ROME The biggest obstacles in Ivan Bassos bid to win his third Giro dItalia could come from the Lampre squad and a host of international riders, with the years first major tour kicking off Saturday with three stages in Denmark.
Basso, the winner of the Giro in 2006 and 2010, hasnt had spectacular early season form. But hes the closest thing the race has to a favorite, with Alberto Contador serving a doping ban that stripped him of last years title and Tour de France champion Cadel Evans focusing on winning that race again.
Basso finished a distant 33rd in the Tour de Romandie last weekend, a result he attributed to extra training for the Giro. He didnt confirm he would ride in the Giro until last week.
I put in a lot of effort for this event, and all the extra work made me anxious, but now I know I can fight for the pink jersey, Basso said.
Michele Scarponi, who was bumped up to winner last year, and Lampre teammate Damiano Cunego the 2004 Giro winner both could challenge Basso. So could Frank Schleck of Luxembourg, who finished third in last years Tour.
Other international challengers include last years best young rider, Roman Kreuziger of the Czech Republic, Joaquin Rodriguez of Spain and John Gadret of France, who was bumped up to the podium after finishing fourth last year.
Theres no leader or top team, so thats going to make controlling the race more difficult, Scarponi said.
The race will open with a 5.4-mile individual time trial in Herning, followed by two more flat stages in Denmark for sprinters.
Herning is 170 miles west of Copenhagen and the hometown of Team Saxo Bank manager Bjarne Riis.
I just arrived, and I can see the whole city is totally pink. That is fantastic, Riis told TV2 channel Thursday.
After an early rest day, the race will transfer to Italy for the fourth stage, a team time trial in Verona.
All of the big mountain stages come in the last eight stages, with five uphill finishes at Cervinia, Piani dei Resinelli, Cortina dAmpezzo, Alpe di Pampeago and the Stelvio Pass.
The queen stage is the penultimate 20th leg, a 136-mile route featuring the legendary Mortirolo climb and then finishing with an equally grueling climb to the Stelvio Pass.
The race will end with an 18.7-mile individual time trial in Milan on May 27.
Taylor Phinney of the BMC squad is among the favorites for Saturdays opening time trial. If he wins, he would be the first American to wear the pink jersey since Christian Vande Velde when Garmin won the opening team time trial in Palermo in 2008.
No American has won the Giro since Andy Hampsten took the lead by attacking amid a blizzard on the Gavia Pass in 1988.
Other overall contenders include Ryder Hesjedal, a Canadian who will have Vande Velde supporting him on the Garmin team, and Thomas De Gendt, a Belgian rider with Vacansoleil.
In last years Tour, De Gendt finished fifth at LAlpe dHuez and third in the final time trial in Grenoble.
World champion Mark Cavendish will be the favorite in the sprints. The large range of challengers include Matthew Goss, Tyler Farrar, Thor Hushovd, Mark Renshaw and Sacha Modolo.
No rider will wear No. 108, which has been retired after the death of Belgian rider Wouter Weylandt in last years third stage.
Associated Press writer Jan Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.