The finish to Stage 1 will see the Giro explode into action, writes Jack Houghton, who fancies Van Der Poel and Ulissi on a course that suits...
"Diego Ulissi won a couple of similar stages to this in the 2020 Giro and might be given more freedom by his competitors than Van Der Poel..."
1pt Back Diego Ulissi at 26.025/1
What's the stage like?
Mostly flat, it's likely that little will happen until the latter stages of this 195km route. The fireworks will begin as the peloton approaches the finish line in Visegrad, that sits atop a vicious-looking fourth-category climb to the castle. A little over 5km long, with gradients reaching 8%, it's likely that climb will exclude the out-and-out sprinters.
Who are the favourites?
Given his dominance in one-day races of late, Matthieu Van Der Poel (2.9015/8) will be hard to beat. After early-season doubts around his form, he has been impressive in the Spring Classics and will be motivated by claiming his first Pink Jersey.
This won't be the cakewalk that some seem to assume for Van Der Poel, though. Biniam Girmay (9.008/1) won Gent-Wevelgem in March and may be able to repeat those successful breakaway tactics here. And although still green, Alessandro Covi (20.0019/1) could spring a surprise if repeating his form from Trofeo Laigueglia.
Who are the most likely outsiders?
A lot will depend on how difficult that final climb turns out to be. If it's hard, then Alejandro Valverde (24.0023/1) cannot be discounted. Second at La Fleche Wallonne this year, despite his passing years, he still has the punch to be competitive, although it's perhaps telling that he tends to find one or two too good these days.
A better bet might be Diego Ulissi (26.0025/1). He won a couple of similar stages to this in the 2020 Giro and might be given more freedom by his competitors than Van Der Poel.
What effect will it have on the overall markets?
Not much. We may get an early indication of General Classification form on that final climb, and we should expect the main contenders to want to be prominent, but it's unlikely the likes of Carapaz will throw everything in for the stage win so early in the Giro.
*Odds correct at the time of writing