The route of the 100th edition of the Giro d'Italia has been unveiled in Milan, with race organiser RCS Sport celebrating the history and culture of Italy as well as that of the Corsa Rosa and its most famous winners.
The three-week, 21-stage race will begin on Friday, May 5, in Alghero, in Sardinia and finish with a flat 28km time trial to Milan on Sunday, May 28.
In between, the 3,572km route will include many of the race's iconic mountain climbs and visit all but four of the 21 Italian regions. As per tradition, the race visits the south first, with several stages for the sprinters, before heading north to the Alps and the then east to Dolomites, and then finishing in the shadow of the spectacular Milan Duomo in the heart of the city.
There are perhaps six stages for the sprinters but the last is on stage 13 in Tortona, meaning many of them will likely head home early to avoid suffering in the mountains of the final week.
The official presentation was attended by over a 1,000 guests, including 2016 winner Vincenzo Nibali, who is set to defend his title in 2017.
His expected rival Fabio Aru also attended after his end of season vacation. 20 previous Giro d'Italia winner were also present including Miguel Indurain, Felice Gimondi, Giuseppe Saronni, Francesco Moser and Ivan Basso. Many of their pink jerseys and those of other winners were on display in the entrance to the presentation.
Nibali and Aru were invited on stage during the long presentation to talk about the route.
"People are already getting excited for the race in Sicily, it's going to be a great event," Nibali said enthusiastically about the race visiting his home town of Messina. "Etna is a very early stage, but it's also an important stage. You've got to take the Giro day by day, but it'd be great to wear the pink jersey in Messina. But let's be cautious for now.
"I don't know the Blockhaus but with two [uphill] finishes in first week, you've got to be on form right from the start. There's a very tough final triptych of mountain stages and the stage over the Stelvio could decide the Giro d'Italia before the two other mountain stages."
"It's a very hard Giro but the two time trials give it some balance. It's similar to ones I've won, but I can't say if I can win again."
2017 marks only the fourth time the Giro d'Italia has visited Sardinia, largely due to logistical reasons. Aru remembered the last time in 2007.
"It's great that the Giro starts in Sardinia. I'd just started racing mountain bikes last time and I stopped one day to see the race go past. The race is back in 2017 and for sure it'll be special. The classification will be uncertain right to the end because of the tine trial. We'll see soon if I can ride it," he said.
Early climbs and a mid-race time trial
As already announced, the Giro d'Italia begins with three road race stages in Sardinia before a transfer south to Sicily on an early rest day.
A taste of the climbing will begin on stage 2 with a 208km lumpy route from Olbia to Tortoli, but the real climbing will begin on stage 4 in what appears to be the first of four major mountaintop finishes. The day will begin in Cefalù and finish 180km later at the Sapienza refugio on the slopes of Mount Etna.
The route then heads through Calabria and Puglia with stages for sprinters and finisseur before the second mountaintop finish on stage 9 on the mighty Blockhaus, a nearly 30km ascent. Eddy Merckx won here early in his career in 1967.
The theme of recalling former greats continues with stage 11, starting at Gino Bartali's birth place of Ponte a Ema near Florence. The stage heads over the Apennines and the race then heads towards the birthplace of Bartali biggest rival Fausto Coppi with stage 14 starting in the village of Castellania, where Coppi was born and is buried. The 131km stage is mostly flat until reaching the final climb that kicks up for 13km at 8 per cent. It remembers Marco Pantani’s remarkable ride in 1999 when he flatted at the foot of the climb but chased, caught and passed all his rivals.
The high mountains
The route turns east and heads to Bergamo to celebrate Felice Gimondi before heading rapidly into the high mountains on stage 16. Arguably the queen stage of the race, it climbs the Stelvio twice, starting and finishing in Bormio. Weather permitting, it will be the highest climb of the race at 2,758m, with riders descending the famous hairpins down to Prati allo Stelvio, then head into Switzerland to climb back up the Stelvio via the Umbrail Pass before the fast descent to Bormio.
Stage 18 from Moena to Ortisei includes five King of the Mountains over the Passo Pordoi, Passo Valparola, Passo Gardena, Passo di Pinei Panidersattel and the Pontives on the way to the finish line. It will be the so-called 'tappone' of the race in the stunning Dolomites.
The last of the mountaintop finishes will be on stage 19 at Piancavallo, but the climbs continue until stage 20, on the final Saturday, with a 190km stage from Pordenone to the mountain valley of Asiago. The stage will climb the Monte Grappa and then the little known but steep and twisting Foza climb before finishing 15km later in Asiago.
The final 28km time trial starts in the Monza motor racing circuit and dives into the heart of the city with the finish in Piazza Duomo, where the final winner's maglia rosa will be awarded in front of a huge crowds.
2017 Giro d'Italia:
Stage 1, Friday, May 5: Alghero – Olbia 203 km
Stage 2, Saturday, May 6: Olbia – Tortolì 208 km
Stage 3, Sunday, May 7: Tortolì – Cagliari 148 km
Stage 4, Tuesday, May 9: Cefalù – Etna 180 km
Stage 5, Wednesday, May 10: Pedara – Messina 157 km
Stage 6, Thursday, May 11: Reggio Calabria – Terme Luigiane 207 km
Stage 7, Friday, May 12: Castrovillari – Alberobello 220 km
Stage 8, Saturday, May 13: Molfetta – Peschici 189 km
Stage 9, Sunday, May 14: Montenero di Bisaccia – Blockhaus 139 km
Stage 10, Tuesday, May 16: Foligno – Montefalco 39 km TT
Stage 11, Wednesday, May 17: Firenze – Bagno di Romagna 161 km
Stage 12, Thursday, May 18: Forlì – Reggio Emilia 237 km
Stage 13, Friday, May 19: Reggio Emilia – Tortona 162 km
Stage 14, Saturday, May 20: Castellania – Oropa 131 km
Stage 15, Sunday, May 21: Valdengo – Bergamo 199 km
Stage 16, Tuesday, May 23: Rovetta – Bormio 227 km (cima Coppi - Stelvio)
Stage 17, Wednesday, May 24: Tirano – Canazei 219 km
Stage 18, Thursday, May 25: Moena – Ortisei/St. Urlich 137 km
Stage 19, Friday, May 26: San Candido/Innichen – Piancavallo 191 km
Stage 20, Saturday, May 27: Pordenone – Asiago 190 km
Stage 21, Sunday, May 28: Monza – Milano 28 km TT