The Giro route is out and a quick glance shows the usual route with a loop towards the south and then the passage through the Alps before the finish. Look more closely and the route is more intriguing with new climbs, an unmentioned gravel road plus a record amount of vertical metres and three time trials stages to compensate.
We knew about the start in Bologna and the 8km time trial to the San Luca basilica but its context changes, this is one of three TT stages and 56km in total of solo time trials, in line with the average for the Giro in recent years. Stage 1 will prise open gaps and the sprinters will easily lose 30-40 seconds on the slopes of the San Luca but will have the coming days to try and take the maglia rosa. Stage 2 won’t suit every sprinter as it has a couple of late climbs, a touch of Milan-Sanremo. Stage 3 is open to all the sprinters. Stage 4‘s finish in Frascati is uphill with 4km at 4% including a solid 6% for the final kilometre, a Sagan-esque finish. Stage 5 is another for the sprinters.
Stages 6 has a 15km climb averaging 4% before the finish which should drop some sprinters and Stage 7 returns to earthquake-hit Acquila with some climbs to shake out a few sprinters too. Stage 8 to Pesaro is the race’s longest and has some late climbs again to spice things up borrowing the same coastal road from Gabbice to Pesaro used in 2013 when Alex Dowsett was the surprise TT winner ahead of Bradley Wiggins. All this makes for a week of racing without a summit finish, unusual for the Giro and a lot of bunch sprints, but possibly among 50 riders rather than 150 on some days.
Stake 9 is the “wine stage” to celebrate the sangiovese grape and more importantly a 34km time trial to the microstate of San Marino with about 900m of vertical gain. After a flat start on the Adriatic coast the course heads inland once inside San Marino the climb will bite with 5-7% slopes. It’s the sort of course where all riders will use a TT bike but the climb will pick the winner. Stages 10 and 11 are as flat as a piadina and compensation for the sprinters who lost out on the hillier early stages but also a likely exit point for the sprinters as there’s only one sprint stage left and many will make their polite excuses and take the autostrada to Milan for an evening flight home.
Stage 12 and the Giro gets vertical. The theme of the Cuneo-Pinerolo stage is Fausto Coppi’s 1949 raid between the two towns although that happened in the Alps, this stage crosses the plains for the most part before the sharp climb to the tiny ski station of Montoso and 10km at 7% with some sustained 10% sections before the top, a selective climb chased by a twisty descent and 20km across the plains to the finish before Pinerolo and the tricky 20% cobbled “wall” that was used before in 2016.
Stage 13 is the one to watch at all costs as the Giro explores new roads. First a familiar road in the Colle del Lys, used in last May’s Giro when it was climbed at warp speed in the other direction on the way to the Finestre, this time it’s the steeper side and 12km at 7.5% but look closely at the profile above and there’s a little balcony moment, in fact it’s a descent meaning the slopes of this climb are typically 8-9% but there’s a long time to recover and regroup before the Pian del Lupo, “wolf field” and a surprise or two with 9.4km at 8.7% and long ramps above 10% before the top where the slope levels out more than the spiky profile suggests and I don’t think anybody has noticed that there’s a gravel road across to the descent, perhaps it’ll be surfaced in time for the race? Then comes the Orco valley, once famous for gold panning, and now finally on the map for the Giro. This blog’s Roads to Rides series features roads used in races around the world with the exception of the Colle del Nivolet, added because it’s an amazing road but has yet to be used in a pro race. This changes but they don’t go all the way to the top of the pass, just to the Serrù dam which is plenty at 2,250m above sea level and lets cicloamatori boast they’ve done more than the Giro. Still without the upper slopes it means a large wide road up the valley and after tackling the repaired road outside the tunnel at 9%, a flat section past the Ceresole lake helps a strong team keep a lid on things until the final slopes.
Stage 14 and the Giro borrows from the trend to short stages with just 131km as they head up the Aosta valley with its microclimate and vineyards and instead of staying in the valley floor they sashay up the sides first via the lower slopes of the Col de San Pantaleon to Verrayes, then the loop via Verrogne then back up the other side of the valley around Combes before tackling the Colle San Carlo, a rarely used climb in the Giro but familiar to many in the peloton from regular use in the U23 Giro della Valle d’Aosta. It’s a sustained steep climb, the slope bites from the start and then it just gets steeper with long sections above 10% before dropping down to pick up the Col du Petit Saint Bernard’s hairpin heaven descent down to the Aosta valley and then a ride up the valley to Courmayeur for the flattish finish.
Stage 15 involves a change of pace with a copycat stage of Il Lombardia via the Madonna del Ghisallo, Sormano (but the main road, not the wall) and then Civiglio and San Fermo della Battaglia and a good day for the breakaway.
Stage 16 and it’s back to Alpine racing via an anthology of climbs, notably the Passo Gavia – the Cima Coppi for 2019 – and the Mortirolo and if there’s no summit finish in Ponte di Legno, many will have wooden legs by the end of this 226km marathon and Mortirolo will thin things down.
Stage 17 and a day for the breakaway, the stage is Alpine but a pause between the high mountains and despite the profile, no summit finish either even if there’s 8km uphill at the end including 3km at 8.5%. Stage 18 is one for the any remaining sprinters left in the race and perhaps last chance to shake up the points classification.
Stage 19 and a trip through the Passo San Boldo. Your normally go over most mountain passes but the San Boldo is a collection of hairpin tunnels, a hastily built road to allow supplies to reach the front late during WW1 and locals, including women and children, were pressed into working day and night to build this. The comes the finish to San Martino, a long drag up at 6%.
The final mountain stage and Stage 20 is a collection of Dolomite climbs ending on Monte Avena via Croce d’Aune, where if necessity is the mother of invention then Tulio Campagnolo conceived the quick release skewer. This time hopefully there are no mechanicals on the 8% slopes.
Stage 21 and the race ends with a time trial to Verona, a hill in the middle and a route used in the Giro time trials before as well as the World Championships before the finish in the Roman amphitheatre.
A Giro of two halves, the first half has more in common with the Eneco Tour than the usual Giro route, at least technically as it avoids the usual uphill finishes and Apennines are light, a week for the likes of Peter Sagan or Michael Matthews (if they ride). The reason is because the second half is backloaded with vertical gain and the race in total climbs a claimed 46,500 metres, apparently a record for the Giro. The Giro explores new climbs in the Alps with the Nivolet as the big high altitude summit finish and then other stages which have uphill finishes but often the hardest part is the preceding climb.
With three time trials and a variety of mountain finishes this is an ideal route for Chris Froome but having ticked off the Giro and Vuelta surely a fifth Tour de France is next goal? Instead Geraint Thomas could try, Sky have yet to decide on the internal politics and as Giro boss Mauro Vegni blurted out last year amid the controversy about the Israel start, an appearance fee could help focus minds. Italian forums say Egan Bernal was spotted in Bologna on his time trial bike, as if he’s practising for the opening stage already and if this sounds precocious several times over so was his start in the Tour de France last July. Tom Dumoulin looks set to ride the Tour de France and if he does he’ll surely need Wilco Kelderman and Sam Oomen for support; a similar story for Dutch rivals Lotto-Jumbo who might go back to the Tour with Steven Kruijswijk and Primož Roglič. Remember that if some tried the Giro-Tour double in 2018, it was helped by the Tour’s start being moved back a week; in 2019 the Giro will start a week later putting the double in trouble, a move designed to help the Giro face fewer climate problems in the Alps but which forces riders and teams to pick one rather or the other. Fabio Aru might see the time trials and sign today for two mountain stage wins given his lack of success but he can surprise against the clock, see Rovereto this year or Megève in the 2016 Tour de France. Simon Yates will be licking his lips at the Tour de France, perhaps Adam is Plan A for May with Esteban Chaves as a joker for Mitchelton-Scott? Astana have hired the Izaguirre brothers and Ion is suited to the three time trials. Movistar are talking about taking El Tridente to France again but Mikel Landa seems keen; can they spare Marc Soler or is Richard Carapaz looking to rediscover his form from this year’s Giro after it vanished in the Vuelta? The trouble here is that the more we speculate it’s as much about whether they’ll start before we consider whether the course suits them. Which leaves Vincenzo Nibali as the obvious contender, he’s due to ride might not have the turbo for the time trials but has the furbo for the mountains and the descents.