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ROME, Italy (AFP) – Here’s a look at five key stages during this year’s Giro d’Italia, which begins in Herning, Denmark on Saturday:
Stage 8: May 13, Sulmona-Lago Lacena 229km
The second longest stage of the race is also the first real opportunity to shake up the field. Although not in the high mountains, this is a long day of rolling hills, capped by the category 2 climb Colle Molella. It’s 9.9km with an average gradient of 5.7 percent, but the second half is much tougher than the first with a gradient of 12 percent in places. While probably not tough enough to be decisive in the overall standings, this will give riders a chance to score a psychological blow on their rivals, while showing viewers who has the legs and who doesn’t.
Stage 14: May 19, Cherasco-Cervinia 206km
The first serious high mountain stage should produce fireworks at the finish, because the majority of the stage is flat until the final 70km which includes two brutal climbs. Anyone having a bad day on those two long climbs can expect to lose serious time. The 22km (5.6 percent) Col de Joux is followed by the equally steep 27km drag up to the summit at Cervinia. This stage is more like one from the Tour de France than the more typical short, sharp and punishing Giro peaks.
Stage 17: May 23, Falzes-Cortina d’Ampezzo 186km
The first foray into the Dolomites presents four leg-breaking passes that should shed all but the real cream of the crop. It’s is the first of three mountain stages over four days. The Passo Valparola, a 14.1km climb at 5.5 percent comes before the halfway point and should encourage a breakaway. But it’s in the final 70km that the GC contenders will start to turn up the screws. The Passo Duran (12.2km at 8.1 percent) is followed quickly by the Forcella Staulanza (12.3km at 6.9 percent). Anyone hoping for a rest will be disappointed as the Passo Giau is up next, starting with parts that reach a gradient of 14 percent. To make things even more interesting, the stage finishes with a tricky 17km descent to the line which could allow a good bike handler to recuperate time lost on the climb or even escape to victory.
Stage 20: May 26, Caldes/Val di Sole-Passo dello Stelvio 219km
The penultimate stage is the final and perhaps toughest mountain test of the Giro and should end in a spectacular crescendo. The final Passo dello Stelvio will become the highest-ever summit finish at a grand tour at 2,757 meters, and of course the Cima Coppi for this year’s race (denoting the highest point of the tour). But the riders’ legs could be screaming for mercy by then, having already gone over the Tonale, Aprica, Teglio and Mortirolo before they tackle the final ascent. At 22.4km, with 12-percent slopes, this could be a make-or-break for the contenders who still hope to reach Milan with a chance of victory.
Stage 21: May 27, Milan time trial 30km
With a posse of tough mountain stages right before this final stage, it is possible the Giro could already be all-but decided. But this 30km time trial means there is every possibility that someone who is good against the clock could make up even one to two minutes in Milan.