Pope Francis has been invited to the start of the 2018 Giro d'Italia in Israel with the Italian Grand Tour now almost certain to finish in Rome, possibly with an individual time trial.
The official presentation of the route is due to be held on November 29 in Milan but details of the 21 days of racing have already emerged via local media in Italy, with a possible map indicating three stages in Sicily before the race heads north to climb the Zoncolan and a time trial near Trento. The final mountain stages are likely to be in the Alps near Turin including the dirt road Colle delle Finestre and mountain finish at Cervinia. The riders will then travel to Rome from Turin for the final stage.
The 2018 Giro d'Italia will have religious connotations but will also commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Great War. RCS Sport is close to securing a reported two million Euro of state funding to help the Giro d'Italia promote Italian culture and tourism.
The Grande Partenza in Israel was confirmed in September, with the race starting with a 10.1km individual time trial in Jerusalem on Friday, May 4 with two road stages to Tel Aviv and Eilat. According to a detailed report in the La Stampa newspaper the riders will fly to Catania in Sicily after the stages in Israel, enjoying an early and extra rest day on Monday May 7 as race vehicles sale from Israel.
The riders face three stages in Sicily to Caltagirone, Santa Ninfa and a mountain finish on the slopes of the Mount Etna volcano. Other key stages as the route heads north should include a mountain finish at Montevergine di Mercogliano near Naples, where Alex Zuelle, Damiano Cunego and Danilo Di Luca have all won in the past.
The Giro d'Italia will pass through the central Apennines, with a finish at Campo Imperatore near the Gran Sasso and possibly start in Filottrano – the hometown of Michele Scarponi, who was killed while training this spring.
The riders face the steep finish on Monte Zoncolan on stage 14, followed by a stage to Sappada, close to the border with Austria. The victims of World War I will be remembered with a flat time trial from Trento to Rovereto, with the finish near the Giant Memorial bell on the hillside.
A transfer to the Monza motor racing circuit is expected to take the Giro d'Italia west for the three-day finale in the Alps.
Stage 18 is expected to finish at Prato Nevoso near Cuneo, followed by a stage from Turin up to Monte Jafferau via the little known Valli di Lanzo, the Colle delle Finestre and Sestriere. Saturday's final mountain stage includes multiple climbs and ends in Cervinia, where Fabio Aru won the stage in 2015.
The riders will travel to Rome on Saturday evening or Sunday morning from Turin for the final stage. It has been suggested that a time trial could be enough to tempt Chris Froome to include the Giro d'Italia on his race programme and also please 2017 Giro d'Italia winner Tom Dumoulin.
Cyclingnews will have full coverage of the 2018 Giro d'Italia and the official route presentation in Milan on November 29.
Pope Francis invited to Israel start
The start of the Giro d'Italia in Israel would be the biggest security operation in the country's history, eclipsing the state funeral of Yitzhak Rabin and the 2014 visit by Pope Francis.
The start in Jerusalem is also a major political coup for the country, despite the on-going Israeli-Palestine and security concerns. It will be first time one of cycling's Grand Tours has started outside of Europe and will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the creation of Israel.
The presence of the Pope at the start in 2018 would make the event even more unique and is a possibility. On Thursday Canadian-Israeli real-estate magnate, Sylvan Adams, who funds the Israel Cycling Academy team and is behind the start of the Giro d'Italia in Israel, met Pope Francis and presented him with a letter from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asking the head of the Catholic Church to honour the race with a public blessing in Jerusalem.
Senior managers at race organiser RCS Sport confirmed news of the invitation to La Gazzetta dello Sport.
The Catholic church still holds a strong sway on Italian life and has historic links to professional cycling. The 1950 Giro d'Italia finished in Rome and several Popes have blessed the race over the years. In 2000 the Giro d'Italia started with a time trial in Rome and the Vatican, with Pope John Paul II meeting Felice Gimondi, Eddy Merckx, Mario Cipollini and Marco Pantani in a special pre-race audience.