Vicenzo Nibali will not defending his Giro d’Italia crown when the Fight for Pink beings in Belfast on Friday, May 9.
The Italian was not in the provisional list released by organisers RCS on Tuesday, and it is unlikely he will feature when the teams rubber stamp their nine-man rosters later this month.
With some of the big names working towards the Tour de France this year, it could be an occasion for some strong contenders to win a Grand Tour for the first time.
Climbing specialist Nairo Quintana of the Movistar team would be many people’s favourite to wear the Maglia Rosa when the race reaches Trieste on the final stage.
The young Colombian finished runner-up overall Chris Froome in last year’s Tour de France and taking the polka dot jersey for winning the mountain’s classification along the way.
With a lot of climbing along involved in the 21 stages, he is expected to shine on the mountain heavy route.
Quintana, of course will not have it his own way. Former Tour de France winner Cadel Evans is coming into some great form at present and the Australian’s BMC team are at the top of their game during the current Classics.
Quintana will also face a bigf challenge from his fellow countryman Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), who finished second in the last edition, and Katusha’s Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), despite the fact that the Spaniard crashed out of the Amstel Gold Belgium Classic last weekend.
Then there are the three Irishmen who are on the start list of 198 riders who could well finish in the top.
Cousins Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) and Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo) have targeted the Giro, particularly the Grande Partenza where they hope to get hold of the pink jersey on their home tarmac.
Sky’s Philip Deignan, who is returning from injury, may not feature in the final shake down, but with a team time trial around Belfast in the opening the race, he could find himself in the Maglia Rosa before the peleton heads to Italy for the fourth stage on Tuesday May 14.
Deignan’s team is without one of the pre-racefavourites in Richie Porte, after they pulled him out suffering from a virus.
Bradley Wiggins is also missing, along with Froome, Manxman Peter Kennaugh could be the team’s best chance of a top finish.
While spectators will not see the powerpack that is Mark Cavendish who won the red jersey for the points classification last year in the Giro, there are plenty of top sprinters in the field to electrify Stages two and Three.
Marcel Kittel of the Giant-Shimano team could be the man to wear the Maglia Rosso Passione (red jersey) for the points classification at the end. The German even dominated Cavendish at last year’s Tour de France and will be out to grab the sprint headlines again in Italy.
His biggest threat could be Sky’s Ben Swift who has been in great form in the recent Classics picking up a third place in the famous Milan-San Remo two weeks ago.
The Giro d’Italia begins in Belfast on May 9, with a 21.7km team time trial around east and south of Belfast, before Stage two heads up the north coast and Stage Three leaves Armagh before finishing in Dublin.