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If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That could be the new marketing line for “the toughest race in the world’s most beautiful place.”
The Giro d’Italia delivered a doozy Thursday, with an old-school, balanced route that proves the Italian grand tour is not afraid to be itself.
As the Tour de France and Vuelta a España have pushed the envelope of what a modern grand tour looks like, the Giro remains true to its pedigree.
The 103rd Giro has a bit of something for everyone who loves traditional, smash-mouth grand tour bike racing.
Exotic start? Check, with three days in Hungary. It’s the 14th time the Giro’s started outside Italy, and the first time Hungary has hosted a grand tour.
First-week fireworks? Check that as well, with hilltop finales and Mount Etna before the first week is out. Time trial fans will not be disappointed, with no less than three, including a final-day test against the clock to crown the final podium.
Stars? Vincenzo Nibali and three-time world champion Peter Sagan, who’s never raced the Giro, are already early confirmed starters. More big names will inevitably join in, perhaps even more so with an attacker-style Olympic course waiting in Japan.
Did anyone say elevation? Officials estimate there are 45,000 vertical meters of climbing.
Legendary climbs? Check that as well. Old friends Colle dell’Agnello and the Passo dello Stelvio have starring roles.
The Giro’s “grande partenza” looks to have all the right ingredients. The opening time trial in Budapest to the castle above the Danube will set the tone. Two sprinter-friendly stages across Hungary will open up a new nation of fans to the Giro’s charms.
Once back on home roads, the Giro route takes in the full breadth of Italy.
The Giro isn’t making many friends with the long transfer down to Sicily without a rest day slotted in between Hungary and a return to Italy. Giro organizers are peeved at a new UCI rule that limits extra rest days for grand tours to every four years.
So instead of using one of their bullets now, they’re going to pile everyone onto a plane, and fly the peloton down to Palermo. And then everyone will have to race a hard stage the next day with a hilltop finale at Agrigento. To make up for it, the three stages in Sicily are all under 150km. You can already hear the collective sigh from the peloton.
Week two will be a delight for podcasters who love good Italian food but a nightmare for team bus drivers, as the route hops, skips and jumps from Sicily, across Italy’s toe and heel, and then runs all the way up the Adriatic Coast to Friuli.
There are more than a few lumpy stages along the way to keep things interesting as the route dips inland to tackle some of the local topography, including a stage at Cesenatico that traces the route of the Gran Fondo Nove Colli.
Like any good Giro, the good stuff is all packed into the final week, with the final five stages stacked up all at more than 200km each. Stage 17 sets the tone, with a stage of more than 5,000 vertical meters, including a new climb at Forcella Valbona, with Monte Bondone, and Passo Durone before the finish at Madonna di Campiglio.
The next day will be one the hardest of the race, with two early climbs before tackling the “hard side” of the Stelvio, with its famous string of switchbacks. The stage ends on a climb to Laghi di Cancano. Organizers will crossing their fingers that Italy’s notorious late spring weather holds.
A transition stage and transfer bring the Giro to the penultimate stage and arguably the “queen stage” of the route up and over and back again straddling the Alps. The stage starts in Alba and ends at Sestriere, looping into France via the Colle dell’Angelo, the Col d’Izoard and back to Italy again via Monginevro with a climb back to Sestriere.
The 103rd edition closes out with a 16.5km individual time trial in Milan.
The takeaways? The Giro isn’t going to be outdone when it comes to innovation, but the race is clearly staking its tent pole around the traditions that have always made the Italian grand tour stand out.
There’s something for everyone, including opportunities for the sprinters and breakaway artists, but this is an old-school Giro route made for climbers and classic rouleur-style riders alike. It sets up the dynamic of an interesting battle between the pure climbers and any time trial specialists who might be tempted by the route.
Striding confidently into its second century, the Giro knows it doesn’t need to overly impress. Race organizers have delivered a route that lives up to the legacy of the Giro and blends a few innovations to keep things interesting without becoming a novelty.
This is a grand tour course for grand tour riders.