Mauro Vegni, the head of cycling at RCS Sport is understandably proud of the work he and his team have done to create a mountainous but balanced route for the Giro d'Italia in 2017. The race looks set to produce some spectacular racing in stunning locations, while also celebrating the 100-year history of the Corsa Rosa.
Vegni has worked in professional cycling for over 40 years and creates each race route with passion and attention to detail. He is already thinking ahead to future editions of the race, with more international starts likely but he is keen that the 2017 Giro d'Italia celebrates everything about Italy and Italian cycling.
He has created the route like a skilled tailor makes a made to measure suit. He appears to have created a parcours that is perfect for a duel between 2016 winner Vincenzo Nibali and rival Italian Fabio Aru. However, he is also working hard to convince some of the other biggest names in Grand Tour racing that winning the 100th edition of the Giro d'Italia would be something on their palmares.
"I think the hundredth edition of the Giro d'Italia is something special and so it was only right that we work extra hard to create a special edition of the race, starting with the route," Vegni told Cyclingnews with pride.
"We've created a wholly Italian race, one that visits as much of Italy as possible to celebrate the race and also the history of Italy and especially the Giro d'Italia. At the same time, we've also worked hard to limit the distance of the transfers between stages to give the riders as much time as possible to rest and recover. I think we've got about a third of the transfers at the Tour de France."
The route of the 2017 Giro d'Italia is a history lesson in Italian cycling
"There are stages that recall Bartali, Coppi, Girardengo, Gimondi and Pantani – the biggest protagonists in the history of our race. We've also tried to visit as much of Italy as possible. The route climbs into the Alps, the Apennines, mountains in the south like Mount Etna and of course the Dolomites."
"As a consequence, it visits some of the most beautiful parts of Italy. I think we're right to describe the Giro d'Italia as 'the world's toughest race in the world, in the world's most beautiful place. I think that summaries the Giro d'Italia more than ever and especially for the 100th edition."
The 2017 Giro d'Italia is also the start of the next 100 years of the race. I think we've modernised the Giro d'Italia in lots of ways in recent years and made it more famous around the world; that's why so many countries and major cities want to host the Grande Partenza.
"The Giro d'Italia helps promote Italy and all the great things that Italy is known for globally. I think our challenge for the future is to help promote Italy as a place to visit, promote its culture, food and things like our design and style."
A balanced route with two time trials
While the Tour de France has cut back its time trials for 2017, perhaps to suit the French riders, Vegni has tried to instinctively balance the time that can be gained in the mountains with that of the time trials.
"We've changed the narrative flow of the Giro d'Italia for the 100th edition. The race starts with a testing first week in Sardinia and Sicily and the first mountain finish on Mount Etna, which will show who is on form and a real contender for the maglia rosa," he explained.
"The first week of racing ends with another mountain finish at Blockhaus and then time trial on stage 10 after the rest day, will shake things up again. The Umbria time trial is not for flat and so not for the specialists but we think the two time trials balance out much of the climbing. We haven't don't any specific calculations; it's a decision based on our intuition, just like rider's attack should be about more that Watts and calculations when they attack."
"This time I felt we needed a time trial mid-race and then a final time trial to Milan on the last day. It was important for us to finish in the very centre of Milan for the 100th edition, in Piazza Duomo and the only way to do that is with a time trial. The final week in the mountains is hard because the closing time trial is a chance for someone to pull back time and maybe snatch victory like Ryder Hesjedal did in 2012 when we last finished with a time trial to Milan."
The 2017 Giro d'Italia returns to many of the mountains that have made the history of the race, and they will also celebrate some of the iconic winners from the past. Vegni is particularly proud of the 227km 15th stage that climbs the Stelvio twice. Weather permitting; it will be the highest climb of the race at 2758 metres. Sadly road works means it's impossible to climb the Passo Gavia during the 2017 Giro d'Italia.
"The Giro d'Italia has never before climbed the Stelvio twice like it will in 2017, with the Cima Coppi prize at the summit, a descent to Prati allo Stelvio, then head into Switzerland to climb back up the Stelvio via the Umbrailpass before the fast descent to Bormio," Vegni explained
"The stage will remember Coppi's career because it was here hat he attacked Hugo Koblet when the Giro climbed the Stelvio for the very first time in 1953. People shouldn't forget that stage will also climb the Mortirolo early on, it's going to be an important stage in the race."
The Giro has four real mountain finishes, perhaps fewer than say the Vuelta a Espana but I think it's wrong to have too many mountain top finishes because sometimes even a descent can shake up the race."
Nibali, Aru but who else?
The Giro d'Italia always suffers an inferiority complex towards the Tour de France and struggles to attract the biggest names in the sport because it is now almost impossible to win both the Giro and the Tour in the same season.
Vegni argues that the Giro d'Italia is a launch pad to greatness, often giving riders an opportunity to win their first ever Grand Tour. He hints he is working to ensure the 2017 race will be more than just a Nibali-Aru duel and suggests that riders would be foolish to miss out on trying to win a very historic edition of the Giro d'Italia.
"As I said when we presented the Sardinian stages, the riders should show some respect for the 100th edition of the Giro d'Italia because it will be special and so special to win. Whoever doesn't ride will miss out on a special race, of adding something special and unique to their palmares," Vegni warns.
"As well as a likely duel between Vincenzo Nibali and Fabio Aru, we're working hard to have the best field possible, with some other big-name riders. We might pull it off or we might not, I can't say for now but we're working on it. Of course, we'd like to have as many of the best Grand Tour riders at the 2017 Giro d'Italia, including Froome, Contador and others. But from a racing point of view, it'd be great if an aggressive rider like Thibaut Pinot and Bauke Mollema rode. I think they represent the future of the Grand Tours instead of the past."