just can't discount Basso. He has so much experience, and I think he'll get better and better as the race progresses. A definite for the podium, I think he'll be pipped for the top position by the younger legs of hiss ex-teammate Kreuziger.
3. Frank Schleck (Radioshack-Nissan)
The 'other' Schleck, the older half of 'FrAndy' Schleck. Frank Schleck is another tough one to select. He was never going to race the Giro this year, but an injury to teammate Jakob Fuglsang meant Frank was unexpectedly called into the team as their big overall hope for the win.
Frank is undoubtedly a hugely talented climber, one of the best in the entire cycling game. However his time-trialling is atrocious, and his tactical skills leave a lot to be desired compared to his major rivals. He'll make the podium, but isn't good enough away from the mountains to make the top step as winner.
How to watch the Giro
This year in Australia, SBS is televising stages live - the most Giro live coverage ever for us here! It'll be shown on their digital channel, SBS2. Find all the details of their coverage here.
I can't wait to see how this great race pans out. In my opinion, while the Tour de France is the most prestigious race on the cycling calendar, the Giro d'Italia is the cycling purist's race - the best race to watch for the true cycling lover. Tune in and enjoy!!