The biggest women's stage race of the season kicks off Friday and should offer ample climbing and an exciting penultimate-stage time trial

Spanning 10 days and covering nearly 900km, the Giro Rosa is the grand tour of women’s cycling. The 2015 race kicks-off Friday in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana with a short 2km prologue time trial. Two-time winner Mara Abbott (Wiggle Honda) and current world champion Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (Rabo-Liv) headline the start list.

Defending champion Marianne Vos will not be present, as an injuries continue to hamper her season.

2015 marks the 26th edition of the Giro Rosa, as the race runs July 3-12 and mostly takes place in northern Italy. A testing 21.5km time trial over rolling terrain on the penultimate day will test the stamina of the riders. The final day will provide plenty of fireworks, as the stage finishes atop a category 1 climb to the ski resort in San Domenico di Varzo.

“Together with all teams, we want to put on a great show of women’s cycling for the partners and supporters of the sport,” Bigla Pro Cycling team manager, Thomas Campana, said.

The second half of the race is tailored to the climbers, but the first few days suit the sprinters. The mass gallops should see fantastic battles between two-time world champion Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle-Honda) and all-rounder Anna van der Breggen (Rabo-Liv). Also, don’t count out Sara Mustonen-Lichan (Liv-Plantur), as she has shown great form lately with two silver medals at the Swedish national championships.

The always-active Orica-AIS team brings a young squad to the race, as four members of the team will be making their Giro Rosa debuts. “It’s a great race and this year it’s all in the north of Italy so we are really excited that we will be racing pretty much in our backyard,” Orica-AIS sport director Gene Bates said.

Another young team, Liv-Plantur, will be looking for a high GC placing with Claudia Lichtenberg, who won the race in 2009 and finished fourth last year.

The American contingent will be in full force. Boels-Dolmans has a strong duo in Evelyn Stevens and U.S. national road race champion Megan Guarnier.

Stevens has twice finished in the top five — third in 2012 and fifth in 2013, and Guarnier finished seventh last year. Along with teammate Elizabeth Armitstead, the Boels-Dolmans team should be a force to be reckoned with at this year’s race.

Abbott, of course, will aim for a third overall title, and Tayler Wiles (Velocio-SRAM) will be racing her third Giro Rosa. Carmen Small will make her debut, both at the race and with the Bigla team after switching squads a mere 14 days before the start.

2015 Giro Rosa stage summaries

Prologue: City Ljubljana – 2km

The race kicks off in the capital of Slovenia with short 2km individual time trial. The quick effort has the chance to cause some surprises, as the course includes two U-turns. The riders must be fully focused to avoid mistakes before the real racing gets underway.

Stage 1: Kamnik to Ljubljana – 102.5km

The race stays in Slovenia for the first road stage with a departure in Kamnik and finish in the capital city. The sprinters should have their day, as there is only one category 3 climb, midway through the mostly flat stage. Positioning will be key coming into the finale with the last corner coming a mere 300 meters from the finish line.

Stage 2: Gaiarine to San Flor – 121.5km

The second stage brings the race into Italy with a 121.5km ride from Gaiarine to San Flor. The beginning of the stage is pancake-flat, but with about 50km to go to the finish, the course turns lumpy. The riders will face a category 3 climb followed by two category 2 climbs before descending into San Flor. The final climb peaks with 20km to go, but a short, non-categorized climb coming with 6km to go could be where the stage-winning move is made. This could be the first time the GC contenders will show their form.

Stage 3: Curtatone to Mantova – 130km

The third stage, the longest of the Giro Rosa at 130km, kicks off four days in the Lombardy region of Italy. The course from Curtatone to Mantova has sprint finish written all over it, with a fast and straight final 500 meters to the line.

Stage 4: Pioltello to Pozzo d’Adda – 103km

The fourth stage from Pioltello to Pozzo d’Adda will again suit the sprinters of this year’s Giro Rosa. The fatigue of a stage race will begin to set in and a breakaway could go the distance, as many of the teams will be focused on getting ready for the GC battle to begin.

Stage 5: Trezzo sull’Adda to Aprica – 128.4km

Stage five kicks off a hard second half to the Giro Rosa. A 128.4km stage from Trezzo sull’Adda to Aprica will finally let the GC contenders stretch their legs. The climb to Aprica isn’t steep, but the riders will be facing a positive gradient for the last 30km of the stage. A reduced-group sprint should be expected. Look for a rider who can climb moderately well, but definitely has a fast-finishing kick to win the stage.

Stage 6: Tresivio to Morbegno – 102.5km

The sixth stage from Tresivio to Morbegno should be hard racing from start to finish. The riders begin a category 2 climb only 10km into the stage, before tackling the 7km category 1 climb to Sondrio. The climb up to Sondrio will definitely whittle down the peloton, but once over it, the day’s climbing isn’t over. The riders still have one more cat. 2 climb to ride before a fast descent and long flat run-in into Morbegno.

Stage 7: Arenzano to Loano – 89.7km

After a long transfer, the Liguria region welcomes the Giro Rosa for the final three days. The seventh stage from Arenzano to Loano will be a little easier on the legs of the riders, but not so in the beginning of the stage. Two major climbs mark the day, with a short, steep category 1 climb in the opening 25km. The second climb, a category 3, is long and gradual and shouldn’t create much separation. A long, fast descent to the sea should create an exciting finish to the stage.

Stage 8: Pisano to Nebbiuno – 21.7km individual time trial

The penultimate-stage 21.7km individual time trial from Pisano to Nebbiuno will definitely have an impact on the general classification. The course is full of narrow, winding streets, so good bike-handling skills are a necessity. The route is not flat, but rather rolling with no major climbs. A slight 1km uphill drag occurs inside the final 3km of the course, before a fast run-in into Nebbiuno. Coming toward the end of the race, the time trial will show who has the stamina to go the distance.

Stage 9 Verbania to San Domenico di Varzo – 92.7km

The final stage of the Giro Rosa will be no celebratory affair, as the race finishes at the ski resort in San Domenico di Varzo at 1,400 meters (4,593 feet). The climb is a brutal one, at 10km in length and averaging just under 8 percent it is for the pure climbers.