The allure of the Tour de France yellow jersey cast its glow over the Giro d’Italia as organisers unveiled the 2016 route Monday in the presence of champions they desperately hope will be competing.
Starting in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands on May 6, the 99th edition of the three-week race has something for everyone with three individual time-trials, a handful of sprinters’ stages and enough mountain climbing to keep the suspense going until the penultimate stage before the race finishes in Turin on May 29.
But there’s a caveat for fans expecting fireworks in the Dolomites and Italian Alps: Alberto Contador won’t defend his title, 2013 champion Vincenzo Nibali is still unsure and the course is unlikely to entice another potential candidate in Britain’s current Tour champion Chris Froome.
Contador, who failed in his attempt for a rare Tour-Giro double earlier this year, will retire at the end of 2016 — a year in which he is expected to aim for a third Tour triumph.
Astana leader Nibali has not raced the Giro since his impressive triumph in the snow-hit edition in 2013.
Although the Italian on Monday gave an indication that next year’s race could tempt him back, he is expected to attempt to win the Tour de France for a second time after 2014.
Standing atop the most prestigious podium in the sport in July is a feat Froome has also experienced twice — in 2013 and ending Contador’s hopes earlier this year.
A duel between the Kenyan-born Briton, who says he is staunchly against doping and the Spaniard who served a two-year ban for taking clenbuterol, would be a tasty appetizer before the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
They are likely to be joined in focusing uniquely on the Tour by Colombian climbing specialist Nairo Quintana, the diminutive Movistar rider who won the 2014 Giro and, now with two runner-up places at the Tour de France (2013, 2015), is edging closer to that top step of the podium on the Champs Elysees.
Giro organisers went to great efforts, highlighting the race’s growing international appeal and success as they unveiled the route to hundreds of onlookers at the Milan World Expo.
But in the coming months they could be pleading with the leading World Tour teams to urge their top riders to take part.
– ‘Attraction of Tour’ –
Race director Mauro Vegni admitted the race for the pink jersey still plays second fiddle to the race for the fabled yellow one.
“I’d like all the top riders to race here but that’s the attraction of the Tour (de France),” he said.
“I hope we’ve done enough with this route to offer some of them, and others, an alternative because only one of them is going to win the Tour.”
Vegni confirmed “Contador said he’s not racing” because of his Tour ambition.
And while Nibali admitted: “It looks like an intense edition. I like it,” the Astana team leader, fresh from winning his maiden Tour of Lombardy on Sunday, added: “it’s still too early to make a decision yet.”
Held over 21 stages from May 6-29, next year’s race totals 3383km and features six mountaintop or uphill finishes and four days in the thin air of the high mountains.
After the opening time trial of 9.8km in Apeldoorn and two further, flat stages in the Netherlands the peloton transfers to the ‘sole’ of the Italian peninsula where the race resumes on stage four at Catanzaro.
The first foray into the high mountains comes on stage 14 over 210 km from Alpago to Corvara – one of three stages on the race given a five-star difficulty rating.
The next day’s stage, a 10.8km uphill time trial from Castelrotto to Alpe di Siusi, has an average gradient of 8.3 percent.
A further three days will be spent in the high mountains, on stages 16, 19 and 20, taking in trips across the border to neighbouring France which hosts the summit finish of stage 19 in Risoul.