Giro d’Italia preview: Five key stages

This year’s Giro d’Italia, which starts on Saturday, covers a total of 3,504km in 21 stages over 23 days. But which stages are most likely to provide the most spectacular racing and have the biggest impact on the final general classification?

Below we have selected five stages which we think will have the biggest impact on the battle for the maglia rosa. In a race designed to start small and build to a crescendo, unsurprisingly our chosen stages all take place in the final nine days.

Of course, it would be wrong to assume the opening fortnight is devoid of danger for the GC contenders. Far from it, as the medium mountain stages peppered throughout the middle 12-day ‘week’ provide ample opportunity for significant gains and losses. Ambitious rouleurs will look for the possibility of a spell in the maglia rosa off the back of of a long breakaway, while big names missing a bit of form or who allow themselves to be caught on the wrong side of a split could easily lose upwards of a couple of minutes to end their challenges before they have properly begun.

This year’s Giro will not be won until the final week, but it could easily be lost before then.

Stage 14 – Cherasco to Cervinia, 206km

It’s entirely possible (make that nailed-on certain) that we will have already seen some cracks appearing in the general classification before the race hits its first high mountain stage. But by the initial summit finish at Cervinia on the third Saturday, some of those cracks will become gaping chasms which will see several big names excluded from contention. Any weakness will be accentuated by the fact this is the 11th consecutive day of racing since the first rest day (which comes after the opening three Danish stages).

Stage 14 profile

Stage 14 is flat for 130km but ends with two monstrously long first category climbs (remember, there is no HC classification at the Giro). The Col de Joux is 22.4km long and averages 5.8%, but is at its steepest in its first 4km and in the final 5km, which provides the launch-pad for an attack to get away on the descent.

The final ascent to the Cervinia ski resort, at 27km, is one of the longest climbs raced anywhere on the calendar. The average gradient here is ‘only’ 5.5%. However, it is constantly varying – the climb comprises three steeper sections followed by three flatter ones – which will make it difficult for the riders to settle into a rhythm and will encourage attackers. The steepest slopes can be found just after kilometre 16. A decisive – possibly race-defining – attack is sure to occur somewhere on this stretch ahead of a near-flat closing 2km. Expect the early wearer of the maglia rosa to concede the jersey here, as the race sees its first proper selection.

Stage 15: Busto Arsizio to Lecco/Pian dei Resinelli, 169km

Another summit finish brings the 12-day middle stint to an end, much to the relief of the peloton and their weary legs, but two second category climbs still carry enough sting to kill off a rider’s hopes of glory in Milan. We may well see a number of contenders exposed as their weary domestiques fall away, leaving their leaders vulnerable to the aggressive moves of others.

Stage 15 profile

The stage shares some of its route with the autumn classic Il Lombardia, in particular taking in the 11.7km Valcava climb. With an 8.0% average slope, it starts gently at first before shooting unremittingly skywards. In particular, a 3km section close to the summit averages 11.6%. It’s too far from the finish for a decisive attack, but it will put many into the red and shatter the peloton for good.

The finishing rise to the summit of Pian dei Resinelli is a 7.8km, 7.8% grind with a steady gradient. My money’s on a solo or small break being allowed to contest the finish, while the big guns watch each other like hawks. With the rest day to follow, if several riders are feeling good we could see an explosive finish. Equally likely, however, is that an elite group exhausted by the rigours of the previous day (and the ten before it) are content to neutralise the bulk of the ascent, with no one really going for it until the final kilometre.

By the end of this stage, though, the number of genuine contenders for the maglia rosa should be down to middling single figures.

Stage 17: Falzes/Pfalzen to Cortina d’Ampezzo, 186km

Racing resumes after the rest day with a long, gradual ascent to Falzes before stage 17 dials up the pain again with four major climbs in the Dolomites: Valparola, Duran, Staulanza and finally the Passo Giau. Even though the stage ends with an 18km descent into Cortina, there is significant potential for a decisive move here, especially from one of the peloton’s better descenders. [So not Basso, then – Ed.]

Stage 17 profile

Individually, the four climbs are challenging enough. Together, their cumulative impact on the legs will be telling. The Valparola is the longest of the four at 14.5km, with a long section towards its end averaging around 9%. The Duran and Staulanza are similar in length, but while the former is a relentless grind, the latter has more undulating gradients. Finally, the Passo Giau is 9.85km of unforgiving hell – it never dips below 8%, with several stretches of double-digit agony. There will be opportunities for brave bike-handlers to close the gaps coming back downhill – but some of those gaps are likely to be huge.

Stage 19: Treviso to Alpe di Pampeago, 198km

The first of back-to-back cat. 1 summit finishes designed to bring the battle for the maglia rosa to a climax, stage 19 forces the riders to tackle four monstrous climbs one after the other in the final 75km, finishing atop Alpe di Pampeago.

Stage 19 profile

The stage opens with a gentle start out of Treviso, interrupted only by the speed-bump of the cat. 3 Sella di Roa, before the serious climbing begins, with each of the four major peaks featuring long sections of double-digit inclines. First there is the 20km-plus ascent of the first category Passo Manghen, whose last 6km average 10.0%. After a long descent into Tesero, the peloton then completes a loop back into the town, cresting the Passo Pampeago (which opens with a 2.5km stretch of nearly 11%) and the Passo Lavaze (which features a middle 4km section of 11.8% and a 9.7% run near the summit). After passing back through Tesero, the race retraces its footsteps to finish on the Alpe Pampeago, but below the top of the pass – the last 3km averages 11.7% and will require the strongest of legs and the bravest of hearts to conquer it.

Stage 20: Caldes/Val di Sole to Passo dello Stelvio, 219km

Even a sizeable time gap could quickly fritter away on the final (and, at 219km, the longest) day in the mountains, with two iconic climbs – the Mortirolo and the giant 2,757-metre Stelvio (think of the Galibier, but 112 metres higher) – set to exact final punishment on the maglia rosa aspirants.

Stage 20 profile

There is barely a flat section worth the name from the outset as the road heads uphill almost straight away and switches between incline and decline almost constantly thereafter. The second category Passo del Tonale (15.1km, 6.1%) is a mere hors d’oeuvre as the road passes near the foot of the Mortirolo and beyond before doubling back to tackle it. The 11.4km climb averages 10.5% overall, but most of its first half is above 12%, while the final 2km averages an eye-watering 13.7% with some sections touching 22%. For whoever is still left pedalling at the front of what will be a small elite peloton at the foot of the Stelvio, the good news is that the gradient rarely strays far from its average 6.9% – the bad news is it takes 22.4km to reach the summit. Anyone who finishes within a minute of the maglia rosa at the end of this stage will have put in an heroic performance.

Even this set of five stages may not be quite decisive, with the concluding 30km time trial around Milan offering one final sting in the tail if the overall leader’s advantage is slender, but only a rider who has performed exceptionally across these five days will have any opportunity to snatch victory at the death. No matter how things pan out, this year’s parcours is much more focussed on this small number of key stages, which should ensure more aggressive attacking and consequently more dynamic racing.

2012 Giro d’Italia stages

May 5th: Stage 1 – Herning individual time trial, 8.7km

May 6th: Stage 2 – Herning to Herning, 206km

May 7th: Stage 3 – Horsens to Horsens, 190km

May 8th: Rest day

May 9th: Stage 4 – Verona team time trial, 32.2km

May 10th: Stage 5 – Modena to Fano, 209km

May 11th: Stage 6 – Urbino to Porto Sant’Elpidio, 210km

May 12th: Stage 7 – Recanati to Rocca di Cambio, 205km

May 13th: Stage 8 – Sulmona to Lago Laceno, 229km

May 14th: Stage 9 – San Giorgio nel Sannio to Frosinone, 166km

May 15th: Stage 10 – Civitavecchia to Assisi, 186km

May 16th: Stage 11 – Assisi to Montecatini Terme, 255km

May 17th: Stage 12 – Seravezza to Sestri Levante, 155km

May 18th: Stage 13 – Savona to Cervere, 121km

May 19th: Stage 14 – Cherasco to Cervinia, 206km

May 20th: Stage 15 – Busto Arsizio to Lecco/Pian dei Resinelli, 169km

May 21st: Rest day

May 22nd: Stage 16 – Limone sul Garda to Falzes/Pfalzen, 173km

May 23rd: Stage 17 – Falzes/Pfalzen to Cortina d’Ampezzo, 186km

May 24th: Stage 18 – San Vito di Cadore to Vedelago, 149km

May 25th: Stage 19 – Treviso to Alpe di Pampeago, 198km

May 26th: Stage 20 – Caldes/Val di Sole to Passo dello Stelvio, 219km

May 27th: Stage 21 – Milan, 30.1km individual time trial

Giro d’Italia preview

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Link: Official website

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