Yates, Dumoulin back to finish job at Giro d'Italia
Bologna (Italy) (AFP)
Simon Yates and Tom Dumoulin both have a point to prove as they return to this year's Giro d'Italia which starts in Bologna on Saturday after coming so close last year.
Mitchelton-Scott rider Yates dominated the 2018 edition, which started in Israel, before collapsing two days before the finish as compatriot Chris Froome became the first British winner of the three-week race.
Sunweb's Dumoulin -- the 2017 winner -- finished runner-up just 46 seconds behind Froome, who will not be defending his title as he focuses on winning a fifth Tour de France this summer.
Two-time former winner Vincenzo Nibali and Slovenian Primoz Roglic are also among the challengers in the 102nd edition which stays in Italy, apart from one stage into San Marino, a micro state within Italian territory.
"I'm going back to try to finish it," warned Yates, who went on to win his first major race at the Tour of Spain last year.
"Only a few guys in the field have won a grand tour and I'm one, so it's normal to go in as a favourite."
Yates had built a lead of almost a minute with four days to go. Then the race returned to the mountains for three stages.
He faltered on the first, crumbled on the second and faded on the third to finish 21st, more than an hour-and-a quarter behind Froome.
"I felt I was close last year but ran out of gas," he said.
Yates arrives in Bologna having won a stage at the Ruta del Sol and the first time-trial of his career at Paris-Nice in March.
There are three time-trials, a strength of the two previous winners Froome and Dumoulin, but two of those finish uphill.
Michelton have rung the changes to back up 26-year-old Yates in a race with seven summit finishes.
Colombian Esteban Chaves, Dane Christopher Juul-Jensen and Spaniard Mikel Nieve, are the only survivors from last year's team.
- Nibali targets third title -
Dumoulin, 28, and Nibali, 34, are the only former winners in the field.
Dutchman Dumoulin has made the Giro his priority, insisting: "Hopefully there is a big win waiting for me this year. I'll see then for the Tour de France."
Nibali, now riding for the Bahrein team, will have his younger brother Antonio, 26, alongside him for the first time.
The 2013 and 2016 winner will be competing in the event for the eighth time, two years after he last competed and finished third.
"I miss winning," said Nibali.
"My last victory was too long ago (the 2018 Milan-San Remo). Raising the arms up in the air is the nicest thing for an athlete.
"Being superstitious, I don't want to say more than that I'm here for a nice result."
Riders will have to wait until the 13th stage to hit the mountains with the most fearsome climbs grouped into four days with the summits of Gavia and Mortirolo ascended on May 28.
The climbers will again have a chance to upset the hierarchy at the exit of the Dolomites, on the eve of the finish on June 2 in Verona's Roman amphitheatre.
"The Giro looks hard on paper but I like the route," said Roglic, who warmed up with a win at the Tour de Romandie.
The Slovenian, fourth of the Tour de France 2018, has the profile of troublemaker.
"I can do well on all terrains," said the 29-year-old Team Jumbo rider.
"I feel more tension than before my first Giro three years ago, but it's normal and we also need to enjoy, have fun, and like it, otherwise a three-week race is too long and too hard for everyone."
Italy's Davide Formolo is also carrying home hopes after his second in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege, with podium contenders also including Colombian Miguel Angel Lopez, Spaniard Miguel Landa and Ecuadorian Richard Carapaz.
There are also young hopefuls with Britain's Tao Geoghegan Hart and Russian Pavel Sivakov of Team Ineos, formerly Team Sky, who said competing "without any pressure" could create some surprises.
The first challenge of this year's adventure for the 176 riders from 22 teams will be the 8.2km time-trial up to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca, overlooking Bologna in northeast Italy.
? 2019 AFP