The sombre expressions of the faces of the Italian riders at the presentation of the 2011 Giro d'Italia route confirmed that race is set to be one of the toughest races for years.
Vincenzo Nibali, Michele Scarponi, Alessandro Ballan, Alessandro Petacchi, Giovanni Visconti and Damiano Cunego all gave the race a high mark out of ten during the live television presentation, but were all worried about the 40 major climbs and the seven mountain finishes that will surely decide who pulls on the final maglia rosa in Milan.
2010 Giro winner Ivan Basso was embarrassingly absent from the presentation. He agreed to ride the Vuelta a Chihuahua criterium in Mexico before the date of the presentation was decided.
Cyclingnews understands he could be back to defend his victory in 2011 but is more likely to focus on the Tour de France and let Vincenzo Nibali be the team leader for Liquigas at the Giro. The Italian team is expected to confirm its leadership plans at a training camp in December.
Nibali is now the new star of Italian cycling after winning the Vuelta. Stage nine starts in his home town of Messina in Sicily and the final time trial to Milan seems a perfect way for him to secure victory next May.
"I'll give the route a nine out of ten. I've done the Giro three times now and this is the hardest one I've ever seen," he said.
"As well as the big climbs, there are other minor climbs during stages that could split the peloton and cause problems. I only know one of the two climb up to Etna but I know the other one is very hard. The final time trial is 32km long and so will be very important. I hope to be team leader and to try and win it."
Michele Scarponi finished fourth overall this year after Nibali nudged him off the podium in the final time trial to Verona. He will move from Androni Giocattoli to Lampre in 2011 and will specifically target the Giro d'Italia.
"There's a lot of climbing and I like that, so I'll give the route nine out of ten," he said. "The Colle delle Finestre is a beast and will be especially tough. I think it will be the decisive stage for whoever wants to win the Giro."
Veteran sprinter Alessandro Petacchi was a little glum about the long series of transfers but hopes there will be seven sprint finishes.
"I'll give it eight and a half out of ten. It's a good Giro and there could be seven finishes if we're lucky but there are too many transfers," he said. "There are several stages with hills in the finale but that could turn out to be an advantage for me."
Alessandro Ballan showed off a new haircut at the presentation. Surprisingly he has never ridden the Giro during his career but hopes to be in Turin again next May.
"It's a tough route but there is something for everybody and so it’s balanced. It should be great to watch but it'll be hard to ride," he said. "The dirt road of the Colle delle Finestre is probably too tough for me but I hope to be up there on the dirt section on the stage to Orvieto and on other hilly stages. It'll be my first ever Giro and I'm looking forward to it after doing the classics."
Giovanni Visconti and his ISD-Neri Professional Continental team weren't invited to this year's Giro but hopes his Italian champion's jersey will secure him a place in 2011.
"I wore the maglia rosa in 2008 and it was a very important moment in my career, so I'll give the route a ten out ten in the hope to ride it," he said.
"I'm from Sicily and so the finish on Etna will be special but it'll be really hard to beat Nibali that day. I hope to go for other stages. A stage win could help my career step up to another level."
Damiano Cunego won the Giro in 2004 but is likely to focus more on the classic in 2011. However he hopes to ride the Giro again and hunt for stage victories.
"We're still studying exactly what races I'll do in 2011 but I think I'll do the Giro. But it is a very, very tough race."
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