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Viewers’ Guide to the 2023 Giro d’Italia, Part I

The Viewers’ Guide is Back... And Hotter Than Ever! Maybe!

105th Giro d’Italia 2022 - Stage 21 Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Aaaand we are back! The Viewers Guide to the [insert year] [insert race] is here... for the first time in a couple of years. You may recall that this was my preferred way to dispense with a course preview, at least for the Giro and the Tour (and once upon a time, the ENECO Tour). The point is to take a big-picture view of a grand tour and try to plan around what (for most of us) is a busy life, or at least time of year, so that we can prioritize watching the stages you really don’t want to miss, either for competition or aesthetic reasons. And, of course, for each stage I try to rate the unmissability by using a new metric. Past versions explored whether or not you should show up for work, go out with your partner, pay attention to your kids, etc…. or watch that day’s stage.

This time around, I won’t use a tradeoff; rather, I will rate the hotness (and thus watch-urgency) of each stage by pairing the stage with a Hot Take. I use capitalization because Hot Take Culture is apparently all the rage, in the way that the internet really likes to analyze what’s happening on the internet, and no I am not at all pessimistic about the future of humanity, nope. Anyway, if hot takes aren’t your thing, I’ll just say that by “hot” we typically mean “outlandish,” both in the substance of the take and the uniqueness. The latter can be an attribute, if not taken too far, because nobody needs to be told right now that Tadej Pogačar is really good at cycling.

The former is a bit of a tightrope, at least if we aren’t to veer into the realm of Stupid Hot Takes, which is a version of Hot Takes strictly for the purpose of getting attention (from people who hate you or are also idiots, or both). A good Hot Take should have at least a whiff of truth to it, or make you think about whether that may be the case. It certainly doesn’t have to be right, but it does have to be worth discussing.

So that’s a goal. The hotter the take, the hotter the stage. And we will use the following measures of hotness, via the lovable chili pepper:

  1. Hottest: Carolina Reaper — >2 million scoville units
  2. Habañero — Up to 500,000
  3. Cayenne — 50,000
  4. Jalapeño — 8,000
  5. Calabrian chili — 750

This year’s Giro will not fall short on this measure. The pressure rarely gets turned down, so maybe by the time I am done writing this the hotness distinctions will have lost all meaning. Maybe you should plan on just watching all 21 stages. Probably not, and we will try to help with that, but it won’t be easy.

2023 Giro d’Italia map

In case you haven’t studied the map already, the Giro starts this year in Abruzzo, though the official guide just talks about the region generally rather than a single Grande Partenzo host city, and also seems not really about anything besides pumping up tourism to the region, as opposed to past Grande Partenze with more of a narrative agenda, or as opposed to previous passages of Abruzzo to comemmorate the tragic 2009 earthquake around L’Aquila. Nope, just come visit Abruzzo. [I’ve visited Abruzzo, which if you aren’t sick of hearing about, I’ll get to in a bit, but yeah, it’s a good hang.]

The route then swings south to Amalfi and Napoli, two visual feasts, then back to Abruzzo as the Giro crawls slowly toward its annual destiny in the northern mountains. The last week features some real Alps material, which is not always the case, and some Dolomite madness, which is always the case, before heading back to a final mellow closing stage in Rome. Time trials will matter more than usual, as you’ve probably heard. Transfers will matter less than usual! Which you probably haven’t heard, if you aren’t officially part of the sport, but which is good news for all involved. The start and finish are about two hours’ drive apart, which is rare but not completely unheard of, and makes for a nice closed circle.

I love this year’s route, sort of like I love certain Italian bicycles — noting the fact that I love all Italian bicycles indiscriminately and senselessly, it seems, although if pushed I can muster up some more useful, specific opinions. So sure, all Giri are pretty awesome. But even by that lofty standard, and putting on my Objectivity Hat (a sensible, French-made cycling cap), I will say that this is above average in terms of pure fun, and hopefully in terms of fostering competition too.

Let’s go!

[As of this second, I am splitting this post into two parts, covering stages 1-11 here and 12-21 in the follow up. Not sure I’ve ever resorted to this, but the post is running very long and taking forever.]

Cycling: 98th Tour of Italy 2015 / Stage 10
Like this, only with fewer dudes.
Photo by Tim de Waele/Corbis via Getty Images

Stage 1: Fossacesia Marina — Ortona ITT

Saturday, May 6, 19.6km

What’s It All About? Putting someone into Pink and getting all of us riled up about the GC from the gun! It’s a medium-effort time trial, well beyond prologue distance and featuring a switchy climb to the line in Ortona, which I suspect will make for a stadium-like atmosphere welcoming home the Giro’s first stage.


Giro ‘23 stage 1 map


Here’s the whole thing:

Giro 2023 stage 1 profile

And here is the final 3km, where the real fun begins:

Giro 2023 stage 1 finale

Now, don’t be too taken in by that part — this is two kilometers over a relatively tame gradient, and switchbacks aren’t often technically challenging either. The real meat of this course is the first 16km of board-flat terrain along the coast, which will have the riders stressing or salivating over wind conditions more than anything else.

What’s Along the Way? Let’s go down to the waterline! [Cue twangy guitar.] I won’t spend many of these entries boring you with stories of food or wine, because you will feel drunk and overstuffed by the time we get to Napoli. I will only note that the Official Guide — which will absolutely bore you with stories of food or wine — seems to suggest that the locals have cracked the code on good desserts. Even guys like me, who ride Campy and sing opera songs because we can’t get over Breaking Away, will admit that Italian desserts are ... not great. So this is notable.

But the area is referred to as the Costa Dei Trabocchi, not because the Trabocchis are a proto-Italian subculture dating back to 8,000 BCE. No, a Trabocco, or trebuchet, is a fishing platform used in shallower seas to catch schools of fish probing coastal troughs. Invented by fishermen who couldn’t get over their seasickness (probably), the trabocchi are pretty common along the southern Adriatic coast. Among their benefits are the fact that you can set up a table on them and play cards with the other fishermen all day.

An historic trebuchet on the Apulia coast, southern Italy...
Photo by Sara Mancini/KONTROLAB/LightRocket via Getty Images

How Much Does It Matter? Probably overrated as a stage that will help decide the general classification in the end, but the fact that it bears any resemblance to such thing is a fun way to start.

Hot Take Watchability Pairing? Filippo Ganna is maybe a top five time triallist.

This opinion could cost me my friends & family discount at Di Laurenti’s market, although maybe if I wear my Bobo Vieri jersey they’ll let it slide. Anyway, the numbers suggest that the new Italian savior of the Crono has maybe decided to branch out to other disciplines, and the current state of cycling talent abhors even the slightest vacuum in a rider’s program. Right now I’ll say Ganna stands alongside — not above — Foss, Bissegger, Küng, Bjerg, and probably Remco if he is racing to win. By next year, the talent swarm could push him even further off his throne. This stuff isn’t easy.

Hotness Rating: Cayenne

Stage 2: Teramo — San Salvo

Sunday, May 7, 201km

What’s It All About? Hey, ho, relax a bit will ya? We got three weeks to go here! Maybe take a little stroll along the seaside. Too boring? Ya sure, throw in a climb, just turn right anywhere along the route. But you will have to double back to the Lungomare if you want to make the sprint.


Giro ‘23 stage 2 map


Giro ‘23 stage 2 profile

Two cat-4 climbs will put someone in the KOM jersey — which will have been awarded to the stage winner on day 1, along with at least two other jerseys, so after this stage we will have someone don the maglia azzurra on purpose.

What’s Along the Way? I am already going to break my “can we not just talk about food all the time please?” rule because the guide tipped me off to a soup called le virtú (the virtues), which is so perfectly southern Italian that I have to mention it. If you know your Christianity, or perhaps even if you don’t, you will be aware of the “seven virtues,” sometimes called the seven works of mercy, if you are a very, very famous Caravaggio painting currently hanging off the Via dei Tribunali in Napoli.

The painting of the ‘The Seven Works of Mercy (Sette opere...
Seven Works of Mercy, Caravaggio
Photo by Salvatore Laporta/KONTROLAB /LightRocket via Getty Images

Well, the theme of Mezzogiorno life is defined by the old ways, for better or worse, and nothing ties it all together like a soup recipe, supposedly consisting of seven legumes, seven meats, seven spices, seven pastas and seven seasonal vegetables (specific to springtime) — and prepared for seven hours by... seven virgins. The last part was probably always just as uncomfortable as it is today to sort out, but the rest of it sounds kinda great? Although are there seven meats? Not really my bag.

How Much Does It Matter? Considering the dearth of big-name sprinters, less than you think. And you already didn’t think much of it. However, there are as many as eight sprints to be had, if things break right, so if someone emerges from the scrum and takes charge, we might start to see who that is.

Hot Take Watchability Pairing? The maglia ciclamena is really just a best-sprinters’ thing now.

Scorching, I know! What with ten consecutive years’ worth of results saying exactly that. Before the rules changed, giving double the points on the line for sprint stages (50 to the winner) compared to non-sprint-rated stages (25 to the victor), the competition went more often to an all-rounder type, and the sprinters who won — prime Cavendish, Petacchi, Cipollini — did so by dominating the bunch finishes, because anything less would see the climber types pass them by. Now, though, whoever is the best of a perfectly cromulent slate of bunch gallopers is the favorite for the honors here.

Hotness Rating: Jalapeño

Via Adriatica street. Drink e Food. Vasto. Abruzzo. Italy. Europe Photo by: Mauro Flamini/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Stage 3: Vasto — Melfi

Monday, May 8, 216km

What’s It All About? Rolling down to the deeeeep south of Basilicata, Italy’s quietest province and soon to be a hot vacation region in about 15 years or so. Perfect plan for a Monday early in the race, when the action will seem pretty quiet until the peloton catches sight of the line.


Giro ‘23 stage 3 map


Giro ‘23 stage 3 profile

Detail needed here... take a look at the finish:

Giro 2023 stage 3 finish

That last couple hundred meters should pivot this from a bunch sprinters’ event to a slightly different opportunity, and I will leave it to your imaginations who that means. But the Giro isn’t into repetition, which is cool.

What’s Along the Way? Is there still a travel agent industry? Guessing yes, and you can hear the voices of agents in New York and London telling their clients, “Well you know, if you want to go someplace nobody has discovered in Italy yet, you have to go to Vasto! It’s a beach town. I hear it’s to die for!” The Giro pays the bills.

But these tours of the deep south are quiet cruises through a monotonous countryside still mostly lost in time. The present isn’t super hot. But the past, you can call this a tour of the tribal tapestry of the ancient peninsula, before “Italy” was even a notion. Vasto was home to the Frentani tribe; the Daunians held the fort in northern Apulia around Foggia in the middle of the stage; and the ending in Malfi brings us to the home of the Lucanians. Battles with the Samnites and Opici helped define their ages. Diomedes is credited with founding a lot of the towns that still dot the region, but these names linger and Basilicatans are sometimes referred to as the Lucani, just as Neapolitans are called the Partenopei, people of the Parthenon. The tree may not be much to look at but the roots run deep. Anyway, if you go to a sausage shop down that way, try the Lucanica. It’s the best in the city.

A picture taken on November 30, 2010 sho
Diomedes, Revealed
Photo credit should read BERTRAND LANGLOIS/AFP via Getty Images

How Much Does It Matter? Precious little, although for the points competition, if one of the regular sprinters likes uphill finishes, they could get a leg up on the overall competition in Melfi.

Hot Take Watchability Pairing? Danilo Di Luca was the Giro’s most indefensible winner.

Di Luca, a/k/a the Killer of Spoltore, is the former Maglia Rosa most closely associated with the coast of Abruzzo, where the stage starts. He’s also one of the more decorated riders from the 2005-2010 period... and one of the most thoroughly disgraced riders of the era too. I was a huge fan, he did fun things, especially at the Giro, and I personally thought it was time for southern Italy to have some representation at the top of the sport. Turns out help was on the way! And at the 2007 Giro he wore a Liquigas kit. He performed better than expected. He finished... not first, try 19th (Ciao Vincenzo!). Di Luca got his signature win, but his brief lull from doping investigations — which started back in 2004 — was about to end with the Oil for Drugs scandal (which had nothing to do with oil) in late 2007. Di Luca’s troubles were just getting started.

Anyway, comparing Di Luca to the 90s guys is pointless, that era was like the Studio 54 of cycling — of course they were all awash in drugs. The only real challenger for this “crown” would be Marco Pantani, but he could for sure ride a bike, like really fast. Up hills. Drugs or no. Di Luca... who the hell knows?

Hotness Rating: Jalapeño

Cycling : 95th Tour of Italy 2012 / Stage 8 Photo by Tim de Waele/Corbis via Getty Images

Stage 4: Venosa — Lago Laceno

Tuesday, May 9, 175km

What’s It All About? The first of several stages which could be a lot of things but probably favor a breakaway? If the Bigs get activated, they will have a fun little skirmish at the end of the stage. It would be very, very silly of them to do so. But someone will make this stage exciting.


Giro ‘23 stage 4 map


Giro ‘23 stage 4 profile

Hm, that second climb, including the Muro Lucano (there’s that tribe again), might be a very good excuse for the peloton to let go of the rope. Even if someone like Primož Roglič pursued a strategy of bagging time bonuses, as he did in the Vuelta, the final 3km flatten out and invite too many people back into the stage mix. This screams breakaway.

What’s Along the Way? A chance to geek out on “the Southern Question” maybe? About halfway through the stage the race reaches its southernmost point in Baragiano as it plods around the Mezzogiorno and its hilltop villages, the mark of the agricultural system that lasted from feudal times until... (checks watch)... let me get back to you there. After hitting this point the race crosses into the Campania region, which sounds kind of exciting from a tourist’s perspective (Naples! Amalfi! Pompeii!) but this part of Campania is what my maternal grandfather fled because he thought maybe he could do something more exciting than be a shepherd.

How Much Does It Matter? Setting aside the non-zero but unlikely chance of the Bigs taking an interest, I would say it’s a day that some less famous riders will make their mark and have a great time. Also the KOM jersey will see three cat-2 point caches given out, so that competition — while likely to be swept aside in the final week — will take shape at least.

Hot Take Watchability Pairing? The Giro needs to stop geeking us out in week 1.

We get it, virtually every meter of Italy is wonderful in some way. Whether it’s the convoluted cultural web of the ancient tribes, the endless string of conquerors, the regional pasta dishes, the stunning coastlines... does anyone need help figuring out if they’d like to take a vacation to Italy? Maybe there is some village in Mongolia where they just figured out how to connect to the internet from their wind-swept nomadic gathering, and some bored teenager will come across visions of the Giro that set his imagination on fire. The rest of us get it already. The race itself will follow its usual buildup to a completely insane final week, and for everyone’s sake let’s just get through week 1 in good shape.

Hotness Rating: Cayenne

Cycling: 97th Tour of Italy 2014 / Stage 6
Photo by Tim de Waele/Corbis via Getty Images

Stage 5: Atripalda — Salerno

Wednesday, May 10, 171km

What’s It All About? The second half of a two-day transition across the peninsula, which could have been done in one day, but part of week 1 is about getting the sprinters some action, and they needed a day or two off for their appetites to build up again.


Giro ‘23 stage 5 map


Giro ‘23 stage 5 profile

What’s Along the Way? Lots of “Irpinas” and “Irpinos” and signs in Italian and Irpinian. [The Hirpini people were a Samnite tribe.] Just past a glut of towns named (something something) Lombardi, which is in recognition of the migrants who came from up north in 1000 AD, the race passes by Castelnuovo di Conza, where the Irpinia Earthquake of 1980 was centered, a violent 6.9 quake that killed some 2500 people and left a quarter million homeless — a huge number for an area with small towns (and Naples on the periphery). I have no memory of it (I do remember my parents going there to look for family history and being told that records were all lost to the quake), but apparently it was an international event, where wealthy countries sent aid to the region to dig out and rebuild from the devastation that the quake wrought. That aid, of course, touched off both a massive bribery/skimming/corruption scandal and the marked the entry of the Camorra into construction industries. Of course. The finish in Salerno marks the Giro’s first contact with an actual recognizable city, after a string of small-to-medium-sized towns. How do I know this? U.S. Salernitana lie 14th in Serie A right now. That’s how you know you’re in a major Italian city.

An old woman is walking along the debris Photo by Adriano Alecchi/Mondadori via Getty Images

How Much Does It Matter? To the sprinters, plenty. And that’s it.

Hot Take Watchability Pairing? The Giro is the second-best grand tour.

Wow, you don’t say? OK, maybe you don’t — the Vuelta has provided us enough action in recent years for some to prefer it. And the Tour is the only race about which we can make truly definitive statements. But while the Giro does flounder at times and suffers from the unwillingness of top riders to do what it takes to win this excruciatingly hard race two months before the Tour, I do get a steady sense that the riders themselves consider it the #2 prize in Cycling. Whether it’s the fans, the traditions, or the endless stories of how riders like the food and hotels in Italy better than in France, it delivers the right mix of joy and competitive challenge to hold its place behind only the Grand Boucle.

Hotness Rating: Calabrian Chili

Naples Spanish Quarters Decked Out In Festivities Photo by Davide Pischettola/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Stage 6: Napoli — Napoli

Thursday, May 11, 162km

What’s It All About? Italy just dunking on all other countries. “Oh, we can do a lap around Mount Vesuvius, you’ve heard of that? Right, well, then we will go down to the Amalfi Coast, you will like it there, it’s very nice. Plus on the way back to the city we can pass though Pompeii, it’s a very unusual place. Afterwards we will serve you a pizza in the shape of the Scudetto, which our local calcio club just won. All of our waiters are chosen for their resemblance to a young Diego Maradona.” Sigh.


Giro ‘23 stage 6 map


Giro ‘23 stage 6 profile

What’s Along the Way? I’ve already covered this, because the character of this stage is uniquely focused on the “stuff along the way” over any other feature. So I will just say that the Naples sprint is kind of extra cool. Napoli’s centro storico has very few roads that you would want to navigate with a twitchy road bike, so it would have been very easy for the race to finish just outside the city center on some comfortably wide boulevard. They chose the same spot last year in stage 8 too, albeit on a vastly different stage apart from the final 400 meters. This one comes in from the east, skirts the Quartieri Spagnioli, and swings onto the fancy waterfront for a proper sprint. It looks simple enough on TV but these big city center stages are never without complication, so I’m glad the Giro is willing to make the effort.

How Much Does It Matter? Sprint wins are always a feather in one’s cap and especially so in a fancy environment like downtown Napoli. So you might see the bunch hang around to set up the fast guys, but I seriously doubt it. This smells like a breakaway stage to me.

Hot Take Watchability Pairing? We are in danger of loving pizza Napoletana to death.

How out of control has this all gotten? The AVPN, a group of people with pure motives around verifying the authenticity of Neapolitan pizza whose web page is shown above, is not at all shaking down pizza places around the world, including ten restaurants in the Seattle area alone. Nope. I can’t totally understand what they do, but it might actually not be a terrible thing for someone setting the standards (presumably), lest the market turn into a flood of of pathetic imitations, right next to the “Vaguely Asian Sounding Teriyaki” restaurant in every strip mall.

Anyway, the world is one enormous pizza wilderness, and while it helps to have Neapolitan culture as our guide, the fact remains that we really should just be out there experiencing it all. We shouldn’t necessarily all want the same thing — I won’t shame the Chicago and Detroit and whoever folks for whatever that pizza thing is that you do. Yes, Pizza Napoletana is great, but the purpose of pizza is to be an edible plate for the fresh ingredients on top, and if you want it thicker or thinner is for you to decide. Oh, and having been to Naples and seen that the privilege of this delicious meal can be had for 8 Euros, I don’t feel too excited about coming home and being offered a basic imitation of the same for three times the price. Is the extra money spent on teaching teenagers how to roll the dough to something thinner than an encyclopedia?

Hotness Rating: Cayenne

Cycling: 101th Tour of Italy 2018 / Stage 9 Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Stage 7: Capua — Gran Sasso d’Italia

Friday, May 12, 218km

What’s It All About? The first major mountain ascent, of sorts, as the peloton reaches its highest altitude of the first two weeks in the Gran Sasso d’Italia, just a terrifying nosedive away from nearby L’Aquila. With the race going all the way to the famous Hotel Campo Imperatore, it features an uphill finish on a cat-1 climb of not insignificant pitch, a clear invitation for any of the main protagonists who might be getting itchy to engage in hostilities.


Giro ‘23 stage 7 map

Finishing area

Giro ‘23 stage 7 finish detail


Giro ‘23 stage 7 profile

Climb to Calascio

Giro ‘23 stage 7 climb 1

Final climb

Giro ‘23 stage 7 climb 2

The Giro has visited Campo Imperatore four times, including as recently as 2018 when the ninth stage reached the same point (IIRC one or more previous editions stopped before the last ascent), with Simon Yates and a few others taking a minute out of Chris Froome, the eventual winner, though the top 25 was all within 1:07 of the winners. There is some time available here, it just depends on how deep you want to dig for it. Oh and if the stage were held today, it would be shrouded in snow. Keep an eye on the weather.

Chiesa di Santa Maria della Pace, Capestrano

What’s Along the Way? The sorta-annual Don’t Get Chris Started stage, which passes two valleys east of Fontecchio — a snub which I have decided to forgive thanks to half of the road into my ancestral town falling down into the ravine back in the 2009 L’Aquila Quake. I have also decided not to carry on about the medieval sheep trade, which is what both Campo Imperatore and most of these villages were about back then. I will even note only briefly that the hotel at the finish line is indeed where Mussolini was imprisoned for a month in 1943 after the fall of the Fascists, from which the Germans rescued him, which bought him another 18 months before he would end up hanging from a girder in Milan. And I will resist the temptation to list a bunch of amazing books about the area, including some discussion of the incredible life of Ignazio Silone whose home the stage passes by, because I covered that two years ago. Instead, I will just leave you with a photo of my own personal spaghetti chitarra.


How Much Does It Matter? It represents the first chance for a climber to assert himself in a Giro that will give the time triallists a leg up, but the amount of time available on this stage will be a pittance compared to the third week. So its value will be more psychological than practical. Which is definitely not nothing.

Hot Take Watchability Pairing? Fresh Pecorino Romano is better than Parmigiano Reggiano.

I’ll ditch the food theme shortly but I just want to say that we don’t all need to live in a world where we assume you put parm on your saucy Italian food thingies. You can, but I sure don’t intend to. Parmigiano, as you undoubtedly know, is a very nice, sharp, sweet cow’s cheese that we grind on everything from spaghetti with marinara to inedible American dishes.

Flock of sheep grazing, Campo Imperatore mountain grasslands, Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park, Abruzzo, Italy...
Future pecorino romano producers in the Gran Sasso
Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images

Pecorino Romano is its less heralded, much saltier cousin, which some people view interchangeably with Parm, as if you can go one way or the other, though in the foodie world it’s pretty well understood that Pecorino (which just means “from sheep”) is perfect for certain meals, which like Pecorino are linked to Rome and its surroundings: amatriciana, carbonara, cacio e pepe and the like. While Parmigiano dates back to the middle ages, Pecorino Romano has its roots from the early days of Rome and people like Pliny the Elder wrote about its production. Parmigiano Reggiano is tightly controlled by a giant consortium who govern use of the name, and the mega-industrial nature of its production has led to mafia cheese hijackings. Pecorino is just around. If you get to Rome or Campo Imperatore or probably anywhere in between, look for fresh Pecorino, which won’t disappoint.

Hotness Rating: Habañero

104th Giro d’Italia 2021 - Stage 6
Le Marche
Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Stage 8: Terni — Fossombrone

Saturday, May 13, 207km

What’s It All About? Transitions. It’s been fun but we need to start moving things along.


Giro ‘23 stage 8 map


Giro ‘23 stage 8 profile

What’s Along the Way? The Giro moves out of the South into Umbria for the start, and ends the day in Le Marche. My dad always said that in the old neighborhood, the Marcheggiani were known for eating wild game. Basically this area is like Italy meets Vermont — endless rolling small forested mountains, the green heart of the peninsula, charming and quaint. I used to live in Vermont. It’s not exactly exciting, but you can’t be down on it either. Let’s move this along...

How Much Does It Matter? Apart from moving the Giro out of the Mezzogiorno, very, very little. This is a transitional stage.

Hot Take Watchability Pairing? Cycling is in a new golden age.

Yeah, I know, this is a tepid take. But look at the list of countries who have riders or races they should be really excited about. Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, UK, Slovenia, Spain (Ayuso), just slam-dunk awesome. Ireland... Ben Healy? France... David Gaudu? US has its emerging guys, led by Neilson Powless. Maybe Jai Hindley can get Oz going. Italy... gets to host the Giro. It’s one thing to throw a great party but it’s another to get really killer attendance.

Hotness Rating: Calabrian Chili

104th Giro D’Italia 2021 - Stage 1 Photo by Mauro Ujetto/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Stage 9: Savignano sul Rubicone — Cesena ITT

Sunday, May 14, 35km

What’s It All About? A Po Valley time trial. Flat and often quite straight, this is a critical test for the top guys.


Giro ‘23 Stage 9 map


Giro ‘23 Stage 9 profile

What’s Along the Way? We won’t have time for much, but you can be sure that Cesena will get some air time as Marco Pantani’s home.

How Much Does It Matter? One of the leading contenders to be the stage where the Giro was won. Which probably means a particular rider made magic. But either way, the time gaps here will spread out the GC, maybe the top of the GC.

Hot Take Watchability Pairing? The Rubicon is basically the Alamo of Italy. Both are wildly overrated.

I’ve never been to either but apparently the Alamo is pretty small and the story of what happened there is the subject of debate. Readers from Texas, feel free to correct me here. But the Rubicon is as bad, or maybe worse, in terms of its modern stature meeting its historical significance. Having written these previews for years and slipped in the odd (stale) joke about crossing it, I’ve been left to my google maps skills to even locate the thing. Why was this trickle of red, muddy water even a border with Cisalpine Gaul? The Po is not far away, and modern Italy’s greatest river. Guessing it was pretty great then too. The Apennines are a natural boundary between human places. Also was the die really cast the moment Julius Caesar crossed this modest stream? Were there webcams tracking his movement, or could he have still turned around after 10km? I’m thinking the die was cast when actual armed conflict happened, or at least when the Roman Legion was spotted heading south by somebody besides the odd farmer with no internet connection.

Hotness Rating: Habañero

Earl Vittorio Palazzi Trivelli And Isabelle Adriani portrait session Photo by Daniele Venturelli/Getty Images

Stage 10: Scandiano — Viareggio

Tuesday, May 16, 196km

What’s It All About? The least sprintiest transition stage that will actually probably end in a sprint.


Giro ‘23 Stage 10 map


Giro ‘23 Stage 10 profile

What’s Along the Way? Continuing with the theme of how Italy is made up of people from all over the damn place, can Scandiano not mean what we think it means? The brief internet history doesn’t say anything about people from modern-day southern Sweden. But... I am still deeply suspicious. Here is the city coat of arms:


They also have a roller hockey team, which is totally what Swedes would do in a warm weather country, and the nearest IKEA is just up the road in Bologna.

How Much Does It Matter? Once more for the points comp. It’s always a bit tricky predicting breakaway days, because part of the calculation has to do with what happened yesterday and what’s on tap for tomorrow. I do think the post-ITT riding style will be pretty slow, so on the one hand the break will probably cross the Passo delle Radici with a healthy advantage, and if the sprinters’ teams are ambivalent at all then the break will stay away. But there’s more than 100km of road left and most of it is downhill, so you could see the peloton reel stuff in, even with another sprint stage coming the following day. The sprinters know the party will be over soon.

Hot Take Watchability Pairing? Italy doesn’t actually have the best beaches.

When you think about it, of course it’s true. They have the most beaches per land mass, and some of them (Amalfi, Sicily) are really wonderful, but in the grand scheme of things? Kinda tepid.

Hotness Rating: Jalapeño

CYCLING-ITA-MILAN-SAN REMO Photo credit should read MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images

Stage 11: Camaiore — Tortona

Wednesday, May 17, 219km

What’s It All About? Checking the boxes. One thing the Giro d’Italia does is actually touring Italy, racking up appearances in as many of the 20 modern-day regione d’Italia as it can. Last year, for example, the Giro racked up 16 Regions along its route, the misses being Lazio, Tuscany, Apulia and Sardinia. This year they will go thru 17 different regions, for at least a few minutes, missing only the two big islands and Calabria. This stage starts in Tuscany, then lightly grazes Liguria on its way to Piedmont. Boxes checked.


Giro ‘23 Stage 11 map


Giro ‘23 Stage 11 profile

What’s Along the Way? Some coastline, which you may recognize from the several bike races that start or end in Camaiore, and a pass by La Spezia, home to Alessandro Petacchi, as well as Genoa, home to Chris Colombo, who also didn’t complete all of his tours. One last traversing of the Ligurian Apennines, or any Apennines for that matter.

How Much Does It Matter? Last chance for the stage-only sprint guys, who have been known to leave the race right around this point. The actual points comp guys will soldier on.

Hot Take Watchability Pairing? Alessandro Petacchi was a better cyclist than Mario Cipollini.

Cipo was a big dude with a big presence, who seduced the media with his (generally misogynist) behavior and cRaZy costumes. It was a lot of bullshit, along with a bunch of his wins, like the Zolder worlds where they rode around a track until everyone was so fucking bored that they didn’t even want to contest the final sprint. Cipo’s other calling card was not ever finishing the Tour de France, even once, to the point where ASO rather pointedly stopped inviting his team to the event. He refused to ride mountain stages of the Vuelta too. Only the Giro was able to guilt and/or cajole him into some face-saving efforts whereby he finished six Giri, taking a record 42 stage victories. He was (and remains) kind of an asshole and a drag on the people around him. If he ever won a race where five other guys on his team didn’t hand-deliver the race to him, I don’t remember it.

Cycling: Giro D’Italia / Tour Of Italy Stage 20 Photo by Tim De Waele/Getty Images

Petacchi, meanwhile, was Cipo’s successor and while their careers overlapped, Petacchi kind of seized Cipo’s crown once his own form reached its peak and Cipo’s dropped off his. He didn’t rack up the same stats, winning half as many Tour and Giro stages, in an era that was maybe just slightly less compromised. But he matched Cipo’s classics performances, taking most notably Milano-Sanremo and Paris-Tours, and more than anything else... he not only finished 16 grand tours, he won the points competition in all three. His NINE!!! stage wins at the 2004 Giro is about as cool a performance as it gets for a pure bunch finisher guy with a big leadout train. Oh and he might have padded his Giro stats (22 stages, not including five from 2007 that got docked for salbutamol), except in 2006, at the height of his powers, he crashed on stage 3, finished the last 50km alone, and retired from the race with a broken kneecap — possibly the most un-Cipollini performance in cycling history.

Hotness Rating: Jalapeño


OK! Go to Part II now...