I'm currently on a work trip to Darwin, in Australia's Northern Territory. It's an exciting place - a bit like the wild west really - with a very different feel to any other city I've been to in Oz.
But as I enjoy the cooler evening weather, on the couch of my hotel room with a whisky & dry in my hand, I can't help but think of the first big Grand Tour of the season about to start in the home of my ancestors - the Giro d'Italia...!!
While the Tour de France is the most prestigious grand tour of the year, I've always believed that the Giro is the most beautiful race - not just visually, but also for the beautiful cycling. Its very much a Grand Tour for the cycling lover. This year's course maintains that reputation, with a very well balanced route that has a few sprint stages, plenty of hilltop finishes to test the GC riders, both individual and team time trials, and a testing uphill time trial.
To further spice up this great race, this year's line-up is one of the strongest in some years. While there are a couple of clear favourites, the depth of talent chasing the podium will make for some very tight, competitive racing.
So without further ado, here are my tips for this year's Giro d'Italia!
The Big Two
This year, two contenders standout as deserved favourites for the winner's pink jersey
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)
Nibali has never won the Giro, but has come very close, reaching 2nd place the last time he raced here in 2011. In fact, in the 5 Grand Tours he raced in the last 3 years, he podiumed in 4 of them (including victory in the 2010 Vuelta). He is a proven 3-week tour performer, and his recent form has been simply terrific - including victory in this year's Tirreno-Adriatico and Giro del Trentino.
Racing for Astana this year after leaving behind his Liquigas-Cannondale team, I believe Nibali is the man to beat at the Giro.
Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky)
The reigning Tour de France champion, no-one can question Wiggo's ability to win a 3-week tour. Is he as good as he was last year? And is his team as strong as well? I don't think so. But he is the most likely to defeat Nibali in the Giro. Expect to see a lot of the "Sky Armada" at the front of the race controlling the peloton...
Ready To Pounce
There are a host of contenders who are just a notch below Nibali and Wiggins in terms of form, but who are still capable of finishing the race on the podium (maybe even on the top step) if things go their way.
Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp)
The defending champion, the Canadian has shown good form leading into the Giro (especially at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, helping set up the win for teammate Dan Martin). In his favour, his team looks stronger this year. But going against him, no one will give him the latitude to escape that he got last year.
Cadel Evans (BMC)
A late addition to the Giro, Cadel is here to find form. After a great start to the year at the Tour of Oman, he has missed out at a few of the more recent races. After looking better at the Giro del Trentino, he comes to the Giro in the hope it will set him up for a great Tour de France. The win may be to hard this year, but he is a definite podium chance.
Samuel Sanchez (Euskatel)
The Spanish climber is a great racer to watch - always having a crack at the win, and never just sitting on wheels. Will be a contender, but I think this year's field is just too stacked with talent for him to steal a win.
Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida)
A Giro specialist, he can be expected to feature highly here. But he will lose too much time in the time trials, and can only hope to sneak onto the bottom steps of the podium this year.
Riders to Watch
There are a few performances I'm keen to watch, to see how they go as a marker for future year. Mauro Santambrogio (Vini Fantini) has shown interesting form. Franco Pellizotti (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela) is a talented climber, but is coming back from a doping suspension. Jose Rujano (Vacansoleil-DCM) is a pint-size South American climber who runs very hot and cold - can he put together some good days in the big final week of mountains?
How to Watch?
For my Australian brethren, selected stages of the Giro will be televised live on SBS2. There will also be a half-hour highlights package at 6pm each day.
So how will the final podium look? I'll finish this quick preview by sticking my neck out for the top 5. Here's hoping to a great Giro for 2013!!
1. Vincenzo Nibali
2. Bradley Wiggins
3. Cadel Evans
4. Ryder Hesjedal
5. Samuel Sanchez