Giro d’Italia 2016 preview: A race of discovery

Countdown to the 99th edition of the Giro: all you need to know

This article was originally published by Cyclingnews.

The 99th edition of the Giro d'Italia has all the ingredients to be another successful edition of the Corsa Rosa with a balanced and innovative race route, some classic mountain stages, three important time trials and an eclectic start list that should ensure some entertaining and spectacular racing on each of the 21 stages.

Whoever reaches Turin in the iconic Maglia Rosa on 29 May will deservedly add their name to the race's roll of honour and add a Grand Tour victory to their own palmares.

Giro d'Italia 2016: Race overview

  • 3,463.1km across 21 stages, May 6-Sunday May 29
  • Three time trials, seven flat stages, seven hilly stages, four mountain finishes
  • 61.1km of individual time trial, no team time trial
  • Race starts with an individual time trial in Apeldoorn in the Netherlands and ends with a road race stage to Turin
  • The Giro d'Italia starts from outside of Italy for the 12th time its history

The opening three stages of the Giro d'Italia will be held in the Gelderland area before the riders take a flight to Calabria in the toe of the Italian peninsula for the start of the remaining 18 stages. The race route then heads north through central Italy often following the Apennines, and then climbs into the mountains in Friuli and the Dolomites before heading west to the Alps for the mighty Colle dell'Agnello (2,744m) and a final mountain stage to San Anna di Vinadio. Two testing time trials and other tricky stages mean the 2016 Giro d'Italia will be a test of nerves, stamina and Grand Tour ability.

The racing begins with a 9.8km individual time trial in the centre of Apeldoorn that will award the first maglia rosa of the 2016 Giro d'Italia. It seems perfect for Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) but he will face serious competition from the likes of Stefan Kung (BMC), Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep), Michael Hepburn (Orica-GreenEdge) and especially local hero Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin).

Stage 2 to Nijmegen and stage 3 to Arnhem both cover 190km and are expected to end in sprint finishes, giving the 'velocisti' a chance to take the pink jersey before the flight to Italy on Monday May 9, which is also an early first rest-day.

The racing begins again from Catanzaro in deepest Calabria and then heads north through central Italy and the Apennines with flat and rolling stages until the first mountain finish coming relatively early, on stage six to Roccaraso. The important 40.5km Chianti Classico time trial in the Tuscan vineyard on stage 9 is also expected to create some significant time differences as well as show off the spectacular Tuscan vineyards.

Stage 10 to Sestola is a tough day out in the Apennines that divide Tuscany and Emilia Romagna, and the history books of the Giro d’Italia are littered with memories of riders losing chunks of time here and any chance of overall victory. The second half of the 219km stage either climbs or descends, with nowhere to hide for riders enduring a bad day.

Two further flat stages for the sprinters take the race across the Veneto plain to the Friuli region for the start of the decisive mountain stages. Stage 14 to Cividale del Friuli is a spritz aperitif of what is to come. It covers little known roads and includes two short but steep climbs in the finale. Both have average gradients above 8.5 per cent.

Giro d'Italia: The all-important third week

The third weekend of the Giro traditionally hosts the 'tappone' or 'big stages' and RCS Sport have created a Dolomite double-header for 21 and 22 May.

Stage 14 covers six major climbs with the breath-taking Dolomites as a stunning backdrop. The route follows a similar route to that of the Maratona dles Dolomites Gran Fondo held every July and celebrates this year's 30th edition of the race. The Pordoi, Sella, Gardena and Campolongo climbs are early passes before the steep Passo Giau (9.8km at 9 per cent) and the Passo Valparola (11.5km at 5.8 per cent) offer the platform for serious attacks before the descent to stunning Corvara.

The Dolomite weekend continues on Sunday, May 22, with the 10.8km mountain time trial from Castelrotto to Alpe di Siusi, with views overlooking the Catenaccio range of peaks. The short but intense stages climbs 752m with an average gradient of 8.3 per cent, meaning every second won or lost will be vital. Whoever gets to enjoy the third and final rest day will have a great chance of overall victory in a week’s time.

However the 2016 Giro d'Italia includes three more tough mountain stages, the first coming immediately after the rest day on Tuesday May 24 to Andalo with the Fai della Paganella (10.2km at 7.4 per cent) coming before the 3.5km kick up to the finish in Andalo. It could offer another twist in the story of the race as riders struggle to get back into their rhythm after a day without racing.

Stage 17 to Cassano d'Adda near Milan and stage 18 to Pinerolo offer two chances for the sprinters who have opted to stay in the race or for the riders with some energy left in their legs to try a breakaway in pursuit of a stage victory. The late and steep Pramartino climb before a short descent to Pinerolo will make for a nervous end to the stage for the overall contenders.

The final showdown for the overall classification comes on stages 19 and 20 to Risoul in France and then to Sant'Anna di Vinadio back in Italy. Both stages include giant climbs that could be affected by snow but that could also crack overall contenders.

The 162km stage to Risoul is short but conquers the Coll dell'Agnello (2,744m) and awards this year's Cima Coppi prize because it is the highest climb of the race. It is 21.3km long. The average gradient is only 6.8 per cent but the final 10km - from 1,763m to 2,744m, climb into the clouds at 9.3 per cent. The Giro d'Italia has climbed the giant of the Alps three times, with a fourth time cancelled after snow fell onto fans and cars, blocking the road. Hopefully the new UCI Extreme Weather Protocol will not affect the stage because there is no other road to Risoul.

Stage 20 includes a similar beast of a climb in the Col de la Bonette. It comes after the Col de Vars in France and reaches 2715m after 22.2km of climbing. This stage is arguably tougher than the day before because it includes the Colle della Lombarda (19km at 7.5 per cent) before an 8km descent and then a final 10 per cent ramp up to the finish in Sant'Anna di Vinadio.

A stage of the Giro d'Italia was supposed to finish here in 2001 but never happened after police doping raids in San Remo and a subsequent protest by riders. This year it will be the final climb of the race before the promenade stage from Cuneo to Turin, so hopefully the riders will make to the highest sanctuary in Europe.

The 2016 Giro d'Italia ends with 163km ride to Turin - the 2015 European capital of sport, and nine laps of a 7.5km finishing circuit. The winner of the maglia rosa and three other jersey classifications will be celebrated overlooking the River Po and Turin's unique Mole Antonelliana tower.

Giro d'Italia: Riders to watch

This year's Giro d'Italia has fewer big-name riders on the official entry list but includes riders that should inspire and produce some great racing throughout the three weeks and across the different terrain of the 21 stages.

The fight for the Maglia Rosa looks like a three-way battle between 2013 winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), his former teammate and third placed in 2015 Mikel Landa (Team Sky) and Spanish veteran Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), who is riding the Corsa Rosa for the first time in his long career.

All three have the attributes, ability and team support needed to win but they will also have to watch out for Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale), 2012 winner Ryder Hesjedal (Trek-Segafredo), Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge), Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha), Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R-La Mondiale), Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff). Several of these second-level contenders could gain time in the Chianti time trial and so start the big mountain stages with a significant advantage.

It will be fascinating to observe what Joe Dombrowski, Michael Woods and Davide Formolo (Cannondale), Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Joey Rosskopf (BMC), Omar Fraile (Dimension Data), Bob Jungels (Etixx-QuickStep), Sergey Firsanov (Gazprom) and Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) can do during the three weeks of racing. For the fans and the riders, it will be a Giro d'Italia of discovery, especially the mountain stages in the testing third week.

While Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) and Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) are expected to ride the Tour of California, most of the other big-name sprinters will be in action at the Giro d'Italia, attracted by the seven flat stages and numerous sprint opportunities.

Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep), Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge), Elia Viviani (Team Sky), Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal), Giacomo Nizzolo and Boy van Poppel (Trek-Segafredo) Milan-San Remo winner Arnaud Demare (FDJ), Matteo Pelucchi and Leigh Howard (IAM Cycling), Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida), Sonny Colbrelli (Bardiani-CSF) and Kristian Sbaragli (Dimension Data) will all be fighting for victory in the sprints and know they can even pull on the pink jersey if they produce a good opening time trial and then take time bonuses with stage victories.

This year's Giro d'Italia will no doubt help discover several new riders but will also be a farewell Grand Tour for Fabian Cancellara. The Trek-Segafredo rider has decided to add the Giro d'Italia to his programme to celebrate his Italian origins. It will be his 20th Grand Tour of his career but he has yet to finish the Giro d'Italia.

The last time the Giro d'Italia started in the Netherlands, Bradley Wiggins won the time trial and pulled on the pink jersey. Cancellara will be a contender in the opening time trail in Apeldoorn and having Spartacus in pink is a dream scenario that race director Mauro Vegni is hoping will come true.

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