“A more human Giro” has been the refrain at RCS Sport since Angelo Zomegnan handed over the reins of the race in 2011, and the route of the 2014 Giro d’Italia was met with early approval on that score by the riders on hand at the presentation in Milan’s Palazzo del Ghiaccio on Monday afternoon.
As ever, the Giro’s grand denouement takes place in the high mountains of the final week, with summit finishes at Oropa, Montecampione – dedicated to the memory of Marco Pantani – Val Martello, Rifugio Panarotta and Monte Zoncolan, as well as a time trial to Monte Grappa.
However, transfers are significantly reduced throughout the race – even allowing for the long haul from Dublin back to Italy ahead of stage 4 – while there is less climbing in the opening ten days compared to the 2013 Giro.
“This race leaves the major climbs until the end, and it’s also a Giro with relatively few transfers, apart from the return from Ireland, which is balanced by the exceptional permission for a third rest day,” race director Mauro Vegni said.
“We’re heading back to something like the Giro of the 1970s in terms of transfers, which are much reduced on last year. We don’t want impossible things anymore. We’ve paid a lot of attention to more human things.”
Vegni’s words were echoed by Gazzetta dello Sport editor Andrea Monti, who served as master of ceremonies for the afternoon’s proceedings in the absence of suspended RCS Sport director Michele Acquarone.
“This is a human Giro. Yes, it’s the hardest race in the world’s most beautiful place, but it doesn’t ask too much,” Monti said. “The Giro and cycling don’t need a superhero. They need men who win in a credible way.”
Nibali and Basso look to final week
Last May’s winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) may yet forgo the 2014 race in order to focus on challenging for the Tour de France, but he hailed what he agreed was a balanced Giro route. In particular, he pointed to the Barolo time trial on stage 12 and the string of mountain stages in the final week as decisive.
“I think the 46km time trial could be very important tactically. It doesn’t look very hard but it climbs at the end, and it comes just before the tough final eight days,” Nibali said. “The first stages in Ireland could be tough, too, as it looks like it’s all along the coast and it could be windy. The winner will be someone capable on all terrains, you’ll need to be complete. The final week will be the key.”
Ivan Basso (Cannondale) missed out on the 2013 Giro due to a perineal cyst but is hopeful that he can return to the race next year in search of a third title. He won in 2006 and again in 2010, following his return from suspension for his links to Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes.
“It’s certainly a balanced Giro but my experience teaches me that even the early stages could be difficult with the wind and road conditions,” Basso said. “Still, the hardest climbs are in the finale. It’s easier to make the difference in the final week and it’s a Giro I like.”
Basso’s 2010 Giro victory was built around his stage victory on the Zoncolan, and the climb in Friuli features on the penultimate stage this time around, on the eve of the finale in Trieste. “The climbs where you win stay in your heart and it would be great to crown my career with a third Giro win there. Nothing is impossible.”
Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) has yet to sign a contract for next year – “I’ll see the route first and then decide if it’s worth riding next year,” he quipped before the presentation – but he knows how he would approach the 2014 Giro.
“As the race goes on, it gets harder. The first part seems easier but nothing is a given. I’d hope not to lose time early on and save as much energy as possible for the finale,” said Scarponi, who is also looking forward to the Zoncolan. “It’s one of the hardest climbs I’ve ever done and it’s always decisive. The winner there usually goes on to finish on the podium or win overall.”
The foreign contenders
Cadel Evans (BMC) has already thrown his hat into the ring for the 2014 Giro, buoyed by his third place finish in 2013 after limited preparation. The veteran Australian almost won his debut Giro in 2002 only to suffer hunger knock on the road to Folgaria and hand victory to Paolo Savoldelli.
“I started off in grand tours with Mapei in 2002, when I lost the pink jersey at the end,” Evans said. “I have an appetite for the Giro since that hunger crisis and I want to finish it well.
“The first week seems easy, but like always you have to stay attentive to avoid problems. In the final week, you have to manage your strength and be ready for the big mountains.”
Nairo Quintana (Movistar) seems likely to build his 2014 season around toppling Chris Froome at the Tour de France, but he was admiring in his assessment of the Giro route.
“I think the route is quite nice. I like the route and the third week in particular is difficult, with some tough mountain stages,” he said.
Irishman Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) has particular motivation to be on the start line in Belfast, and he said that he hopes to convince his team to send him to the Giro in 2014.
“I was too young to take part in the Tour de France in 1998 when it started in Ireland, and I’ll do everything I can to be at the Giro next May,” said Roche, whose father Stephen – Giro winner in 1987 after an internecine struggle with Roberto Visentini – was also in Milan on Monday.
“It’s a very nice route and very balanced. You need to be consistent every day and keep your eyes open, because there could be echelons in the first week,” said Stephen Roche.
Pozzato appreciates dialogue
The one discordant note of the afternoon came from Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida), who noted that while there was a liberal sprinkling of chances for pure sprinters and climbers to shine, there were very few transitional stages on the route.
“There’s a lot for sprinters and climbers but for riders like me there isn’t much,” said Pozzato. “Still, I hope I’m there. It’s my favourite race and as an Italian I want to be there, hopefully with an overall contender in my team.”
Pozzato lauded the reduced amount of post-stage transfers at next year’s Giro, and praised the efforts RCS Sport made to engage with riders and seek their feedback in the months since the 2013 Giro finished in Brescia.
“They spoke with the riders after the Giro and we asked them to reduce the transfers. RCS have shown themselves very open to dialogue with the riders in terms of safety and transfers, and I have to thank them,” Pozzato said. “And in the end, it will all make a more spectacular Giro as the riders will have more energy.”