Giro d'Italia 2012 Preview: Our guide to the year's first Grand Tour
Includes stage-by-stage analysis of the route by Geraint Thomas, who's racing it with Team Sky
Denmark will be awash with pink over the next three days as it hosts the start of the 2012 Giro d'Italia in what is the most northerly departure ever undertaken by one of cycling's three Grand Tours. The race also marks the start of our Premium Fantasy Cycling competition, with a Jamis Xenith bike on offer to the winner - head over here to sign up, if you haven't done so already. Here's our guide to what promises as ever to be a thrilling three weeks.
Following a 2011 race that was overshadowed by the tragic death of Wouter Weylandt, followed by controversy as the planned ascent of Monte Crostis was abandoned and the amended route of that stage itself changed midway through, not to mention a winner in the shape of Alberto Contador who was subsequently stripped of his title, organisers will be hoping that the drama this year will be confined to the racing itself.
Last year's chaos led to the departure of race director Angelo Zomegnan under whom the route of the race had become increasingly more difficult from year to year, and when his successor Michele Acquarone unveliled this year's route, it was hailed as a more "human" itinerary.
Essentially, the race divides into three segments, bookended by a short opening time trial in Herning and a longer one in Milan. The opening week or so offers plenty of opportunities for sprinters including world champion Mark Cavendish, although the opening two road stages in the flat landscape of Jutland could see the wind that blows in from the North Sea provide a repeat of the incident-packed early stages of the 2010 edition, which began in the Netherlands.
There are still some opportunities for the sprinters in the middle week, but this phase of the race is characterised more by medium mountain stages, as the Giro heads down through the mountainous terrain of central Italy towards Naples, then back towards the north west of the country.
The third Saturday of the race sees the peloton head into the Alps for the first of five stages in the high mountains, punctuated by a couple of gentler ones. The last of those mountain stages, including an ascent of the Mortirolo and a finish on the Passo dello Stelvio, will witness the final showdown ahead of the closing day's time trial in Milan.
The inclusion of those two ascents followed a vote by fans on Twitter and Facebook, with Giro organisers RCS Sport providing a best-in-class example of how sports events can engage with the public through social media; supporters of the race also helped design this year's maglia rosa, but a change in colour of one of the other jerseys has provoked mixed feelings, with green replaced by blue for the mountains classification.
In our stage-by-stage preview, Team Sky's Geraint Thomas, who is himself taking part in the race for the first time since 2008, runs the rule over some of the men who may figure in the next three weeks.
In GC terms, it looks like being a very open race this year. Ivan Basso and Michele Scarponi have been installed as favourites by the bookmakers, but the former has not returned to the form that brought him his second Giro win in 2010.
Earlier this week, Scarponi was formally presented with the maglia rosa after being awarded the 2011 Giro following Cotador's disqualification, but you feel that if he is to win it on the road as well as via the courtroom, he will need to improve on last year's showing when even excluding the Spaniard's results, he achieved just two second and two third places.
Saturday 5 May
Herning - Herning
Individual Time Trial
Too long to be classified as a Prologue, it’s an intriguing time trial stage that gets the 2012 Giro d’Italia under way. The opening two thirds is very technical, with a number of tight bends, but there are fewer in the last third of the route – so there could be some shake-up between the intermediate times posted and those achieved at the finish.
Even if the CAS had swallowed his contaminated steak defence, it’s debatable whether Alberto Contador would have chosen to defend his Giro d’Italia title, and the episode continues to cast a shadow over Saxo Bank as the race starts in manager Bjarne Riis’s home town. GC hope Jakob Fuglsang of RadioShack Nissan is out through injury, but could Garmin-Barracuda’s Alex Rasmussen be the man to bring home the bacon today? Geraint Thomas himself is one of the favourites after winning the Tour de Romandie Prologue a couple of weeks ago, and says he'll give it his best shot.
GT: Obviously the track speed helped a lot in Romandie and it can help a lot here, although it’s a bit longer. Hopefully Romandie will have helped with my endurance and I can keep that going to the line. It will be a tough one, but there’s definitely a chance of my getting a result. Alex Rasmussen and Taylor Phinney and some of the other young guys who ride the track, like Jesse Sergent and Jack Bobridge, will be up there, also someone like Thor Hushovd. It’s quite testing at the start, so if someone can get round the corners quickly then in the second half carry some speed, they’ll be in with a shout.
Sunday 6 May
Herning - Herning
The first road stage heads west out of Herning before turning north along the coast, then east and finally south, back towards the town when it started. It will be a nervous day for team management – if the wind’s up, some big gaps could open, and with the opening days of any Grand Tour being a nervous time in the peloton, that right-hander 500 metres from the line ahead of what should be a bunch sprint looks ominous.
On the last Giro stage outside Italy in the 2010 race, the wind blowing in from the North Sea was a big factor, causing splits in the peloton early on and contributing to a crash that took out most of Team Sky as they chased the leading bunch. You can bet the weather forecast will be scrutinised particularly carefully ahead of today’s stage, and if it’s breezy, the GC contenders as well as the sprinters’ teams will be fighting to stay near the front.
GT: It could be carnage today, depending what the wind does. You could see crosswinds, and the teams that are strong in those and are quite organised – ourselves hopefully, Rabobank, Garmin, Quick Step, GreenEdge – could do well. It will be a sprint of some sort, but it depends how big the group is coming in.
Monday 7 May
Horsens - Horsens
Residents of Horsens won’t have much excuse if they fail to catch the Giro’s visit today– it starts and finishes there, and passes through again before three laps of a closing circuit in the East Jutland town. En route, there’s a chance for riders to claim the first points in the mountains competition, although with the day’s categorised climb topping out at 159 metres, it’s unlikely to be one of the men who will figure in the Alps later in the race who will have the jersey tonight.
Again, there are some tricky bends to negotiate in the finale, but a long run to the line means the finish line will be in sight even before the peloton passes under the flamme rouge. Today’s stage, by the way, commemorates Wouter Weylandt, who died on Stage 3 of last year’s race, and whose sole stage win in the Giro came on Stage 3 of the 2010 edition.
GT: I think it will be a similar story to yesterday. The roads are quite big but there’s going to be a lot of nervous guys there wanting to be at the front, the GC guys aren’t going to want to lose time, the guys who maybe want to take the jersey are going to want to be around there and the big guys will want to make the most of the flat days. There will be a lot of stress and a lot of fighting for the front, I think. There’s likely to be a lot of crashes, I don’t think the street furniture is as bad as it was in Holland in 2010, but I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of tension in the peloton.
Wednesday 9 May
Verona - Verona
Team Time Trial
The Giro returns to Italy and the city most associated with Shakespeare, although it’s more a case of Nine Gentleman of Verona rather than two with today’s team time trial. Today’s route heads gently uphill into the vineyards above Verona ahead of what is likely to be a fast run back into the city of Romeo and Juliet.
Team Sky have made this a big target, but will be hoping for kinder weather than two years ago when the race resumed in its home country in a similar stage in Cuneo ridden in filthy conditions. Mark Cavendish has twice ridden a Giro team time trial, and won both – the opening stage in 2009 in Venice, and again last year in Turin. As the Italian saying goes, “Non c’e due senza tre” – loosely translated as “Everything comes in threes.”
GT: We’re looking to do a good ride there. We’ve got a few good engines here but the main thing is riding it properly. As long as we get that right, we’ll be up there. Obviously there’s a few good teams – Garmin, GreenEdge, they were phenomenal in Tirreno. Liquigas always seem to pull out a good team time trial as well, but it’s pretty flat so that could favour us rather than them. I’d have thought the winner would come from one of those. Even if there have been winds in Denmark, the time differences between the top ten on GC at least will be small, so it’s also a good opportunity for teams to really go for it and try and get the jersey.
Thursday 10 May
Modena - Fano
It’s a straight run down the Via Emilia today towards the Adriatic, and it’s likely to be a fast one – as befits a stage for which the riders sign on in the house in which Enzo Ferrari was born and close to the town where the cars that bear his name are still made.
After hitting the coast, there are shades of Milan-San Remo with some short climbs hills just inland to negotiate, but the last of those is crested nearly 20 kilometres out and it will be a surprise if a break denies the sprinters from contesting the win.
GT: I’m pretty sure it will be a sprint day. For sure we’ll want it to be a sprint. I’d have to go with Cav for this one. Other than Cav, the guys who will challenge in the sprints will be people like Matt Goss, Tyler Farrar, Thor Hushovd - although he doesn’t seem to get involved in sprints so much now – Francesco Chicchi and Mark Renshaw; now he’s got that first win, I’m sure he’ll be looking for more.
Friday 11 May
Urbino - Porto Sant'Elpidio
Like yesterday, today’s itinerary begins inland and heads towards the Adriatic, but the similarities end there in what is the first medium mountain stage of the race. Starting in the hill town of Urbino, the climbs are short but punchy and come thick and fast. The Passo della Capella, around halfway through, is certain to see attacks, but the decisive move could well come on the smaller climb of Montegranaro, 33km from the finish and with a gradient of 18 per cent.
It’s a day on which the overall lead may well change hands, and it’s worth bearing in mind that Michele Scarponi, who before the race began was presented with the 2011 maglia rosa he won in a courtroom in February, comes from these parts.
GT: It’s quite hard to control this kind of stage. It depends whose got the jersey, they might not be too bothered about making sure it’s a sprint, depending who’s in the break. If we’ve got the jersey, for instance, we really wouldn’t want to give it up without a fight, we’d try and keep it. I think it should be a breakaway day, but you never know – if the team on the front could bring it down to three minutes, say, with 50k to go, it could tempt some of the sprinters’ teams up. It’s one of those that could go either way.
Saturday 12 May
Recanati - Rocca di Cambio
This stage sees the first summit finish of the 2012 Giro, but it’s a lot gentler than some of those the peloton will face in the last week of the race. That’s not to say there isn’t an interesting finish in prospect, however.
On the final climb, from a little after 4km out, the road heads downhill before rearing up again inside the final 2km, potentially inviting attacks from someone able to attack on the earlier part of the climb and tease out a bit more of an advantage on that short descent.
GT: I’m sure a breakaway will go and it will be a case of the GC teams trying to take control a bit there, especially with the drag up to the finish. It’s quite a long climb up, it will be tough on the way up there – it won’t be a decisive GC day, but it will be a fast tempo and a fairly large group at the top. A breakaway could still be away, or there could be an opportunist attack on that climb, someone who isn’t a GC threat but still a strong rider. One of the Italian climbers, maybe – Tiralongo was going well in Romandie.
Sunday 13 May
Sulmona - Lago Laceno
Finishing at the most southerly point of this year’s Giro, this stage heads south east from the mountains 100km to the east of Rome to those inland from Naples, and with the first ascent taking up the opening 20km of the stage, attacks are likely from the moment the flag drops.
The day’s other main climb, the Colle Molella, comes at the tail end of the stage. The Category 2 ascent is just under 10km long with an average gradient of 6 per cent, but features a 3km stretch with a gradient of between 10 and 12 per cent. After that summit is crested, it’s a short descent then a pretty flat 3km run to the line.
GT: This will probably be a breakaway day with it starting on a drag, where generally it’s strong guys who can climb who can make the break. Obviously, it depends whether anyone is a threat on GC. If they’re not, then it can probably go all the way there.
Monday 14 May
San Giorgio del Sannio - Frosinone
Today’s stage heads north west, the opposite direction to yesterday’s, but is 63km shorter and much closer to the coast, giving it an entirely different profile and a rare opportunity for the sprinters, who don’t have too many chances left in the race.
There’s a rolling profile, although nothing too taxing, and the final 2km represent a flat run to the line, although there is a nasty-looking 135-degree left-hand bend a little over 300 metres out that could well help determine who wins today’s stage.
GT: This would be a stage we’d definitely try and take control of, let whoever’s got the jersey control it at the start but then we’d look to help and make sure it’s not a massive group going away and maybe put a guy up immediately with the GC team riding, making sure it comes down to a sprint. As for that bend towards the end, we’ll always look at the last 5k and the run-in and talk about what side of the road you want to be on, which side of the roundabout you want to go round. Then you talk about the ideal leadout and where guys are going to be peeling off, and if there’s any wind or rain, or paint on the road. We’ll definitely discuss that a lot in the morning.
Tuesday 15 May
Civitavecchia - Assisi
Another reasonably short stage with rolling hills, but the climbs are bigger than those encountered yesterday and with a tough uphill finish in Assisi, it’s definitely one for the puncheurs rather than the sprinters.
The closing 4km pack a one-two punch in the shape of two short but hard climbs, separated by a little over 1km of descent, with the final climb on a narrow, stone-paved road in a closing kilometre that on paper at least, is reminiscent of the end of the Strade Bianche in Siena.
GT: This could be a stage for someone like Robbie Hunter, depending how he’s going, on that sort of finish he’s still capable of getting up there, and from our team even Rigoberto Uran, he’s got a decent sprint on him and if it’s too tough for the real sprinters, I’m sure he’ll be in the mix, or even Giovanni Visconti, that sort of rider.
Wednesday 16 May
Assisi - Montecatini Terme
The longest stage of the 2012 Giro, the Poggio alla Croce, just after the halfway point of the stage – and, indeed, the three-week race – could be the springboard for attacks today. The short climb to Vico, 11 kilometres out, may also see some riders try to get away ahead of what should be a fast run-in to the finish, with a couple of corners including a very tight right-hander lying in wait inside the final half kilometre.
The roads towards the end of today’s stage will be familiar to those members of the Team Sky squad who came up through the Olympic Academy in nearby Quarrata, but it’s worth bearing in mind that a couple of days before leaving for Denmark and the start of this year’s race, Italian champion Giovanni Visconti of Movistar, who lives locally, was here having a close look at the finish.
GT: This will be one of the rare occasions when we actually know the run-in really well, it will be a good stage to go for. I think this could almost definitely be a sprint as well, it depends on how the riders are looking, if Cav’s still in the race and still feeling good, it’s definitely a stage we could go for.
Thursday 17 May
Seravezza - Sestri Levante
A stage that starts and finishes on the coast, and heads along it for the opening 50 kilometres, but after that there are a succession of tough climbs as the race goes into the hills above the Ligurian sea. Inside the final ten kilometres, there’s a fast descent from the day’s last climb, as well as a 180-degree bend just 500 metres from the finish.
Alessandro Petacchi, left out of the Lampre team, has admitted he’s not up to this year’s Giro after struggling with bronchitis, and while this isn’t a sprinter’s stage, he’ll have mixed feelings about missing it – he lives close to the start, and was born in La Spezia, which the race passes through shortly before the bumpy stuff starts.
GT: I think another breakaway day, for the GC men, unless they’re particularly dangerous, they’re not going to make any advantage there. It will just be a day for them to limit the amount of work they’ve got to do, really. I can’t see any teams really wanting to bring a break back, it’s tough terrain as well, they’ll have to ride quite hard. It will be a hard day and a big fight at the start, and probably a decent sized break.
Friday 18 May
Savona - Cervere
Officially a flat stage that takes the race inland from Savona on the coast in Liguria into Piedmont, but it starts with a little over 30 kilometres of mainly steady climbing ahead of the day’s only categorised climb. It’s a rolling profile after that, ahead of a flat and dead straight last 3.5km to the line.
Tactics for this stage are likely to depend on what has happened in the preceding fortnight, and will also be dictated by the fact that tomorrow, the race heads into the high mountains. Teams without GC ambitions by now may look to attack from the off, but with opportunities now thin for those sprinters still left in the race, there’s an extra incentive to chase breaks down. Support from elsewhere may be lacking, though, as others look to conserve their energy for the rigours ahead.
GT: Again it’s a hard start so it will be tough to control and a strong break that goes. With it being short as well, it will be pretty flat out. For us, I’m sure Cav will still be there and with two big mountain days afterwards will be keen to go for that, it could be the last chance. I’m not sure whether he plans to finish the race, but if he did want to stop, it would be after today, I’d have thought, so we’ll really try and go for this one. With it being short, for myself, Ian Stannard, Pete Kennaugh and Bernie Eisel, the next two days will just be about surviving and getting round as comfortably as possible, so this will be the last day we can really race hard and get it out.
Saturday 19 May
Cherasco - Cervinia
Some of those who began this year’s Giro with ambitions of a place towards the top of the GC, or even getting onto the podium, will already have fallen by the wayside, but today is the day when the battle for the maglia rosa begins in earnest, the first in the high mountains, and the first big summit finish.
The first 135km or so are pretty much flat as the riders pass the outskirts of Turin and head north towards the Alps, but the stage will then explode into life with two big Category 1 climbs. First comes the 22km slog of the Col de Joux, followed by a descent to Chatillon where the road heads uphill again, with 27km to be tackled at an average gradient of 5.5 per cent to the finish in Cervinia.
GT: For sure, this will be a GC day and you’ll see them battling it out on the last climb. It’s not too steep but climbing for that amount of time a couple of weeks into the race there will be some tired bodies around, so it will be tough. Maybe not a stage for someone who can fly up the steep climbs, but a good, strong climber. As for the GC contenders generally, there’s been a lot of talk about John Gadret, if he can get into this last week of the race without losing too much time on the flat days, he’ll be a bit of a threat. Roman Kreuziger seemed strong in Romandie and could have potential for the podium. Christian Vandevelde, I’m not sure how he’ll race here, if he’s going for the Tour, then I wouldn’t have thought he’ll race flat out, but he could go for a stage, likewise Ryder Hesjedal. It’s the same with Frank Schleck, whether he’ll go for GC or just look to get round and maybe get a stage. Scarponi, obviously, and Lampre have a three-pronged attack in a strong team when it comes to the mountains with him, Cunego and Pietropolli. Joaquin Rodriguez – I’d put some money on him being on the podium, and Katusha will have a decent team time trial and won’t lose stacks of time.
Sunday 20 May
Busto Arsizio - Lecco/Pian dei Resinelli
A second high mountain stage - and one that is very handily placed for Milan's Malpensa airport for anyone who decides they've had enough before the start - today's route has a very different flavour to yesterday, with shorter climbs, and the tail end of the stage reminiscent of the Giro di Lombardia in the mountains above Lake Como – not too far from the home of former Giro champion Ivan Basso.
The climbs may be shorter in length, but from the Category 1 Valico di Valcavia onwards, they will test the riders, and none more than the final ascent to Piani di Resinelli, which hits 12 per cent early on and comprises no fewer than 15 hairpin bends.
GT: It’s a tough one, particularly at this stage of the race. I don’t think there will be massive differences on GC, maybe somebody will lose 30 seconds, but I think it will still be the big names battling it out.
Tuesday 22 May
Limone sul Garda - Falzes/Pfalzen
A gentler day in prospect after two tough days in the high mountains, and one on which the riders who have emerged as contenders for the GC will be happy to let others enjoy the limelight.
It’s the kind of stage on which those who harboured hopes of getting a high place overall but are no longer in contention for whatever reason might look to salvage something from the Giro, while the DSs of teams that haven’t managed to get their sponsors much camera time in the race to date will have ordered riders to make sure they get into the expected early break.
GT: It’s one of those that could be a sprint with a group of maybe 40 or 50 guys going to the line again. For us it could be Rigo (Uran) or Henao if they went in the move, it’s a day for that sort of climber with a bit of a kick.
Wednesday 23 May
Falzes/Pfalzen - Cortina d'Ampezzo
With their stunning scenery, the Dolomites always provide one of the showpiece stages of the Giro, and while there’s no summit finish today, a total of 4,500 metres of climbing makes for a tough afternoon and one on which there could be a reshuffling of the GC – the race may not be won today, but it’s likely that someone’s chances of winning will suffer irreparable harm.
The Falzarego, Passo Duran and Forcella Staulanza are tough, but they are mere antipasti to the main course of the Passo Giau – 10 kilometres of climbing at an average gradient of 9.3 per cent, with ramps of 14 per cent in places. After the summit, there’s a descent of just under 8km to the moneyed ski resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo.
GT: It goes pretty high today, so the weather could play a part. It could be a cold day, you’re at the back end of the race, so a lot could happen. You’d probably say a breakaway could stay away but it depends, it could be a few GC guys going and trying a move. Nibali’s not here, but someone like that who can go downhill pretty fast, if they can get a little gap at the top, they could always hold that down to the finish, even someone like Vandevelde or Hesjedal if they’re not going for GC, it could be one of the days they look to do something.
Thursday 24 May
San Vito di Cadore - Vedelago
Classified as a flat stage, but the likelihood is that most of the sprinters who contested the finishes in the opening week or so will be long gone by now, and the mountains will have taken their toll on the ability to control the race of some teams who might want to do so.
With a drop of more than 900 metres from start to finish and only one climb of any note at Cesiomaggiore, just after halfway, it looks like being a fast one, and taking place in one of Italy’s cycling heartlands means there’s an extra incentive for some of the smaller home teams perhaps to put on a show.
GT: Again, this could be a sprint but it depends whose around by then. If Cav’s gone I would have said Swifty, but of course he’s out now. I’m sure if there’s a decent sprinter left then they’ll try and do it, even so-called second tier sprinters, they could really be up for having a go here.
Friday 25 May
Treviso - Alpe di Pampeago/Val di Fiemme
It’s back into the high mountains for the first of two mountain stages that will decide the order the riders roll down the start ramp for the closing time trial in Milan on Sunday, with five categorised climbs including the 20km ascent of the Passo Manghen, with an average gradient of 7.4 per cent but hitting twice that at its steepest point.
That’s the prelude to the main event however, with a tifosi friendly closing circuit that will require the riders to head up the fearsome Passo Pampeago, with an average gradient of 9.7 per cent and a maximum of 16 per cent, not once, but twice. On the second time up, the finish line is some way short of the summit that will have been crested earlier, but that’s cold comfort on what will be a tough day.
GT: There could be an early attack, but I would have thought a full-on GC day, a tough day on the bike. Me and Ian Stannard will definitely have fun that day – on our birthdays! The last climb is typical of Italy, it’s steeper than those in the Tour, so Rodriguez, that type of guy, a super-light whippet, will be flying up there.
Saturday 26 May
Caldes/Val di Sole - Passo dello Stelvio
The Queen Stage of the 2012 Giro, and one that will be keenly anticipated by fans of the race, whether in Italy or abroad – which is just as well, because in keeping with RCS Sport’s innovative use of social media to involve the tifosi in the race, it was the fans themselves who determined two of the climbs to be included today via Facebook and Twitter.
Those climbs are the Mortirolo and the Passo dello Stelvio, the latter providing the summit finish and, as the highest point of this year’s race, is also designated the Cima Coppi. Featuring 35km of climbing immediately after the descent from the Mortirolo, it’s the very last chance for someone to gain time – or limit losses – before the closing time trial. It should be some stage.
GT: It’s the toughest day of the race, because it means we’re going to be dropped sooner, so we’ll be riding for a lot longer. But for the GC guys, this is a massive day really, guys could win the Giro or lose it. The thought of this stage won’t have shaped the previous few days’ racing, you’ve just got to take each day as it comes – as soon as you start thinking about days coming up, it can start having a negative effect. I think you’ll get a few GC teams trying to send riders up the road here so they’re around to help out when it comes to the back end of the race. Everybody’s going to be tired by now, it’s just about whoever can deal with it best.
Sunday 27 May
Milano - Milano
Individual Time Trial
For the third time in five years, the Giro finishes in Milan with a time trial. Today’s begins outside the Castello Sforzesco, where Milan-San Remo also has its ceremonial start, and at 30km covers a tenth of the distance on an out-and-back course into the northwestern suburbs ahead of a loop of the inner ring road and arrival in front of the Duomo.
Marco Pinotti, winner of a time trial in Milan in 2008, would have been one of the favourites to win here 12 months ago but crashed out of the race a couple of days earlier – the win instead went to Garmin’s David Millar, although he misses the Giro this year as he continues his recovery from a broken collarbone. Pinotti is back this year, however, with BMC Racing, and has targeted this stage.
GT: Alex Rasmussen was second last year despite a puncture so he’ll be up there depending on how he’s come out of the race, GreenEdge have some good TTers such as Bobridge and Tuft, Garmin with Vandevelde and Hesjedal, all those guys will be good there. As for the GC guys, the best out of them would be Kreuziger. But it depends how everyone’s come out of the two big mountain days before. I’ll definitely go flat out for it, in those mountain days I’ll help out Rigo Uran if he’s still around there as best as possible then after that I’ll be soft tapping as best you can when you’re riding up to 2,700 metres. But it’s definitely something I’ll have a good do at.