The 2012 Giro d'Italia route was officially unveiled in Milan on Sunday, and as anticipated, the corsa rosa will be a decidedly more human affair after criticism that its traditional spectacle arguably veered toward excess last May.
The race will get underway in Herning on May 5, and once again will conclude with an individual time trial in the centre of Milan three weeks later. While a healthy quota of set-piece mountain stages remain a staple of the Giro, the number of transfers has been cut dramatically, an early flight from the opening stages in Denmark back to Italy notwithstanding.
Indeed, there is a reassuring familiarity about segments of the route, and not just because the map was inadvertently leaked on the internet early last week. The final days, in particular, will see a roll call of some of the Giro's most revered climbs: the Passo Giau features on stage 17, while a fearsome summit finish follows at Alpe di Pampeago two days later. The toughest stage of all will come on the penultimate day, as the riders must cross the Mortirolo before finishing atop the mighty Stelvio.
Before that, the opening week should offer Mark Cavendish, Alessandro Petacchi and the sprinters more opportunities than they had in the entirety of last year's race. After reaching its southernmost point at Lago Laceno, the race will intersperse a pair of sprinters' stages with more rolling days as it heads northwards in week two, culminating with a brace of mountain stages to Cervinia and Pian dei Resinelli.
Following the second rest day, the gruppo will face the final phase of the race, but while the climbers will have plenty of opportunities to shine, the parade of mountains is mercifully broken up by a flat run to Vedelago in the middle of the last week.
A Danish start
After two starts in the Netherlands in the past decade (Groningen in 2002 and Amsterdam in 2010), the Giro will break new ground by spending its opening three days in Denmark. A 8.7km prologue time trial in Herning on May 5 will decide the first maglia rosa, while only crosswinds can deny the sprinters two days of glory on the pan flat road stages before an early rest day as the caravan travels south to Italy. Poignantly, stage 3 to Horsens will be dedicated to the memory of the late Wouter Weylandt - he was killed in a crash on the Passo del Bocco stage 3 in 2011, after winning stage 3 to Middelburg the previous year.
The Giro will enter home territory with a 32.2km team time trial around Verona on stage 4, and another flat run down the Adriatic coast to Fano. After a pair of rolling days in the Marche, the Giro's first summit finish will come at Lago Laceno on stage 8. Though far from the toughest of climbs, there was high drama when the Giro last visited in 1998, as Alex Zülle caught and passed Marco Pantani en route to stage victory and the pink jersey.
From there, the race will spend the next seven days winding its way towards the Alps, where a finish at the stunning hilltop town of Assisi on stage 10 should offer both visual and competitive spectacle. Two days later, the rolling stage to Sestri Levante could also see the overall contenders flex their muscles.
Week two will draw to a close with the first five-star mountain stage to Cervinia, where Ivan Gotti soloed clear to take the pink jersey from Pavel Tonkov in wretched weather conditions in 1997. A tough day through Tour of Lombardy country to the top of Pian dei Resinelli, near Lecco, follows, ahead of the Giro's second and final rest day.
Alberto Contador blew the race apart at the end of week one last year and with that clearly in mind, the 2012 Giro seems mapped out with the hope of maintaining the suspense into the final week. In theory, therefore, the pre-race favourites should still be in contention as hostilities resume with a stage over rugged terrain to Falzes, where Damiano Cunego rode definitively into pink in 2004.
That day is a mere appetizer to what is to come - the very next day, the Giro will tackle the Valparola, Duran and Passo Giau before descending to the finish at Cortina. While the subsequent flat stage to Vedelago acts as a carrot to keep the sprinters from flying home after 10 days, the Giro's hardest days come as it enters its final weekend.
That Friday will feature a summit finish to Alpe de Pampeago, where past winners include Pavel Tonkov, Marco Pantani and Gilberto Simoni, before Saturday's tappone over the Mortirolo to the top of the Stelvio. Given the severity of the third week, one would expect the maglia rosa to be decided by that point, but the concluding time trial in Milan will deliver the final verdict.
2012 Giro d'Italia, May 5-May 27
May 5, stage 1: Herning - Herning ITT, 8.7 km
May 6, stage 2: Herning - Herning, 206 km
May 7, stage 3: Horsens - Horsens, 190 km
May 8: Rest day
May 9, stage 4: Verona - Verona TTT, 32.2 km
May 10, stage 5: Modena - Fano, 199 km
May 11, stage 6: Urbino - Porto Sant'Elpidio, 207 km
May 12, stage 7: Recanati - Rocca di Cambio, 202 km
May 13, stage 8: Sulmona - Lago Laceno, 229 km
May 14, stage 9: San Giorgio nel Sannio - Frosinone, 171 km
May 15, stage 10: Civitavecchia - Assisi, 187 km
May 16, stage 11: Assisi - Montecatini Terme, 243 km
May 17, stage 12: Seravezza - Sestri Levante, 157 km
May 18, stage 13: Savona - Cervere, 121 km
May 19, stage 14: Cherasco - Cervinia, 205 km
May 20, stage 15: Busto Arsizio - Lecco/Pian dei Resinelli, 172 km
May 21: rest day
May 22, stage 16: Limone sul Garda - Falzes/Pfalzen, 174 km
May 23, stage 17: Falzes/Pfalzen - Cortina d'Ampezzo, 187 km
May 24, stage 18: San Vito di Cadore - Vedelago, 139 km
May 25, stage 19: Treviso - Alpe di Pampeago, 197km
May 26, stage 20: Caldes/Val di Sole - Passo dello Stelvio, 218 km
May 27, stage 21: Milan - Milan ITT, 31.5 km