The 2017 Giro d'Italia will start in Sardinia with three road stages. The race sets off from Alghero on Friday, May 5 with a 203-kilometre leg along the island’s northern coast to Olbia. A hilly stage to Tortolì follows, before a flatter run to Cagliari on stage 3.
RCS Sport revealed details of the opening three stages at a presentation in Milan on Wednesday morning, where Fabio Aru – the first Sardinian to wear the maglia rosa at the Giro – was in attendance.
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 Enrico Gasparotto wore the first maglia rosa after Liquigas won the team time trial in La Maddalena.
The Giro's first visit to Sardinia came in 1961, as the race marked the 100th anniversary of the unification of Italy. The 2017 Giro is the 100th edition of the race, and RCS Sport has planned a route that will visit as many of Italy's regions as possible to celebrate the occasion.
In keeping with recent starts outside of the Italian mainland, the opening stage of the 2017 Giro will take place on a Friday, which allows for an additional rest day on Monday, May 8 as the Giro caravan transfers to the start of stage 4.
The opening stage of the 2017 Giro is ostensibly one for the sprinters, even if race director Mauro Vegni warned that it is not a foregone conclusion that one of their number will wear the first pink jersey of the race. "It's a stage for sprinters, but they'll have to work for it," Vegni said in Milan on Wednesday.
The 203-kilometre stage from Alghero to Olbia follows undulating roads along the northern coast of Sardinia and features three categorised climbs, Multeddu, La Contra and the San Pantaleo, which comes just 20 kilometres from the finish line. That final 5km climb could provide a springboard for late attacks. "The main problem will be the wind, because there's a lot of that in Sardinia, and there's not really a lot of flat either," said Fabio Aru.
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Stage 2 sets off from Olbia and follows a tricky 208-kilometre route to Tortolì that includes climbs to Orune, Nuoro and Genna Silana, of increasing length and difficulty. The final 40 kilometres descend gradually towards the finish in Tortolì and offer a chance for the sprint teams to bring back the break, but the twisting roads make this a difficult stage for any one squad to control. "These are two very long and quite hard stages to start with, so I think it will be hard from the start, so I think we'll need to be well-prepared right from the start," Aru on Wednesday.
The third and final stage in Sardinia is the shortest and, on paper at least, the most straightforward. At 148 kilometres in length and with just one categorised climb, the Capo Boi, the leg from Tortolì to Cagliari seems destined to finish in a bunch sprint. "It's certainly a stage for sprinters, but it will be one of the most beautiful stages of the race," Vegni said.
The Giro's Sardinian start has been something of an open secret in recent months, even if the finer details of the three stages were not clear until Wednesday morning. It seems highly likely that Aru will be on the start line in Alghero on May 5 next, even if the Astana man was careful when asked about his 2017 race programme on Wednesday.
"Since I've heard the rumours about a Giro Big Start in my Region I've always hoped it was really going to happen," Aru said. "I will make my next year's racing programs with our sport directors at the end of November, but I can certainly say that I wouldn't like to miss a Giro that starts in my Sardinia for anything in the world."
The route of the 2017 Giro will be announced in full in Milan on October 25 – two days after RCS Sport's season-ending Abu Dhabi Tour – and race director Mauro Vegni reiterated that the percorso has been designed to honour the fact that this will be the 100th edition of the race.
"It's going to be a course that will reflect the history of this race and the history of this country," Vegni said. "It's going to be a surprising Giro, not only in the complete course which we will reveal in full at the end of October, but for the locations we are going to visit, locations that made the history of our country."
There is mounting speculation that stages 4 and 5 of the Giro will take place in Sicily, a move which would all but guarantee the presence of 2016 winner Vincenzo Nibali, particularly as his home town of Messina has been touted as a likely site for a stage finish. The climbs of the Terminillo and Piancavallo, where Marco Pantani won in 1998, have been reported as likely to feature later on the route of the 2017 Giro as the race makes its way northwards through the mainland.
"Fabio can be assured that there will be plenty of climbs," Vegni said on Wednesday when asked for hints as to what to expect when the curtain goes up on the route in full on October 25.
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