The GC contenders will want to bring their A-game on day one of next year's Giro d'Italia, which kicks off on Friday 6 May with an 18.4km (11.4 miles) time trial on the Costa dei Trabocchi from Fossacesia Marina to Ortona.
The time trial will be followed the next day by a 204km road stage from Teramo to San Salvo. Stage three will also start in nearby Vasto and head south — destination as yet unknown.
It marks the first Grande Partenza in the Abruzzo region since 2001, when the race began with a seven-kilometre prologue to Pescara, won by Rik Verbrugghe.
Some of next year's earliest serious GC skirmishes will also take place in the region, when the race returns on stage seven for its first summit finish above 2,000m, at Gran Sasso d'Italia. This is a monumental climb, 26.45 kilometres long. For much of its length the gradient averages four per cent and less, but with 4.5km to go things get considerably harder, averaging 8.2% to the finish with ramps of up to 13 per cent. Again, further details of the stage aren't yet known but it's a day that might pique the interest of local rider Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo).
The time trial opener, while short, is still long enough to put daylight between the GC men who are in top form and those who aren't. Finishing with a short final climb into Ortona, it will be a great opportunity for a time trial virtuoso to pull on the maglia rosa. The second stage starts a short distance inland and offers up a series of lumps as the riders head out to the Adriatic coast. Once the sea is in sight things get considerably flatter, and despite a pair of lumps mid-stage, looks like a clear-cut opportunity for the sprinters in San Salvo.
In the face of recent Grand Tour starts in Denmark, Hungary and the Netherlands, next year's will be a low key weekend. But after the tribulations of the last two years, who can blame organiser RCS for lowering the stakes, and with the reputed passion of the tifosi, it's bound to be no less impressive for it.
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After cutting his teeth on local and national newspapers, James began at Cycling Weekly as a sub-editor in 2000 when the current office was literally all fields.
Eventually becoming chief sub-editor, in 2016 he switched to the job of full-time writer, and covers news, racing and features.
A lifelong cyclist and cycling fan, James's racing days (and most of his fitness) are now in the past, although that doesn't stop him banging on tirelessly about "that one time" he nearly rode a 20-minute '10', and planning the big comeback that everyone knows will never actually happen.
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