The route of the 2013 Giro d'Italia has been officially presented in Milan, with race organisers balancing the traditionally mountainous route with 88.9km of time trials, in a clear attempt to attract big-name stage racers such as Bradley Wiggins and Alberto Contador.
The 96th edition of the Corsa Rosa will cover 3405km, starting in Naples with a 156km road race stage on Saturday May 4 and ending on Sunday May 26 in Brescia, with a final road stage and five laps of a city centre circuit. The average stage distance is down to 162.2km a day.
The route is finely balanced with seven mountain finishes but also a 17.4km team time trial on the island of Ischia on stage 2, a 55.5km individual time trial from Gabicce Mare to Saltara on stage 8 and a 19.4km mountain time trial on stage 18.
"Our guiding line is that the great champions must be respected, and every champion must be given space to express himself. I think that we’ve put together a very balanced route," said race director Michele Acquarone.
A very Italian race
After the 2012 Giro d'Italia started in Denmark, the 2013 race will have a very Italian feel, with the first week in the south of the country and the final mountain stages in the Dolomites. The race only leaves Italy for the already announced finish atop the Galibier in France, and the rest day and start of stage 16 in the Valloire ski resort.
The opening stage in the centre of Naples will cover 10 laps of a circuit before a quick ferry trip to Ischia for the technically testing team time trial. The route heads south via the spectacular Amalfi coast to the toe of the Italian peninsular.
The first mountain finish comes early, on stage three, with the 10km climb of Croce Ferrata ending just six kilometres from the finish of the 244km stage to Serra San Bruno.
Opportunities for the sprinters appear limited with uphill finishes or late climbs on the stages to Marina di Ascea, Matera, Pescara, Florence, Cherasco, Ivrea and Vicenza. Mark Cavendish was at the presentation in Milan but only the finishes in Margherita di Savoia and Treviso seem designed for the sprinters.
The 55.5km time trial will be a turning point in the race but is not totally suited to the specialists; it twists and turns through the Monte San Bartolo natural park and then climbs up to the finish in Saltara. However more than of hour of racing against the clock could see some contenders lose several minutes that they may struggle to make up in the mountains.
Three blocks of mountains
The mountain stages come in three blocks with a visit to the Friuli region in the north-east preceding the ride west to the Galibier and the final stages in the Dolomites.
Alberto Contador, who won the race in 2008, said: "A lot of the tough climbs come a long way from the finish, which might encourage attacks from distance."
Stage 10 finishes on the Altopiano del Montasio after a n11km climb at an average of 8.1%, while stage 14 finishes in the Italian Alps on the Jafferau climb above Bardonecchia. It is only 7.2km long but has a 9% gradient. The following day's Galibier stages is just 150km long but includes the Col di Mont Cenis (2095m) and the Col du Télégraphe (1556m) before the 18km climb to the summit finish at 2642m.
Surprisingly, the Galibier is not the highest climb of the 2013 Giro and so will not award the Cima Coppi prize. That honour goes to the Passo dello Stelvio (2758m) during stage 19, with the riders also facing the legendary Passo di Gavia and the 22km climb to the finish at Val Martello. All in just 138km of racing.
"Someone was saying it would be an easier Giro this year, but I don’t see it. It looks amazing, I’m ready to start preparing already," said defending champion Ryder Hesjedal.
The 202km stage to Tre Cime di Lavaredo is also packed with peaks, including the Costalunga, San Pellegrino, Giau and Tre Croci before the climb to the finish at Tre Cime di Lavaredo. The winner of the maglia rosa will be crowned in the shadows of the spectacular Dolomite peaks before the final parade stage in Brescia brings down the curtain on the 2013 race.