It's less than five months to the start of the 2012 Giro d'Italia in Herning, and the build-up to the corsa rosa continues to gather pace with the launch of the publicity campaign for the event billed as the world's toughest race in the world's most beautiful place.
Opening the Giro to the wider world and the reaching out to that global audience by way of social media are set to be two of the key themes of new director Michele Acquarone's first year at the helm.
The sleeves and collar of the new maglia rosa will be decorated with tweets from riders and fans alike about what the hallowed jersey signifies to them, while the very design of the jersey was chosen via a Facebook poll.
In another new departure, the models who will grace the race's official posters were selected from the Giro's global band of tifosi by way of a competition launched on the race's official Facebook page in November to find the "next pink fighters" - cycling fans with a particular passion for the values espoused by the three weeks of racing in Italy every May.
The three lucky winners were Asbjørn Johansen from Norway, Ivan Cvpd from Spain and Italy's own Andrea Ponta. Fittingly, the trio travelled to style capital Milan on Friday to model the newly pink jersey and pose for the publicity shots that will be used to promote the Giro between now and the start in Denmark on May 5.
All three are keen cyclists, and all are united by a particular fascination for the Giro. With the start of the 2012 race just a short hop across the North Sea from his home in Stavanger, Asbjørn is looking forward to the Herning prologue, but is even more enthusiastic about the queen stage to top of the Stelvio.
"At the Giro, the mountains are magical," he said. "I've ridden a few of them myself actually, the Stelvio and the Gavia - they're just fantastic. The scenery is beautiful, the roads are marvellous and there's always action in the mountains."
A native of Rubì, near Barcelona, it's no surprise that Miguel Indurain's back-to-back wins in 1992 and 1993 inspired Ivan's love of the Giro, but in recent years, he has had reason to follow the race even more closely.
As a junior and amateur in Catalonia, Ivan raced against a number of men who would go on to grace the biggest stage, including the late Xavier Tondo and Joachim Rodriguez. "It was a great experience to ride with people who went on to the highest level," he said. "When I see them on television, it gives me a lot of pleasure to be able to say that I raced against them."
Of course, as well as capturing imaginations the world over, the Giro signifies the beginning of summer in Italy and is especially beloved by its home fans. Hailing from Turin, Andrea Ponta's favourite Giro memory is a recent one, as the race began in his home city last year.
In 2012, he hopes Ivan Basso can come out on top, but above all is looking forward to three weeks high on emotion. "The mountains here are fantastic, and so tough," he said. "But then at the Giro, every stage has its own difficulties and emotions, and beautiful roads."
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