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ANSA / MATTEO BAZZI

The Ultimate Beginners’ Guide To The Giro D’Italia

Don’t know your Giro from your gear ratios? Then read the TWB guide to the Giro d’Italia 2017

The 100th edition of the Tour of Italy  –  the Giro d’Italia  –  starts on May 5 when 198 cyclists from 22 teams will roll slowly out of the town of Alghero in Sardinia to compete in the first of 21 stages over 23 days and 3,572 kms.

The Giro is the year’s first of road cycling’s three Grand Tours, along with the Tour de France in July and the Vuelta a Espana, the Tour of Spain, which takes place at the end of August/start of September.

And while the Giro d’Italia (‘the Giro’) has long been overshadowed by the the Tour de France (‘the Tour’) it’s undoubtedly the racing calendar’s second most important stage race, probably its toughest and arguably the most interesting.

quinta tappa partenza enel algida biopresto named  ANSA / MATTEO BAZZI

ANSA / MATTEO BAZZI

The Giro d’Italia started in 1909, six years after the Tour and taking a similar route to creation — as a publicity tool for a newspaper, this time the La Gazzetta dello Sport. The first Giro was won by Luigi Ganna, who earned 5,325 lira for his trouble. The 1920s were dominated by Alfredo Binda who won it five times, but it was the rivalry of two of world cycling’s superstars, Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi — and their subsequent successful attempts to win the Tour as well (which they both won twice) that really brought the race to the attention of the rest of the world outside of cycling.

The fabled double of Giro and Tour  – Coppi was the first to do it  –  has only been achieved by six men and even now, when the three Grand Tours have been pretty evening spaced, it’s still assumed that no rider can get in the right shape for the Giro and the Tour five weeks later.

That the Giro is known for its ferocity, both in the amount of climbing and the weather (most years feature snow-topped finishes in the Dolomites and the Alps and the occasional rearranged route), makes that double even less likely.

However that’s almost immaterial  – winning the Giro and wearing on the fabled Maglia Rosa (the pink jersey) on the final day is hugely important in its own right, boosting a riders’ palmares (the list of races a rider has won) and granting them superstar status in the process.

Since Ryder Hesjedal’s surprise win in 2012 the Giro has attracted, and been won by, the sports biggest riders. Except Team Sky’s Chris Froome, whose focus on the Tour means he hasn’t ridden the Giro since 2010. Since then the General Classification (the overall winner :  the rider who has the lowest total time for the race) has been won by Albert Contador, Nairo Quintana, and, twice, Italian Vincenzo Nibali.

Nibali Giro

Vincenzo Nibali riding for Astana Pro team in 2016. ANSA/ALESSANDRO DI MEO

Both Quintana and Nibali will start the race in Sardinia, which this year also visits Sicily, taking in some vicious days in the Alps before finishing in Milan on 27 May. There are four summit finishes on stages four, nine, 14 and 19 but it’s the mammoth stage 16 in the Alps that takes in the iconic Passo dello Stelvio (24 km, average gradient 8%) and Passo del Mortirole (11.4 km, 11%) that looks likely to be the ‘Queen’s stage’ where the main contenders can win or lose the whole race.

Outside of the General Classification there will be races for the ‘points’ jersey for the best (or most consistent at any rate) sprinter and the King of the Mountains for the best climber. For the sprinters, the first stage is flat and fast, meaning one of them is likely to win and could start stage two in the jersey of race leader, the Maglia rosa. However with little else to interest them until the final week it’s possible the big names will drop out before the hellish mountain stages and a leave the points classification to a reliable but strong competitor like Giacomo Nizzolo who has won the last two points classifications without winning a stage.

On the General Classification both Italy, with Aru and Nibali (who used to ride together in the same team) and the Netherlands, with Steven Kruijswijk and Tom Dumoulin, who have both come close to winning in recent years before stumbling near the end, will both fancy their chances of providing the winner.

Giro d'Italia 2016. ANSA/ALESSANDRO DI MEO PARTENZA ARCO MAGLIA ROSA

Steven Kruijswijk and the Giro d’Italia in 2016. ANSA/ALESSANDRO DI MEO PARTENZA ARCO MAGLIA ROSA

Elsewhere Tejay Van Garderen, the 28-year-old American who has twice finished fifth at the Tour in the past, will be quietly confident that he can mount a sustained attack in the mountains, as will Welshman Geraint Thomas who will take co-leadership of Team Sky with Spaniard Mikel Landa.

Our predictions are:

  • Points Classification: Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors)
  • King of the Mountains: Rafal Majka
  • General Classification: Fabio Aru

Please let us know if you found this guide a useful primer to the Giro d’Italia.

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