Preview: Your stage-by-stage breakdown of the 2020 Giro d’Italia course

by Caley Fretz


As the Tour de France sought to mix things up with shorter stages and fewer time trials, the 2020 Giro d’Italia is about as traditional as Grand Tours come. The route features three time trials, each difficult in its own way, plus a pile of long mountain stages to separate the strong from the slightly less strong.

The race was supposed to start in Hungary but now kicks off on the island of Sicily with a time trial. It works its way north from there, including a pile of hard mid-race stages in the Apennines and a brutal final week across the Dolomites and Italian Alps.

For a look at the overall contenders, top climbers, and fastest sprinters, click over to our Giro Preview. For a look at each of the 21 stages, and a few educated guesses as to how they might play out, read on.

Stage-by-stage breakdown

Stage 1: Monreale to Palermo ITT (15.1 km) | October 3

Average speeds in the Giro’s opening time trial are going to be blisteringly fast thanks to a net elevation loss from start to finish. The start gate in Monreale is at 250 m elevation and the route heads up a 1 km climb to 350 m before dropping down to the finish.

Who it’s for: Big, fast time-trialists.
What to watch for: The entire course is in the city, so some of the turns and surfaces are quite technical.

Stage 2: Alcamo to Agrigento (149 km) | October 4

After a curve-filled and stunningly beautiful first quarter of the stage, the peloton will hit wider, faster roads on the way to Agrigento. There isn’t much flat road in this region but the bunch should stay mostly together.

The stage ends with a 3.7 km climb at 5.6%. It should be enough to shed the sprinters, leaving the punchy riders to fight for the stage win.

Who it’s for: Punchy riders.
What to watch for: A late move on the final climb, which has a few hairpins in the first half that will serve as a good launching point.

Stage 3: Enna to Etna (150 km) | October 5

The climbs come early this Giro, and this is the first real test. The category 1 climb up to the Etna volcano on the Piano Provenzana side is 18.8 km long and averages 6.6%. The last few kilometers are the steepest, peaking at 13% with 2 km to go.

We could see a break go on this stage, which rolls up and down through its entirety. It all depends on who takes pink in the opening TT, and whether they believe they can defend it on Etna.

Who it’s for: Climbers and GC men.
What to watch for: Look for cracks in the GC riders. Hopefully no cracks in the volcano.

Stage 4: Catania to Villafranca Tirrena (140 km) | October 6

There’s a decent-sized category 3 climb smack in the middle of this relatively short stage, but it should all come back together into a sprint finish. The roads are wide and mostly flat.

Who it’s for: Sprinters who can get over a category 3 without detonating.
What to watch for: There’s a nasty little left-hand bend at 850 m.

Stage 5: Mileto to Camigliatello Silano (225 km) | October 7

It’s back to the mainland for stage 5, an old-school stage that points the race up toward the north. It’s long and difficult, capped by a switchbacking climb to Valice Monte Scuro.

The final climb is 24.2 km long and has a dip in the middle followed by a nasty section at 18%. The final 10 km are a steady 6%. The route than drops into a fast, technical descent into Moccone, 4 km from the finish. The final 4 km mellow out a bit, but are still downhill.

Who it’s for: The GC men.
What to watch for: The final climb is hard, but not super hard, and the descent into the finish may offer more opportunities for a small time gain.

Stage 6: Castrovillari to Matera (188 km) | October 8

This stage lacks any big, categorized climbs, with just a single category 3 nearly 30 km from the finish. But the finale is tricky, rising and falling numerous times in the last 5 km. A small kicker, about 750 m long and rising to 10%, tops out 2 km from the finish line.

Who it’s for: Peter Sagan
What to watch for: The pure sprinters will try to make this their day, but the finale may have other ideas.

Stage 7: Matera to Brindisi (143 km) | October 9

Short, fast, and sprinty. This stage can only end one way: in a bunch gallop.

Who it’s for: Sprinters.
What to watch for: The only technical part of this entire route comes in the final kilometers, as the race entered the small city of Brindisi. Sprinters will have to navigate three 90º corners and one roundabout in the last 2.5 km.

Stage 8: Giovinazzo to Vieste (200 km) | October 10

A flat-as-a-pancake first half of this stage gives way to a category 2 climb and then rolling roads along the Adriatic coast until the finish line. It’s no GC test but it will be a hard stage. The cat 2 climb comes 100 km from the finish but the course rolls up and down afterward. A 1 km climb that reaches 17% comes at 11 km to go and may set up a late attack.

Who it’s for: A puncheur who won’t get dropped on the cat 2 or the late rollers.
What to watch for: Wind could be a factor.

Stage 9: San Salvo to Roccaraso (208 km) | October 11

Back to the mountains. The Apennines run down the middle of Italy like a spine and this stage crosses right over top of them. It includes four categorized climbs and finishes at Roccaraso, 1,600 meters up. Total gain over the stage is over 4,000 meters.

Who it’s for: A break may stay away for the stage but the GC men will fight behind.
What to watch for: The final climb comes in two parts, with a small false-flat descent in between. The last kilometer is the steepest, 12%, so it will likely cause time gaps.

Stage 10: Lanciano to Tortoreto (177 km) | October 13

There are no big mountains in stage 10, but plenty of short, steep walls to climb. Five of them fill the final 40 km, each 1.5 to 3 km long with the steepest gradients nearing 20%.

Who it’s for: An Ardennes specialist capable of repeated short, steep climbs.
What to watch for: An on-form Peter Sagan might be able to take this one.

Stage 11: Porto Sant’Elpidio to Rimini (182 km ) | October 14

This one is super flat. It runs up along the Adriatic coast and makes very few turns.

Who it’s for: The sprinters.
What to watch for: The most interesting part of the route comes in the final 5 km. From 5 km to 2 km, the race takes in 12 corners, including a 160º nasty right-hander at 3 km to go. Holding a lead-out together will be difficult.

Stage 12: Cesenatico to Cesenatico (204 km) | October 15

This stage follows the same route as the Gran Fondo Nove Colli. It’s a lumpy, difficult route perfectly suited to a strong breakaway.

The course has five categorized climbs, all cat 3s and 4s, plus three other climbs that should probably be categorized. It goes up and down all day on narrow roads, often with bad pavement. The final 10 km is quite flat.

Who it’s for: A break has a good chance.
What to watch for: There are two speed bumps in the last 1.5 km.

Stage 13: Cervia to Monselice (192 km) | October 16

After more than 150 pan-flat kilometers, the peloton will face a succession of two very hard, very short climbs, with grades topping out at 20%. The Roccolo comes first and is the harder of the two. The Calaone tops out 16 km from the line.

Who it’s for: If the sprinters can get over those two climbs, and some of them probably can, this will be a bunch kick.
What to watch for: This is one of those days where the sprinter’s jersey can be won or lost, with lots of points on the line and hills near the finish.

Stage 14: Conegliano to Valdobbiadene ITT (34.1 km | October 17

This difficult time trial through the Prosecco region is more difficult than it looks on paper. The profile doesn’t look too bad, but it’s always going up and down, with technical corners to be maneuvered on a time trial bike.

The main climb, the Muro di ca’ del Poggio (not that Poggio) is only 1.1 km long but averages 12.3% with max grades at 19%. Ouch.

Who it’s for: GC riders will need a good ride here — gaps could be large.
What to watch for: If it rains, the roads here are incredibly slick.

Stage 15: Base Aerea Rivolto to Piancavallo (185 km) | October 18

The Giro has now reached its second mountain range, and this stage should be a doozy. A series of category 2 climbs will drag on the legs, in particular the second one, Forcella di Monte Rest, which averages 7.8%.

The real test comes at the tail end, though. The final climb up to Piancavallo is 14.5 km long at 7.8%, with grades up to 14% in the first half.

Who it’s for: GC men.
What to watch for: The final kilometers of the uphill finish level out somewhat. If a rider hasn’t broken away early, a select group should come to the line together.

Stage 16: Udine to San Daniele del Friuli (229 km) | October 20

Out of the mountains and into the hills, this stage rolls relentlessly through the Julian Prealps before finishing with laps around San Daniele de Friuli.

The finish laps include a nasty, 20% kicker up Via Sottomonte with just 1 km to go before a 10% ramp to the line.

Who it’s for: It’s a decent breakaway day.
What to watch for: This is a classic Giro stage, the finale will be chaos.

Stage 17: Bassano del Grappa to Madonna di Campiglio (203 km) | October 21

Yet another summit finish, this time atop Madonna di Campiglio, 12.5 km long at 5.7%. The final climb isn’t as hard as previous uphill finishes, but the climbs that come before are harder. The Monte Bondone is particularly difficult.

Who it’s for: This late in the race, a break may stay away, depending on the power dynamics around the maglia rosa. But GC riders are a safer bet.
What to watch for: A strong team will be able to control this stage well enough to keep the GC group mostly together.

Stage 18: Pinzolo to Laghi di Cancano (207 km) | October 22

Ahh, the Stelvio. Source of so many Giro battles over the years, and once again well-placed for a showdown this year.

The beast of a climb is not the finish line, so descending fast off its backside will be just as important as climbing the front. After dropping back down to the valley, where there’s a rather inexplicable sprint point, the peloton will climb up to Torri di Fraelle, another 8.7 km at 6.8%. The last two kilometers are basically flat.

Who it’s for: Whoever wants to win the Giro.
What to watch for: The descent off this side of the Stelvio (well, both sides really) is very fast and technical.

Stage 19: Morbegno to Asti (253 km) | October 23

A final break for the peloton, mostly flat, and a chance to recharge ahead of the final push to Milan.

Who it’s for: Sprinters.
What to watch for: A pile of roundabouts in the final kilometers will keep things interesting.

Stage 20: Alba to Sestriere (198 km) | October 24

This is the last chance for climbers to take their time. Four major climbs will test the GC riders, finishing with a climb up to Sestriere.

The final stage is a time trial, so any climber looking for time will need to go early on this stage. The final climb is not long or hard enough on its own.

Who it’s for: Last chance saloon for the climbers.
What to watch for: A long bomb from a rider who isn’t content with their GC place or is worried about the TT on Sunday.

Stage 21: Cernusco sul Naviglio to Milano ITT (15.7 km) | October 25

The Tour de France proved that sticking a TT near the end of the race can be a recipe for excitement. This one isn’t as long, or as hard — it’s just 15.7 km, but it could provide a final-day shakeup.

Who it’s for: A short, flat TT like this is likely to go to a specialist, not a GC contender. Unless (as in Geraint Thomas’ case) those are the same thing.
What to watch for: The end of the race!

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