While the Tour de France is viewed as the biggest and most prestigious of the Grand Tours, the Giro is arguably the most beautiful. Not simply due to the magnificence of its roads and countryside, but because of the unabashed fervor of its devoted fans. It is a race teeming with telenovela-like drama where storylines crescendo and captivate a nation.
The pomp and circumstance alone are enough to work a ravenous Tifosi into hysteria. Again and again, they amass to secure their place on narrow streets and mountainsides, waiting hours for a flash of their favorite gladiators on the attack. These are moments that will be etched into memory, cherished and relived.
But 100 years is not enough to satisfy this romance verging on obsession, and as long as a heart beats in Italy, the Giro will go on.
This year's edition commemorates 100 years by honoring Italy’s history and culture in addition to the race’s most celebrated winners and iconic mountain passes. All but four of Italy’s 20 regions will have the honor of hosting the race.
The 2017 Corsa Rosa begins in Sardinia, the birthplace of Fabio Aru, now bittersweet for the young star as he won't see the start of the Giro. His dreams of winning the 100th edition crumbled when he went down in training, severe enough to pull his number for this once-in-a-lifetime event.
The race stays in Sardinia for three stages and would have given Fabio plenty of motivation before hopping over to Sicily for the first climbing test on Nibali's home turf, but we'll have to wait another year for the showdown of the native sons. Nibali undoubtedly will have a bull's eye on this medium mountain stage as a chance to capture the Maglia Rosa and proudly display it in his hometown of Messina during Stage 5.
While the 100th edition aims to highlight the grandeur of the mountains, it leaves the pure sprinters with little opportunity and favors those who can freelance and suffer over the passes. With precious few chances for a sprint win, anticipate nervous battles for the line as teams begin their final assault for control of the peloton. We'll most likely see the sprinters try their luck on Stages 1, 3, 5, 12 and 13.
Stage 9 will bring the pain of the Passo Lanciano also known as Blockhaus. In league with the Stelvio and Mortirolo, this 28-kilometer climb features a seven-kilometer section averaging 9-10% with an overall average gradient of 7%. This day will draw out the GC hopefuls, but it’s possible the contenders game of cat and mouse will allow someone else to have their day. Eddy Merckx won here in 1967 claiming his first stage win in a Grand Tour.
On the heels of a rest day, some riders will struggle to adapt to the max effort of Stage 10's Individual Time Trial which starts out flat and then undulates toward the walled city of Montefalco. It's back to the hills for Stages 11-12 with a departure near Ponte a Ema, which was home to three-time winner Gino Bartali.
Being pan-flat, Stage 13 and most of Stage 14 may offer respite for some, but the finish of Stage 14 in Oropa will bring the riders back to the reality of the Alps with the sting of an 11.8-kilometer climb that kicks up to 13% with a 7% average. Stage 14 is notable as it starts in the village of Castellania, where five-time winner Fausto Coppi was born and is buried.
Oropa was also the setting for Marco Pantani’s "la rimonta del secolo", or comeback of the century. In 1999 Marco flatted at the foot of the climb then buried himself in pursuit of his rivals, picking them off one by one, and crossing the line not knowing he'd won.
The 100th edition's final week will give new meaning to King of the Mountain. Punctuated by two grinds up the infamous Stelvio, the last stages promise heroic feats and heartache before reaching Milan for the closing Individual Time Trial. The queen stage, Stage 16, alone will test the rider's legs and mettle with 17,500 feet of elevation. The next day offers a 70-kilometer descent, yes, 70, which may seem like a chance to rest but the fatigue from descending for so long may take a toll on tired bodies.
Stage 18 could be hailed as a second queen stage covering 137 kilometers in the Dolomites with 13,000 feet of elevation gain over five peaks. Stage 19 gets straight to business going up from the San Candido ski resort and ending with a 14-kilometer climb to Piancavallo which includes a pitch up to 15%.
The climbing concludes on Stage 20 in Asiago but not before tackling the Poggio, Monte Grappa and Forza climbs. Fittingly, the 100th edition will end in Milan where it was born. The flat ITT will be in stark contrast to the previous days in the mountains and offers the opportunity to showcase Milan's many treasures including the 600-year-old Gothic-style Milan Cathedral on Piazza del Duomo.
It seems that this edition of the Giro was tailored to fit the strengths of its two native stars, Nibali and Aru, but climbing sensation Quintana knows what it takes to win the Giro will feel at home on this terrain. Also in the hunt will be Dumoulin, Landa, Pinot, and the Adam Yates. And we can't forget Kruijswijk who will be seeking redemption after last year's crash into a wall of snow that cost him the pink jersey.
Now the table is set and the anticipation palatable. Here's to 100 more years of the passion and drama that is the most beautiful race in the world.
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