By Gregor Brown
The 94th Giro del Piemonte is likely to come down to a sprint duel between two of cycling's top sprinters when it is run Thursday. Italy's Alessandro Petacchi of Team LPR Brakes and Daniele Bennati of Team Liquigas will bank on a bunch gallop after 199 kilometres of racing from Novi Ligure to Lagnasco.
Bennati won the race over Swiss Gregory Rast and Australian Gene Michael Bates when the organisers last held the race, in 2006. The 2007 edition was not held due to funding problems, but race organiser RCS Sport organisers of the Milano-Sanremo and Giro d'Italia rolled it out again for 2008.
The race serves as a warm up to Giro di Lombardia, two days later, so the riders' form will be on target. Petacchi and Bennati's teams will have to control any escape attempts before their sprinters will have a chance at victory. Protagonists include World Champion Alessandro Ballan of Team Lampre and Olympic Champion Samuel Sánchez of Team Euskaltel-Euskadi. Gilberto Simoni (Diquigiovanni), Leonardo Bertagnolli (Liquigas), David Zabriskie (Garmin Chipotle - H30), Alexandr Kolobnev (CSC-Saxo Bank), Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step) and Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) will also be ones to watch.
The climbs of Monforte d'Alba, Novello and La Morra mark the first part of the parcours, while the final 53 kilometres are flat.
Giro del Piemonte, in northwestern Italy, is one of the country's oldest races. This year will be the 102nd year of the race that started in 1906, when Italian Giovanni Gerbi won. Organisers did not hold the race in 1943 and 1944 due to World War II, in 1968 due to bad weather, in 1975 and 1976 for organisational reasons and in 2000 because of road construction.