All you need to know about the 2020 Giro d'Italia
The second road cycling Grand Tour of 2020, the Giro d'Italia, begins in Sicily on Saturday (3 October).
Due to Covid-19 and its effects on the calendar, the Giro is being held after the Tour de France and before the Vuelta a Espana.
In fact, the Giro overlaps the start of the Vuelta and its proximity to Le Tour - which ended less than two weeks ago - means there is a more select field in the battle for the general classification and the 'Maglia Rosa' (pink jersey).
Last year's champion Richard Carapaz rode Le Tour so will not defend his title with his Ineos team-mate, 2018 Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas, fancied to claim his second Grand Tour win.
Two-time winner and 2019 runner-up Vincenzo Nibali is also in the field along with 2018 Vuelta victor Simon Yates.
With three time trials, the home crowd could have plenty to cheer in the form of Filippo Ganna who claimed his first world title on the road last week in Imola.
And after yielding his green points jersey to Sam Bennett in Le Tour, Peter Sagan hopes to be back firing on what will be his Giro debut.
The men to watch at the 2020 Giro d'Italia
Geraint Thomas is in the hunt for his second Grand Tour victory following some fine performances in recent weeks.
The Welshman was left off the Tour de France after a below-par showing in the Criterium du Dauphine.
Thomas, 34, then embarked on a fitness and weight-loss drive, and the results were immediate with second place in the Tirreno Adriatico followed by fourth place in the time trial at the Road Race World Championships.
The bookmakers have made him a short-priced favourite for the Giro but the two-time Olympic team pursuit gold medallist, speaking exclusively to Olympic Channel, believes that status matters little once racing gets underway.
Thomas said, "Yeah, that's obviously a compliment. But at the same time, it means nothing. I think once you get to the race, everyone starts from scratch. And then you kind of go from there and race the race. From my point of view, I just try and get there at 100 percent, as best as I can be, and then just go from there. You have your ideal plan of how you race but, as we all know, it changes pretty quickly in cycling.
"I think the (three) time trials are obviously a big plus for me compared to most of the other GC guys, so hopefully I can gain a bit of time and then the rest of the race is hard. You know, every day there'll be a challenge. By the end of October, the weather could be quite a bit different as well.
"Obviously, the last week is hard; you've got Etna and stuff in the first few days. But once you get into it, it's kind of just day by day and you try not to think too far ahead."
Vincenzo Nibali may not have been in the best of form of late, but he is impossible to write off on home soil.
The Shark is one of seven riders to win all three Grand Tours, completing the feat in the 2014 Tour de France having won La Vuelta in 2010 and the Giro in 2013.
He claimed his second Giro in 2016 and has not been out of the top three since 2010.
The 35-year-old will have plenty of home support especially on the opening time trial in Palermo with Nibali born on the island of Sicily in Messina.
Nibali is the undisputed leader of Trek-Segafredo for the Giro and will rely on Giulio Ciccone, who missed last month's Tirreno Adriatico after testing positive for coronavirus, to support him in the mountains.
Another man who will be inconvenienced by the number of time trials is Simon Yates.
The Mitchelton-Scott rider is clearly in excellent shape after taking a stage and overall victory at the Tirreno Adriatico ahead of fellow Briton Thomas.
But the 28-year-old will need to take a big lead from the mountains into the final time trial in Milan if he is to add the 'Maglia Rosa' to his 2018 Vuelta win.
Two years ago, he took the lead on Mount Etna and held it for 13 days before cracking spectacularly on the lower slopes of the Finestre with Chris Froome taking control before completing a full set of Grand Tours.
Like the Giro, the Tirreno Adriatico ended with an individual time trial with Yates taking overall victory by 17 seconds having led Thomas by 39 seconds overnight.
The Jumbo-Visma team is arguably the most powerful in cycling at the moment and would have won the Tour de France for Primoz Roglic had he not collapsed on the final time trial to hand victory to fellow Slovenian Tadje Pogacar.
Their leader in Italy is Steven Kruijswijk who missed Le Tour through injury sustained in a crash at the Dauphine.
The 33-year-old Dutchman would have been supporting Roglic in France, but now he gets another crack at the Giro having crashed while holding the overall race lead in 2016.
The team around him may not be able to control the peloton as they did at Le Tour, but Geraint Thomas believes they warrant plenty of respect.
He said of Jumbo-Visma, "Yeah, they're obviously super strong at the moment. Seen them improving in the last few years, really. It's not been a surprise. They've just really committed to that sort of project of trying to win the Tour, and they almost achieved it.
"They're going to be competitive for a good few years now. It's definitely good for the sport." - Geraint Thomas on Jumbo-Visma
The familiar blue colours of the Astana team look set to be near the front of the peloton with veteran Jakob Fuglsang carrying their GC hopes.
The Dane claimed his second career Monument win at August's Il Lombardia, a race overshadowed by Remco Evanopoel sustaining a fractured pelvis in a heavy crash.
Team-mate Aleksandr Vlasov finished third that day and the young Russian makes his eagerly-anticipated Grand Tour debut in the Giro after a fine 2020 so far.
But it is 35-year-old Fuglsang who carries his team's hopes of overall victory despite only recording one top-10 finish in previous Grand Tour outings.
Even if Nibali fails to find his form of the past, the home crowds could have plenty to celebrate over the next three weeks courtesy of Filippo Ganna.
Fresh from becoming Italy's first time trial world champion, the 24-year-old has a great chance to win the opening stage in Palermo and put on the pink jersey.
The second time trial is hilly and may not be to his liking, but the final stage finishing at Milan's Duomo should suit him down to the ground.
That said, his main job is to help Ineos team leader Geraint Thomas secure the Maglia Rosa.
Peter Sagan may not be a GC contender but the Slovak hopes to make his presence felt after failing to win a stage, and losing his green jersey, at the Tour de France.
Incredibly, Sagan will be making his Giro debut and misses this autumn's rescheduled Classics to do so.
It is well over a year since one of cycling's shining stars has won a race, and taking a stage in Italy will be no easy task.
With Fernando Gaviria, Rio 2016 omnium gold medallist Elia Viviani and Arnaud Demare sure to be battling out sprints on the flatter stages, Sagan may find his best chance lies on one of the slightly hillier tests.
The route of the 2020 Giro d'Italia
There is very little time for the field to find their climbing form in this year's Giro with an ascent of Sicily's Mount Etna presenting a big early test on Stage 3 on Monday.
That could easily separate the wheat from the chaff as far as the general classification goes, but then there are a number of flat stages which will give opportunities for the sprinters to show what they can do.
After a rest day on the Monday 12th, there are three more stages for the sprinters before the inclines steepen again.
The Stage 14 individual time trial in the heart of Prosecco country will be a real challenge before the mountain goats come into their own.
The following day is a 185km cycle taking in four climbs including a summit finish in Piancavallo synonymous with the late Marco Pantani.
And there are three serious mountain stages in the final week although the elements could see some of these cancelled with snow far from unusual at this time of year in the Italian Alps.
The penultimate stage is 198km from Alba to Sestriere with high drama expected ahead of the finale - a 15.7km time trial finishing in the centre of Milan - which will decide who claims the coveted Maglia Rosa.