The Giro d’Italia gets underway with an individual time trial in Monreale, Sicily, today – with British riders Geraint Thomas and Simon Yates, both of whom have unfinished business with the race, among the favourites to take the maglia rosa in Milan in three weeks’ time.
Ineos Grenadiers rider Thomas crashed out of the race in his last participation in 2017 due to a race moto parked on the wrong side of the road, while the following year Mitchelton-Scott’s Yates lost the race lead after a fortnight following Chris Froome’s stunning attack on the Colle delle Finestre.
Both would go on to enjoy Grand Tour success that year – Thomas in the Tour de France, Yates in the Vuelta, which together with Froome’s Giro victory marked an historic achievement in three different riders from one country winning each of cycling’s Grand Tours that year.
The focus for both over the next three weeks will be the general classification at the Giro, where they also face strong competition from a field including Astana’s Jakob Fuglsang, looking for has first Grand Tour victory, and Trek-Segafredo’s Vincenzo Nibali, twice a winner of the Corsa Rosa.
Speaking to BBC Sport Wales, Thomas said: “It's always been in the back of my mind, wanting to come back here and have another crack at it.
“It felt like I was in great shape then and obviously a crash put an end to that.
“So I've always wanted to come back and try and give it a good go - at least finish the race for a start!
“I know I can perform and this year seems to be the perfect opportunity to do that. I think I'm coming into form at just the right time and the motivation for sure is there from the past as well.”
The Welshman was left out of the Ineos Grenadiers squad for the Tour de France, a decision many suggested was the wrong one as defending champion Egan Bernal and Richard Carapaz, winner of last year’s Giro d’Italia, failed to make an impact on the overall standings.
Team Principal Sir Dave Brailsford said: “Geraint's one of the most experienced riders in our team and has been for years, he's very successful and he's come a long way since the start of his career with us.
“People saw it as a non-selection [for the Tour] but it's not a non-selection. We've known each other a very long time so we could sit down and have a mature conversation about the Tour or look a bit further at the Giro, where he could be competitive in the general classification.
“I think it's more exciting and a better option for a rider of Geraint's standing to be here at the Giro, competing for the overall win. I'm very pleased about the decision we made.
“It's not impacted on our relationship in anyway whatsoever."
“I totally agree,” said Thomas. “We had a really good, long, honest chat and a decision was made and we're going all guns blazing for the Giro.
“This is what I wanted to do. The only downside was that I'm missing my son Macs' first birthday, my fifth wedding anniversary and my wife Sara's 30th birthday.
“But other than that, from a purely professional point of view, I'm super hungry for it and I think it was a good decision. You've just got to have the balls to do it.
“Where I am in my career, I want to go to races to perform and win or at least be in the mix. With the Tour I wasn't quite where I wanted to be so, with the Giro, I feel like I'm in good shape.”
The 34 year old, who last month finished second to Yates at Tirreno-Adriatico, conceded he was among the favourites for the Giro, adding: “I'm not saying I'm going to come and win the race but I will definitely be there or thereabouts.
“I've done all the hard work and that's all I can control. I'm hopeful that I'll be in the mix. I'm really looking forward to it now.”
Yates, who won three stages of the 2018 race and finished 8th overall at last year’s Giro d’Italia, said: “Tirreno was a great victory and I’m very proud of what I accomplished there but the big goal has always been the Giro, so I hope I can hold my form from there until the end of the Giro.
“Since then, I have returned to altitude in Andorra to finish my preparation at home, so that I can hit two birds with one stone; spending some much needed time at home, while still preparing the best way possible to arrive in a great space for the Giro.
“The Giro is a hard and unpredictable race,” the 28 year old, quoted in his hometown newspaper, The Bury Times, reflected. “You need to be ready at any moment to adapt the strategy to prepare for victory.
“Normally at the Giro the weather is getting better day-by-day as we start in spring and approach summer, whereas this year will be the complete opposite. I’m expecting some bad weather this year and I’m mentally prepared for that.”
Mitchelton-Scott sports director Matt White said: “Regardless of the result in Tirreno, we were always going to come in as one of the favourites. We haven’t hid the fact that Simon is motivated to try to win the Giro, it’s a race we came close to winning in 2018 and I think we’ve continued to learn since then.
“As a unit, we’re going back knowing what we are capable of – you do learn from your mistakes and your experiences and a lot of water has passed under the bridge since 2018.
“It’s not rocket science, but it’s going to be about consistency over three weeks. It’s the toughest of the three Grand Tours; we have a hard start, a hard finish and a lot of kilometres in between,” he added.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.