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Giro to roll out of Belfast without Italian hopeful for pink

BELFAST (VN) — The Giro d’Italia will start its 97th edition without one outstanding favorite for the overall victory and when the race rolls out from Belfast on Friday without a top-shelf Italian contender, attention will turn to foreigners like Nairo Quintana, Joaquím Rodríguez, and Cadel Evans.

“Since 2000 the scales have tipped in favor of the international riders,” race director Mauro Vegni said Wednesday.

Although the big names agreed that there is no singular favorite in the midweek pre-race press conference, the bookmakers are favoring Quintana (Movistar), second in the Tour de France last year, to win the Italian grand tour. Bet365.com listed the Colombian at 5:6 on Wednesday, with Rodríguez at 5:2 and Evans at 10:1.

According to the oddsmakers, Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale), at 25:1, represents Italy’s best chance to win when the race, which finishes June 1 in Trieste. Ivan Basso (Cannondale), who won two editions of the Giro but is now 36 years old, is at 50:1.

“In the last 10 years, we worked hard on making the race international,” Vegni said. “What do I mean by international? I mean the recognition of the Giro abroad, which was probably very Italian and not very international up until 2000.

“It’s clear, the scales have tipped. That shows that we’ve been successful with our work and we are upping the international level of our race.”

In 2012 the race even saw an all-foreign final podium with Canadian Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) on top. That was a first since 1995. Unlike today, Ivan Basso and Michele Scarponi gave the home country hope for pink ahead of the race’s 95th edition.

Last year the Giro welcomed reigning Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins (Sky). This year the only stage race stars it misses are Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Chris Froome (Sky), and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). Nibali, the Sicilian winner of the 2013 Giro and 2010 Vuelta a España, would have been a top favorite for his second Giro title, had he raced.

“I already said last year when he won the Giro that it’s only natural that he turns his attention to winning the Tour de France,” said Vegni.

Without a man to win the pink jersey in Trieste, Italy must turn its attention to stage victories and developing its future stars. Veterans like Enrico Gasparotto (Astana), former pink jersey Luca Paolini (Katusha), and Lampre-Merida’s Filippo Pozzato and former Giro champion Damiano Cunego should provide some excitement for the home-country fans.

The Italian Tifosi also have plenty of young riders to cheer, with Diego Rosa (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela); Sonny Colbrelli and Enrico Battaglin (Bardiani-CSF); Elia Viviani, Moreno Moser, and Davide Villella (Cannondale); Mattia Cattaneo (Lampre-Merida); Salvatore Puccio (Sky); Fabio Felline and Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Factory Racing); and Adriano Malori (Movistar), who could be up to the task of landing his first grand tour stage win in the time trial on day 12.

“The Giro d’Italia is a launch pad for young riders, as well,” Vegni said. “I am satisfied with the participation of riders here in Belfast. We have a new generation. We can showcase those riders.”