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Gravel roads, Monte Zoncolan, and two time trials on tap for 2021 Giro d’Italia

The 2021 Giro d'Italia route includes dirt roads, Monte Zoncolan, and a handful of short and punchy stages.

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Organizers of the Giro d’Italia are finally jumping on pro cycling’s grand tour trends.

On Wednesday organizers revealed the route for the 2021 Giro, and the course includes multiple short and punchy stages, gravel roads, and just 38.4 kilometers of individual time trials. It’s another mountainous Giro that includes a summit finish to Monte Zoncolan, as well as a punishing third week filled with mountains and 200-plus kilometer stages. But the route does mark a partial about-face for the Giro, which in recent years has balked the trend toward short and punchy stages used by the Tour de France and Vuelta a España.

The 21 stages feature some additional twists and turns, including a dip into Slovenia on stage 15, the use of 34 kilometers of gravel roads in Tuscany on stage 11, and a whopper of a queen stage, with 5,700 total meters of climbing on tap across a 212-kilometer route. There are three flat stages and six total stages that are catered to the sprinters. Seven summit finishes make this Giro a race for the climbers, which will cater to Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), and Romain Bardet (Team DSM).

Italian heritage honored

The 2021 Giro d’Italia honors multiple themes with its North-to-South-to-North route, which opens with a short 9km individual time trial in Torino, then passes down Italy’s boot before heading north again, and finishes with a 29.4km individual time trial in Milan. The race kicks off on the 160th anniversary of Italy’s unification, and the opening three stages are in the country’s Piemonte region. Then, on stage 13, the race will honor the 700th anniversary of the death of Italian poet and philosopher, Dante Alighieri, whose Divine Comedy is a seminal work of Medieval European literature. The race passes through the town of Foligno, where the Divine Comedy was first printed in 1472.

Another milestone honored by the 2021 race is the 90th anniversary of the Corsa Rosa, the race’s traditional pink leader’s jersey, first worn by Learco Guerra in 1931.

The tests come early

Stage 4 profile. Image: RCS Sport

There’s no early ascent of Mt. Etna looming on this year’s Giro route, however the opening week does present a few hurdles for the GC stars. The first climbing test comes on stage 4 from Piacenza to Sestola, which finishes with the Colle Passerino climb in the Apennines. The next true test comes two days later on stage 6, a short 150-kilometer route that concludes with the summit finish to Ascoli Piceno. Two days later is the next climbing test to Guardia Sanframondi. The very next day the peloton faces a shark’s tooth profile across a short 160-kilometer route that finishes with the summit at Campo Felice. The opening week will not crown the Giro winner, however it will show who is prepared to win the race, and who is not.

Dirt roads and the Dolomites

Dirt roads abound on stage 11. Image: RCS Sport

The Giro’s second week builds into a crushing crescendo as the route dips into Tuscany and then heads north into the Dolomites. Stage 11 from Perugia to Montalcino delivers much of the 2021 Giro’s hype, as the route includes 35 kilometers of gravel roads. Italian racing fans may remember Montalcino as the finish of the 2010 Giro’s epic stage 7, which saw the rain-drenched peloton race over Tuscany’s strade bianche in a test of grit that was won by Cadel Evans. Stage 12 tests the GC riders with 3,700 meters of climbing before the peloton receives a respite on stage 13.

Monte Zoncolan returns on stage 14. Image: RCS Sport

The break does not last long, as Monte Zoncolan looms large on stage 14. The race will climb the hellish mountain from the Sutrio side, which is less steep than the traditional route up the Ovaro side. The last time the Sutrio side was included in the Giro d’Italia was 2003, and Gilberto Simoni won the stage.

The GC stars will have no time to rest their legs, as stage 16 is a crushing route through the Dolomites, which includes the Passo Fedaia, Passo Pordoi (this year’s Cima Coppi), and Passo Giau, before the finish in Cortina d’Ampezzo. It’s a punishing route that will set the race up for its finale.

The peloton faces the Dolomites on stage 16. Image: RCS Sport

Three summits for week three

Stage 19 includes the new summit finish to Alpe di Mera. Image: RCS Sport

The race’s best climbers will undoubtedly see the 29km time trial looming in Milan and look to the third week to grab as much time as possible. There are three opportunities for climbers to shine, as stages 17, 19, and 20 all feature summit finishes in the Alps. Stage 19 may provide the best opportunity for time gaps, as the race hits a first-time finish to Alpe di Mera, and the 10-kilometer ascent is steep. Stage 20 packs less of a bite at the end, with the climb to Madesimo. But that ascent comes after soaring ascents of the Passo di San Bernardino and Passo dello Spluga climbs.

Whoever has the strength left in his legs will have to win the Giro on the 29km time trial in Milan, which again finishes in front of the Duomo.