By Gregor Brown in Venice
Giro d'Italia organisers RCS Sport presented an innovative route for 2009 Saturday at the Teatro Fenice in Venice, Italy. The Italian stage race, May 9 to 31, will confront high mountains in the first week and a 61.7-kilometre time trial, before finishing in Rome three weeks later. It was a route that raised many eyebrows from the attendants. The home favourites noted a diverse route that will present pressure from the first stage team time trial in Venice to the final timed-test in Rome.
"I would have liked to have a Giro like this when I was young -- heading straight into the Dolomites. It is a little bit different to what I am used to, but I will look to be on form earlier, starting in Venice. Any Giro is good for me now," said Team Diquigiovanni's Gilberto Simoni, two-time winner of the Giro.
The 2006 winner Ivan Basso is back from suspension and will compete in his first Grand Tour in three years. "It is a very important Giro for me and I’m coming back after some difficult years," said Basso. "It is a special Giro in all senses, I have to look closer, but every day there seems to be critical points."
Lance Armstrong will be the race's star participant but he made Basso the number one favourite two weeks ago at his team's training camp.
"It is an honour that Armstrong considers I am the favourite, but I think at the beginning there are six or seven favourites that can all win."
Danilo Di Luca won the Giro in 2007 with the support of Team Liquigas. For 2009, Team LPR will support the rider from Abruzzo for the overall and his teammate Alessandro Petacchi for the sprints. He pointed to the mountains in the first week and the long time trial mid-race as the key battlegrounds.
"It will be difficult in the first three stages, but also in the long time trial... the gaps gained there may be unrecoverable," he said.
"I think that it will be an important time trial for the classification," added teammate Petacchi, winner of xxx Giro stages. "You start right off with the Passo del Bracco and then the descent is very tricky and won't be easy. You will have to be careful."
Petacchi will face competition from foreigners Mark Cavendish and Robbie McEwen, but also from fellow countryman Daniele Bennati. Their chances will be limited.
"It is a Giro that has stages that can finish in sprints. With the high mountains first we might be less tired and we can defend ourselves better."
"You’ve got to have the legs," Team Liquigas' Bennati said. "I will try to do the best possible, especially near my home in Toscana. I will have a few teammates for me and they can also help them, [Franco] Pellizotti and Basso, because I am not thinking of taking the maglia rosa home."
Pellizotti held the leader's pink jersey for four days this year and won the mountain time trial up to Plan de Corones. He will co-captain Liquigas' general classification fight with Bass.
"I hope that Ivan Basso will be working for Pellizotti, and I am sure he hopes for the other way around. The most important thing is that maglia rosa stays within the Liquigas team."