The Giro del Trentino stage race kicks off with a 12.5km time trial on Tuesday, but as usual it will be the mountain stages in the Dolomites that will decide the race and show who is on form for the rapidly approaching Giro d'Italia.
The 34th edition of the race has one of the strongest fields for years, with Ivan Basso and Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas-Doimo), Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), Riccardo Riccò (Ceramica Flaminia), Jose Rujano (ISD-Neri) and Michele Scarponi (Androni Giocattoli) going head-to-head during the four days of racing.
The Lampre-Farnese Vini team officially announced that Gilberto Simoni had signed with the team on Monday and the Italian veteran will make his debut on home roads at the Giro del Trentino. He may struggle in his first race of the season but got the loudest applause at the pre-race presentation and press conference at Riva del Garda on Monday afternoon.
"This is my life and it's not easy to close an important chapter on your life. I keep seeing my 25 years of racing as a series of flashbacks in a movie in my mind. But I'm happy to be here and I know it's almost time to call it a day," Simoni said.
Basso and Pellizotti have only recently returned from a training camp at altitude at Monte Tiede on the island of Tenerife and looked tanned and fit. Basso won the Giro del Trentino last year and the two uphill finishes at San Martino di Castrozza on stage two and to Alpe di Pampeago suit him perfectly. It will be the first indication if he and Pellizotti are coming into form in time for the Giro d'Italia.
"Last year I rode Trentino for a confirmation of my form and I went on to take an important win. Then I had a good Giro d'Italia but not an excellent one. This time I want to do even better and the minimum I hope for is another win," Basso said before raising a glass of the local Trentino spumante in a toast.
Pellizotti again accepted the role of outsider: "I'm not often considered for my true ability but perhaps that's an advantage because it's important to be up there when it really matters."
The Cobra bites
Riccardo Riccò has a new bike for the Giro del Trentino decorated with an attacking Cobra on the head tube. He promised not to bite or vent his anger after his Ceramica Flaminia team was not selected for the Giro d'Italia but would surely love to beat the big names that will fight for the Giro while he is forced to sit at home.
"I'll have to go on holiday during the Giro d'Italia but I'm not here to prove how good I am. I don't have to prove anything to anybody," he said. "I'm not looking for a result to prove a point because if I beat the riders who are the favourites for the pink jersey, it'd just make me even more angry. I'm just going to do my thing and stay cool without worrying about anyone else. I know that whoever didn't like me before still won't like me now."
Time trial specialist Mikhail Ignatiev (Katusha) is the favourite for the opening 12.5km time trial near Lake Garda. Local rider and one of the young revelations of the spring classics Daniel Oss is first rider off at 1:30pm local time.
Giro del Trentino stages:
Tuesday April 20: Riva del Garda-Torbole sul Garda 12.5km TT
Wednesday April 21: Dro-San Martino di Castrozza 172.5km
Thursday April 22: Fiera di Primiero-Trento 164km
Friday April 23: Arco-Alpe di Pampeago/Val di Fassa 172.1km