Giro d'Italia

Commentary: The 2019 Giro d’Italia’s five must-watch stages

Now that the route of the 2019 Giro d'Italia has been revealed, we can start getting excited about some of the big stages on tap.

With the 2019 Giro d’Italia route now officially unveiled, it’s a perfect time to get excited about what’s on tap for next spring. Even with the May 11 start in Bologna still over seven months away, we can start dreaming about the battles to come in Italy.

It’s a slightly more balanced route than what the Tour de France organizers unveiled last week in that there are three individual time trials, but this is still going to be a Giro that the climbers will love. The peloton will spend plenty of time high up in the Alps next May on terrain that will be very familiar to longtime Giro fans.

Here are five of the stages that have us especially excited for next year’s race.

Stage 9

Okay, it may be a bit anti-climactic to kick off this list with a time trial, but the Giro’s ninth stage will be a critical test. Although there are two other time trials in the race, neither one is especially long. The 34.7-kilometer trek through wine country from Riccione into the micro-state of San Marino in stage 9 should have a major impact on the race. It will give the TT specialists a chance to jump out to an advantage, and set the pecking order heading into the second week.

That said, the final third of this TT features some bona fide climbing. From the second intermediate time check at 22.2 kilometers, the road rises nearly 350 meters over 5.7 kilometers of road. There’s another uphill stretch that heads into the finish line. Pacing will be crucial — go out too hard and you might start to drag on those late gradients.

If that’s not enough to entice roadside fans, there’s the extra perk that visiting spectators can cross another (tiny) country off the travel bucket list.

Stage 14

The journey from Saint-Vincent to Courmayeur sure packs a lot of punch into just 131 total kilometers. The peloton will get no respite coming off a tough stage 13, with a 14th stage that features four big climbs and a short uphill finish for a total of 4,000 meters of elevation gain. The stage rolls through the Aosta Valley and heads high into the Alps.

The penultimate categorized ascent up the Colle San Carlo runs 10.5 kilometers at a 9.8 percent gradient — steep enough to blow whatever is left of the peloton to pieces. It tops out with around 26 kilometers to go, and then comes a long descent to the final push to the finish at the Skyway Monte Bianco. At least the exhausted riders will get the enjoy the Mont Blanc scenery as they suffer toward the line.

Stage 15

The Giro is fully embracing the Lombardy region in 2019, with a few high-mountain stages and then this celebration of Il Lombardia, one of the most exciting one-day races on the calendar.

The familiar Madonna del Ghisallo, Colma di Sormano, Civiglio, and San Ferma Della Battaglia climbs all feature on the back end of stage 15. They’re all relatively short efforts compared to some of the more intense high-mountain climbs in the race, so this won’t be a defining GC stage of the race, but it should be an exciting showdown nonetheless. A keen descender could sneak away in the finale, just like Vincenzo Nibali has done in the season’s final monument.

Considering how much we love the classics, it’s great to see the Giro visiting Il Lombardia territory and the Tour visiting De Ronde terrain in the same year.

Stage 16

Anyone hoping to ease back into the race coming off of the second and final rest day will get a rude awakening in the Giro’s stage 16. The early Passo della Presolana and Croce di Salven climbs can’t be underestimated. After the descent off the latter, however, things become especially intimidating. From around kilometer 60, the road runs mostly uphill for the next 71 kilometers, with the last stretch of that coming in the form of one of the Giro’s most iconic ascents: the Passo Gavia.

The climb that American Andy Hampsten conquered on his way to a grand tour victory needs no introduction. What’s more, the peloton will have already been climbing for more than an hour when it arrives — and riders will have more climbing to do after they crest the Gavia too.

From the top of the Gavia, the pack will zoom back down to the foot of the Passo Mortiriolo. With a 10.1 percent gradient across 12.8 kilometers, it should be a major battleground in the fight for pink. A fast descent from the summit until an uphill run to the Ponte di Legno finish should keep things interesting.

Stage 20

The four big climbs on tap for the final mountain stage of the race may not have the name recognition of some of the more legendary Giro ascents, but they should make for a great day of racing just the same. The second climb of stage 20, the Passo Manghen, runs 18.9 kilometers at 7.6 percent, making it slightly longer than the Gavia and almost as steep.

If anyone has the grinta to go long in stage 20, this is a great place to give it a shot.

The Passo Rolle will be another opportunity to attack before the shorter but challenging Croce d’Aune finishing climb. As the last big mountain ascent of the race, it will give the contenders one last chance to go head to head before the final individual time trial closes things out the following day.