Giro d'Italia director decries race's lack of star quality
Calendar clash means big names are skipping Italian showpiece to focus on Tour de France
When the Giro d'Italia starts next week with three stages in Northern Ireland and Ireland, there will be a notable lack of star quality in the 198-rider field.
Defending champion Vincenzo Nibali, 2008 winner Alberto Contador, reigning Tour de France winner Chris Froome and his Sky teammate Bradley Wiggins are all skipping the Italian classic to focus on the Tour.
"Absolutely," Giro director Mauro Vegni said when asked if he was upset about all the big names missing. "I'm not going to pretend that that's not the case."
The two favourites for the May 9-June 1 race - Tour runner-up Nairo Quintana and Spanish rider Joaquin Rodriguez - have never won a Grand Tour.
Sky had planned to send Richie Porte but moved the Australian to their Tour squad after the promising rider struggled with illness early this season.
"Sure they had some problems but in terms of moving someone who was supposed to ride the Giro to the Tour, to be honest I didn't like that very much," Vegni said.
"Vincenzo won the Giro in such extraordinary style last year that it's only normal for him to try and win the Tour this year. I understand him."
Vegni is hoping that Brian Cookson, the new president of the International Cycling Union (UCI), speeds up reform of the calendar to make it easier to enter both the Giro and Tour.
"We need to revise the schedule to ensure that the best riders are racing the biggest races," Vegni said. "With the calendar as is, that will never be possible. As it stands now, for the most part whoever rides the Giro doesn't ride the Tour, and vice versa. We're moving forward with the reforms but with great difficulty."
However, Vegni doesn't have a simple answer for how to alter the calendar. For instance, he's not open to moving the Giro to earlier in the season from its usual May position.
"As is we already have a lot of weather problems in May, so earlier would be worse," he said.
Weather might be less of a problem if most of the race was held in southern and central Italy, but Vegni doesn't like that idea either.
"I don't think the fans would accept that," Vegni said, pointing to the 2009 Giro, which had an atypical route. "The fans are used to seeing riders in the tallest mountains over the last week, where history has been made."