No, dear newbie (and dear oldie as well), Lance isn't riding it--and no, it didn't matter last year, either. Why? Because there's so much more to this race than just a rabid unquestioning cult of personality! And besides, that belongs to the great Marco Pantani. What'll you see? This!
1) The Contenders: it's a hot field, honey, and more'n just the two-dimensional dipwad Contador 'n' Armstrong crap you'll hear all July. Who's news? Ex-Lance protege Ivan Basso, still hoping to prove he can be the rider he was before his ignominious doping ban for the scandalous Operacion Puerto. Fellow Liquigas captain/desperate for credit Franco Pelli--oops, maybe next year! Crazed Astana captain/hugely controversial ex-(allegedly!)doper Alexander Vinokourov, out for revenge against everyone who still thinks he's dirty. Tour de France ever-bridesmaid Cadel Evans, whose world champion stripes have really given him wings and freed him from years of accusations of wheel-sucking timidity. And quiet Tour de France winner/pure climber Carlos Sastre, battling his own fragility in the crucial time trials and on the flats right down to the final podium. Tell me, what's *not* to love about these bad boys!
2) The Climbers: far more so than the Tour, the Giro is a pure climber's race. And the Italians, being on their home turf, want it more than anyone. Franco "Goldilocks" Pelli--oops, maybe next year! Former winner-backstabber/aging baby savant Damiano Cunego, really a Classics man but wanting to prove he still deserves his nation's adoration at the Giro. Stefano Garzelli, burnin' up the tarmac this year in the heights. Last, but *so* not least, 2x Giro king/well-seasoned (sounds better than "damn, he's old!", right?) Gilberto Simoni, retiring after the race and dearly wanting one last win in front of his hometown fans. They'll surge, they'll crack, and they'll surge again in the nail-biting pressure of the Pyrenees. Forza, forza, Gibo--and you'll be *begging* someone to dope you up when he leaves you in the dust, Ricco' you ungrateful twerp!
3) The Sprinters: with the Giro not especially friendly to out of towners, it's all about Alessandro Petacchi, baby. Arguably the greatest of his generation (and admittedly, a generation don't usually last too long for these guys), Petacchi hid the skids then came blazing back last Giro with a formidable 652 stage wins. All talk and no action, *again*--younger-but-not-stronger Daniele Bennati. Foreign riff-raff: well, the great Oscar Freire's been smacked out with allergies, which leaves you-just-watch-him-he's-ready American phenom Tyler Farrar; Andre Greipel, continuing his catfight with Tour-bound Mark Cavendish; and Robbie McEwen, who, if he doesn't actually beat you in the sprint, can actually beat you down, so you might as well concede defeat. Dai, Ale-Jet!
4) The Escape Artists: if they ain't a threat to GC, and they can't particularly sprint, *and* their team boss can afford to have 'em bonk the day after to trick the narcs, the rolling stages are all about the breakaways, baby! Spoilers: versatile tough guy Pippo Pozzato, aiming for the maglia rosa and a few key stages, Op Puerto victim/recently redeemed Michele Scarponi. Look for we love irrepressible Jens Voigt to leap off the front like an upper-stoked dog after a Frisbee, even though he's not even riding this race. We love Jens!
Well, Giro freaks new'n'old, except for your handy guide to unlawful gambling, that's today's intro. Next up: the stages you have to watch, what the hell does it say on the TV screen?, and of course, our never-fail Losing Pick o' the Day. Now pop that Prosecco, ply me with prosciutto, and let's get this party started!