Stage 1: Torino to Torino
With a population of 850,000, the historic city of Turin (Torino) in northwest Italy is a fitting place for the Grande Partenza of the 104th Giro d’Italia. But this is only its third time in race history as the starting host. The first time was 60 years ago, when Spanish sprinter Miguel Poblet out-sped three Italians in a breakaway at the end of a brief 115-kilometer stage around the city. Then, 10 years ago, U.S.-based HTC-High Road won a 19.3-kilometer team time trial, putting its Italian rider Marco Pinotti in the leader’s first pink jersey.
This year, another Italian TT specialist, world champion Filippo Ganna of INEOS Grenadiers is the hot favorite to take the opening stage—just as he did last year in Sicily. Also look for strong performances by a few GC favorites, including Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s João Almeida and Remco Evenepoel (if he’s sufficiently prepared for his debut grand tour), Trek-Segafredo’s Vincenzo Nibali and UAE Emirates’ Brandon McNulty. The 8.6-kilometer course starts with half a lap of the palace-lined Piazza Castello, drops 50 feet (16 meters) to the left bank of the Po River and passes through the Valentino Park before looping over the river on the Isabella di Savo bridge and heading back along the right bank to the finish.
Stage 2: Stupingi (Nichelino) to Novara
Sprint, Sprint, Sprint!
With just a tiny Cat. 4 climb mid-stage and two intermediate sprints in the final 40 kilometers, we can expect a furious finale to this opening road stage across the plains of Piedmont. If westerly winds pick up and a few GC teams want to cause some panic, echelons could form and disrupt the sprinters’ stage-winning tactics. Intriguingly, the finish in Novara, a city of 105.000, is only 50 kilometers from Milan—where this Giro will finish in three weeks’ time. Also, May is the wettest month in this region, so there’s a one-in-three chance of rainfall, which could lead to a few crashes in the tricky run-in to the city.
Assuming the peloton doesn’t split, the stage win will be contested by the hottest sprinters. The contenders include Caleb Ewan of Lotto-Soudal, David Dekker of Jumbo-Visma, Fernando Gaviria of UAE Emirates, André Greipel of Israel Start-Up Nation, Tim Merlier of Alpecin-Fenix, Giacomo Nizzolo of Qhubeka-Assos, Peter Sagan of BORA-Hansgrohe and Elia Viviani of Cofidis.
Stage 3: Biella to Canale
Wines and Climbs
From Biella in the foothills of the Alps, this 190-kilometer stage heads due south across the same plain where stage 1 took place. Perhaps this is a stage that Belgian strongman Thomas De Gendt will have on his go-to list, unless his Lotto-Soudal team decides that its Aussie sprinter Ewan will be able to get over the four climbs in the final 70 kilometers.
The home of Asti Spumante sparkling wine, Canelli, kicks off the finale with an intermediate sprint before heading up the race’s first Cat. 3 climb, followed by two Cat. 4s, both of them through the vineyards where the famed Barbera and Barbaresco wines originate. The fourth of the day’s climbs is not categorized, but with a sprint line at the summit of the 3.7-kilometer, 5.5-percent grade, this could be a launch pad for a late move — if none of the early breakaways are still clear. But with 11 kilometers of narrow, rolling roads before the finish in the little town of Canale (population 5,500), a sprint for the stage win is likely to go to Sagan, Nizzolo, Merlier or Sagan — unless a De Gendt break has managed to stay away.
Stage 4: Piacenza to Séstola
After three days in and around Turin, the Giro finally leaves Piedmont, first transferring to start the stage in the walled city of Piacenza in the Po Valley before heading southeast on flat roads to enter the Apennine foothills of Emilia-Romagna. The final 100 kilometers will be played out on serpentine back roads that are constantly rising or falling. After two Cat. 3 climbs and an uncategorized ascent to Montecreto, inside 20 kilometers to go, a fast descent takes the race to the Fanano intermediate sprint at the foot of a 4.3 kilometers, 10-percent Cat. 2 climb that summits just 2.5 kilometers from the finish.
It’s a finale that would favor a puncheur like Julian Alaphilippe, but he’s not riding; so, expect some of the GC riders to battle it out in Séstola, a town of 2,500 people that saw a solo stage win five years ago by Italian climber Giulio Ciccone, who’s now co-leader of Trek-Segafredo with Vincenzo Nibali. Perhaps one of these two will be on the stage 4 podium, while riders such as Almeida, George Bennett of Jumbo-Visma and Pavel Sivakov of INEOS Grenadiers also have the skills needed to take the win.
Stage 5: Modena to Cattolica
Flat and Fast
This completely flat stage is also dead straight for kilometer after kilometer. A small breakaway will likely form but expect the peloton to be back together for the final 20 or so kilometers along the Adriatic coastline from Rimini to the finish in Cattolica.
The last time the Giro stopped at this beach town of 17,000 was in 1978, when Belgian sprinter Rik Van Linden (who was known as Rik III as the possible successor to his country’s legendary Rik Van Steenbergen and Rik Van Looy), who out-kicked star riders Francesco Moser, Marino Basso and Roger De Vlaeminck for the stage victory. Four decades later we can expect another mass-sprint finish, probably with Ewan going for the stage win from Nizzolo, Gaviria or Dekker.
Stage 6: Grotte Di Frasassi to Ascoli Piceno (San Giacomo)
First GC Challenge
With almost a week of racing in their legs, this stage presents the first true test for the GC riders. The climbs in the Apennines are not the most challenging in Italy, but none of the riders hoping to be on the final podium in Milan can have an off day on the summit finish above the city of Ascoli Piceno (population 47,000). The Colle Giacomo is only 1,090 meters (3,576 feet) above sea level, and the first 10 kilometers of the climb is not particularly steep as it winds past poplars and chestnut trees, but the final 5 kilometers average 7.5 percent with some double-digit pitches.
It’s a finish that a dozen top climbers (Egan Bernal of INEOS Grenadiers, Hugh Carthy of EF Education-Nippo, Jai Hindley of Team DSM, Thibaut Pinot of Groupama-FDJ, Aleksandr Vlasov of Astana-Premier Tech, Emanuel Buchmann of BORA-Hansgrohe, Domenico Pozzovivo of Qhubeka-Assos, Mikel Landa of Bahrain Victorious, Bauke Mollema of Trek-Segafredo, Dan Martin of Israel Start-Up Nation, Simon Yates of Team BikeExchange and Romain Bardet of Team DSM) will have to match Almeida, Bennett, Ciccone, Evenepoel, McNulty and Nibali.
Stage 7: Notaresco to Termoli
The last time a Giro stage finished in Termoli, a seaside town of 36,000 on the Adriatic coast in 2006 it was near the end of the whole race and so most of the sprinters had already quit the Giro. Even so, the hot favorite to win the stage in a bunch finish was Aussie sprinter Robbie McEwen; but he could finish only fourth behind strongmen Tomas Vaitkus of Lithuania, Paolo Bettini of Italy and Olaf Pollack of Germany.
It was the only major victory of Vaitkus’ 14-year pro career. The finish this year is on the same street as 15 years ago, but in the opposite direction, perhaps with the wind blowing from the left. And with all the sprinters still in contention, Ewan could well make up for the loss by his countryman 15 years ago.
Stage 8: Foggia to Guardia Sanframondi
By this point in the Giro, there will be dozens of riders far back on general classification and on a day too tough for the sprinters there is not likely to be much reaction from the GC teams to a large breakaway.
The lead group is likely to be filtered out by the long Cat. 2 Bocca del Selva climb in the southern Apennines 50 kilometers from home, while the stage win will be played out on the 4-kilometer, 5-percent Cat. 4 climb to the finish in the medieval hilltop town of Guardia Sanframondi (population 4,744), high above a valley of vines and olive groves. And don’t forget to see the GC riders, even if they’re many minutes behind the winner, sprint to the line, testing themselves for the next day’s much tougher uphill finish.
Stage 9: Castel Di Sangro to Campo Felice (Rocca di Cambio)
On this first day heading back north from southern Italy, this relatively short stage through the Abruzzi region has all sorts of possibilities—especially if the weather is challenging. The 158 kilometers contain half a dozen climbs, including this Giro’s first Cat. 1 mountain at the finish. It’s not a particularly long climb, only 6.6 kilometers with an average gradient of 5.9 percent up to the ski station of Campo Felice.
So, what’s the big deal?
The answer is the final mile (1.6 kilometers), which is on gravel, with an average grade of 8.6 percent, including a 12-percent pitch, close to the finish at an elevation of 1,655 meters (5,430 feet). Maintaining momentum on steep gravel climbs is not easy, so look for a great bike handler like former mountain biker Bernal to fight for the win with local favorite Pozzovivo.
Stage 10: L’Aquila to Folingo
A Sprinter’s Dream
With a rest day beckoning after this short stage, which is completely flat for the closing 20 kilometers, the sprinters’ teams will be working hard to keep the attacks in check and set up the finish for their fast men.
With a population approaching 60,000, Foligno is the largest stage town since the race left Turin. It will surely be one of the fastest stages in this year’s Giro, and one that should provide a thrilling sprint finish between Ewan, Nizzolo and Sagan.
Stage 11: Perugia to Montalcino (Brunello di Montalcino wine stage)
Strade Bianche II
With four sections of strade bianche gravel and a bunch of climbs, including a difficult one just before the finish, this should be a monumental stage—not unlike the one 12 years ago that used one of the same sections of white roads and also finished in Montalcino. The stage winner of that very wet, glutinous stage was Cadel Evans, while the mud-spattered race leader Nibali crashed 20 kilometers from home and lost two minutes. There’s even more gravel this year, with the four sections totaling 35.2km of stone roads in the final 70 kilometers—an eye-boggling 50 percent of those final two hours of the stage.
The first section comes after more than 90 kilometers of racing, mostly on rolling terrain through the beautiful Val d’Orcia, which has UNESCO World Heritage status. Section 1 is 9.1 kilometers long and is mostly downhill, which could contribute to a few crashes whatever the weather. Only 7 kilometers later, including one nasty little climb, comes the 13.5-kilometer-long section that did most of the damage in 2010. The first half of this section is steeply uphill, including a 16-percent pitch, and it continues climbing to the top of the Passo del Lume Spento, with the descent (on tarmac) passing through Montalcino before a finishing loop of 35 kilometers.
Section 3 starts just after the day’s second intermediate sprint at the medieval village of Castelnuovo dell’Abate, where a head-turn to the right reveals the world-renowned Abbey of Sant’Antimo where the Benedictine monks’ daily chants echo hauntingly through the 60-foot-high nave. For the riders on this 162-kilometer stage 11, the final 25 kilometers of racing will probably come back to haunt them. The last two sections of gravel, one of 7.6 kilometers, the other of 5 kilometers, are separated by a steep downhill on tarmac, while the second section precedes the 5-kilometer Lume Spento climb (back on tarmac) from the opposite direction before a 3.8-kilometer descent to the finish in Montalcino.
The stage town of 6,000 people is home to Brunello di Montalcino, one of the most coveted and expensive Italian red wines with price tags rising to over $500. The race organizers have named this stage after the wine, but the Giro riders will likely name it the most damaging one since the race began—and perhaps the one that eliminates some of the major contenders.
Stage 12: Siena to Bagno Di Romagna
Sting in the Tail?
This will be one of the 104th Giro d’Italia’s most beautiful stages. It starts in the stunning ancient city of Siena, rolls through the Chianti wine country, takes in the Renaissance city of Florence, and then heads through the Alpe di Benedetto mountains to finish in the spa town of Bagno di Romagna (population 6,000).
When the Giro last finished a stage in this town four years ago, a long-distance breakaway took the honors, with Basque rider Omar Fraile winning. Look for something similar this time, because none of the day’s four climbs is particularly steep, though the last one, the Cat. 3 Passo del Carnaio has some double-digit pitches and it summits before a 10-kilometer drop to the finish.
Stage 13: Ravenna to Verona
Sprinters’ Last Chance
This long flat run across the Po Valley is probably the last chance for the sprinters to claim some glory, because five of the remaining stages are in the high mountains, two others have sharp climbs near the finish, and the final one is a time trial. So, the sprinters’ teams will all be chasing down any breakaways, and with a completely flat run into the finish into Verona, a bunch finish is inevitable. Perhaps Ewan will play his last hurrah before quitting the Giro and concentrating on his preparations for the Tour de France.
Stage 14: Cittadella to Monte Zoncolan
Anyone who wins a Giro stage atop Monte Zoncolan gets the momentum to shoot for the overall victory. That was the case three years ago when Chris Froome won the stage, starting a remarkable comeback that netted him the pink jersey a week later. That stage win, by a narrow margin over fellow Brit Simon Yates, was earned on the steeper, western approach to the mountain that averages 12 percent for its 10-kilometer distance. This year’s stage 14 is up the “easier” eastern approach, which has been used only once in the men’s Giro, in 2003, when Gilbert Simoni took a half-minute stage win and went on to win overall by almost eight minutes. Calling it easier is relative, of course. It’s slightly longer at 13.35 kilometers and rises 1,197 meters (3,927 feet) in three distinct sections: the first 8.75 kilometers at an average of 8.3 percent, followed by 1.5 kilometers at less than 5 percent, and then the coup de grâce: the final 3.1 kilometers at 13 percent, with a steepest pitch of 27 percent with 500 meters to go.
Clearly, Yates would like to go one better than he did in 2018, while Bennett, Pinot and Pozzovivo all finished in the top dozen that year. Also in contention should be Bardet, Bernal and Martin (all riding the Giro for the first time), Carthy, Hindley, Landa and one of Trek-Segafredo’s triumvirate of Ciccone, Mollema and Nibali. Not everyone may be waiting for the Zoncolan. That’s because 40 kilometers before is the Forcella Monte Rest, a deceptively difficult Cat. 2 climb, where Stephen Roche made an audacious attack on the technical descent that caught out his teammate (and race leader!) Roberto Visentini and put the Irishman in pink by the end of the day. Maybe that will inspire a current Irish team leader, Martin, or perhaps a Mollema, a Bennett or a McNulty, who’s not as confident of facing the pure climbers on Zoncolan II.
Stage 15: Grado to Gorizia
After their battles on the ultra-steep slopes of the previous afternoon, all the riders will be happy to go down to the Adriatic coast to start the short stage 15. Only 146 kilometers long, the stage heads inland to make two-and-a-bit laps of a hilly 32-kilometer circuit straddling the Italy-Slovenia border before heading into the city of Gorizia (population 35,000), with a final little climb 2.9 kilometers from the line. A breakaway group is sure to contest the stage win, and expect to see a rider who has a good kick to be prominent in the finale—maybe a rider like Team DSM’s Nicolas Roche (Stephen’s son).
Stage 16: Sacile to Cortina d’Ampezzo
With a rest day beckoning, none of the GC leaders will be hanging back on what promises to be the most epic day of this Giro. With four giant climbs (all Cat. 1 or better), the highest mountain pass of the three weeks (the Pordoi at 2,239 meters, 7,345 feet) and a mind-boggling elevation total of 5,700 meters (18,700 feet), only the very strongest and freshest climbers will still be in with a chance of winning the stage in Cortina d’Ampezzo (population 6,000) after 212 kilometers and an estimated six-and-a-quarter hours of racing.
The climbing starts right from the get-go with just 9 kilometers of gentle uphill before starting the Cat.1 La Crosetta, which goes up for 16 kilometers at relentless grades of 8 to 12 percent. After 20 kilometers of descending and 65 kilometers on rising valley roads, an early break should be fully established before starting one of the toughest climbs in the Dolomites. The Passo Fedaia, sometimes called the Marmolada after the nearby mountain peak, grinds on for almost 15 kilometers, with the second half often dead straight up 9-, 10- and 11-percent grades. Back in ’87 this is where Roche was being abused by the tifosi for his alleged traitorous riding against his Italian team leader Visentini; and to protect him, his Belgian teammate Eddie Schepers and Scottish friend Robert Millar rode alongside him, so he didn’t get hit by pelted rubbish.
The Marmolada nearly always sees significant action by the GC leaders, who also use the perilous descent to gain time before tackling the immediate climb of the Pordoi. These won’t be stage-winning moves, but anyone losing ground will have a hard time making it back up on the Pordoi’s steady 7-percent slopes—especially as the last 4 kilometers are in the thin air above 2,000 meters elevation. Riders in the leading group will have the incentive of sprinting over the summit for the prestigious Cima Coppi prize and with the rapid descent being followed by just 20 kilometers of up and down before the day’s final climb, chase groups will be in full flight. This last ascent, the Passo Giau, will feel like a wall after already more than five hours in the saddle. Its 10 kilometers average 9.3 percent, with a max grade of 14 percent near the bottom and more double-digit percentages to come. It’s possible that a breakaway rider will win, but the 17.5 kilometers of downhill into Cortina should see just the strongest GC riders coming together and fighting for the time bonuses. Predictions? Bernal, Hindley and Yates could well be in the frame …
Stage 17: Canazei to Sega di Ala
Rugged Summit Finish
Following the second rest day, the race for the final podium should be down to just a handful of riders, so a stage that is mostly downhill for the first three hours before the two difficult (but much lower) mountain passes at the end should ensure that an early break succeeds in staying away. Behind, the GC leaders will likely wait until the climb to the finish at Sega di Ala, a village just below the summit of the Passo delle Fittanze. It’s a rugged climb, averaging 10.4 percent for the opening 6 kilometers, with another even steeper stretch with a 17-percent pitch preceding the final 2 kilometers. It hasn’t been used at the Giro before, but when a stage of the Giro del Trentino finished at Sega di Ala in 2013, won by Nibali, the first 20 finishers all came in one-by-one spread over four minutes. For sure, there are no “easy” climbs in this Giro d’Italia.
Stage 18: Rovereto to Stradella
Marathon for the Strongmen
The Dolomites are behind them and the Alps are coming up, but this transitional stage 18 will be no sinecure for the survivors. In theory, at 231 kilometers, it’s the longest one in the three weeks. But last year, when a similar marathon stage was on the Giro agenda at this point in the race, and torrential rain greeted them at the start, the riders decided to strike and get driven to a new start point — to ride a stage of 124 kilometers rather than 258. If the weather is better this time, the full distance will be raced, and with four short hills in the final 35 kilometers, expect a big breakaway to fight for the stage win there rather than wait for a sprint finish in Stradella, a town of 11,000 due south of Milan. Tips? Maybe De Gendt will get the stage win that he’s probably been seeking since the start.
Stage 19: Abbiategrasso to Alpe de Mera (Valsesia)
We’re only two days away from the end of this Giro, but stages 19 and 20 both have mountaintop finishes. What a cruel way to approach the concluding time trial in Milan! It will be fun for the tifosi and the race followers to watch two more mountain stages, especially because they take place in beautiful places—around the lake district of Italy and through a spectacular part of the Swiss Alps. By this point in the Giro, the GC leaders will be depending more than ever on their teammates—for the strongmen to keep the race together on the long approaches to the mountains and on their lieutenants on the climbs (remember how Rohan Dennis turned himself inside out to put Tao Geoghegan Hart in a winning position last October?). There will be other heroes this year, giving their top men the chance to win one of these last two mountain stages or be on the final podium.
The team worker bees will be hard at work for the first two hours, pulling the peloton across the Piedmont plain to the foot of the day’s first Cat. 1 climb, the Mottarone. Ascending for more than 15 kilometers from the shores of Orta Lake, it winds its way past woods of beech, chestnut, larch, pine and fir to a grassy peak from where there’s a 360-degree panorama that stretches north to the Alps and down toward seven lakes around its periphery—let’s hope it’s a clear day! Early breakaways will have a hard time climbing the middle section of 10-percent grades, but the strongest will earn a bonus of hurtling down the switchback descent to Stresa on Lake Maggiore, knowing that the finish is now only 70 kilometers away.
That destination, the remote Valsesia valley, is reached by first looping back to Orta Lake at Omegna and then climbing over a tricky ridge on the Passo della Colma. From the tiny village of Scopetta in the valley, the modern 9.7-kilometer access road to the Alpe di Mera ski resort (cowbells used to ring out from the livestock here in the summer) is not a typical climb. It starts out gently and gradually steepens and is into the double digits for the second half. It will be a truly watt-sapping challenge for everyone, while the fans will get to see the spectacular backdrop of snowbound Monte Rosa. Will Pinot still be around for this first-time finish? Or Bernal? Or Hindley, Or Yates? Or Landa? Or Carthy?
Stage 20: Verbania to Valle Spluga-Alpe Motta
This final day of climbing can either be sensational or a dud. Last Giro’s stage 20 to Sestriere was spectacular and ended with Geoghegan Hart and Hindley tied on overall time before the TT finale in Milan. Such a conclusion was unprecedented, so what’s more likely is that the climbers fighting for the podium will be seeking as many seconds’ advantage over the stronger time trialists on this last mountaintop finish. So, it shouldn’t be a dud. Maybe it will even see a conclusion like that achieved by Froome when he overcome a three-minute deficit with a massive solo break to take the pink jersey in 2018; but more likely is the stage win being fought out between members of an early breakaway.
The course favors such an outcome, because the flat opening kilometers along the north shore of Lake Maggiore and another hour of racing through Switzerland favor the formation of a big break. And though they will face two high-altitude mountain passes, the San Bernardino and Splügen, respectively 24 and 9 kilometers long, these climbs both average in the 6- to 7-percent range on well-engineered Swiss highways. The final 7.3-kilometer ascent to the tiny Alpe Motta ski station is somewhat steeper but it does have a 13-percent pitch 1.5 kilometers before the summit finish. Let’s hope it’s a sensational one.
Stage 21: Senago to Milano
Race to the Duomo
At almost 30 kilometers, the concluding stage’s time trial is long enough for a strong TT rider to make up a minute or more on whoever is wearing the pink jersey, especially as the course is perfectly flat and the buildings of Milan will protect riders from any wind. Also, there are two dozen right-angle turns where the more powerful men can gain time accelerating out of each bend. If homeboy Ganna is still in the race, he’ll likely take the stage honors, but we hope that most attention will be paid to a 12th-hour fight between the podium seekers. The winners will be crowned, once more, at the foot of Milan’s magnificent Gothic cathedral, Il Duomo.