The Giro del Trentino expanded into the neighbouring Tyrol and Alto Adige regions to become the cross border Tour of the Alps in 2017. This year the Hors Category stage race will again cross the so-called Euroregion that spans northern Italy and southern Austria, with the presence of Chris Froome (Team Sky) and several of his biggest Giro d'Italia challengers further boosting its profile.
The five days of racing from Monday to Friday offer the riders a working week of hard races in the mountains with no time trials to distort the overall classification. The mountain finish at Alpe di Pampeago on Tuesday and then the final stage on part of the Innsbruck circuit that will feature in the World Championships stand out, but each of the stages includes some climbing, with a total of 13,100 metres of elevation across the five days.
Michele Scarponi won the opening stage of the Tour of the Alps last year, just days before he was killed while training at home. The likeable Italian will be remembered with a special prize awarded to the team that produces the best display of collective work and a selfless approach to the racing. The winning team will receive a cheque that will be donated to a charity association at the start of the following stage.
Cyclingnews will have full coverage of the Tour of the Alps, with news, exclusive interviews, full stage reports and photo galleries from the race.
Froome headlines the start list
Race director Maurizio Evangelista secured innovative live television coverage in 2016 and has secured the presence of nine WorldTour teams for the 2018 race, including Team Sky, UAE Team Emirates, Groupama-FDJ, Bahrain-Merida, Astana, Bora-Hansgrohe and Dimension Data.
Overall contenders include Froome, Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates), Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana), Louis Meintjes (Dimension Data) and George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo). They will no doubt fight for the fuchsia leader’s jersey while also testing their form for the rapidly approaching Giro d’Italia or even Liege-Bastogne-Liege, which comes just two days after the race ends in Innsbruck.
Attracting Froome is a huge coup for the Tour of the Alps and offers the Briton a vital and much-needed last race before the Giro d’Italia. He and Team Sky plan to combine some final Giro d’Italia reconnaissance in the nearby mountains before heading to the start of the race on Sunday.
Team Sky have a terrible track record at the Giro d’Italia but in contrast have always performed well at the Tour of the Alps and the Giro del Trentino, winning the overall for the last three years with Richie Porte, Mikel Landa and Geraint Thomas in succession. Froome will be hoping to add a fourth victory, while also going on to avoid the bad luck and mistakes that cost his predecessors success in the Corsa Rosa.
Froome will race subjudice as he awaits a verdict on his salbutamol case, and it will be interesting to see his level of form after he was slightly off the pace at Tirreno-Adriatico. He will also have a target on his back, with his rivals keen to put the burden of the race on his shoulders. It will be fascinating to watch the power struggle in the peloton unfold.
Of course, Froome’s rivals will all be looking for their own answers and indicators as they try to beat Froome at the Tour of the Alps. Aru has had another poor spring and is likely to miss Liege-Bastogne-Liege so that he can use the Tour of the Alps and a subsequent phase of recovery to be ready for the Giro. Pinot likes the rough and tumble of racing in Italy and also needs a win to underpin his self-confidence.
Lopez, Ben Hermans (Israel Cycling Academy) and Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida), will be looking to cement their leadership status before the Giro d’Italia, while Meintjes, Bennett and Alexander Geniez (AG2R La Mondiale) will all be looking to take an important stage race victory.
There is no chance for the sprinters during the five days of racing, but there are plenty of opportunities for the baroudeur, who could win from the break of the day or via a late move on a final descent or a final climb.
Watch for Pello Bilbao (Astana), who was aggressive at he recent Vuelta al Pais Vasco, David de la Cruz (Team Sky) if Froome stumbles, Igor Anton (Dimension Data) and Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Vini Fantini) on his swansong stage race in Italy after being snubbed for a place at the Giro d’Italia. The Italian Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia, Bardiani-CSF and Androni-Sidermec teams will all decide their final eight for the Giro d’Italia after the Tour of the Alps and so we can expect their riders to be aggressive as they fight for selection.
The secrets of the race route
The 2017 Tour of the Alps started in Innsbruck and travelled south, ending in Trento, with Geraint Thomas beating Pinot by just seven seconds. Time bonuses proved to be vital.
This year the race starts in Arco, just north of Lake Garda, and travels north to Innsbruck via Merano and Lienz. Stage distances are relatively short but stage profiles are always up and down, offering the perfect block of racing before the Giro and a prestigious chance of victory.
Monday’s opening road stage has replaced the traditional team time trial, with the finish in Folgaria at 1,160 metres after the gradual but 19km long climb from Rovereto. It will quickly reveal who is an overall contender and who isn’t.
Stage 2 to Alpe di Pampeago is the big mountain stage. It is only 145km long but the final climb to the finish from the ski town of Tesero is 7.5km of steep climbing, with an average gradient of 10 per cent in the final four kilometres and sections at 15 per cent. Marco Pantani duelled with Pavel Tonkov in the 1998 Giro d’Italia and finally won here in 1999.
Stage 3 from Ora to Merano could have followed the valley road but instead includes the Passo della Mendola (1363m) and the subsequent Passo Palade (1518m) north of the Val di Non apple orchards. The 18km descent to the finish should be spectacular to watch.
The racing heads further north into Sud Tirol and east into Austria on stage 4, with the finish in Lienz. There are no major passes to climb but the 6.9km Bannberg climb comes very late, with just four kilometres of flat roads before the finish.
The overall winner of the 2018 Tour of the Alps will be crowned in Innsbruck as the Austrian city prepares for the world championships in September.
Like the men’s road race, stage 5 starts in the valley before heading west to Innsbruck to cover two laps of a similar but smaller hilly city circuit. The third and final climb of the Olympia circuit ends just 12.3km from the finish, covering the same roads as the World Championships.
Whoever wins the Tour of the Alps will be a worthy victor of the fuschia jersey and prove they are also a candidate for the World Championships.