Chris Froome will start his final preparations for the Giro d'Italia on Friday, spending the weekend in northern Italy for vital reconnaissance before starting the five-day Tour of the Alps on Monday.
With the Grande Partenza of the Giro d'talia only 21 days away and UCI president David Lappartient conceding that Froome's salbutamol case will not be concluded before the start on May 4, Froome and Team Sky are now finalising their preparations for the Corsa Rosa.
Since riding Tirreno-Adriatico in early March and a trip to northern France to see the pave sections included in this year's Tour de France, Froome has spent a chunk of time training at altitude on Mount Teide with several teammates.
According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Froome will arrive in Venice on Friday and then spend the weekend studying the testing mountain stage that finishes at the summit of the Zoncolan, the mountain stage to Sappada and then the key 34.5km time trial from Trento to Rovereto. Froome is likely to study the final mountain stages Prato Nevoso, Bardonecchia and Cervinia before travelling to Israel on May 1.
Froome will be joined by directeur sportif Nicolas Portal and perhaps some of the teammates who will ride the Tour of the Alps, and who are candidates for the Giro d'Italia squad. Team Sky's confirmed line-up for the Tour of the Alps includes Philip Deignan, Kenny Elissonde, David de la Cruz, Sebastian Henao, Salvatore Puccio and Diego Rosa.
Memories of the Zoncolan
La Gazzetta dello Sport recalled that Froome has already climbed the Zoncolan in 2010, when he was still considered little more than a domestique in his first season at Team Sky. Ivan Basso won atop the Zoncolan to set up overall victory. Froome suffered what La Gazzetta dello Sport described as a 'scoppola' – a thrashing, finishing 81st, 22:35 down on the Italian.
The Giro d'Italia climbs the Zoncolan from the Ovaro side this year, with an average gradient of 11.9 per cent for the 10.1km climb, with some points at 22 per cent. The Zoncolan will be climbed after 170km of racing in the Carnic Alps and Froome will also study the climbs and descents of the Passo Duron and the Sella Valcalda that come before the iconic climb of the Corsa Rosa. The Zoncolan is still covered in snow after a long winter but local organiser, Enzo Cainero, has promised to clear the road to allow Froome to full understand the difficulty of the stage.
Froome is likely to study much of the 15th stage to Sappada by car on Saturday afternoon but would be wise to ride the final 40km from Auronzo di Cadore to see the short but steep trio of the Passo tre Croci, the Passo di Sant'Antonio and the Costalissoio.
On Sunday he will head to the flatter Vallagarina valley to study what is considered the key stage of the 2018 Giro d'Italia. The likes of Froome and 2017 winner Tom Dumoulin will be hoping to gain significant time on the likes of Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates), Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) on the flat 34.5km course.
Team Sky will once again use the Tour of the Alps as a final tune-up race before the Giro d'Italia, as was the case with Richie Porte, Bradley Wiggins, Mikel Landa and Geraint Thomas in recent years. Team Sky won the last three editions with Porte (2015), Landa (2016) and Thomas (2017). Froome will be expected to add a fourth victory and show he is on form for the Giro d'Italia despite his salbutamol case.
The 13,100 metres of climbing during the five stages will be a real test of his form with Tuesday's mountain finish to Alpe di Pampeago, where Marco Pantani won at the 1999 at the Giro d'Italia. The race ends with several circuits of the hilly course that will be used during this year's world road race championships in Innsbruck.