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Giro d'Italia

‘It’s insane’: Just how hard is the ‘brutal’ third week of the Giro d’Italia?

Question marks emerge over climbing TT, but third-week pain remains assured in traditional punishing Giro finale.

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“Crazy.” “Insane.” “Brutal.”

That’s how the peloton is describing what’s being touted as one of the hardest third weeks of the Giro d’Italia in recent memory.

With three huge mountain stages and a leg-snapper mountain TT for a finisher, Giro organizer RCS has taken the race’s salespoint of severity and added a capital ‘S’. After all, it’s not touted as “the hardest race in the most beautiful place” for nothing.

“The final week is damned difficult. You can win or lose everything there,” Geraint Thomas told Sporza.

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Reports emerging Thursday suggest there could be some question marks over the stupid-severe stage 20 Monte Lussari time trial.

But with three weeks to rectify reported access issues and the gruesome Monte Zoncolan muted as a replacement, third-week pain is assured for Thomas and his pink jersey rivals.

So, just how hard is the hotly hyped week three?

Let’s take a look.

The numbers behind the nastiness

Giro d'Italia 2021
High mountains, the possibility for horrible weather – it’s what the Giro does. (Photo: Gruber Images / VN)

Tracking east from the Garda Prealps through the Dolomites and toward the Slovenian border, RCS’ currently planned seven-day finale covers around 900km and packs more than 16,000 meters of ascent.

It’s a one-week haul that will see riders burn at least 22,000 calories during more than 24 hours of pedaling.

Doesn’t sound all that bad?

Those numbers include two pan-flat sprinter stages.

Strip the stats down to the stage 16, 18, and 19 monster mountain days and the beyond-belief mountain time trial, and it’s a different story.

“All I know about that final week is that it’s insane,” Ag2r-Citroën racer Larry Warbasse told VeloNews.

The four GC stages of this year’s third week cover around 560km and 15,400m ascent – all at the back-end of a race likely to last nearly 90 hours and cover just shy of 3,500km.

Stage Stage type Km Elevation Cat. climbs
Stage 16 Sabbio Chiese – Monte Bondone Mountain 203 5200 5
Stage 17 Pergine Valsugana – Caorle Sprint 195 300 0
Stage 18 Oderzo – Val di
Zoldo (Palafavera)
Mountain 161 3700 5
Stage 19 Longarone – Tre Cime di Lavaredo Mountain 183 5400 5
Stage 20 Tarvisio – Monte Lussari ITT 19 1100 1
Stage 21 Roma-Roma Sprint 135 500 0

“The Giro is renowned for the difficulty of its third week and this year is no exception,” Israel-Premier Tech director Sam Bewley told VeloNews. “I would expect some pretty big changes inside the top 10 of the GC in that final week.”

As Bewley says, an almost laughably difficult final week is Giro’s thing. Like the “maglia rosa” and the tifosi, it’s just what the “corsa rosa” does.

For comparison, both the past two editions of the Giro included a 900km final week.

Last year’s race climbed 19,000m in week three – that’s more than the upcoming 2023 edition – while the 2021 Giro included “only” 16,000m ascent after the final rest day. But even that is mountains more than any recent Tour de France.

Oh, and let’s not forget the high possibility of rain, snow, and sleet on the white-topped peaks.

“Those alpine stages still have the potential for bad weather in May,” Bewley said. “It adds another element to stages of already 5,000m of climbing.”

Monte Lussari TT: ‘My teammate lives close, but he’s never done it because it’s too hard’

Racers out of the GC action will likely be begging for a push in the penultimate mountain TT. (Photo: Gruber Images / VN)

It’s not unique that the Giro closes out with an onslaught of climbs and a kingmaker “tappone”.

But what might make this year different – and more difficult – than any other is that penultimate uphill time trial.

Should it remain on the route, the stage 20 race up the Monte Lussari could tilt the GC on its axis in the space of just a single seven-kilometer ascent.

Arriving just 24 hours after a high-altitude Dolomite behemoth on stage 19, the peloton will be packing its smallest chainrings and hoping for the best ahead of the 19km test.

“It’s apparently one of the hardest climbs ever,” Warbasse joked of the Lussari.

“My teammate Felix [Gall] lives close to the bottom, but he’s never done the climb because it’s too hard.”

Nestling deep in the Friulian Alps, the Monte Lussari is being touted as potentially far more damaging than the Tour de France’s Plateau des Belles Filles.

The infamous French Planche des Belles Filles climb where Roglič lost nearly two minutes to Tadej Pogačar looks like a speedbump in comparison to this 7km, 12 percent monster.

“The climb in the time trial on the penultimate day is super steep. It’s crazy,” Thomas said.

Monte Lussari, Giro stage 20

Don’t mess with Monte Lussari. (Illustration: RCS Sport)

With more than five kilometers averaging a 15 percent gradient, the Lussari could see a ragged “maglia rosa” lose more time in the space of 20-30 minutes than they won through the entire race so far.

Thomas et al might hope the flurry of reports casting doubt over the Lussari come good.

Issues regarding team vehicle access up the narrow, precipitous Alpe should be resolved three weeks from now, but if not, a replacement might be sought.

In which case, Thomas won’t be so happy to learn the horror that is the Monte Zoncolan is just a short drive away …

‘It’s all about saving energy for the last week’

The final week, Lussari time trial or not, will tower over the peloton from the moment they click into their cleats Saturday for the opening time trial.

“I’m going to put everything on the TTs then take it as easy as possible in the other stages, not take actions myself,” Evenepoel told the media. “It’s all about saving energy for the last week.”

Does a ridiculous final phase mean two previous weeks of defensive racing?

Judging by the way the warp-speed attitude of the modern peloton, probably not.

Like Roglič says – “No risk, no glory.”

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