It’s never too early to look ahead to the next pro cycling season. The Tour Down Under will once again ignite the World Tour, before the Grand Tour preparation races and the ever-popular spring classics. For many riders, however, May’s Giro d’Italia is the first race circled on the calendar and training programmes will start steadily this winter. The 2017 race will be the 100th edition and we can expect RCS Sport to put on a real showcase. The route was announced in October and contains a sizeable chunk of time-trialling alongside six summit finishes. It will stretch the full length of Italy with the RCS endeavouring to visit as many regions as possible. We start on Italian roads – a recent trend in odd number years – and stay in the country’s borders for the entire three weeks. Let’s claw through the details.
Stage 1 takes place in sunny Sardinia (disclaimer – it might not be sunny) for a beautiful stage from Alghero in the west to the Olbia coast. It’s a sprinters stage but with just enough bumps to keep eager and aggressive riders satisfied. Heading south we pick up some hills and the gentle Genna Silana defines Stage 2. The descent towards the finish looks ripe for an escapee (Diego Ulissi, anybody?) and we could see the Maglia Rosa change hands. The trio of Sardinian stages finishes with Stage 3 to the island’s capital, Cagliari. It’s likely to end with a sprint.
We island hop to Sicily for a daunting summit finish on Mt.Etna. In recent years all three Grand Tours have endeavoured to include rolling stages in their opening weeks but the RCS have gone one further by introducing a feature climb on just Stage 4. It’s a brilliant move and could provide an interesting plot twist to an otherwise traditional Giro d’Italia format. Etna was tackled twice in 2011 with the steeper, southern face concluding the stage. Alberto Contador took the honours (a result that was later stripped) and the GC underwent a significant reshuffle.
Stage 5 wraps up in Vincenzo Nibali’s hometown of Messina and will give the GC contenders a chance to respite. We reach the mainland ahead of Stage 6 and the uphill kick in Luigiane will be enough to rule out the pure sprinters. Stages 7 and 8 are fairly unspectacular before we are treated to a blockbuster summit finish on Stage 9 with an ascent of the Blockhaus (Passo Lanicano) in the Abruzzo mountains. It’s a short stage at just 139km and is unlikely to pass by quietly.
Stage 10 is the first time-trial and is 39km long. The town of Foligno will host the stage start and riders will depart for a challenging Umbrian course. The uphill drag to the line, lasting around 5km, is not tough enough to save the featherweight climbers and the stage provides a real chance for powerful time-trial specialists to gain time. A transition takes riders to Firenze ahead of Stage 11 where the day’s honours should be contested by a breakaway. Stage 12 is long at 237km and should be swept up by the sprinters. Stage 13 takes the race towards the northwest corner of Italy and is another for the fastmen.
We welcome back Oropa on Stage 14, the site of Enrico Battaglin’s hard fought victory in 2014. The alpine Sanctuary has been visited five times at the Giro and winners include Marco Pantani and multiple Grand Tour stage winner Massimo Ghirotto. The climb isn’t the longest, or the steepest, but the stage remains one to look forward to.
The route sweeps round the north of Milan on Stage 15 and into Bergamo for the race’s second rest day. The 2017 Giro provides a meagre scattering of mountains in its opening two weeks making clever use of a few mammoth climbs to break up plenty of stages that shouldn’t affect the GC. The first two weeks are all about getting from the toe of Italy’s ‘boot’ to the mountainous north but in the last six days the tone will change and the final stages are certain to interest the favourites.
Stage 16 is the Queen Stage with three leg-numbing climbs including the Cima Coppi (the highest point of the race). Riders will tackle both the Passo di Mortirolo and Passo Stelvio – the climbs which rocked Fabio Aru’s challenge back in 2015. Back then they were spread across two stages but this time they’ll be tackled consecutively in less than 80km of racing. The two are the most iconic of Giro climbs, perhaps only rivalled by the Col de Finestre. Amazingly, neither will end the stage with a third climb, the Umbrail Pass, arriving after 193km. The stage is nearly 230km in total – far longer than the recent trend of Grand Tour mountain stages – and is an early candidate for hardest of the year.
Stage 17 is easier by comparison but Stage 18 packs a laughable five peaks into just 137km of racing and we can expect fireworks. Stage 19 ends with a summit finish on Piancavallo; the early slopes are as steep as any in the race and the perfect place to launch an attack. Stage 20 features a couple of tough climbs but is likely to be watched by the leading contenders who, for once, have work to do on the final day.
The Giro d’Italia finished with a time-trial back in 2012 and organisers are bringing back the format for 2017. We can spare a thought for the sprinters – why on earth would they endure the final week when the last stage has been taken from their grasp? Nevertheless, it’s difficult to imagine a situation where Stage 21 won’t provide some excitement. The 28km Milan course is flat and more then long enough to prove decisive in the GC battle. It provides the most interesting of conclusions to a wonderfully crafted course.
Days to book off work? Stages 4, 16, 18, 19, 21.