The Giro d’Italia is entering its final week and the fight for pink is about to get very, very involved. Below is the final clump of stage previews, including a bunch of profiles that would make an EKG reading blush. I’ll get to that in a second. But let’s quickly run through the main competitions first.
The GC: Well, if you think there are some three minutes that can be pulled back from the current leaders, and that Italian riders don’t age on home soil, then the battle for the overall victory remains eight riders deep, ending with Vincenzo Nibali sitting at 2.58 back of current leader Richard Carapaz. Of course, the Ecuadorian is a former Giro winner back for a second helping, so expecting him to fall apart is a bit optimistic on the part of Nibali fans, but with an absolutely brutal final week coming, you never know.
Based on where we began, is it fair to say that about half of the contenders are intact? Bardet and Dumoulin went home sick and injured, respectively, while middling candidates like Valverde, Kelderman, Ivan Sosa and Hugh Carthy have fallen off, unsurprisingly, along with Simon Yates, very surprisingly, although apparently it had to do with a sore knee, and them’s the breaks. That’s two bona fide top contenders and five more maybe-types out of the picture. Carapaz has a minute on Landa, another pre-race bona fide favorite, but is barely ahead of Hindley, who looks like the top challenger now, and Almeida, who doesn’t inspire as much confidence.
Carapaz not only has the lead, however slight, but has the experience and a team of non-contending climbers all lined up to support him. That’s a major advantage over Almeida, but less so over Hindley, whose BORA team has Buchmann and Kelderman higher up than any INEOS rider, which can be deceiving but tends to mean that they are riding well. I like that they were very aggressive on Saturday — they aren’t going to just let INEOS take it to them and they will take risks in the process. Overall, I think we have two serious contenders with serious teams, and after that, it will take one or both of the top guys to falter before things get really interesting.
Points: Arnaud Démare has a complete stranglehold on the jersey, so if he makes it to Verona without picking up another point, this one is still over. So will he? Probably. Démare finished off his last two Giri and the 2021 Vuelta, so he is a survivor. I don’t think we have to worry about this one.
KOM: Pretty wide open. Koen Bouwman has the lead over Diego Rosa, 109-92 points, but the competition has hardly begun — Tuesday’s three summits are worth up to 120 points if someone were to sweep them. Worse, Hindley is lying third at 62 and Carapaz at 56, so presumably the bigs will rise up and seize the KOM comp in some order.
Young Rider: Almeida still qualifies and since he’s third overall, you can call him the favorite. Juan Pedro Lopez is next at 3.34 back, which seems like a lot for him, and Thymen Arensman is the exciting kid lying in wait but probably not about to recoup 11.17, unless Almeida tanks and Arensman gets in a break that INEOS and BORA don’t care about.
OK, let’s get started. If you aren’t excited for what we are about to see, then it might be time to take up following cricket.
Stage 16: Salò - Aprica, 202km
What Is It? The Queen Stage of the Giro d’Italia.
Detailed Description: A three-Alp beast with 5,250 meters of cumulative climbing on the day. Wait, did I say three? I meant 3 1/3.
Heading north from Salò, on the shore of Lake Garda in Lombardy, the race approaches Switzerland, even paralleling the border around the Mortirolo, before coming back to Aprica, a pretty legendary Giro stage town. More details with the climb profiles...
The opening climb is sometimes known as the Goletto di Gavero, the 294th hardest climb in Italy. Given the length of the stage, I doubt we will see much happen here.
But then things get... hairy.
Note, this is the easier side of the Mortirolo, a full 3% less steep than the approach from the northwest, via Mazzo. And thankfully, from the summit they descend to Grosio, a still 8% drop but again less insane than the alternative.
[Side note: have you ever looked up the hard side of the Mortirolo? The side from Mazzo, last used at the Giro in 2019? The one that averages over 10% and remains completely in double digits for a full 6km? I am crying as I type this.]
That wee bit of climb tossed in before the final ascent? Not something for mere mortals. A 5.6k knee-breaker:
Here’s the approach to the line via the Santa Cristina:
Things might get pretty broken up before the top guys reach Tresenda and begin the Valico di Santa Cristina, which is not the hardest climb around (ranked 282 nationally) but represents the nastiest way into Aprica and a cumulative total of climbs that will really put riders under pressure. There are seven km at the end of descending and then grinding back up to the line, so some late regrouping is possible.
What Famous Stages Have Happened Here? I haven’t heard of the first climb but the others are fairly notorious. The Mortirolo happens all the time, though this particular approach only recently was included in the 2017 edition, coming at the start of stage 16 which was won by Nibali ahead of Landa.
Aprica, however, has been in the Giro a lot. Tuesday will be its tenth time hosting the finish of a stage. Vittorio Adorni, il Commendatore, triumphed here in 1962, and other notable stage winners include Pantani, Heras, Basso, Scarponi and Landa in 2015. The win by the late Scarponi in 2010 saw Basso take the maglia rosa off the shoulders of surprise leader David Arroyo on stage 19, with massive help from Basso’s teammate Nibali powering them up the gentle drag to Aprica and putting Arroyo’s chances to bed. It was super exciting stuff, even though Basso was a suspicious character by then. Nibali drove that thing, and then went on to win the Vuelta later that year. I think I was humming “I bless the rains down in Aprica” for a week after.
And then there is the Valico di Santa Cristina, the last pass on the day of the 1994 stage to Aprica, won by the newly minted shooting star known as Marco Pantani. The Pirate had achieved his first major win the day before in Austria, a 40-second ditching of the favorites, who rolled in together, but on this stage he left them all gasping for air. It’s hard not to romanticize about a solo escape over these majestic passes that put 3+ minutes into everyone but Pantani’s teammate Claudio Chiapucci (+2.57 on the day), that vaults Pantani over a no-longer-dominant Miguel Indurain, and that sees Pantani take the mantle from Gianni Bugno, more of a battler than a pure mountain goat, as best Italian rider and emerging hero. Evgeni Berzin would hold on for the win and anyway the whole thing was awash in EPO, so I don’t really feel all that romantic about it, but I can see how so many people do.
Profiteers: General Classification threats only. Not much more to it than that. The Giro probably won’t be won for good on this day — again, probably — but we could see the competition reshaped and drastically reduced, even with so many more climbs left. The meters climbed and the length of this stage put it in a category by itself, compared to the punchier ones to come.
Stage 17: Ponte di Legno - Lavarone, 168km
What Is It? An eastward swing from the Alps in the direction of the Dolomites, ending in Alto Adige. Like stage 16, it’s not a mountaintop finish, given a slight descent to the line taking up most of the 8km after the final summit. Anyway, it’s the third-hardest stage of the final week.
Detailed Description: Here we go again. The race begins by finishing off the Passo del Tonale — nice way to stretch the legs? — and then mostly descends to the 80km mark before the fireworks start going off. Then it’s business time to the end.
The first rated climb is really just an amuse bouche and a chance for the KOM points-hunters to take center stage for a few last moments.
The next two climbs are neither overly long nor notorious in Giro lore, but boy are they steep:
Some close-up of the Menador:
What Famous Stages Have Happened Here? Well the Moser family hails from Giovo, so I’m sure the small climb has seen its share of bike races. But the real star, albeit not really this year, is the Passo del Tonale, which has seen the Giro pass over it 28 previous times — from the opposite direction. Binda first won here in 1933, followed by Bartali in ‘39 and ‘53.
Profiteers: Again, it’s another big day for the GC. Maybe a break will be up the road, grabbing KOM points, but they won’t make it to the finish, in all likelihood.
Stage 18: Borgo Valsugana - Treviso, 156km
What Is It? A brief respite from the climbing craziness (although not entirely). One last one for the sprinters or at least the non-GC guys.
Detailed Description: The race says bye (for now) to the Dolomites, transitioning across the Veneto region to another big-town finish in Treviso, just north of Venice.
Pretty straightforward except for that little bump at 102km:
What Famous Stages Have Happened Here? Not much in Treviso, unless you count all the times someone stopped by the Pinarello factory to say hi. Buit Valdobbiadene has hosted three stages, two of which (2015, 2020) were important time trials, won by Vasil Kiryienka and Filippo Ganna.
Profiteers: Mathieu van der Poel was saying that he is planning to finish the Giro for experience, and to honor the race, but suggested he had no further hope of winning. Could be a bag of sand attached to that statement, given this profile. Or a truthful statement about how his legs feel.
Stage 19: Marano Lagunare - Santuario di Castelmonte, 177km
What Is It? A very interesting spin around the mountains bordering Italy and Slovenia, home to our new cycling overlords. There’s an uphill finish and a few other punchy climbs, albeit at much lower altitude than the main events of the week. Anyway, it’s a refreshing detour, and Slovenian sports fans could use something else to think about this week.
Detailed Description: The race starts by the beach, circumnavigates Udine, and starts climbing, taking in much of what the Friuli Venezia Giulia Region has to offer for sights. But this is no tourist trip — they end up on a couple very steep climbs, which is not only fun in terms of fostering competition, but is likely to be a complete madhouse once the fans get set up.
Everything on the menu is painfully steep. At least the first one has the decency to not last that long.
Can’t say that about the second major ascent, of the Kolovrat, on the Slovenian side of the border:
And one last gut-punch for good measure.
The last 3km are 8.3% with a ramp of 13% just before the red kite.
What Famous Stages Have Happened Here? The Battle of Caporetto? Gorizio, just to the south of the finish area, hosted a stage finish last year, and in 2001 as well.
Profiteers: You might see some fighting for marginal gains by the GC guys at the end, but I’d bet a break gets to enjoy the spoils on this day.
Stage 20: Belluno - Marmolada, 168km
What Is It? The other Queen Stage... depending on what you think that means. This course contains fewer km and meters of ascent than stage 16, but still involves three major climbs in the heart of the Dolomites, as well as the Cima Coppi, the highest point in the race. The steep uphill finish tells you all you need to know.
Detailed Description: Just three great passes, the San Pellegrino, Pordoi and Fedaia, which is extended a bit to the Marmolada glacier.
First up, the San Pellegrino pass:
Obviously it gets harder as it goes. The San Pellegrino has been passed 11 times before in the Giro, first traversed by Vito Taccone, quite the colorful name from cycling’s past. Anyway, it won’t be determinative. That could happen at the next climb:
The Passo Pordoi is the Giro’s highest and probably most scenic climb. It has something close to 30 switchbacks, depending on which ones you decide should be included in the count.
There are two ways over the Pordoi, from the east or the west. Neither side is rated very highly compared to Italy’s hardest ascents. This version was featured in last year’s stage to Cortina d’Ampezzo, but was scratched due to bad weather. The last time they climbed here was 2017, at the start of a stage into Austria.
Stunning, but there is no guarantee the race is decided before this:
And just a bit more painful detail:
The Fedaia has been included in the Giro 14 times before this year, including once before as a stage finish, in 2008. There is only one way to the top.
What Famous Stages Have Happened Here? Not counting the scene in The Italian Job, the most notable stage at the Fedaia would be the stage in 2008 that finished here, won by Emanuele Sella, and which saw Alberto Contador take over the lead, which he would hold to Milan.
Or at least for stages finishing there. For stages including the Fedaia, probably the one that stands out in the minds of Italians would be the 2001 stage that ended at the Pordoi, won by Gilberto Simoni as he took command of the Giro d’Italia, his first of two wins. It was so memorable that someone encased his bike in stone atop the Pordoi.
On the day, the Giro ran a course somewhat similar to this stage, subbing the Passo Rolle for the San Pellegrino, but then instead of going from the Pordoi to the finish at the Fediaia, the stage circled back for a second climb of the Pordoi. This stage saw Simoni, who was in attacking mode already, fly the coop for good, along with Julió Alberto Perez Cuapio, who won the stage (and two more the next year) to become Mexico’s only Giro stage winner, a distinction he holds to this day. Simoni, though, matched the pint-sized Mexican mountaineer pedal for pedal, and they put 45 seconds into Dario Frigo. That lead would be whittled down to 15 seconds, but Frigo lost his race against the carabinieri, who had found doping supplies in his hotel room three days earlier and he was pulled from the race before stage 19, leaving Simoni 7 minutes clear of any competition. Simoni would race the Giro several more times with one more victory and no drama whatsoever, nope.
Profiteers: You know the story by now.
Stage 21: Verona ITT, 17.4km
What Is It? Just a final-day time trial for all the (remaining) marbles.
Detailed Description: This is quite a course packed into a brief 17+km: two dozen 90-degree or more turns, urbanness at the beginning and end, and a trip up a hill to a rather severe-looking 19th century fortification, which will entail about a 5% incline for 4.5km.
Such a course should be a varied challenge, favoring the climbers pretty heavily.
What Famous Stages Have Happened Here? Numerous ones, including a lot of time trials. The best-remembered one may be from 1984, as it was won by the Sheriff, Francesco Moser on the final day of the Giro, catapulting him over Laurent Fignon to the victory. This Giro will always be remembered as Moser’s Special, featuring a somewhat slimmed down slate of climbs and no less than 140km of time trialling, including 85 of the individual variety. Moser’s win in Verona paired nicely with his wins in the previous two ITTs (although Fignon’s Renault team struck back in the TTT). Moser won again when the 1985 Giro started from Verona, though his luck ran out after that.
Profiteers: GC climbers who have something left in the tank. Actually it will be interesting to see if anyone from the lower ranks can threaten for the stage win. Certainly if the standings aren’t too tight, you might see the leaders ride cautiously and leave the door open for a non-obvious contender. The best known cronomen either went home (Dumoulin) or didn’t show up here in the first place. Could be fun!