Preview: Your guide to the 2017 Giro d’Italia

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The Spring Classics are done, the lead-up races are finished — it’s now time for the season’s first Grand Tour: the Giro d’Italia. It’s the 100th edition of this great race; a race that began way back in 1909 in an effort to sell more copies of the La Gazetta dello Sport newspaper. While the Tour de France is the biggest of the three Grand Tours (and indeed the biggest bike race in the world), the Giro d’Italia holds a special place in the hearts of many cycling fans.

Here’s what you need to know before tuning into the 2017 Giro d’Italia.

The race starts with some island-hopping before running the length of Italy.

The 2017 Giro d’Italia starts with three stages on the island of Sardinia off the west coast of Italy. After a rest day it’s over to Sicily for two stages, before the riders hit the mainland for stage 6. From there, the race runs from the south of Italy all the way to the mountains in the north, before swinging around to finish in Milan after 21 days of racing.

In total the riders will cover 3,615km. There are six sprint stages, eight medium mountain stages, five high mountain finishes, and two individual time trials. The first time trial comes on stage 10 and covers roughly 40km in the centre of Italy, while the second is a nearly 30km effort on the final day of the race — the first time the Giro has ended with an ITT since 2012.

The most challenging stages are concentrated in the final week.

While the first half of the Giro certainly isn’t easy — there’s a time trial and four uphill finishes in the first 10 stages — it’s the final week that will almost certainly decide the general classification.

Stage 14 is mostly flat before a 12km climb to the finish; stage 16 features an ascent of the brutal Mortirolo climb and two passes of the infamous Stelvio Pass (one from each side); stage 18 has five categorised climbs; stage 19 features a 15km ascent to the finish line; and the race concludes with the stage 21 individual time trial.

Stage 16 will be quite the spectacle.

As ever, the winner of the 2017 Giro d’Italia will be a rider that is strong against the clock, strong uphill, and able to withstand the rigours of racing hard for three long weeks.

There are two big favourites for the race overall: Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana.

Nairo Quintana (Movistar) only has 22 race days in his legs so far this year and has admitted that he might take a little while to get going at this year’s Giro. Don’t expect to see him at his best on the uphill finish to stage 4, for example. But the stony-faced Colombian tends to improve as Grand Tours wear on and, promisingly, he’s already had some good results this year.

Quintana won the Volta a la Valenciana back in February, he won Tirreno-Adriatico in March, he did a long block of altitude training back home in Colombia, and then he won the queen stage of the Vuelta Asturias just last week.

Admittedly, Quintana’s lead-in was a little better back in 2014 when he won the Giro overall, but it’s hard not to see him not being in contention when it matters. He’s good against the clock, excellent uphill, and a rider that’s always up for the fight.

Quintana won the Giro back in 2014. He’s one of the favourites to do so again.

The other main favourite is two-time winner and defending champion, Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida). Nibali only has one win to his name so far this year — the overall at the Tour of Croatia last month — but that doesn’t mean the Italian hasn’t got the form. As an Italian, the Giro means a lot to Nibali and being the 100th edition, this year’s race will have even greater significance (stage 5 also finishes in his home town of Messina). Like Quintana, Nibali also tends to shine in the final week of Grand Tours.

Nibali was simply brilliant in the final few mountain stages of last year’s race (after a quiet start). While he certainly benefited from Steven Kruijswijk’s crash on stage 19, Nibali was at his very best on that day and the next, taking back big chunks of time to move into the overall lead.

The battle between Nibali and Quintana will be something to behold when the road tilts up in the final week of this year’s race. Who comes out on top is anyone’s guess.

There are many riders knocking on the door for the overall podium.

While Quintana and Nibali are arguably the two most likely riders to win the race overall, there’s a list of other riders that have a genuine shot at the podium, if not the top step.

The aforementioned Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) was one of the stand-out performers of last year’s race. He wore the leader’s jersey, the maglia rosa, for five days and might well have won the race overall were it not for his spectacular (and spectacularly ill-timed) crash on the descent off the Colle dell-Agnelo (see video below). The Dutchman ended up finishing fourth overall, to add to his seventh from the year before.

On paper, Kruijwijk’s lead-up to the Giro has been average. He’s had a couple of top-10s in stage races, but that’s about it. Notably though, his lead-in last year was even worse. Kruijswijk has become something of a Giro d’Italia specialist — he always steps up for this race and should be vying for the overall title again in 2017 (and certainly for his first Grand Tour podium).

Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) starred at last year’s Tour de France, sitting on the podium for more than half the race, before eventually slipping to fourth. He won the best young rider classification and will be aiming for the same prize at this year’s Giro. A podium finish is certainly possible as well.

While he’s only completed 19 race days so far this year, Yates has shown some promising form. He won the GP Industria & Artigianato, he was third on a stage at Tirreno-Adriatico, he finished fourth overall at the Volta a Catalunya and most recently, he was eighth at Liege-Bastogne-Liege. It will be fascinating to watch the 24-year-old’s progress in what will be his first Giro.

Team Sky goes into the Giro with two compelling prospects: Mikel Landa and Geraint Thomas. The official line from Sky is that the pair will co-lead the British outfit, and that the leadership will sort itself out on the road.

On stage 3 of the recent Tour of the Alps (formerly the Giro del Trentino), Thomas and Landa went 1-2 after outclimbing their GC rivals on the uphill finish. Thomas went on to win the race overall. While this result was very promising for Sky, it’s worth noting that neither Nibali nor Quintana were in attendance.

Thomas’ results have been stronger than Landa’s so far this year — the Welshman was fifth at Tirreno-Adriatico, Landa was sixth at Ruta del Sol — but the leadership will likely depend on who’s stronger in the final week. Landa is the more proven performer over three weeks, having finished third overall at the 2015 Giro, but either way, Sky has some very strong cards to play.

Thomas and Landa finished 1-2 on a stage of the Tour of the Alps.

Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) led last year’s Giro for no fewer than six stages after winning the opening ITT in his home nation of The Netherlands. While Dumoulin faded in the second week and eventually retired on stage 11 due to saddle sores, it was a great showing from Dumoulin, a rider who’s in the process of transitioning from pure time trialist to Grand Tour GC contender.

This year’s Giro will be Dumoulin’s first crack at contesting a high GC finish at a Grand Tour from the very start of the race, and he’s prepared accordingly, doing a stint at altitude for the first time. It’s interesting to note that Dumoulin has completed just 14 days of racing in 2017, meaning it might take him a little while to warm into things at the Giro. He has been impressive in the races he’s done so far though — he was third at the Abu Dhabi Tour and sixth at Tirreno-Adriatico.

Could Dumoulin be set for another stint in pink at this year’s Giro?

Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) is another would-be challenger for the overall podium in what will be his debut Giro. The Frenchman has had an impressive lead-in, finishing third at Ruta del Sol (where he won on a summit finish), third at Tirreno-Adriatico and second at the Tour of the Alps (where he also won a stage). Expect Pinot to feature heavily whenever the road tilts upward.

With so many strong contenders, the battle for the overall top 10 is going to be fierce.

Beyond those pushing for the overall podium, there’s a host of others that will be hoping to finish inside the top 10.

Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) has made it his goal to finish inside the top 5 at this year’s Giro, a realistic objective for the lanky Russian. Zakarin was sitting fifth overall last year when he crashed out of the race. He likely would have finished in the same position. Zakarin’s lead-in hasn’t been as good as last year — he had a bad crash at the Tour of Catalunya which set back his preparation — but you can expect he’ll come to the fore once the race reaches the mountains.

BMC have two riders vying for the general classification at this year’s Giro: Tejay Van Garderen and Rohan Dennis. While Van Garderen is the team’s “primary leader”, Dennis will perhaps be the more interesting one to keep an eye on. Like Dumoulin, the Australian ITT champion is in the process of transitioning from time-trial specialist into GC hopeful and has free rein to ride for himself in the Giro.

Dennis is talking down his chances, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Dennis finish inside the top 10 overall off the back of two strong time trials.

Rohan Dennis is in the process of transitioning from TT specialist to GC contender. Could he achieve a top 10 at the Giro?

The form of Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) is something of an unknown coming into the Giro, but he’s had some promising results so far this year — overall victory at the Vuelta de San Juan, fourth at the Abu Dhabi Tour and ninth at Tirreno-Adriatico. He rode very strongly at last year’s Tour de France (stronger than his 11th overall would suggest) and should finish inside the top 10 in what is his second Giro (he was 12th in his debut edition in 2010).

Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale) has been fifth overall (in 2014) and could be a chance of another top 10. So too Pierre Rolland (Cannondale-Drapac) who was fourth overall in 2014.

The sprint stages will be hotly contested.

Of course, the Giro d’Italia isn’t just about the general classification. With at least six stages for the sprinters, there will be ample opportunity for the fastmen to fight for glory as well.

Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) is probably the strongest sprinter on the startline and already has six Giro stage victories to his name. He’ll certainly have some competition though.

Fernando Gaviria (QuickStep Floors) is racing his first Grand Tour and could well take a stage win along the way. He’s got four wins to his name in 2017 — compared to Greipel’s three — and has looked dangerous whenever he’s been there to contest a sprint. The Colombian speedster will again come head-to-head with fellow young gun Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott) who himself has five wins in 2017 (four of them at the Santos Tour Down Under).

Ewan looked slightly outclassed in last year’s Giro — his best was second behind Greipel on one stage (see video below) — but the Australian is now a year older and wiser. It would be little surprise to see the 22-year-old raise his arms in victory, not least after he beat Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish at the Abu Dhabi Tour a little earlier in the year.

Italian champion Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) will hoping to finally end his Giro curse with a stage win in 2017. In the past five years, Nizzolo has finished inside the top 5 on a remarkable 21 stages of the Giro without winning one. That includes nine second-place finishes, four alone in 2014. Worth noting: Nizzolo has only taken part in one race this year, the Tour of Croatia, after a bout of knee tendinitis.

Nizzolo’s compatriot Sacha Modolo (UAE Team Emirates) is another sprinter that could post some good results, having won two stages in the 2015 edition. He took two stage wins at the Tour of Croatia and so comes into the Giro with good form. Jakub Mareczko (Wilier Triestina) is worth keeping an eye on too. The 23-year-old Polish-born Italian has a great sprint on him, which he didn’t get to show at his Giro debut last year (he abandoned on stage 5).

Jakub Mareczko has had great success at smaller races so far in his young career. Could he take a step up in 2017 and snag a stage at the Giro?

Finally, don’t discount young German sprinter Phil Bauhaus (Sunweb). The 22-year-old had some good results last year, including a stage win at the 2.HC Tour of Denmark.

One final note about the sprinters: Whoever wins the first stage could well wear the maglia rosa until stage 4 — an enticing prospect for teams and their sponsors.

There will be plenty of chances for the opportunists to snag a stage victory.

In between the pure sprint stages, the time trials and the stages where the GC men will shine, there are plenty of chances for opportunistic riders to vie for a stage win. The mountainous stages, in particular, provide a great opportunity for a day-long breakaway to survive. Here are some of the riders that could be in the hunt for a stage win.

Former world champion Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates) can win in the hills, on a short uphill finish and he can win from the breakaway. He comes into the race explicitly to hunt stage wins and with overall victory at the Abu Dhabi Tour, he’s shown some good form this year.

Australian hard-man Adam Hansen (Lotto Soudal) is racing his 17th straight Grand Tour and he certainly isn’t just making up the numbers. When he’s not working for Greipel on the flatter stages, Hansen will be seeking his own opportunities. He won a stage solo in horrible conditions in 2013, riding away from the breakaway, and is more than capable of a repeat performance four years on.

Nathan Haas (Dimension Data) has shown some great form in 2017, not least his terrific fourth place at the Amstel Gold Race a few weeks ago. Look for Haas to feature in the uphill finishes on stage 6 and 8, and to get himself in the break on lumpy days later in the race. Haas has been knocking on the door of a big win for years now and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him claim a stage of the Giro.

And finally, there’s the Astana team. Rocked by the tragic death of would-be GC leader Michele Scarponi, Astana goes into the Giro with just eight riders, but eight riders capable of some good results. Three-time Giro stage winner Paolo Tiralongo, Luis Leon Sanchez and Tanel Kangert are all very strong riders who will be exceptionally motivated to win for their fallen teammate. Expect them to give everything to do so, and for the tears to flow if they’re successful.

There are a handful of must-watch stages.

Not everyone has the luxury of being able to watch every single stage of a Grand Tour, particularly those of us watching late at night here in the southern hemisphere. Instead, it can be worth picking out a handful of stages to watch; stages that could provide fireworks and/or help decide the race.

If you’re short of time, here are the seven stages we’d suggest watching:

Stage 4: The race’s first summit finish, to the active volcano of Mt. Etna!
Stage 9: Most of 26km uphill to the finish, including 13km at >8% to the line.
Stage 14: A flat and fast day … until the final 28km, and especially the 11km climb to the line.
Stage 16: Arguably the stage to watch. An ascent of the Mortirolo then two passes of the Stelvio. Downhill finish.
Stage 18: The queen stage. Five categorised climbs in the Dolomites, including the last 13km uphill.
Stage 19: The race’s last uphill finish. A 15km ascent to the line.
Stage 21: The final-stage individual time trial. Largely flat. Could decide the Giro.

Many riders will be dreading stage 18.

So how can you watch the race? Unfortunately for Australian viewers, the Giro d’Italia will not be live on free-to-air TV in 2017. An exclusive deal between race organisers and Eurosport means SBS misses out on coverage, and viewers will instead have to get access via Foxtel (channel 511) and its associated services.

Eurosport is probably your best option if you’re watching the race from somewhere in Europe and if you’re after English coverage.

Fans in the U.S. and Canada will be able to catch the Giro via a livestream, but as reports, and as with Foxtel in Australia, you can’t pay for just coverage of the Giro — you need to add that to a basic package.

As ever, be sure to check your local guides for up-to-date broadcast information.

If you’re following the race on Twitter, the hashtag you’re looking for is #Giro100.

Who’s your pick to win the 2017 Giro d’Italia? What else are you looking forward to about the 100th edition of this great race?

Want to read up even more on the 2017 Giro d’Italia? Click here to download the ‘Garibaldi’, the race manual provided to riders, teams, the media and others involved in the race. Click here for a photo gallery showing the highlights from last year’s edition.

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