Piemonte the perfect preparation for Lombardy

Quality field will make for a memorable edition

The Piedmont region's rich cycling heritage is honoured again as a field bursting with quality readies itself for this year's Giro del Piemonte.

Starting in Novi Ligure, the hometown of revered Italian rider Costante Girardengo and where the legendary Fausto Coppi spent much of his youth, the 184km parcours is the perfect warm up for Saturday's Giro di Lombardia and as such those with ambitions for the season-ending event will be aiming for a strong performance in this mid-week 1.HC-ranked race.

The route takes the peloton over the Diano d'Alba, La Morra and Monforte d'Alba before embarking on a lumpy run into Fossano, where a circuit sees riders head around the city on a 27km loop before the finish.

The event holds a special place in the heart of Italian cycling - local boy Girardengo won it in 1919, '20 and '24 - and while it isn't as well-recognised internationally as the Giro di Lombardia, it's a chance for the locals to watch the world's best in a region that serves as a hotbed for the nation's cycling talent.

This is illustrated by the race's palmares, which boasts the likes of Gianni Bugno, Felice Gimondi, Francesco Moser, Eddy Merckx and Gino Bartali. In recent years the Giro del Piemonte has been a happy hunting ground for sprinters, although with many teams leaving their fast men at home it's the hilly classics stars who garner the most attention.

This year is no exception, with Silence-Lotto bringing a team full of potential - captain and newly-crowned world champion Cadel Evans is joined by countryman Matthew Lloyd, Belgian star (and recent Paris-Tours winner) Philippe Gilbert plus young climbing sensation Jurgen Van Den Broeck. They'll go into the event as favourites, with Evans fine-tuning preparations for this weekend's Giro di Lombardia.

Another powerful squad ready to take on Marc Sergeant's men is Bjarne Riis' Saxo Bank team, with Jakob Fuglsang, Karsten Kroon and Alexandr Kolobnev the stars, backed up by experienced German Jens Voigt, Denmark's Chris Anker Sørensen and time trial talent Gustav Erik Larsson.

Kolobnev, who earnt himself another silver medal in the world championship road race in Mendrisio, Switzerland, is possibly best-suited to the route, with the jagged profile of the second half of the parcours a natural match to his power and strength in this type of terrain.

And of course there's a Spanish contingent ready to mix it up on the testing terrain; bronze medallist in the recent world championships, Joaquin Rodriguez, will spearhead Caisse d'Epargne's challenge, while Olympic road race champion Samuel Sanchez has the Italians in a spin as he continues his late-season quest for wins.

Fans could possibly see Rodriguez and Kolobnev duking it out in the finale, with the pair seeking to rectify their mistakes in the closing kilometres of the world title bout in Switzerland. They'll be up against Cadel Evans once more, the Australian making good on the pair's hesistancy to attack over the last five kilometres to solo to worlds glory last month.

Columbia-HTC has made its intentions clear, taking a talented squad that includes proven Classics performer Kim Kirchen, tearaway Belarusian Kanstantsin Siutsou and Swedish sensation Thomas Lövkvist. Look out for either of these three in the final kilometres, either off the front solo or as part of an escape group that stays away until the finish.

It's a similar story for the Cervélo TestTeam, with Simon Gerrans - who has taken stage victories in both the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España this season - backed up by outgoing Belgian Serge Pauwels, Irish revelation Philip Deignan and experienced Ukranian Volodymir Gustov. The Australian deserves his role as team captain and shouldn't disappoint in Italy.

But let's not rule out the darkhorses, who could steal the limelight. Katusha's Amstel Gold Race winner Serguei Ivanov will be making the trip to the Piedmont region, having also demonstrated his strength at this year's Tour de France when he took stage
14 in Besançon after a daring solo move in the final kilometres.

Other notables include Nicolas Roche (AG2R La Mondiale), 2008 world champion Alessandro Ballan (Lampre-NGC) and Rabobank's Lars Boom, who is due a one-day win sometime soon.

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