The route of the 2017 Giro d'Italia will be officially unveiled in Milan next Tuesday but some stage details have emerged in local media in Italy, confirming that the route will celebrate its 100th edition by revisiting many of the climbs that have made the Italian Grand Tour so legendary.
The Blockhaus climb in central Apennines is likely to host the first mountain finish of the race before the important mid-race time trial will be in Umbria, through the Sagrantino vineyards. A double assault of the Stelvio is expected in the final week, with another finish in Oropa where Marco Pantani won in 1999, before heading to the Dolomites for the finale.
Despite rumours that Rome or even Venice may host the final stage, it is almost certain that the winner of the Giro d'Italia in 2017 will be crowned in Milan's Piazza Duomo with a short final time trial stage, as in 2012 when Ryder Hesjedal became the first Canadian winner. Milan is the traditional location for the finish and the home to La Gazzetta dello Sport and organiser RCS Sport.
Sardinia for Aru, Sicily for Nibali
RCS Sport has already confirmed that the Corsa Rosa will start in Sardinia on Friday May 5 with a road race stage from Alghero to Olbia in the north of the island. Stage 2 heads down the eastern coast and finish in Tortoli. Stage 3 finishes in Cagliari, with the race caravan transferring by ferry to Sicily on an early rest day for the second phase of the race.
It will be third time in the Giro's history that Sardinia has hosted the start of the race, after 1991, when Philippe Casado won the opening stage, and 2007, when Liquigas won the team time trial in La Maddalena and Enrico Gasparotto pulled on the first pink jersey.
The start in Sardinia should ensure the presence of Fabio Aru at the Giro d'Italia. The two stages in Sicily, including one to his home town of Messina, should be enough to tempt Vincenzo Nibali and his new Bahrain-Merida team. A finish on the slopes of Etna could give Nibali a chance to impress in front of his local tifosi.
Giro d'Italia race director Mauro Vegni has promised that the 100th edition of the Giro d'Italia will visit as many of the 21 regions of Italy possible to share the celebrations of the centenary. There will be no stages outside of the country as the Giro d'Italia celebrates its own and Italy's history.
After crossing the Straight of Messina by boat, the race route is reported to head across Calabria to Puglia for finishes in Alberobello – famous for the cone-shaped stone trulli homes, and then Peschici before heading into the Abruzzo mountains for the finish atop the Blockhaus, where Eddy Merckx won a legendary stage in 1967.
The rolling time trail follows a second rest day on Monday May 15. The race will reportedly head north via Tuscany and finish in Reggio Emilia, where the Italian tricolore flag was created in 1797 as a symbol of the country's nascent unity.
Stage 14 will start in Fausto Coppi's birthplace of Castellania in the southern Piemonte hills and at the Oropa Sanctuary, where Pantani won after a remarkable recover from a puncture at the foot of the climb. A stage to Bergamo will follow many of the roads of this year's Il Lombardia before the third rest day.
Into the high mountains via the Stelvio
The riders will be grateful of the day off, knowing they face a double ascent of the legendary Stelvio at the start of the third week of racing. The stage will climb the Mortirolo early on and then the Stelvio from the Valtellina side, where Thomas de Gendt attacked in 2012.
The riders will take the road to Switzerland just before the summit and then descend back into Italy and climb the 48 hairpins of the other, more famous side of the Stelvio. The 2748 metre summit will – snow permitting - be the highest climb of the 2017 Giro d'Italia and so award the prestigious Cima Coppi prize. The finish will be in Bormio after a hectic descent from the summit.
The Dolomites follow with an expected loop through the huge rocky outcrops via the Pordoi, Falzarego and Erbe, with a finish in Ortisei. The eastern Friuli and Vento regions will host the final mountain stages with a finish at the Piancavallo ski resort before climbing Monte Grappa and a stage finish in Asiago.
The final time trial to Milan, perhaps starting in the Vigorelli velodrome in the city, will crown the final winner of what looks like a finely balanced but testing race route.
Aru and Nibali seem certain to ride on a such a special occasion for Italian cycling and the time trials will perhaps be enough to attract Tom Dumoulin after the Dutchman was left disappointed by the lack of time trials in the 2017 Tour de France.
Fellow Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) is out for revenge after crashing in the snow on the Coll e dell'Agnello this year.
Chris Froome (Team Sky), Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Alberto Contador (at Trek Segafredo in 2017) have confirmed they will target the Tour de France but Esteban Chaves (Orica-Bike Exchange) could opt for the Giro d'Italia and fight for victory in what will be one of the most prestigious editions of the Giro d'Italia.