Blazin' Saddles: All you need to know about the route of the 2019 Giro d'Italia
While three time trials could catch the eye of defending Giro d'Italia champion Chris Froome and his predecessor Tom Dumoulin, a mountain-heavy final week should be enough to see Simon Yates and Vincenzo Nibali book their ticket for Bologna.
The great and the good - and Gianni Moscon - turned up in Milan on Wednesday for the presentation of the route for the 102st edition of La Corsa Rosa, with this year's winner Chris Froome taking the extreme step of leaving his comfort zone and donning a suit.
What was revealed by organisers RCS and race director Mauro Vegni was an intriguing backloaded route, bookended by time-trials and offering ample scope for both sprinters and opportunists in the opening fortnight before things get serious with a mountainous final week that includes all the biggest climbs, including the iconic Mortirolo and Gavia passes.
Without further Aru, let's take a closer look at the route facing the peloton for the opening Grand Tour of the coming season.
The route in a nutshell
Starting in Bologna on Saturday 11 May and finishing in Verona on Sunday 2 June, the 3,518km route includes three individual time trials, six stages for the sprinters and five mountain-top finishes, featuring legendary climbs such as the Passo Gavia, the Passo del Mortirolo and the Passo Manghen. It's a route brimming with nostalgia and one that recalls the defining moments in the careers of former champions Fausto Coppi, Francisco Moser and Andy Hampsten.
La bella Italia
The first thing you notice on looking at the entire route is that, bar a quick foray into San Marino, it takes place entirely on the boot of mainland Italy, dropping down to the ankle but foregoing the foot or heel before rising up the calf towards the knee. So, one year after the ridiculous gimmick that was the Israel grande partenza, we have a race for the purists, with few transfers and the traditional final week showdown in the Alps and Dolomites.
Double the ITT kilometres than the Tour
Three time-trials and a total of 58.5km against the clock will certainly appeal to some of the big engines – although it should be added that none of these ITTs are remotely flat.
Long days in the saddle
Nine of the 18 road stages are 200km or more with five of those coming before the first rest day. The riders – and fans – should get ready for many hours in the saddle/armchair.
Favourite in pink on day one
Missing out on "prologue" status by a mere two-hundred metres, the opening 8.2km ITT rips up the rule books with a fast 6km preamble followed by the stinging climb to the Basilica Santuario della Madonna di San Luca, the traditional finish of the autumn one-day Giro dell'Emilia race.
The climb, whose initial 500m section hits a devilish 13.6%, is lined with 666 arches of a roofed arcade which runs alongside the road all the way to the top. It was here where, in stage 14 of the Giro, Froome led the race before, pedalling squares, faded to allow fellow escapee Simon Gerrans to take the win.
It's an ingenious twist on what can often be a predictable formula of kicking things off with an ITT, and the crazy ramped finish will amount to big gaps from the outset and could see one of the race favourites don the maglia rosa from the get-go.
Remembering da Vinci
Three climbs feature in Stage 2 but a flat finish in Fucecchio will favour the fast men provided the break hasn't got the better of the peloton. A similar stage on day three starts in the town of Vinci to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Renaissance polymath Leonardo da Vinci.
Early joy for sprinters and puncheurs
If the opening two road stages to Fucecchio and Orbitello should favour this year's maglia ciclamino Elia Viviani and his sprinting rivals, then the uphill sprint finish to Frascati in Stage 4 should play into the legs of the Battaglins, Valverdes and Sagans of the peloton.
Then it's back to business for the sprinters with a flat finish in Terracina before an unpredictable conclusion to Stage 6 on a descent off the back of a 15km climb to Coppa Casarinelle.
L'Aquila: 10 years on
A tough 180km Stage 7 through the Abruzzo concludes in the hilltop town of L'Aquila 10 years after a terrible earthquake caused such devastation to the city. It's followed by a long 235km stage to Pesaro which could play into the hands of a break or some late attacks given the rolling terrain in the final third.
Another individual 'wine trial'
Continuing the Giro's trend of spicing up time trials with a complimentary celebration of Italy's viticulture, the second ITT of the race is 34.7km long and takes in fertile soils of the Emilia-Romagna coast in an area renowned for its highly quaffable red Sangiovese wines. A flat opening 22km turns nasty as the race enters San Marino at Faetano and then heads uphill all the way to the finish.
Bizarrely, this could be seen as the first proper uphill finish of the race. Will riders swap bikes mid-stage? That's the big question the GC favourites will have to ask…
Two extra rest days to please the sprinters
The race heads to Ravenna on the opening race day ahead of two pizza-flat stages which should ensure the peloton can take two extra rest days before the action really gets going. Bravo in advance for any brave riders demented enough to try their luck from a break ahead of finishes destined for the sprinters in Modena and Novi Ligure, the birth town of Italian legends Costante Girardengo and Fausto Coppi.
Coppi in Pinerolo: 70 years on
Marking the 70th anniversary of Coppi's famous victory in the corresponding Cuneo-to-Pinerolo stage in the 1949 Giro d'Italia, stage 12 oozes nostalgia. Back then, Coppi rode 192km alone through the Alps to seize the pink jersey that secured him a third Giro crown.
Perhaps mindful of the challenges ahead, however, the organisers have opted to tackle far easier climbs on the road to Pinerolo – the only real test coming 35-odd kilometres from the finish. Still, it should be enough to keep the likes of Viviani et al at bay.
Things get serious from stage 13
If the opening fortnight promises unpredictability and excitement then the proper GC battle may not get properly underway until this zinger of a stage 13, which finally delivers the Giro's first proper summit finish.
And what a beautiful finish it promises to be, with the riders taking on the spectacular 2,247m Colle del Nivolet for a finish alongside the glistening Lago Serru.
The Italian Job
It's worth adding that the tight hairpins of the Colle del Nivolet are best known as the cause of the infamous bus crash in the film The Italian Job. It remains to be seen if the stage finale will prove to be, ahem, such a cliffhanger…
Shortest but hardest?
While stage 14 from Saint Vincent to Courmayeur is the race's shortest leg at just 131km, it sure packs a punch with four intense climbs ahead of the final rise to the Monte Bianco Skyway. Skyway by name, Team Sky's way by nature? We'll find out on Saturday 25th May.
Echoes of Lombardia
Could this be the stage than ensures the participation of Vincenzo Nibali? Quite probably. The 237km stage 15 from Ivrea to Como – the longest in the race – covers the same climbs as Il Lombardia, with the key descent of the Civiglio – where Nibali has twice put in a winning move in the Classic of the Fallen Leaves – likely to play an important role.
Queen stage: Mortirolo & Gavia
In the memorable words of Arsene Wenger: everyone thinks they have the prettiest wife at home. While nominating queen stage status is extremely subjective, the case for stage 16 is strong. Featuring the Passo Gavia (where Andy Hampsten defied the snow) and the legendary Passo del Mortirolo (dubbed cycling's hardest climb by Lance Armstrong), it sure packs a punch.
With well over 5,000m of climbing stretched across 226 tortuous kilometres, this is a stage that will have the gruppetto looking at their watches for the best part of seven hours – and could hammer an early nail in the coffin of some of the GC favourites.
Final sprint bookended by ambush territory
Stage 18 provides the final chances for the sprinters with a flat finish in Santa Maria di Sala after a couple of early climbs and a long descent. The stage is bookended by two summit finishes which aren't monsters but could prove ideal ambush territory.
Stage 17 plays out in the mountains of northern Italy with a finish at Anterselva after a potentially dangerous schlep through the Val di Sole apple orchards planes ahead of the tricky climb to Terento. Stage 19 heads back into the mountains for the rolling climb to San Martina di Castrozza. It doesn't have any serious gradients but with the might of the Dolomites looming someone could always come a cropper.
Showdown in the Dolomites
The final mountain stage is a long 193km loop that boasts 5,000m of climbing and will decide the race. Three brutish ascents precede the final climb about Croce d'Aune, with the stand-out test being the 18.9km slog of the Passo Manghen. With current flash floods having washed away the road, however, it remains to be seen if this will be a viable route for a bike race in seven months' time…
Channelling Moser in Verona
For the fourth time in the race's history, the Giro ends with a individual time trial in Verona. The last time this happened, back in 1984, home favourite Francisco Moser took the maglia rosa from the shoulders of Laurent Fignon thanks, in part, to some overly partisan helicopter-flying skills from the TV crew ensuring the ponytailed Frenchman was riding into a headwind for much of the way. At least, that's what Fignon claimed.
Given it's only 15-odd kilometres in length, it's unlikely that this final ITT will prove pivotal – although RCS has included a climb right in the middle to add some uncertainty in the case of a tight battle for pink.
"I think this will be the hardest Giro d'Italia of the last 20 years. It's the hardest race route I've ever been involved with," race director Mauro Vegni said.
" It's not hard just because of the 46,000 metres of altitude but because of the way it is designed, with 25,000 metres of climbing in just four or five stages. We've created what we think is a modern, balanced and open race. The time trials are not for specialists, and so the race is open to a wide number of riders. We've presented the race route. Now it's up to each rider and team to decide if they want to be part of our great race."
Room for Froome?
With Chris Froome still one yellow jersey away from a record-equalling five Tour de France titles, it's unlikely that the 33-year-old Sky rider will defend his crown. That said, stranger things have happened – and the three time trials will certainly play a factor in the decision-making for both Froome and the 2017 champion Tom Dumoulin.
"I don't know yet. It's a decision I'll have to take with the team," Froome said when asked if he'd take part.
" The Giro is an important race for the team and it's the tenth anniversary of Team Sky so I think it's really important to target the Giro d'Italia as well. We're all going to sit down in December and decide who's doing what. If I'm not there to defend my title, then there will be one of my team-mates doing the same thing for the team."
So, who will be there?
Should neither Sky rider take part then the Colombian Egan Bernal looks well suited to the mountainous route, with Italian Gianni Moscon almost certain to provide key support.
Simon Yates wins stage 9 of the 2018 Giro d'ItaliaGetty Images
Elsewhere, Vegni said that he has a "good feeling" that both Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Fabio Aru (UAE-Team Emirates) will ride their national tour while admitting that negotiations were also underway to entice Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) to make a belated maiden appearance in the Giro
Given the route, the likes of LottoNL-Jumbo duo Primoz Roglic and George Bennett may be tempted, as well as last year's third-place rider Miguel Angel Lopez of Astana and the world champion Alejandro Valverde of Movistar, who has already said he will skip the Tour de France in 2019.
After blowing up so spectacularly in stage 19 this year, Britain's Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) clearly has unfinished business in the Giro – and with Messrs Froome and Dumoulin unlikely to feature, Yates could well be the big favourite to add to his Vuelta a Espana crown from September.