33's the number, says T-Mobile

"This number says everything about the course," said T-Mobile Team's sporting manager Mario Kummer...

"This number says everything about the course," said T-Mobile Team's sporting manager Mario Kummer on the 33 classified climbs to be tackled in this year's Giro d'Italia.

Ex-professional Jens Heppner, an 11-day wearer of the maglia rosa in the 2002 Giro and now a directeur-sportif of Team Wiesenhof, also believes the number and severity of the passes will lead to a natural selection, in particular Stage 13 from Mezzocorona to Ortisei, finishing atop St.Ulrich in Val Gardena.

"The pass hasn't been featured in the Giro for a long time, so I only know it from training. But I think the number of the possible winners will be dramatically reduced here," said Heppner on www.t-mobile-team.com.

Daniele Nardello, who hasn't ridden the Giro since 2001 when he was still with Mapei, also believes this year's parcours to be very difficult, and outlined the penultimate stage that tackles the 18.5km, 2178 metre Colle de Finestre to be one of the hardest. "I rode the most important mountain stages - mamma mia, were in for something!" he said.

This year, the 32 year-old Italian missed out on most of the Spring Classics due to a crash at the Tour of Qatar, which injured his back and prevented him from racing far longer than expected, and it was only in April at the Tour of Aragon and Vuelta Ciclista a la Rioja that Nardello started racing again, in the company of his team leader Jan Ullrich.

"I am much better by now, I hardly feel any pain any more. I've only ridden [the Giro] two times so far and am delighted to have another go at it this year," said Nardello.

"The Tour may be somewhat more commercial, while the Giro is more spontaneous and despite its toughness, it is more relaxed to ride. For an Italian, the Giro is very important, it's a national event! There are three things in the life of a tifosi: Soccer, Ferrari and the Giro."

Nardello added he would like to win a stage, but knows the inclusion of all 20 ProTour teams means the level of the race has been raised: "In past years, the Italian top riders were more or less among themselves", he said, "but now for the first time, someone like Erik Zabel will race here, too. That attracted a lot of attention by Italian media - and that attention is good for the Giro."

With the last-minute addition of Zabel in the team, Nardello said the team will try and help him win a stage on the flatter days, and to ride aggressively and attack for the other stages. Finally, on countryman Mario Cipollini's recent adieu, Nardello acknowledged the peloton has lost someone unique: "The sport of cycling, especially for the Italians, has lost a great personality, not only a world-class rider. Sport-wise, Petacchi has long been filling his shoes, but Cipo had a unique charisma," he said.

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