By Jeff Jones
With defending champion Damiano Cunego and two-time Giro winner Gilberto Simoni still riding for the same team this year - Lampre-Caffita - it's going to take a very strong rider to topple them in the 88th Giro d'Italia. Both riders have had solid lead ups to the Giro, with Cunego winning a tough mountain stage and finishing second overall in the Tour de Romandie last week, and Simoni winning the Mont Faron stage in Paris-Nice as well as the Giro dell'Appennino. It remains to be seen which rider has the legs to make it to the top of the podium in Milano on May 29. And if they both have good legs, like last year, then it will take a firm hand by Lampre's team management to ensure that intra-team rivalry does not ruin the plan.
As always, there are other riders who are capable of winning the maglia rosa in Milan. CSC's talented Italian Ivan Basso is probably chief among the challengers, even though he has not yet shown all his cards so far this season. Basso didn't ride in Romandie, and his last race was in Liege-Bastogne-Liege on April 24, where he finished 18th. A fourth overall in the Criterium International is his other result of note so far this season, but don't be surprised to see him butting heads with Cunego and Simoni throughout the Giro.
Perennial challenger Stefano Garzelli (Liquigas-Bianchi) is coming into form at the right time, evidenced by his fifth place in the final time trial in the Tour de Romandie - just 3 seconds behind Cunego. On the previous day in the mountains, he was again just nipped by Cunego in the sprint for third place. The 2000 Giro winner looks to have everything in order for the start in Reggio Calabria, but he may need a little bit extra to succeed in the mountains. Garzelli will have last year's fourth place getter Dario David Cioni and ProTour leader Danilo Di Luca at his side, which should make for a very powerful Liquigas squad.
Cyclingnews will be providing live coverage of each stage of the 88th Giro d'Italia, starting from 14:30 CEST (Europe)/8:30 EDT (USA)/5:30 PDT (USA)/22:30 AEST (Australia) every day.