Stage 1: Budapest to Visegrád
Delayed by a year due to COVID restrictions, Hungary’s Grande Partenza gets underway — on a Friday rather than the traditional Saturday start to accommodate the early transfer to Italy — amidst the grandeur of Budapest, the country’s capital city, and concludes with an uphill finale in Visegrád, overlooking the Danube. When the flag drops to start the 105th Giro, the riders will head toward the southwest, the terrain undulating only slightly on the road to Székesfehérvár, the location of the first intermediate sprint, after 75km.
From here, the route turns north, heading toward Hungary’s border with Slovakia, rolling gently all the while. The second intermediate sprint comes at Esztergom, with its impressive cathedral looking across the Danube to Slovakia on the far bank. Fewer than 30 kilometers remain to the finish, the majority of it flat as it runs close to the great river to reach Visegrád, Hungary’s capital during the 14th century.
From the town center, the final five kilometers climb to the Royal Palace, which was built in the 14th and 15th centuries. This fourth-category ascent rises at a consistent average of five percent, the road narrowing as it nears the top, where the stage winner will pull on the first maglia rosa. It’s the kind of finale that will suit a punchy Classics specialist, such as EF Education-Easy Post’s Alberto Bettiol, Alpecin-Fenix’s Mathieu van der Poel or perhaps young Eritrean talent Biniam Girmay, who has the climbing ability and finishing speed to contend.
Stage 2: Budapest to Budapest
There are a mere 27 kilometers of time trialing in this year’s corsa rosa, with a third of that amount featuring in this intriguing test in the heart of the Hungarian capital. The 9.2km course begins in Pest on the eastern side of the Danube, in the hugely impressive setting of Heroes’ Square, the route running dead straight for the opening kilometer, heading for the Danube.
A sweeping righthand bend then switches the course away from the river onto two further straights with a right-left chicane between them. A more acute bend leads onto another straight, this one running into the old part of the city, passing close to Saint Stephen’s Basilica and, soon after, reaching the east bank of the Danube. Here, the riders will travel north along the river on a 1.3km straight, passing the magnificent Hungarian Parliament Building.
At the end of this straight, the riders will circle onto the Margit Bridge to cross the Danube to reach Buda, the course tracking south on the bank of the river on what is, at 1.4km, the longest straight on the course. At the end of it, the route takes on a very different complexion, climbing for the final 1,300 meters to the finish line in Buda Square. The first section of this fourth-category ascent is the toughest, the gradient briefly touching 14 percent.
There aren’t many notable time trial specialists in the field, Jumbo-Visma’s Tom Dumoulin and Israel-Premier Tech’s Alex Dowsett the pick of those likely to start, both of them past winners of Giro TTs. Ineos’s Richie Porte should go well on this course with its sharp climb to the finish, as should some of the powerhouse performers who were in contention on the opening day, including Mathieu van der Poel and Alberto Bettiol.
Stage 3: Kaposvár to Balatonfüred
This is the first nailed-on opportunity for the sprinters, a stage of gentle rolls through the southwestern part of Hungary that concludes with a finish on the northern shore of Lake Balaton at Balatonfüred. The day commences in the picture-postcard city of Kaposvár, from which the peloton will head west toward the first key point, the intermediate sprint at Nagykanizsa.
Turning northward here, the riders will head through the region dubbed “the Hungarian Provence” to reach the eastern end of Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Central Europe and one of the country’s foremost wine-producing regions. The race will hug the northern shore of the lake to reach the second intermediate sprint at Badacsony, after which the route turns away from the water for a few kilometers.
Lake Balaton will once again be the focus over the final 30 kilometers, the route following its northern shore, then dipping south to circle the Tihany peninsula, one of Hungary’s most exclusive locations. It also features the only categorized climb of the stage, a fourth-category ascent into the town of Tihany, which tops out 12.5km from the finish. It’s not high or long enough to disrupt the sprint teams too much, and they should be in control as the race speeds into Balatonfüred.
This spa and yachting town should be the scene for a furious finale between some of the peloton’s leading sprinters. QuickStep-Alpha Vinyl’s Mark Cavendish is due to make his first Giro appearance since he won the points title back in 2013, while his likely rivals include Lotto-Soudal’s Caleb Ewan, UAE Team Emirates’ Fernando Gaviria, Intermarché-Wanty’s Biniam Girmay, Alpecin-Fenix’s Tim Merlier, Groupama-FDJ’s Arnaud Démare and Israel-Premier Tech’s Giacomo Nizzolo.
Stage 4: Avola to Etna Nicolosi
Following the rest day flight from Hungary to Sicily, the Giro not only changes countries but also complexion, with its first big test in the mountains. Oddly, this stage with 3,500 meters of vertical gain comprises just a single categorized climb, although the ascent to the finale at the 1,892-meter Rifugio Sapienza on Mount Etna does begin at very close to sea level and, as a result, makes up most of that figure.
It begins at Avola in the southeastern tip of the island. Rather than following the most direct route up the Mediterranean coast, the riders will head inland right from the start, climbing steadily almost from the off. After numerous bumps and dips, they will reach an altitude close to 1,000 meters, then gradually lose most of that gain on the drop to Scordia at the midway point. The following 50km are mostly flat.
The route begins to kick upward approaching the first of the intermediate sprints at Paternò, and keeps rising gently beyond it to reach the second, just 10km later, at Biancavilla, where the run-in to the volcanic finale begins. Travelling northeast to start with, the gradient remains relatively comfortable, following the route of the 2018 stage, when Mitchelton-Scott teammates Esteban Chaves and Simon Yates finished clear of their rivals at the summit.
The gradient gets more severe when the riders turn onto the road from Nicolosi that was last tackled in 2011, when José Rujano was ultimately awarded the stage win after Alberto Contador was stripped of his stage and overall victory as a result of a failed doping control at the 2010 Tour de France. Holding to around 7% for the most part, the key factor for riders chasing the day’s honors will be the wind direction. If it’s head on, it will stifle attacks until very close to the finish at the Sapienza ski station, the gradient easing significantly in the final couple of kilometers up to the line.
In a mountain-heavy race with 51,000 meters of vertical gain, specialist climbers will be to the fore, starting today. Ineos, featuring 2019 champion Richard Carapaz and his successor Tao Geoghegan Hart, Bahrain Victorious (Wout Poels, Mikel Landa, and Pello Bilbao) and Bora-Hansgrohe (Jai Hindley, Wilco Kelderman, and Emanuel Buchmann) have options and could well make their numbers count in what should be a tight finish.
Stage 5: Catania to Messina
The Giro’s second stage in Sicily begins in Catania, where Britain’s Chris Boardman and Karen Kurreck won in the inaugural world time trial championship titles in 1994, and finishes in Messina, the hometown of Vincenzo Nibali, winner of the corsa rosa in 2013 and 2016. Although it skirts the edges of Mount Etna and crosses a sizeable second-category climb, it’s likely to be a day for the sprinters given the flat run-in.
From the start in Catania, the peloton heads up Sicily’s eastern coast, bypassing Mount Etna. Just before reaching the beautiful Greco-Roman town of Taormina, the route turns inland and ventures across the volcano’s northern slopes, quickly arriving at the first intermediate sprint in Francavilla di Sicilia. The haul up the stage’s only significant ascent, the second-cat Portella Mandrazzi begins soon after. After cresting it, the riders have Sicily’s northern coast in their sights, the road wiggling furiously toward it for 25km.
Once the riders are back alongside the Mediterranean, there’s barely a bump over the course of the 60-odd kilometers into the finish. The second intermediate sprint is in Villafranca Tirrena, where there could well be a bit of a sprint tussle for points counting toward the cyclamen jersey. The biggest prize for the sprinters, though, lies ahead at the finish in Messina. It’s hard to imagine a breakaway staying clear on the flat and mostly straight run-in to the line, especially given the strength in depth among the sprinters.
Local fans will, of course, be hoping for a fairytale finish for Vincenzo Nibali on what could be his last appearance in the Giro and, even if he does put off retirement for another year, will surely be the last time he races into Messina in his national tour.
Stage 6: Palmi to Scalea
After the short ferry transfer from Sicily to mainland Italy, the sprinters should have another opportunity to duel for success on a stage with a few early rolls but that’s largely flat as it travels north along the Calabrian coast. It begins in the resort town of Palmi, which looks across the Messina strait toward Sicily, the route following the coast initially before heading inland to tackle the stage’s only classified climb, the fourth-category ascent to the Aeroporto Razza. The first intermediate sprint follows half a dozen kilometers later at Vibo Valentia.
Once beyond this point, the route is almost pan-flat into the finish bar two or three small headlands. Hugging the Tyrrhenian coast almost the way, the only complicating factor will be the wind, which is most likely to come off the sea and, as a consequence, across the peloton as it heads north up this beautiful stretch of coastline.
The second intermediate sprint arrives in Guardia Piemontese Marina, with 45km remaining to the finish. From here, there are no significant obstacles to the sprinters at all on the run-in to the resort town of Scalea. Although there’s sure to be a breakaway, its prospects of staying clear all the way to the finish appear negligible.
Stage 7: Diamante to Potenza
With 4,500 meters of vertical gain, this stage through the Calabrian and the Basilicata mountains is the most taxing of the race so far. It begins on the coast at Diamante, tracking northward from the off through the previous day’s finish town of Scalea. Beyond here, the coastal terrain gets more rugged, that trend continuing as the route turns inland toward the first of four categorized climbs.
The Passo Colla, 9km long, is classified as second category. The descent away from it is a little longer and leads straight into the next climb, the first-category Monte Sirino, which is appearing on the route for the first time since 1999 when it was a stage finish, victory going to Colombia’s Chepe González. Extending for 22km, this is an undulating ascent, featuring four sections of descent and a lengthy plateau in the middle section. There are some fierce ramps too, located either side of this plateau.
A long descent follows to the foot of the next climb, which begins by rising to the first intermediate sprint at Viggiano. After a brief dip, the riders will start climbing again to the second-category Monte Scuro, which tops out at 1,405m and was the setting for a famous duel between Eddy Merckx and José Manuel Fuente in the 1972 race, the Belgian seizing the maglia rosa from his Spanish rival thanks to a daredevil downhill attack.
The sawtooth profile continues after Monte Scuro. There’s another significant bump before the final ascent arrives, the third-category climb to La Sellata, its summit 24km from the finish. There’s another up to the second intermediate sprint in Potenza, where there’s then a 7km loop into the finish, which is slightly uphill again.
The terrain on this stage will give the riders in the break plenty of reason for optimism and the opportunity for some of them to pick up useful points in the mountains competition. Whether they catch the break or not, there will be an intriguing contest between the GC riders. Some may be caught out, while those with a strong finishing kick will fancy their chances of success. UAE looks particularly well blessed in this way, with João Almeida, Alessandro Covi, Davide Formolo, and Diego Ulissi all due for a Giro start.
Stage 8: Naples to Naples
Starting and finishing in the center of Naples and featuring five laps of a tough circuit just to the west of the city, this promises to be a spectacular few hours of racing. After heading out along the Bay of Naples, the riders will turn north at Pozzuoli, their sights set initially on the first intermediate sprint at Lago Patria.
Turning south, the riders will enter the 19 kilometer–long circuit at Lago Lucrino. They’ll do five laps of the loop that has two climbs. The first into Lago Lucrino doesn’t amount to much, but the second one, soon after going through the seafront at Bacoli, is more significant. Classified as a fourth-category ascent the final time it’s tackled, Monte di Procida should produce a gradual thinning of the pack.
Leaving the circuit at Pozzuoli, the riders will be back on the road on which they left Naples in the early afternoon. Twisting and turning, the route back into the port city undulates constantly, the final upward roll topping out 7km from the finish. The leaders will come thundering down off this into the heart of Naples, where the line will be located on the Via Caracciolo.
With more than 2,000 meters of vertical gain, this stage should serve up a fascinating battle. If the pace is extremely high, the pure sprinters will find it hard to remain in the contest and the balance will tip toward Classics-style racers who are equipped with a fast finishing kick, veteran Alejandro Valverde perhaps, or Alberto Bettiol and Mathieu van der Poel again. British champion Ben Swift could also be in the frame at the line.
Stage 9: Isernia to Blockhaus
Pick your adjective to describe this stage. Brutal, perhaps? Sadistic, maybe. Unmissable, definitely. With 5,000 meters of vertical gain, this fearsome northward trek along the spine of the Apennines is sure to provide a big shake-up of the general classification and end the hopes of some of the pretenders for the maglia rosa.
It gets underway in Isernia with a run of three climbs in the opening 40 kilometers, each a little tougher than the previous one. The riders will tackle the third-category Valico del Macerone right from the start. The descent from that summit leads directly into the second-category climb to Rionero Sannitico, which is followed by another cat two ascent to Roccaraso. By the time they reach the subsequent plateau and long descent, the breakaway riders should have established a significant advantage over the peloton.
There are a few bumps and rolls in the middle of the stage before the first intermediate sprint at Filetto. This is the prelude to the day’s most challenging section in the shape of the double ascent of the Blockhaus. The riders will tackle it first from the northeast, the 19km rise to the first-category Passo Lanciano, the first big step to the Blockhaus, consistently steady in its gradient, a point either side of 7% in its steeper upper half. From this pass, there’s a rapid descent to Scafa and an about-turn to Roccamorice, site of the second intermediate sprint and the beginning of the first-category climb to the Blockhaus.
Although the race isn’t going right to the top of this famous mountain, pausing at 1,665 meters rather than going to full distance to reach more than 2,000, the difficulty of the gradient on this flank ensures this is still a severe test. Averaging 8.4% for 13.6km, it features a 7km section where the grade is very close to 10% and there are long pitches above that mark. This is ideal terrain for the pure climbers, which is backed up by the 2017 stage that followed this same route to the Blockhaus and saw Nairo Quintana finish as the solo winner ahead of Thibaut Pinot. EF’s Hugh Carthy, BikeExchange’s Simon Yates, Astana’s Miguel Ángel López and a clutch of riders in Bahrain and Ineos colors will be tipped to succeed the Colombian.
Stage 10: Pescara to Jesi
The race gets back underway following the second rest day with a fascinating stage running north up the Adriatic coast to finish in the rolling hills of the Marche region inland from Ancona, where the sharp gradients could provoke a surprise or two. The day begins in Pescara, from where the peloton will have the most straightforward of returns to race action. The riders will register barely any vertical gain over the opening 100km leading to Civitanova Marche, site of the first intermediate sprint.
Just beyond the resort town, the route turns inland and into the hills for a quite different, undulating second half of the stage. There are three four-category climbs within the constantly rolling terrain, the first of them coming at Crocette di Montecosaro soon after the sprint. A second and steeper fourth-cat quickly follows, taking the riders up to the town of Recanati, once home to some of Argentinian footballing star Lionel Messi’s forebears.
The lumpy profile continues into the second intermediate sprint at Filottrano and then beyond it, the route rollercoastering toward the finale. The last categorized climb is at Monsano, where there are some acute ramps to negotiate to reach the little town. Once there, 8.5km remain to the finish in Jesi, home town of Italy’s football coach Roberto Mancini.
The stage offers breakaway riders plenty of reason for hope, but will also tempt the sprinters, who don’t have many opportunities left in the second half of this race. It should favor the more punchy sprint performers, such as Intermarché-Wanty’s Biniam Girmay. The Eritrean showed with his performances in the Belgian Classics, and notably with his victory in Gent-Wevelgem, that he thrives in this kind of undulating terrain and he’s made a Giro stage his principal target following that success.
Stage 11: Santarcangelo di Romagna to Reggio Emilia
This looks a surefire day for the sprinters. Running straight as an arrow for the most part along the Via Emilia road built by the Romans, the riders will clock up less than 500 meters of vertical gain as they head westward from the Adriatic coast.
The stage commences in Santarcangelo di Romagna, home town of Alfio Vandi, the best young rider on his Giro debut in 1976 and four times a top-10 finisher in this race. It follows a direct line northwest, passing through Cesena and Forlì to arrive at the first intermediate sprint in Toscanella di Dozza.
The route forges on to Bologna, beyond which it shifts almost northerly to reach the second intermediate sprint at San Giovanni in Persiceto. Continuing northward and then turning to the west to make a half-circle around Modena, it returns to the Via Emilia for the final 10km into Reggio Emilia, the hometown of former Italian international footballer and now Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti, as well as one of the towns where basketball legend Kobe Bryant lived during his childhood years in Italy.
The finish is flat, straight, and should be very fast. The sprinters won’t want to see this opportunity for success evade them, especially as some of them may be considering an early exit from the Giro with the high mountains now almost in sight.
Stage 12: Parma to Genova
This is a stage of two quite different halves, the first of very gentle climbing toward the Passo del Bocco, the second of persistent ups and downs through the hills of Genova province before the finish in the port city. From the start in Parma, the riders head southwest toward the Mediterranean, passing through the first intermediate sprint at Borgo Val di Taro after 56km. The road rises very gradually all the way to reach the third-category Bocco pass, where the steepest kilometer is just a shade above 4%.
The road down toward Borgonovo Ligure is considerably steeper. The last time the Giro came this way was on the third stage of the 2011 race, when Leopard-Trek rider Wouter Weylandt sustained fatal injuries when he crashed on this descent. There’s now a memorial to remember the Belgian racer on the Bocco.
From Carasco, at the foot of the Bocco, the route heads on to the second intermediate sprint at Ferrada. Here, the complexion of the stage changes. Another third-category climb arrives soon after, reaching La Colletta. A fast descent leads it another short but sharp third-category test, the Valico di Trensasco. Coming into Genova, the riders will take to the autostrada and cross the new Ponte San Giorgio opened in 2020 after the previous bridge collapsed in a rainstorm two years earlier, resulting in 43 fatalities. The finish is slightly uphill and should be contested by a much-reduced front group.
Stage 13: Sanremo to Cuneo
The penultimate opportunity for the sprinters comes on a fascinating and comparatively short stage initially run in the reverse direction to the 2021 finale of Milan-Sanremo. From the resort town that hosts the finish of “La Primavera” in mid-March, the riders will head along the Ligurian coast on what will be very familiar terrain for most of them. They’ll bypass the Poggio and Cipressa hills as they head for Imperia, where they’ll turn inland and begin to climb steadily to reach the first intermediate sprint at Pieve di Teco.
Once through this, the route climbs again, this time more steeply toward the third-category Colle di Nava, which featured on last year’s Sanremo route as the replacement for the Turchino pass that had been closed by a landslide. Averaging close to 7%, the Nava has some more acute ramps, but it effectively marks the end of the day’s significant climbing.
The route continues northward, descending steadily all the while, then turns due west toward the second intermediate sprint at San Michele di Mondovì, the hometown of Eugenio Costamagna, one of the founders of La Gazzetta dello Sport and the Giro. Continuing westward across the plains of Piedmont, the riders will speed into Cuneo, so often a stage town on the corsa rosa route, although usually associated with big tests in the mountains rather than sprint days like this one.
Stage 14: Santena to Turin
There are no huge climbs on this stage based on Turin, yet the series of tricky 4–5km ascents on this short and — almost certainly — very fast route should produce an enthralling battle and perhaps even shake an unwary rider or two out of the contest for the maglia rosa. It commences in Santena, just to the southeast of Turin. From here, the race will loop to the east of the city, the terrain flat for just the first dozen or so kilometers, then starting to roll, which it will continue to do all the way into the finish.
From Gassino Torinese, to the northeast of Turin, the riders will switch to the south to tackle the first of five categorized climbs, the cat three haul up to the village of Il Pilonetto. After dropping from there to Chieri, they’ll turn westward toward the finishing circuit that includes the Superga and Colle della Maddalena climbs, and which will be covered two and a half times.
The peloton will enter the circuit at the top of the uncategorized climb to the Parco della Rimembranza, dropping from there through the Parco del Nobile and then passing through the finish line, to complete that half lap. The first intermediate sprint is just beyond the line at the monument to Fausto Coppi. Once through it, the next obstacle is the second-category ascent of the Superga, where the finale of the Milan-Turin Classic race takes place.
From the descent, the riders will quickly reach the foot of the second-category Colle della Maddalena. It begins straightforwardly enough, then ramps up viciously for a kilometer and a half, where the average is 13% and there’s a quite lengthy section at 16%. The climb flattens, then rises again to reach the summit.
The riders will hurtle back down into the center of Turin to start another circuit over the Superga and Maddalena. Descending from the latter for the second time, they’ll climb briefly to the second intermediate sprint in the Parco del Nobile, from which there’s a 4.5km drop into the finish. It’s sure to be frantic and will suit punchy climbers, who will be well represented in the Giro field.
Stage 15: Rivarolo Canavese to Cogne
This is a back-weighted mountain stage in Italy’s Aosta region in the western Alps that features 46km of climbing in the final 80km of racing, producing a total of a touch more than 4,000 meters of vertical gain. It gets underway in Rivarolo Canavese, just to the north of Turin, and runs up the Dora Baltea river valley, starting to roll toward the midpoint of the stage and the first intermediate sprint at Pollein.
Leaving this town that sits across the valley from Aosta, the riders will quickly be on the first ramps of the first-category ascent to the Pila-Les Fleurs. Rising for 13km, the gradient is comfortable for the first five, then becomes more challenging. There’s a kilometer at close to 10%, then another at more than 11, on each occasion with far shallower ramps to follow. Finally, 3km from the top, the gradient eases off considerably.
The descent wiggles down to Aosta and into another first-category climb to Verrogne, which appeared early on in the 2019 stage that was won by Richard Carapaz and put the Ecuadorean into the maglia rosa. Averaging 7.4% for close to 14km, it’s more regular than the previous ascent to Pila, but doesn’t have the easier sections. In short, it’s a hard grind. The descent is steep, and very fast indeed after the third and final flatter section, the road flashing back into the valley and quickly onto the final climb to Cogne.
The final ascent is a second-category test, the principal difficulty its length rather than the gradient. It averages a far from intimidating 4.3%, but stretches to 22.4km. The steepest ramps come early on. Whether they will be the launching pad for attacks will depend very much on the wind direction.
Stage 16: Salò to Aprica
This mountain test is a level above anything seen in this race up to this point. With 5,250 meters of vertical gain on the menu, this is a critical day for those riders who still have GC pretensions.
It begins in Salò on the western shores of Lake Garda and heads north to skirt the western side of the Lago d’Idro. The road begins to rise soon after on the opening ramps of the first-category Goletto di Cadino, which last featured in the corsa rosa back in 1998 during the stage where Marco Pantani ended up romping to victory at Montecampione. Averaging 6.1%, it’s a 20km slog to the summit, which is close to 2,000 meters. The descent away from the pass is significantly steeper, especially in its mid-section.
The riders will soar down into the Val Camonica for 30km of valley riding that will take them through the first intermediate sprint at Malonno. Beyond Edolo, the road starts to climb more steeply to reach Monno, the gateway to the eastern flank of the Passo del Mortirolo, last tackled from this side in 2017 when Luis León Sánchez led over the top and, later in the stage, race leader Tom Dumoulin had to make an unexpected roadside stop due to stomach issues. Averaging 7.6% for 12.6km, it’s not as fearsome as the opposite flank, but is still ranked as first category.
There’s then another long stretch of valley riding, followed by a short climb to Teglio, the hilltop village that’s the location for the second intermediate sprint. From here, the road descends to Tresenda and straight into the final climb, the Valico di Santa Cristina, another first-category of course. The toughest of the day’s three big ascents, it last featured on the penultimate stage of the 1999 Giro, the day after Pantani’s exclusion due to an elevated haematocrit level. Roberto Heras led over the Santa Cristina that day, the Spaniard going on to win the stage in Aprica, beating Italians Gilberto Simoni and Ivan Gotti in the sprint.
The second half of the 13.5km climb is extremely tough, averaging 10.1% over the final 6.6km to the pass, from which there’s a short descent to San Pietro followed by a 2km drag up to the finish in Aprica.
Stage 17: Ponte di Legno to Lavarone
This stage looks like it will suit a stage-long breakaway, while the finale is tough enough to produce another battle between the contenders for the maglia rosa. Starting in Ponte di Legno, the riders will tackle the Passo del Tonale right from the off. Although it’s uncategorized on this occasion, the 8.7km ascent should enable the breakaway group to form and forge a gap, which it will then endeavor to extend on the long drop into the province of Trento.
The riders will have reached the stage’s midpoint before the next climb arrives, the short rise to Giovo, which is ranked third-category. From here, the terrain changes completely, the road rolling constantly to reach the first intermediate sprint at Pergine Valsugana. The first slopes of the first-category Passo del Vetriolo arrive soon after. Averaging close to 8% for 12.5km, the gradient is fairly regular. The climb played a fundamental role in Andy Hampsten’s Giro success in 1988. The American won a mountain time trial to the Vetriolo in the final days of the race, although the riders tackled the pass via its southern flank from Levico Terme.
On this occasion, the race will descend into this town, and half a dozen kilometers later, having passed through the second intermediate sprint at Caldonazzo, reach a tougher first-category ascent to Monterovere. Averaging 9.9% for 7.9km, it’s relentlessly steep, a brief respite coming just past midway, after which there the road rises for 3km at more than 11%. Once over the crest, there’s a brief descent into the finish town of Lavarone, where there’s a short drag up to the line.
Stage 18: Borgo Valsugana to Treviso
The sprinters get their last opportunity in this race on a stage that runs east and then south into Treviso with two fourth-category climbs as the only significant obstacles. From the start on Borgo Valgusana, the riders will reach the first of those hills just beyond the 20km mark. The tight switchbacks of the Scale di Primolano, which was last tackled in the 2014 race, include some fierce slopes as they rise toward the World War I fort at the top of the climb that has been restored in recent years.
The road keeps trundling eastward, passing through the first intermediate sprint at Valdobbiadene at the halfway point. Another 25 or so kilometers beyond this, the riders will reach the second category four climb, the Muro di Ca’ Del Poggio. Climbing through Prosecco vineyards, it’s little more than a kilometer long, but the fact that it’s twinned with the Muur in Geraardsbergen underlines that it’s got teeth. It averages 12.7% and one short section reaches 19%. This is its sixth appearance on the Giro percorso, the last taking place in the mid-race time trial in 2020.
The climb is the stage’s pivot point, the route direction of travel now due south across the plains toward Treviso. The second intermediate sprint comes at Susegana, with 35km remaining, where the peloton’s pursuit of the breakaway group should be in full flow. Arriving in Treviso, the riders will pass through the finish to start a lap of a 10.7km finishing circuit, at the end of which a bunch sprint looks odds on, assuming there is still a clutch of sprinters left in the race by this point.
Stage 19: Marano Lagunare to Santuario di Castelmonte
This is an intriguing medium mountain stage that includes a long section in the neighboring country of Slovenia, where there’s a devilishly difficult climb, and finishes with a first-ever ascent to the Santuario di Castelmonte, to the east of the city of Udine.
The stage starts on the coast at Marano Lagunare, to the south of Udine, the route travelling north and passing this city on its western side to reach the first intermediate sprint at Buja. After another dozen flat kilometers beyond here, the terrain changes dramatically as the race enters the Julian Prealps. The first test here is the third-category climb to Villanova Grotte, which is immediately followed by another cat three ascent, the Passo di Tanamea.
Half a dozen kilometers later, the riders will cross into Slovenian territory, soon reaching Idrsko and the foot of the fearsome Kolovrat climb, a first-category ascent. Extending to 10.6km, it averages 8.7%, but that figure is skewed to a significant degree by the much easier sections at the bottom, in the middle and toward the top. There are 4km averaging a touch above 10% to reach the landing in middle, then a kilometer at 12% above this point.
Just over the summit, the route switches southwest and back into Italy, where the riders will speed down into the Natisone valley and, soon after, the second intermediate sprint at Cividale del Friuli. A sharp eastward turn here quickly leads onto the final climb, the second-category ascent to the Santuario di Castelmonte, which was first established in the 12th century. The toughest section of the 7.3km climb comes immediately after a little dip, the road rearing up to 17%, which could well be the launchpad for the day’s winner.
Stage 20: Belluno to Marmolada (Passo Fedaia)
The Giro’s final weekend comprises what’s very much the traditional finale of a big day in the mountains followed by a time trial, although the battlegrounds are different to those typically used near and in Milan. With the race-closing TT taking place in Verona, the organizers have been able to plot out a very big day in the Dolomites, where the main difficulties are the iconic San Pellegrino, Pordoi, and Fedaia/Marmolada passes.
The stage begins in the beautiful town of Belluno, which is almost encircled by the River Piave and sits in between the Prealps and the Dolomites. The course follows the river valley downstream initially, then switches around to head northward and into the heart of the mountains. The climbing begins in earnest after the riders have passed through the first intermediate sprint at Cencenighe Agordino with a touch more than 100km remaining, where they will turn westward toward the Passo San Pellegrino.
More than 18km long, the San Pellegrino averages a none-too-taxing 6.3%, but that figure conceals the difficulties in its upper half where there are 5km at more than 10%, including a 500-meter section at 14%. The descent to Moena is not as steep or long, and the riders will soon find themselves climbing again, this time toward the Passo Pordoi, the Cima Coppi of this year’s race as its highest point, which is doubly apt bearing in mind the monument to Fausto Coppi at its summit.
The gradient is much more regular than the San Pellegrino, averaging 6.8% for almost 12km as it climbs to 2,239 meters. The drop away from the pass is much longer on its eastern flank, extending to 30km in two sections intersected by a plateau at the midpoint. It takes the riders down to Caprile and the foot of the Passo Fedaia. It’s 14km long and averages 7.6%. Over its first half, the angle rarely reaches that latter figure, but in the upper half above the second intermediate sprint at Malga Ciapela, it remains well above that mark, the final 5.4km averaging a tad more than 11%, exactly the kind of terrain that could trigger some dramatic swings of fortune among the GC leaders.
Stage 21: Verona to Verona
The 105th Giro d’Italia concludes with a time trial, as is the tradition, but the location is Verona rather than the usual finale in Milan. The 17.4km course is based on the Torricelle circuit used for the World Championships in 1999 and 2004. Starting adjacent to the Fiera exhibition center, the riders will head northward through the city on wide avenues.
After crossing the River Adige, the course runs quickly through Verona’s northern edge to reach the foot of the fourth-category climb to Torricella Massimiliana. The intermediate time checkpoint is at the crest, where the riders will make an about-turn and start the fast 4km drop back into the city.
The final three kilometers include a stretch along the bank of the Adige and a finale through the old part of the city, where there are some tight turns. The finish is on the Piazza Bra, the riders continuing into the Roman amphitheater, where Richard Carapaz was feted as the Giro’s victor in 2019.