Friday marks the beginning of cycling's first grand tour of the year, as for the first time, the Giro d'Italia gets underway in Hungary.
The 105th edition of the race sees the peloton tackle 3,445.6 kilometres, with Budapest hosting the 'Grande Partenza' and culminating in a closing time-trial in Verona on 29th May.
During the race, they will ride through the Hungarian countryside before transferring to Sicily, with Tuesday's finish on Mount Etna being the headline act on the first big day of racing on stage 4.
The meandering route also takes the racing cross country from the Mediterranean to the Adriatic and features stops in both the Apennines and the Dolomites, with the penultimate day's mountain stage in the latter described by the guidebook as "colossal".
As ever, the leader of the General Classification will wear the maglia rosa, while there are also jerseys on offer for the Points Classification (maglia ciclamino), Mountains Classification (maglia azzurra) and Young rider classification (maglia bianca), while the Team classification is known as the classifica a squadre.
Whisper it, but Ineos Grenadiers have dominated this race in recent years. Chris Froome took the honours when they were still Team Sky in 2018, before Tao Geoghegan Hart and Egan Bernal claimed the maglia rosa in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
|2020||Tao Geoghegan Hart|
Injury means Bernal won't be back to defend his crown, with Ineos set to be led by the man who interrupted their run. Richard Carapaz won the Giro for Movistar in 2019 and is 11/8 for a second triumph with his current employers. Carapaz has a stellar support cast, with Richie Porte and Pavel Sivakov selected as his key lieutenants.
Like the Ecuadorian, BikeExchange-Jayco's Simon Yates will hope to exploit the route's lack of time-trialling and will be looking to push on from last year's third-place finish.
Yates is 11/2 in the overall market, while UAE Team Emirates' Joao Almeida is 11/2. The Portuguese will be desperate to take his chance with team leader Tadej Pogacar prioritising a third straight Tour de France title.
Like Carapaz and Yates, the absence of kilometres spent racing against the clock could suit Bahrain Victorious' Mikel Landa and Astana's Miguel Angel Lopez, who are 9/1 and 11/1, respectively. Meanwhile, don't be shocked to see DSM's Romain Bardet, who is 14/1 and Guillaume Martin of Cofidis, a value shot at 80/1, shine on GC away from the harsh glare of the French media.
Mark Cavendish's Points Jersey triumph at last year's Tour was one of the sport's great redemption stories, the Manxman winning four stages to clinch the green jersey and draw him level with Eddy Merckx on a record 34 stage wins.
However, having been a late replacement for Sam Bennett, even his 2021 results weren't enough to convince Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team boss Patrick Lefevere that he deserved another go at La Grande Boucle this summer. The Belgian has never been one for sentiment and even with the prospect of eclipsing Merckx, Lefevere's decision to send Cav to the Giro suggests he won't be heading to the Tour.
The 36-year-old usually excels when he has a point to prove and is 7/2 to take the Points Classification for the second time in his career. Stage wins in the UAE and Oman, plus a one-day success at Milano-Torino, suggests the form is there.
With seven flat stages, there are opportunities for the quick men and Groupama-FDJ's Arnaud Demare is himself 2/1 to take a second maglia ciclamino, having done so in 2020 when his four stage wins proved enough.
Alternatively, Peter Sagan's success in this competition in 2021 showed that riders can win it differently to dominating the sprints. Ever the opportunist, Sagan chipped away at the intermediate sprints to build his winning total.
Alpecin-Fenix's Mathieu van der Poel, fresh from a Classics campaign that saw him do the Flanders double, might be the most likely rider to compete in this manner at 6/1.
The Dutchman wore yellow during the first week of last year's Tour and has the speed to be a nuisance in the sprints and the grunt to get through the mountains.
Van der Poel could well make a winning start. The 195km route is mainly flat before kicking up towards the end and his strength looks like it could give him the edge over the punchy finish.
As the outfit to have dominated the General Classification in recent years, it's no surprise to see Team Ineos 3/1 to win the Team Classification, with Bahrain Victorious 13/4 and Bora Hansgrohe 4/1.
Almeida, who has finished fourth and sixth in the last two years, is odds on to win the maglia bianca and is in good form after top-10s in Paris-Nice and Volta a Catalunya.
As ever, of the other markets, the mountains Classification is always the toughest to call. Those who wear the maglia azzurra are hard to pin down pre-race, as this is a competition that often unfolds as the race goes on.
Some riders targeting this prize hold back on the first week so that they'll be given greater freedom to attack later in the Giro. Conversely, other previous maglia azzurra wearers have been overall contenders who have gone out too hard and had to rejig their strategy to salvage their race.
Both Bardet and Martin are sure to be contenders, although Carapaz's constant presence in the mountains makes him a formidable opponent.