As with all grand tours, any stage could be decisive for an individual GC rider if they have a bad day or are held up by a crash. But there are usually only a handful of stages that will be crucial for the overall outcome of the race. We pick the five that we believe could change the podium places around.
Stage 12, Thursday 22 May: Barbaresco to Barolo, 46.4km individual time trial
With a fair number of flat stages and medium mountain stages that can be tough but not decisive, this is the first stage where the GC is going to get a proper shakedown. The first of two individual time trials, this one has no significant climbs so there could be a whole heap of time lost here, knocking a few climbers right out of contention. This will suit riders such as Cadel Evans and Rigoberto Uran, both of whom can ride a solid TT, but it could be a bit of a nightmare for climbers like Nairo Quintana and Joaquim Rodriguez, who could lose a significant amount of time. The GC top ten will take on a different complexion once the last rider is over the line. Last year’s first ITT put Vincenzo Nibali into the maglia rosa, which he successfully defended all the way to Brescia.
Stage 16, Tuesday 27 May: Ponte di Legno to Val Martello, 139km, high mountains
This profile might look familiar as it is the same as stage 19 from last year’s race – the stage that was cancelled altogether due to the weather. This is short in distance but long in pain – the riders start climbing from the off. That climb just happens to be the Gavia, followed immediately by the Stelvio (this year’s highest climb, the Cima Coppi), a long descent, a little undulation and then a climb to the summit finish on Val Martello. It was Vacansoleil’s Thomas de Gendt (now with OPQS) who conquered the Stelvio in a long solo attack in 2012, a performance that helped put him on the final podium.
Stage 18, Thursday 29 May: Belluno to Rifugio Panarotta, 171km, high mountains
Three of the final seven mountains of this Giro are climbed here and if any of the climbers need to make up some time, this is a good stage to do it on. It begins with the ascent of the Passo San Pellegrino, 8km of ever-shifting gradients. The riders have about 70km to get back together before the climb of the Passo del Redebus, which is a short climb of 4.5km with a sharp 8.5% average. The long descent will give anyone left behind on the climb a chance to drop like a stone and catch up before the final climb of the day, the Rifugio Panarotta. This 16km climb is an almost constant 8% gradient. If the GC hasn’t been wrapped up before the start of this stage, it may have been at the end of it.
Stage 19, Friday 30 May: Bassano del Grappa to Monte Grappa, 26.8km individual time trial
It’s a mountain time trial. The climb begins 8km into the route and lasts for just over 18km. That climb is Monte Grappa, one of the most unrelenting climbs in cycling. It starts with an average gradient of 7% and it almost never goes below that, with the final half of the climb nearly 9% with a wicked 14% section. And the rider has to do this alone, with legs that have been working hard for three weeks. If a climber is in the maglia rosa, he should be able to hold on to it. Monte Grappa was the setting for an ill-fated solo attack by Bradley Wiggins in 2010.
Stage 20, Saturday 31 May: Maniago to Monte Zoncolan, 167km, high mountains
If there is any remaining doubt about the podium, this stage will be an absolute cracker. If there is no doubt about the podium, this stage will still be an absolute cracker as no matter who is crowned King of the Zoncolan, he will deserve it! The climb is just over 10km and has an average of 11.9%, but with a maximum gradient of 22%. Two of the riders who have conquered the Zoncolan will be at this year’s Giro – Cannondale’s Ivan Basso, who won the stage (and the Giro) in 2010 and Movistar’s Igor Anton, who won the stage in 2011, when he was with Euskatel.
Header Image: Stelvio tunnel, ©Ian Walton