Analysis: Five first impressions of the 2020 Giro d’Italia route

by Dane Cash


Organizers unveiled the 2020 Giro d’Italia route in Milan on Thursday, and the course they presented offered plenty of highlights to get people talking. There’s the start in Hungary, the climb up Mount Etna, the brutal final week in the mountains, and an individual time trial to close things out.

All told, it should be quite a challenging race. “It’s up there with one of the toughest editions I’ve seen,” said Mitchelton-Scott sports director Matt White on the team’s website Friday. That’s a solid assessment, considering the abundance of high-mountain climbs on tap for the Giro peloton next spring. Beyond the difficulty factor, however, a few other talking points stand out as well.

Here are five big takeaways from our first look at the 2020 Giro d’Italia route.

A Grand Tour for the traditionalists

For years, the Giro d’Italia positioned itself as a race that wasn’t afraid to try bold new things, attempting to offer a fresh alternative to the Tour as some fans began to complain that the French Grand Tour had grown stale. Frequent visits to climbs like the Monte Zoncolan have given race organizers a chance to market the Giro’s boundary-pushing difficulty as a defining feature of the race.

That focus on putting the Giro peloton through a brutal three weeks of racing remains a key part of the event’s DNA, but with three individual time trials, several high-mountain stages, and a backloaded final week on tap, the 2020 route ultimately embraces a very familiar Grand Tour model.

Tour organizers, meanwhile, have doubled down for 2020 on hilly stages spread throughout the race without too much time trial mileage and with relatively few massive climbs, in an effort to make things less predictable. The Tour won’t visit the Alpe d’Huez or Mont Ventoux or the Galibier this year. The Giro, on the other hand, will take the peloton over the Stelvio, the Col d’Izoard, and plenty of other high Alpine ascents.

Stage 20 features three tough climbs before a Sestriere finish.

In other words, RCS has ironically put together a percorso that should win the hearts of the traditionalists that scoffed at this year’s Tour route.

Temptations for the TT specialists

As hard as the mountainous final week of the 2020 Giro d’Italia will be, the race still has three time trials. Compared to the Grand Tours of the last decade, that may not seem like much, but these days, the Giro’s total of 58.8 kilometers against the clock make it a relatively TT-friendly race. The Tour, by comparison, has just one time trial, of 36 kilometers, and half of that is uphill.

As has been the case for the past several seasons now, Giro organizers have designed a route that could once again prove tempting to the TT specialists of the pro peloton.

Again, this hardly seems like a fluke. For a few years it seemed like Nairo Quintana, Mikel Landa, and Romain Bardet were developing into Grand Tour stars that might be able to take on Chris Froome, but those pure climbers have lost a little bit of their luster in recent seasons.

Tour champion Egan Bernal may be the world’s best climber, but he’s no slouch against the clock, and time-trial talents like Tom Dumoulin, Primoz Roglic, and Geraint Thomas have all emerged as Grand Tour champions. For all three of those riders, the 2020 Tour route reveal may have been a bit of a letdown.

The Giro’s three TTs, however, will certainly have caught their attention. If the race can attract even one or two of them, it will be a major coup.

The final stage of the 2020 Giro d’Italia will be a flat 16.5-kilometer time trial.

Regardless of the star power on the star list, the TT mileage at next year’s Giro should be a boon from a racing perspective as well, particularly with a race against the clock closing out the race on stage 21. If the GC is at all close heading into the last few mountain stages (and it should be), the purer climbers will be forced to attack the chrono specialists in the face of losing time on the very flat final 16.5 kilometers of the race in Milan.

Good riddance to the team time trial

While the individual time trial can bring plenty to the table in the effort to make for a compelling race, its cousin, the team time trial, does the opposite. As such, fans of good racing should rejoice that next year’s Giro will eschew the TTT entirely, for the fourth year running.

Team time trials may provide great photos and satisfy equipment sponsors, but from a racing perspective, they practically guarantee that the GC long shots will not win the overall. In a team time trial, having a mediocre support squad is basically the death knell of a GC rider’s hopes. It’s hard enough for a rider on a Cofidis or an Arkéa-Samsic to take on the GC heavyweights in the mountains, but it becomes more or less impossible if you put the lower-budget teams at a two-minute deficit from the first week with a team time trial.

Good on the Giro organizers for going four straight years without putting one in their race. You have to wonder at this point if the trend is here to stay, and if maybe the ASO is catching on; next year’s Tour won’t have a TTT either.

A test of endurance

If you only take a glance at the ups and downs on the profiles for next year’s Giro, you might miss the numbers at the bottom – and they really add up. Next year’s Giro will feature a whopping 10 stages of more than 200 kilometers. By comparison, the 2020 Tour has just one stage over 200km.

Plenty of fans, riders, and journalists alike have clamored for shorter stages in recent years, so throwing so many long stages into the 2020 Giro is an interesting decision by the organizers. It’s a gamble too, with limited potential reward.

Stage 15 of the 2019 Giro d’Italia totaled 232 kilometers. Photo: Gruber Images

Pitting the peloton against so many 200-kilometer days does up the difficulty factor, giving riders a distinct challenge to overcome, particularly when coupled with the lack of a rest day in between the trio of opening stages in Hungary and the remainder of the race in Italy. A well-rounded rider could conceivably come into the race flying up the climbs and cruising through the time trials only to implode in the final week as the distance puts too much fatigue into the legs.

Unfortunately, all those long days also come with the potential to bore fans. Many of the 200-kilometer stages are days for the sprinters; that makes for a lot of time spent watching the sprint trains slowly reel in a breakaway to set up only a few minutes of action. The long days in the mountains can prove uneventful as well, with riders often holding back until the finales of lengthier stages to avoid burning matches too early.

We’ll see how it plays out. Hopefully, the long stages lead to some intrigue, but don’t be surprised if next year’s Giro features a few forgettable days of racing.

Opportunities aplenty for Peter Sagan

Peter Sagan will finally make his Giro debut at next year’s race, and you’d be forgiven for wondering if the route has something to do with it. Next year’s race is brimming with stage win opportunities for the three-time world road champ.

For starters, the Giro has seven or eight stages that could end in a bunch kick. Against a fully loaded start list of pure speedsters, Sagan is usually an outside bet to win a field sprint. With the sprint field the Giro typically commands, on the other hand, Sagan will likely be among the top favorites for the bunch kicks behind only one or two other riders.

Peter Sagan on stage 5 of the Tour de France. Photo: ©kramon

Throw in the three or four intermediate stages that look perfect for the versatile Slovakian, and the very short opening time trial in Budapest in which he will have a chance to take the maglia rosa, and it all adds up to about a dozen stages that could end up with Sagan atop the podium.

If he’s in form, Sagan should come away from his first ever Giro appearance with a few victories under his belt, which will be a great way to roll into the Tour in late June.

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