Battling for pink - the Giro d'Italia contenders

Justin DAVIS
The pack rides during the sixth stage of 99th Giro d'Italia, 157 km stretch from Ponte to Roccaraso, on May 12, 2016

Penpix of five pink jersey contenders at the 100th edition of the Giro d'Italia, held May 5-28:

Nairo Quintana (COL/MOV)

Small in stature but packing a mighty punch, Colombia's Nairo Quintana is the man most riders and fans should be looking up to during three weeks of epic racing through Italy that could see the Colombian pocket rocket clinch one part of an ambitious Giro-Tour de France double. The feat was last achieved by deceased Italian great Marco Pantani, in 1998, so it would be no surprise to see Quintana keeping his powder dry until the key mountain stages at higher altitude in the final week. "I'm confident I can fight for the victory in both Grand Tours. I will have a very strong team at the Giro, and this gives me lot of confidence," said Quintana. Quintana (Movistar) claimed his maiden Giro title in 2014 and comes to the 100th edition fresh from victory in the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race last month and fired up to add to a Grand Tour victory list that includes the 2016 Tour of Spain title. "I've already won one Giro, and I'm particularly attached to this race, so I couldn't miss the 100th edition," he added.

Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/BAH)

Organisers had hoped the presence of Fabio Aru and defending champion Vincenzo Nibali would produce an all-Italian duel but following Aru's forfeit last month due to injury Nibali is going it alone against race favorite Quintana. Aru's absence means Nibali, who rides for the Bahrain-Merida team, now has one less rival to worry about as he takes aim at his third overall victory following wins in 2013 and 2016. But Nibali, who is set to relish racing stages four and five on his native island of Sicily -- where the peloton will race to Mount Etna on Tuesday -- has plenty of incentive. He has based his season around becoming the first rider since French legend Bernard Hinault to win the race three times. The 'Badger', a five-time Tour de France winner, won the Giro in 1980, 1982 and 1985. Nibali, known as 'The Shark', said: "I'm very happy to be at the start of the Giro in such a special edition. Personally, I'm happy because stage five will finish in my home town, Messina. My objective is to race at my best, then it will be for the road to decide."

Steven Kruijswijk (NED/LNL)

An untimely downhill crash two days before the end of last year's race meant Steven Kruijswijk lost the pink jersey after five days in the lead, and all chance of beating Nibali to the 2016 Giro d'Italia crown. It is no surprise the flying Dutchman, this time around, is hoping to make amends: "After last year's Giro, I can't hide my ambition: everybody will understand that I'm aiming for a spot on the final podium. I'll try to reach the highest step possible. Anyway it will become a special Giro d'Italia, because of the jubilee (100th edition). And the route is very challenging. So it's not only me who is very much looking forward to it, it will be an interesting edition for all Italian people and all cycling fans." Kruijswijk, who rides for the LottoNL team, has been honing his pre-race form at high altitute and sharpened his racing edge at the Tour of Yorkshire: "I have just finished a three-week altitude training camp on El Teide and I've competed at the Tour of Yorkshire to get some extra sharpness in the next couple of days."

Thibaut Pinot (FRA/FDJ)

It has been 28 years since a Frenchman last pulled on the Giro d'Italia pink jersey, but Thibaut Pinot will be doing his best to redress the balance and emulate deceased French legend Laurent Fignon, who won the race in 1989. Flanked by a Swiss guard of FDJ climbing experts, Steve Morabito and Sebastien Reichebach, the 26-year-old climbing specialist has previous experience of fighting for a podium place on the even more prestigious stage of the Tour de France. Three years after finishing third in the race for the yellow jersey, Pinot -- who is also the French time-trial champion -- should be among the movers and shakers in the big mountain stages, and will hope to limit the damage in the race's two time trials. All-rounder Morabito's previous Grand Tour experience means he won't just be helping Pinot when he's racing. "After each rest day, a key stage has been included. You have to know how to manage these breaks to restart the race at your maximum," said Morabito, who is competing in his sixth Giro d'Italia. Pinot notably warmed up for the May 5-28 event with victory in the mountainous final stage of the Tour of the Alps, won by Britain's Geraint Thomas, last month.

Mikel Landa (ESP/SKY)

Team Sky have gone for a two-pronged approach to trying to win the Giro d'Italia crown, with Welshman Geraint Thomas and Spaniard Mikel Landa giving th British outfit some tactical options on the three week-race. But how will it pan out racing at high altitude where the rarified air makes even cycling, never mind racing, an arduous task? Landa is an acclaimed climber, winning two stages on his Giro debut in 2015 to claim a commendable third-place finish. After being forced out with flu on stage 10 last year, the 27-year-old from the Basque country wants to make amends: "As always, it is a race for the climbers and I think that will suit me," said Landa. Thomas, fresh from winning the Tour of the Alps, guided fellow Briton Chris Froome to overall victory on the Tour de France three times and is expected to provide crucial support along the road. Sky chief Sir Dave Brailsford said: "Our focus for the race will be to compete on GC (general classification). In Mikel Landa and Geraint Thomas we're coming into the race with two key riders who will be trying to achieve that."