When the Giro d’Italia starts in Sardinia on Friday, Movistar’s Nairo Quintana will stand on the star line as the favourite, with many backing him to beat the likes of Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) to repeat his triumph from 2014.
Ahead of the start of the 100th edition of the race, the 27-year-old Colombian looks ahead at the punishing route of the three week race, including the two major time trials where he will try to limit his losses.
Stages one to three: Sardinia Depart
The Giro d’Italia starts with three stages on the island of Sardinia, stages one and three offering chances for the sprinters, while stage two, the profile of which you can see above, is a more hillier test.
“We’ll have to keep full attention during those three days. We need to keep the team together to avoid losing any time and suffering any crashes. The goal will be to reach the Etna climb unscathed.
“They will be difficult stages for me, but fortunately, we have some strong people in the team for flat stages, and as long as we keep the front, we shouldn’t get in any trouble. The opening weekend should be quite stressful for many in the peloton, since the sprinters don’t have many chances to win stages.”
Stage four: Cefalù to Etna
After a rest day on Monday, May 8, the peloton heads for the first mountain stage in Sicily with a summit finish on the 18km climb up Mount Etna.
“I haven’t inspected the climb, but looking at the race data it feels like it will be a tough first mountain stage.
“I might be lacking some racing form at the time we face the climb. The only goal that day will not to lose any time.”
Stages five to nine: First week
Stages five to eight give chances to the sprinters and the puncheurs, before the GC contenders will once again have a chance to flex their muscles on the Blockhaus, a 13.6km climb which frequently ramps up beyond 10 per cent.
“The four stages between the two first mountain-top finishes should be good for me, helpful so I can continue to build my form up before the Blockhaus, which is a respectable ascent for that early part of the race.
“It’s a really tough ascent – I rode through the first part of the climb and it should create some significant gaps and establish a hierarchy GC-wise.”
Stage 10: Foligno to Montefalco (ITT)
Coming off the back of a rest day, stage 10 sees the first of two time trials in this year’s Giro, with a lumpy course that should suit stronger tester among the GC contenders rather than than the pure time triallists.
“It’s a long, hard course. I don’t think it should play much against me, because it has some slopes that could help me limit my losses. I should defend myself well against the specialists.
“It could also be good for me that the GC contenders are not-so-strong time triallists, though Pinot and Nibali always go well against the clock. We hope we won’t concede big gaps so we can tackle the demanding final week in a good position.”
Stage 14: Castellania to Oropa
Stage 11 includes plenty of climbing that could provide a launching pad for surprise attacks, but the next summit finish of the race comes at Oropa, as the Giro hits the Alps for the first time.
“After some easier stages we’ll reach the third Saturday and the Oropa stage. I know it well, it’s a beautiful ascent, I like it. It’ll be curious to see how we do: it’s short stage and a flat course with such a tough sting at the tail.
“We should see some decent gaps there, and the approach to the foot of the climb should be ‘interesting’. Let’s hope we can tackle the climb at the front of the bunch and go for what could be a true mountain time trial towards the line.”
Watch: Giro d’Italia 2017 essential guide
Stage 16: Rovetta to Bormio
The queen stage of the 100th Giro d’Italia, stage 16 sees the peloton tackle three huge climbs, including the legendary Passo dello Stelvio from two different approaches.
“Starting with Mortirolo, which we know and fear as it’s so demanding, and following on with the Stelvio, through two of its different road, I feel like this will be the Queen stage in this Giro, a decisive one.
“It’s going to be special also because of the high altitude, almost reaching 2,800m above sea level – that could take its toll on many riders. We’ll also have to pay attention at that final descent to the line.”
Stage 18: Moena to Ortisei/St. Ulrich
Following on from a transition stage on valley roads to Canazei, stage 18 manages to pack five classified climbs into the relatively short 137km course with little time for recover.
“Canazei’s finish the day prior shouldn’t play a big role in the race, but this Ortisei stage is a tough one, with lots of vertical gain. It’s ’impegnativa’ (demanding), as they say in Italy.
“The route doesn’t offer any respite, it’s either climbing or descending all day, with sort of a circuit at the end and a final descent before the Ortisei climb on good roads, but still one to pay attention at. The last 6km uphill will be very painful.”
Stage 19: San Candido/Innichen to Piancavallo
Stage 19 sees the final summit finish of the Giro with a punishing 15.5km climb to Piancavallo, with the toughest part of the climb coming at the start with gradients of up to 14 per cent.
“A hard final ascent, with difficult slopes. Someone who still has fresh legs at this point of the Giro could make a big difference. The climb is over one hour long, and that could be too much for many in the third week of a stage race.”
Stage 20: Pordenone to Asiago
The penultimate stage of the race presents an interesting challenge to the riders, with the uneven climb of Monte Grappa providing the possibility for long-range attacks.
“We go up the Monte Grappa first – it’s a beast of a climb, very tough. I won a TT up that climb, though it was a different road. The descent to the valley requires much attention the Foza climb, which is also difficult.
“We’ll see how the GC stands at that point, but should anyone have the strength and energy to try it, the route is perfect to go on a long escape. The final road to Asiago is a rolling one – a few slopes but nothing really tough.”
Stage 21: Monza to Milano (ITT)
The final time trial into Milan presents one final chance for riders to shake up the top of the general classification, and will be a test of recovery and endurance after three hard weeks of racing.
“I feel like there’s a chance the Giro could be decided before this final TT, because the terrain prior enables a good climber to build a strong lead.
“Then again, it’s a serious TT, and the man in pink cannot lose focus for a second if he wants to take the trophy home.”