The 2023 Giro d’Italia route, unveiled Monday in a ceremony in Milan, is a wild and wacky route that sheds the pleasant formula of some recent editions by taking things… a bit too far. And I am all for it.
There are lots of analyses out there already, and much of it focuses on who will or won’t attend, and then benefit from, the course. I don’t really want to focus on that now, nor do I want to start picking apart stages just yet. But here are a few themes emerging from the course presentation.
Are We Sure This Giro Is Different?
Hm, well, excluding the Vuelta, the other two grandest tours have a certain sameness from year to year — the Tour has its two mountain phases that determine the winner, usually, just like the Giro has two weeks of shenanigans before getting down to the more serious business up north. Riders and teams invest huge sums of money and energy into perfecting their chances to win big prizes, so the top races can’t really just screw them over with a course that is nothing like the last 100 editions.
In some ways this Giro fits the bill. The distance (3,448km) and the total climbing meters is about the same as 2022 — 51k total vertical meters to be ascended is 1k fewer than last year, in fact. But these are still huge numbers, given that 2021 had 47k, 2020 had 44k, and other more recent editions were all down in the mid-40s. So yeah, watch what you eat next spring, guys. Maybe drill a few holes in the saddle. Every ounce will count.
And then there is the stress. To me, this route is characterized by the lack of recovery (if you will) anywhere along the way. The eight mountain stages ties last year’s high number for any of the previous decade’s worth of courses, when a typical number of such stages is five or six. And the eight doesn’t include the mountain time trial, which you could easily call a ninth mountain day, a number matched only once (2011) in this millennium. Adding mountain stages + time trials to calculate the total high-stress stages, you get 11 — again, only matched in 2011 and well above several editions (between six and eight). These outlier routes — 2011, 2022 and 2023 — tend to sub in high mountains for medium mountains, listing just two such stages compared to as many as eight of them in 2016 and ‘17. This is the Giro saying, if we are going to have a hard day in the saddle, let’s not mess around and let it fall to a break. Let’s have real action.
Where do they go too far?
The clearest example of this year’s route shedding its comfortable skin is the time trialing plan. I don’t really mean the total km set against the watch — 70.6 in total — but the fact that five of those km will average a 15% gradient, followed by three final km of varying terrain, and including two different spots where the profile hits 22%. This is all on the penultimate stage to Monte Lussari. If even a single sprinter makes it to Rome, they will have shed more than a few tears in the process.
The 70+km of individual time trialing is certainly of note, the most since 2015 when the race piled up 77k against the watch. There were just under 70k in 2017, won by Dumoulin, and Contador won that ‘15 edition, so while it’s not in-Giro-like to have a lot of time trialing, it does tend to tip the race toward the crono aces. But next year’s menu varies from classic flat ITT miles to the monstrosity described above, so those crono aces should be careful what they wish for.
Generally speaking, the length is not a surprise, for two reasons. One is that the 2022 race included a comical 26.6km, the lowest total I could find (I stopped searching before the Pantani Years), so the Giro was bound to swing the pendulum back. The other factor is who such a course attracts, and names like Evenepoel and Roglic come to mind. Probably RCS had this route sketched out before Worlds, so it’s not merely a blatant attempt to bring in a rainbow-clad Belgian star and 400,000 of his closest friends (or their wallets anyway). But if it works out like that, hey, all the better.
OK But Will It Be Fun?
Ah, so here is the important part. Will we love this Giro? This is a two-part question, where both prongs have to be satisfied to some degree. One is the battle for pink glory, and because a super-hard Giro can sometimes cause the competition to collapse, the drama may be over early and cause our attachment to the race to weaken quickly. There isn’t much more to say about this ahead of time, apart from startlist speculation, so just hope for the best there. Evenepoel seems pretty certain to show up, but as great as he was this fall, I don’t think of him as a lockdown favorite by any means here, even if the other stars all pass. Fingers crossed on that.
The other fun prong is whether the stages have character. Here are some elements that jump out:
- The first week is a celebration of the South, going deep into parts of the Mezzogiorno that don’t get a lot of attention (compared to the rest of Italy anyway). The coast of Abruzzo hosts the Grande Partenza and will shine a light in the Adriatic beaches for a couple days. Then the race wanders into more mysterious parts of Basilicata and Campania as the Giro tries to give some shine to these areas.
- Things get downright blingy from there, with a spectacular 6th stage starting and ending in Napoli and traversing the Amalfi Coast in between.
- The real race starts on stage 7 as the race returns to Abruzzo. Lots of Giri pass through here heading north, since the alternative — Lazio province — is more crowded and less fun, but the typical Abruzzo stage is a mid-mountain stage slugfest that doesn’t really affect the favorites. When the Giro wants to have a major stage this early, they will go to the Blockhaus or Passo Lanciano. This time, however, they return to Campo Imperatore, and not just in a touristy way as they previously have, but all the way to the Gran Sasso d’Italia above L’Aquila, an extra 1000 meters up from past finish lines. The final 5km are over 8%, so this will be an actual battle for pink. And a visually stunning event across the wind-swept Campo.
- The Cesena time trial will generate lots of Pantani discussion, for those of you who are still entertained by this somehow.
- More bling on stage 11 as we traverse the Cinque Terre, in case you were planning a holiday and Amalfi wasn’t expensive enough for you.
- Stage 15 will pay homage to the Giro di Lombardia, which is super cool.
- Then the high mountains, including a trip into Switzerland, assuming the snow doesn’t block the race from reaching nearly 2500 meters in altitude. Then more mountains, including Monte Bondone and Tre Cime di Lavaredo, two old faves that don’t show up much. Most of the typical Giro mountain passes are off the list in 2023, making this a refreshing menu of climbs for people who get bored of the usual Gavia-Morirolo-Giau etc. stuff.
- And lastly... OMG! A race-concluding
time trialcircuit race in Roma! I am not ready to break down the route just yet, but I note that it will pass by at least three different churches housing Caravaggio paintings, all of which I didn’t see last time I was there because my kids were sick of looking at art.
So there you have it. Overall I would rate this an unusually creative course that might end up being super exciting too, although with the Giro you can never be too sure about that. Nothing to complain about here. What say ye?