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Pinot, Dennis, Thomas and Dombrowski face off at the Tour of the Alps

The Giro del Trentino was traditionally an important stepping stone for many of the big-name Giro d’Italia contenders, and the Tour of the Alps – the new, longer version of the race created thanks to a tie-up with Tyrol, Sudtirol and Trentino in a cross-border Euro region – will reveal the strength and ambitions of Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing), Geraint Thomas and Mikel Landa (Team Sky), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Pierre Rolland, Davide Formolo and Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Drapac), with just 18 days before the Grande Partenza of the 100th edition of the Giro d’Italia on May 5.

Team Sky seems set to start the Tour of the Alps with the handicap of just six riders instead of the usual eight. Landa and Thomas will have the support of just Pete Kennaugh, Ian Boswell, Philip Deignan and Kenny Elissonde.

Other stand-out names on the final start list include Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R-La Mondiale), Damiano Caruso (BMC Racing), Davide Formolo (Cannondale-Drapac) and Egan Bernal (Androni Giocattoli). Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) has opted to ride the Tour of Croatia that begins on Tuesday due to team sponsorship links to the race.

The four-day Giro del Trentino started with a team time trial in recent years and often gave the sprinters one chance of success. However, the Tour of Alps is strictly for the climbers, with 10 categorized climbs and 15,600 metres of climbing. The five tough stages between Kufstein in Austria and Trento in Italy, including a visit to the heart of the Dolomites and a finish in Funes, the Passo Mendola and the steep Forcella di Brez in the apple orchards of the Vole di Sole, with the legendary Monte Bondone the final big climb of the race before the fast descent to the finish in Trento. Stage 2 will also cross the Europabrücke – Europe Bridge – one of highest road bridges in Europe, with traffic on the major highway stopped for 30 minutes to give precedence to the race.

Monday’s opening stage finishes with a 3.7km climb that overlooks Innsbruck. The city and the wider Tyrol region will host the 2018 UCI Road World Championships.

Europe has enjoyed a warm and sunny early spring, but a significant change is expected on Tuesday, with a risk of rain and even snow. Race organisers, teams and rider representatives have already studied alternative routes in case the UCI’s Extreme Weather Protocol is needed to protect the riders’ safety and health.

On Sunday, the 139 riders gathered in Kufstein for the official team presentation, with Dennis, Pinot and Michele Scarponi – now Astana’s leader for the Tour of the Alps and the Giro d’Italia due to Fabio Aru’s knee injury in a training crash. Landa also spoke briefly about his form and chances, but Thomas kept a low profile after traveling to Austria via Italy.

Pinot the overall favourite?

Scarponi tipped Pinot as the race favourite even if the Frenchman played down his own chances.

“This is the first time I take part in this race, and the second race in Italy in the row for me but I haven’t raced since Tirreno-Adriatico,” the Frenchman pointed out. “My main goal is to find good some feelings so I can start the Giro d’Italia with serious ambitions. I am coming off a training camp in Canaries Isles. I can count on a strong team even if we don’t have our top climbing team here. I hope to win a stage, and then to see what I can do in the GC.

“I think the choice of the Tour of the Alps to move across the border is a very important," Pinot said. "What I like about this race is that it’s one of the few dedicated to climbers. I hope the weather will help us because I believe it’s going to be a beautiful and exciting race.”

Dennis will support Tejay van Garderen at the Giro d’Italia but is also ambitious to discover how well he can perform in a tough Grand Tour like this year’s 100th edition of the Giro d’Italia. He impressed at Tirreno-Adriatico, finishing second overall behind Nairo Quintana. He quit the Volta a Catalunya but sees the Tour of the Alps as a key part of his final build-up to the Giro d’Italia. He is aware that fellow Australians Cadel Evans and Richie Porte are previous winners of the Giro del Trentino.

“I’ve come without too much ambition for the GC. If my legs are there good, if not, they’re just not. I know where I’m at and I’ve been training to do well. Hopefully this hard race can give me a lot of confidence for the Giro d’Italia,” Dennis said.

"I’m a little bit different to Cadel and have less of a palmares. He’s won a lot and I have to take my hat off to him; he’s made it possible for Australians to believe we can win races like this. It’s an honour to follow in his footsteps," dennis said. "I’m more suited to races with a time trial, so this race is going to be a challenge for me. I don’t have a buffer from a time trial or a team time trial, so it’s a test of where I need to be for a GC rider in the future.”

Dennis warned about the risk of bad weather and the effect it could have on the race.

“There aren’t any individual favourites," he said. "There are a lot of strong riders, anything can happen. The weather could play a big part too.”

Landa made belated appearance at the press conference due to traffic. He wears number one after dominating the Giro del Trentino last year, and Team Sky riders have won the last two editions, with Porte winning in 2015. Landa impressed at the Giro del Trentino but then became ill at the Giro d’Italia and quit during stage 10. He has yet to show any serious form this season and did not finish stage 6 of the Volta A Catalunya due to illness. The Tour of the Alps will give a serious indication if the Basque rider or Thomas will emerge as leader for Team Sky at the Italian Grand Tour.

"This is a race I like so much, and I always race to win, so my hope is to repeat the feat of last year,” said an upbeat Landa.

“My conditions is good, though I am coming off a few weeks without racing after the Volta a Catalunya. I only raced in Austria once before in my career - at last year’s Giro del Trentino in Anras, and I won, so I hope I can extend that run of success.”

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