A balanced but humane route for the 97th Giro d’Italia next May was unveiled in Milan earlier today. It’s a parcours which builds gradually to a grandstand finish. It also offers opportunities for both sprinters and climbers alike, including both flat and mountainous individual time trials and an opening team TT stage in Belfast.
Week 1: A leg-stretcher
As has been known for some time, the 2014 Giro kicks off – unusually on a Friday to accommodate an additional rest/transfer day – with a three-day stint starting in Northern Ireland and ending in Dublin. Belfast plays host to both the first two stages – a 21.7km team time trial, followed by a 218km road stage likely to end in a bunch sprint – before crossing the border on stage three for another flat stage to Dublin.
The first Monday will be spent relocating the Giro circus back to Italy – aside from this, lengthy transfers have been kept to a minimum – for a sequence of six stages to end the first ‘week’. These are a pleasing mix of flat stages, punchy hill-top finishes and medium mountains which should ensure the general classification starts to take on a recognisable shape without being torn apart.
It’s unlikely that we’ll see any of the GC contenders falling away completely early on, although we will see small time gaps forming on the two pairs of medium mountain days. Stages five and six both have uphill finishes but aren’t excessively strenuous. However, stages eight and nine will require the contenders to be on their mettle, with both being long and steep enough to create reasonable gaps and provide an indicator of form without being decisive.
The sprinters should enjoy the opening stint, with four stages (two, three, four and seven) likely to end in mass gallops.
Week 2: Head for the hills
The second week opens with a routine flat stage before a stage which is likely to draw the attention of classics specialists, who may fancy their chances of attacking over the final climb with 28km left and scuttling downhill to the finish.
This is then followed by the first of two individual time trials – flat but long at 46.4km, where the pure climbers will hope to limit their losses to the all-rounders. Some GC contenders may lose three minutes or more here.
An undulating stage 13 may see the sprinters challenged by a determined breakaway ahead of the opening pair of high mountain stages which conclude the week. Both commemorate famous rides by Marco Pantani, as a spectacular weekend of big climbs will separate the contenders from the pretenders.
Saturday’s stage 14 is lumpy from the off and features three big climbs. The last of these is the 11.8km, 6.2% Santuario di Oropa, which ramps up to 13% en route to the summit finish.
By contrast, the following day the only obstacle standing between the riders and the final rest day is the Plan di Montecampione. The road is arrow-straight and flat for nearly 200km as the race heads eastwards via the outskirts of Milan before turning sharply uphill for its final 18.65km. The average gradient is 7.8%, the maximum 12% – it will feel longer and steeper than that for the vast majority of a weary peloton.
Week 3: Welcome to Hell
The riders will need to recover fast, as the next stage packs three monster climbs into just 139km. Almost immediately, they will start to climb the Passo Gavia (16.5km, 8.0% average, 16.0% maximum). This is followed by the never-ending switchbacks of the Passo dello Stelvio (21.7km, 7.2%, 12% maximum) – the highest point of the race at 2,758 metres.
With lactic acid creeping into the legs, the final ascent is to Val Martello – ‘only’ 6.4% but a seemingly endless 22.3km in length. This stage is identical to the one on this year’s parcours which was cancelled due to extreme snow and cold. That tells you all you need to know about how tough it will be.
After the blessed relief of a flat transitional day, stage 18 brings us the first of a three-part battle which will determine the final standings, with a summit finish at Rifugio Panarotta (15.85km, 7.9%).
This is then followed by the final time trial, a 26.8km effort to the summit of Monte Grappa. The climb itself is 19.3km and averages 8%, which will send lactic acid pouring into the riders’ legs by the end. We could see some big shifts in the GC here.
The penultimate stage 20 will be either a no-hold barred showdown or an anti-climax depending on the state of the GC. It will be spectacular regardless, with three major climbs in the final 70km and a date with destiny on the slopes of the Zoncolan. At 10.1km it is relatively short but it averages 11.9% and has sections of 22% and 20% around its mid-point. Time – and possibly the maglia rosa itself – will be won and lost here, for certain.
The final flat stage finishes in Trieste rather than Milan, but tradition dictates that the race leader rides unassailed, leaving it to the sprinters to fire up their weary legs one final time in the hope of giving that all-important finish-line salute.
It’s an interesting parcours which packs all the major climbing action into the final eight stages and sets up a finely balanced battle between the all-rounders and the pure climbers, who could find themselves with a significant deficit to overcome by the time the first high mountain finish rolls around on stage 14.
Is there enough to keep viewers’ interest in the first two weeks, though? Sprint fans will be happy – eight possible bunch finishes is as many as we have seen in a single grand tour for some time. Those who hate sprints may struggle a bit but it should be remembered that there are also five medium mountain finishes of varying difficulty – and many of the best racing in this year’s Giro took place on similar courses in the opening week.
What the relatively conservative first two weeks should do is to build the anticipation for a monster final section without reducing the GC to a two or three-horse race too soon. However, I’d still expect the opening fortnight to be full of aggressive attacks and the odd major surprise as riders seek out opportunities for stage wins and the honour of wearing the maglia rosa while the big guns are happy to keep their powder dry.
2014 Giro d’Italia stages
May 9th: Stage 1 – Belfast, 21.7km team time trial
May 10th: Stage 2 – Belfast to Belfast, 218km
May 11th: Stage 3 – Armagh to Dublin, 187km
May 12th: Rest day
May 13th: Stage 4 – Giovinazzo to Bari, 121km
May 14th: Stage 5 – Taranto to Viggiano, 200km
May 15th: Stage 6 – Sassano to Montecassino, 247km
May 16th: Stage 7 – Frosinone to Foligno, 214km
May 17th: Stage 8 – Foligno to Montecopiolo, 174km
May 18th: Stage 9 – Lugo to Sestola, 174km
May 19th: Rest day
May 20th: Stage 10 – Modena to Salsomaggiore Terme, 184km
May 21st Stage 11 – Collecchio to Savona, 249km
May 22nd: Stage 12 – Barbaresco to Barolo, 46.4km individual time trial
May 23rd: Stage 13 – Fossano to Rivarolo Canavese, 158km
May 24th: Stage 14 – Agli to Oropa, 162km
May 25th: Stage 15 – Valdengo to Plan di Montecampione, 217km
May 26th: Rest day
May 27th: Stage 16 – Ponte di Legno to Val Martello/Martelltal, 139km
May 28th: Stage 17 – Sarnonico to Vittorio Veneto, 204km
May 29th: Stage 18 – Belluno to Rif. Panarotta (Valsugana), 171km
May 30th: Stage 19 – Bassano del Grappa to Cima Grappa, 26.8km individual time trial
May 31st: Stage 20 – Maniago to Monte Zoncolan, 167km
June 1st: Stage 21 – Gemona del Fruili to Trieste, 169km
Link: Official website
Header image: The Zoncolan.