The route of the 2014 Giro d'Italia was officially presented in Milan on Monday afternoon, with organiser RCS Sport revealing a finely balanced route that includes three time trials, eight finishes for sprinters and nine hilly or mountain stages that will decide the winner of the iconic maglia rosa in Trieste on Sunday, June 1.
2013 Giro d'Italia winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) was the star of the presentation even if he may not ride in 2014 as he focuses on the Tour de France.
The route was presented by the editor of La Gazzetta dello Sport Andrea Monti. Race director and general manager of RCS Sport Michele Acquarone was not present after being suspended from his role while RCS Sport completes an internal investigation into the possible misappropriation of several million Euro.
The 97th edition of the Giro d'Italia will remember the late Marco Pantani, ten years after his tragic death from a cocaine overdose. A stage will cover his training roads, while mountain finishes in Oropa and Montecampione will recall two of his best victories at the Giro d'Italia.
After several years of long transfers and scant regard for the riders' recovery time, RCS Sport has worked hard to limit transfers in the 2014 race, with many stages starting close to the previous day’s finish. The average stage distance is 183km, but in the final week that average falls to a more humane 169km.
Teams and riders insisted on a rest day following the transfer from Ireland to Italy and RCS Sport has obtained permission from the UCI for the extra rest day and an unusual Friday start on May 9.
As already announced, the 2014 Giro d'Italia will start in Belfast, in Northern Ireland, with two stages around the city and then a stage south to Dublin before the plane transfer to Italy. It will be the 11th time the Giro d'Italia starts outside of Italy.
The racing will begin with a spectacular 22km team time trial that starts in the Titanic Belfast museum, visits Stormont and finishes in the city centre.
The 218km second stage visits the Northern Ireland coastline via Bushmills, the Giant's Causeway, Carrickfergus and back to Belfast. The third day starts in Armagh and ends in Dublin.
Following the transfer and the early rest day, the racing resumes in the heel of the Italian peninsula, with a 121km stage from Giovinazzo to Bari before the long haul north via Viggiano, the hilltop village of Montecassino, Foligno, Montecopiolo and Sestola, where the riders will enjoy the second rest day. Several stages suit the sprinters and Mark Cavendish is again expected to ride the Giro d'Italia after winning the red points jersey and five stages.
The route heads east to Piemonte via Savona in the second week, with the 46.4km individual time through the vineyards from Barbaresco to Barolo expected to play an important role in reshaping the general classification. The 'cronometro' is largely flat but ends with a climb up to the finish.
Into the mountains
The major mountain finishes begin two days later, with the third weekend of racing remembering two of Pantani's most spectacular attacks at the Giro d'Italia. Stage 14 finishes the Oropa sanctuary, where in 1999, before he was disqualified due to a high haematocrit, Pantani chased back on after dropping his chain, passed 49 riders and won the stage.
Sunday's 15th stage ends in Plan di Montecampione, where Pantani threw away his nose piercing and managed to drop rival Pavel Tonkov to set up victory in the 1998 Giro.
The riders will spend the third rest day in Ponte di Legno in the Lombardy mountains on Monday, May 26 before the start of the final week in the Dolomites and the Friuli mountains.
Snow forced the cancellation the mountain stage over the Gavia and the Stelvio and up to the finish in Val Martello this year, but the same short stage packed with three long and difficult climbs will be back in 2014, causing the sprinters nightmares about finishing inside the time limit.
Fortunately the finish in Vittorio Veneto offers some respite from the climbing and a likely sprint finish. The mountains return for the finish at the Rifugio Panarotta at Pergine Valsugana and the 26.8km mountain time trial from the Bassano del Grappa to Crespana del Grappa. There is a total of 95km of time trialling in the 2014 Giro and this difficult mountain time trial could shake up the general classification more than any mountain stage.
The northeastern Friuli region hosts the grand finale of the 2014 Giro d'Italia with the final mountain finish on the leg breaking slopes of Monte Zoncolan on Saturday, May 31 before the road stage and circuit finish in Trieste, to celebrate the anniversary of the return of the city under Italian control.
2014 Giro d'Italia
May 9, stage 1: Belfast - Belfast, team time trial, 21.7km
May 10, stage 2: Belfast - Belfast, 218km
May 11, stage 3: Armagh - Dublin, 187km
May 12: Rest day and transfer
May 13, stage 4: Giovinazzo - Bari, 121km
May 14, stage 5: Taranto - Viggiano, 200km
May 15, stage 6: Sassano - Montecassino, 247km
May 16, stage 7: Frosinone - Foligno, 214km
May 17, stage 8: Foligno - Montecopiolo, 174km
May 18, stage 9: Lugo - Sestola, 174km
May 19: Rest day
May 20, stage 10: Modena - Salsomaggiore, 184km
May 21, stage 11: Collecchio - Savona, 249km
May 22, stage 12: Barbaresco - Barolo, individual time trial, 46.4km
May 23, stage 13: Fossano - Rivarolo Canavese, 158km
May 24, stage 14: Agliè - Oropa, 162km
May 25, stage 15: Valdengo - Montecampione, 217km
May 26: Rest day
May 27, stage 16: Ponte di Legno - Val Martello/Martelltal, 139km
May 28, stage 17: Sarnonico - Vittorio Veneto, 204km
May 29, stage 18: Belluno - Rif. Panarotta (Valsugana), 171km
May 30, stage 19: Bassano del Grappa – Cima Grappa (Crespano del Grappa) individual time trial, 26.8km
May 31, stage 20: Maniago - Monte Zoncolan, 167km.
June 1, stage 21: Gemona – Trieste, 169km.
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.