The first Grand Tour of 2022 starts on Friday, with the Giro d'Italia getting underway in Hungary.
Any chances of Egan Bernal being in line to defend his title were dashed in January, when the Colombian suffered serious injuries in a training ride in his homeland.
Fortunately, Bernal has recovered and is training again in Europe with his INEOS Grenadiers team-mates, but he will not be vying for a second successive maglia rosa.
Likewise, Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar is skipping the Giro to focus his efforts on a third straight yellow jersey. His fellow Slovenian Primoz Roglic, too, will not be present for the 3,445.6km race that begins in Budapest and takes in a trip around Sicily before snaking its way around the Italian mainland, finishing with a time trial in Verona.
But the lack of standout favorites could well result in a more open race. Though not a general classification contender, Mark Cavendish is making his long-awaited Giro return, while Vincenzo Nibali will visit his hometown on what seems set to be his final appearance at this particular Grand Tour.
Stats Perform looks at the key storylines heading into the Giro d'Italia.
Picks of the bunch
This year's route features only 26.3km of time trialling – the lowest amount in a Giro since 1963, when there were no time trials. Instead, there is close to 51km of climbing, with much of that reserved for the gruelling final stages.
It is no surprise, then, that reigning world time trial champion Filippo Ganna, who has won six stages across the last two Giro and claimed gold in the team pursuit for Italy at the Tokyo Olympics, is not involved for INEOS this time around.
Leading the Grenadiers will be Richard Carapraz, the 2019 victor who will have support from Pavel Sivakov, a particularly strong climber.
For Alpecin-Felix, Mathieu van der Poel will hope to build on his impressive GT debut from last year's Tour de France and collect some points in the early stages, while Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange) will want another shot at Giro glory.
Yates had top drop out in 2020 after testing positive for coronavirus but won two stages to finish third in 2021. Indeed, that makes him the best performer from last year's GC to feature this time around, with Damiano Caruso, who took second, also sitting out.
Tom Dumoulin won in 2017 and is back after a hiatus, while 42-year-old Movistar rider Alejandro Valverde is set for his final Giro appearance, with the Spaniard set to retire at the end of the season.
Mikel Landa took the maglia azzurra in 2017 and he leads a Bahrain-Victorious team that includes Wout Poels, who held the king of the mountains jersey for four stages of Le Tour last year.
Cav is back
After his sensational efforts in last year's Tour de France, when he matched Eddy Merckx's record of 34 stage wins, Cavendish will return to the Giro after a nine-year absence after he was confirmed to be heading up the Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl team.
Cavendish last featured in the race in 2013, topping the points classification after winning five stages.
His participation here does cast doubt over whether he will compete in Le Tour and get the chance to set the stage-win record in that race, especially as he turns 37 later this month (he'll celebrate his birthday with a 153km mountain stage from Santena to Torino on May 21).
However, regardless of whether he gets another shot at Tour de France history in July, Cavendish will be out to add to his 15 Giro stage wins.
Nibali's long goodbye
The Giro passes through Messina on May 11, marking a return to his hometown for Nibali, the two-time champion who looks set to be making his final appearance in the race.
Nibali has won four Grand Tours and while the 37-year-old is unlikely to make any GC inroads (his last success was in 2016), it will be a glorious opportunity for him to bid farewell.
He was in tears after winning last year's Giro di Sicilia – how fitting would it be if he were to win an eighth Giro stage of his career back in the town where he grew up.
Nibali was the last Italian rider to win the Giro, and Italy's hopes rest on Trek-Segafredo's Giulio Ciccone, who crashed out in 2021.