All roads lead to Rome and the route of the 2018 Giro d’Italia was presented late last year with a course going from Israel to the Italian capital. Here are some notes on the course.
The race starts on a Friday in Jerusalem with a 9.7km time trial, 1,700m too long for a prologue so it’s Stage 1 and on a rolling course that is either and an early chance for the GC contenders to start establishing a temporary pecking order. Stages 2 and 3 are two likely sprint finishes where the aim will be to beam back images of the scenery but watch for the wind given the interaction of the Mediterranean, the mountains and the blazing sunshine.
The race then has a logistical challenge to reach Sicily where the Giro will spend three days with progressively harder finishes. Stage 4 and the finish in Caltagirone should eject some of the less versatile sprinters. Stage 5 to Santa Ninfa is for the puncheurs.
On the Thursday Stage 6 sees the race returns to Mount Etna but if this sounds familiar, they climb a different road. The race finishes at the astronomical observatory and hopefully this time we’ll glimpse the stars of the 2018 Giro because the final kilometres average 8% so we’re unlikely to see the same high altitude echelon formation.
Stage 7 sees the race on the Italian mainland for the sprinters… who can cope with the late climb which should spice things up. If the name of Praia a Mare is familiar it’s because it featured in 2016 when Diego Ulissi won a lively stage finish, this is a gentler finish but still sees the race dart inland to stir things up, Milan-Sanremo style.
Stage 8 is another summit finish and a return to Montevergine di Mercogliano but this is a long and gentle climb, the kind where drafting others helps a lot and it suits the rider who can snipe the win from a 20-30 rider sprint. Bart de Clercq won here in 2011 with a potent display to hold off the bunch and maybe another ex-track and field rider like Michael Woods can triumph? Otherwise it’s a Valverde kind of finish.
Stage 9 heads to the Gran Sasso d’Italia, literally the “big rock of Italy” and a long stage with a long final climb where there will be rolling than rocking, the kind where a team will set a tempo and the big attacks won’t go until late because the slope only bites near the finish.
Stage 10 is for the breakaway with a climb at the start to help the move go clear. Everyone will have their work cut out on the longest stage in the race as they cross Italy’s Apennine spine.
Stage 11 is another good day for a breakaway as they cross the rough but beautiful roads of the Marche region. The Giro rides through Filottrano, once home to Michele Scarponi – the route passes the exact place where he was killed – before an uphill finish around Osimo, famous for little except the Osimo treaty of 1975 which partitioned Trieste, an accident or after the Jerusalem grande partenza, a theme?
Stage 12 is one of those days when viewers will know exactly when to turn on the TV. It’s featureless and flat until the late climb of Tre Monti, the old World Championship course most recently used in 2015 when Ilnur Zakarin got the stage win. This route is a lot less spicy than past approaches but likely to thwart most sprinters. Stage 13 is another long flat stage with a late climb only if the profile looks similar to the previous day it is more gentle and should suit the sprinters more.
Stage 14 and the Monte Zoncolan summit finish, a must-watch moment and luckily it falls on a Saturday (or rather it is planned as audiences peak at weekends). The climb needs little introduction and is infamous to the point of serving as a comparator, “is such-and-such climb as steep as the Zoncolan” we might ask. It’s directly preceded by two small climbs meaning only a small group of leaders and their lieutenants should start the Zoncolan and then it’s everyone for themselves.
Stage 15 has one of the most interesting routes with a trio of late climbs in the Dolomites on the approach to Sappada. This could encourage late attacks and with a rest day awaiting hopefully some take their chances.
Stage 16 is the fast 34.5km time trial over a flat route with little to disrupt the pace, the most technical moment of the day will be the decision over what chainring to fit, a 55T or perhaps a 56T? It’s a short course but these days the exchange rate of time gaps between mountain stages and TTs has tilted a lot to the latter so only a few kilometres are needed to see someone like Tom Dumoulin put a minute or more into serious GC rivals, some can lose over two minutes here.
Stage 17 is for the sprinters again, a reason to encourage some to stick in the race. Past editions of the Giro have had wine-themed time trials, here it’s on a normal stage and the race to Iseo celebrates the fizzy Franciacorta wines.
Stage 18 brings the first rendez-vous with the Piedmont Alps and a dash across the plains to the Prato Nevoso summit finish, what the Italians call a salita secca. It’s a ski station access road with a a parabolic gradient, 16km at under 6% but after gentle earlier slopes it rises to a more selective 7-8% towards the finish.
Stage 19 has an enticing route with the Colle delle Finestre midway – the 2018 Cima Coppi – before passing Sestriere and then onto the Jafferau finish, used in 2013 but if you don’t remember the climb it’s ok because that day thick cloud meant no TV transmission for most of the stage. The hope is for fireworks on the Finestre with its gravel as it is long and selective enough to reduce the lead group down to only a few riders but the prospect of riding up the Susa valley will dampen any solo bids for glory before the final summit finish.
Stage 20 is the final mountain stage and features three hard climbs in and around the Aosta valley but each gets successively easier. The “Tsecore” on “Mont Tseuc” has a sign at the top saying “Tzecore” and either way it spells hardship. It’s a tough, rural climb with a steep start and tough sections all the way up before a wider descent and then the more steady but still tough Saint Pantaléon climb and then the uphill drag to Cervinia at the foot of Monte Cervino, also known as the Matterhorn.
Stage 21 and the race returns to Rome, finally the Giro goes to the capital and there’s a parade that turns into criterium past many of the great city’s monuments, presumably to the delight and bemusement of the tourists in town.
The Israel start got all the headlines but look at the map more closely and it’s the most benign part of the route with a fixed time trial and two vanilla road stages, a change of scenery but not the script. It’s when the race returns to Italy that things liven up and the three days in Sicily that should offer lively racing. As the race heads north it crosses the Apeninnes are visited but typically uses the steadier climbs feature so they’re not ambush country. Indeed overall this is a route packed with long steady climbs, a route to enjoy in a touring car or on a big-engined motorbike rather than by bicycle. Tactically this lends itself to a route where a strong team helps, the steadier climbs suit powerful squads who can pace their leaders. This is reinforced by the long distances of many stages, the Giro isn’t copying Le Tour’s fashion for short distance mountain stages. Indeed the Giro’s route has become more Tour-like with long ski station access road climbs while this year’s Tour gets more Giro-esque with the steeper back country climbs being explored in July. As ever we can parse the course in fine detail but once the race has gone through we remember the actions of the riders rather than the underlying route.
The Zoncolan stage is an obvious highlight, especially because of the two hard climbs that precede it, a path used in 2010 and the time gaps where substantial that day. The following day’s stage to Sappada has all the ingredients of a great day too and the Finestre stage to Jafferau is a mouthwatering ride and race.
- Better late than never? The route was announced at the end of November so chances are you’ve probably read plenty on the route. But I was away then and still wanted to study the route and make some notes. Here they are.