Giro preview: Italian giants take centre stage

By Jeff Jones

Despite a more international flavour of top level cycling, the focus of the Giro d'Italia is still very much on Italy and the Italians who look set to dominate the race again. From last year's winner Paolo Savoldelli, to 2004 champion Damiano Cunego, 2001 and 2003 winner Gilberto Simoni, to serious challengers Ivan Basso and Danilo di Luca - all the likely winners of this year's edition are Italian. The good news for fans is that they are all in good shape, and we could well see a Giro that is as exciting as last year's thriller.

After winning the prologue in the Tour de Romandie, defending champion Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) looked to be on a perfect course for the Giro. But a stomach bug a couple of days into the race put paid to his chances of fine tuning his form for the three week tour. Still, Savoldelli will start in the prologue in Seraing with the number one dossard and will have enough time to regain any lost form before the Giro's crunch time in the final week. His team should be a little stronger this year too, with Tom Danielson being injury free and more experienced, Vjatcheslav Ekimov, Benoît Joachim, Pavel Padrnos, Jason McCartney and Matthew White ready to shoulder the load on the flats, and Manuel Beltrán and José Luis Rubiera for the mountains.

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) was simply brilliant when he won the Giro in 2004. He had to fight against his nominal team captain Gilberto Simoni, who wasn't too happy about playing second fiddle to the young gun, but in the end he had no choice. The two parted teams next season. Now, after doing a bad Giro last year because of mononucleosis, Cunego has and excellent team and great form and will come into the race as a top favourite.

Click here to read the full Giro d'Italia preview.

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