British champion knows what it takes to complete Italy's Grand Tour, here's his thoughts on this year's race

The 2011 Giro d’Italia gets under way in Turin on Saturday, and some very tough stages particularly in the final week or so could see an epic battle develop for the maglia rosa – perhaps even going to the final day’s individual time trial in Milan. Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas, who rode the 2008 Giro with Barloworld, isn’t racing, but he’s looking forward to watching the action of what should be a thrilling three weeks’ racing every bit as much as the rest of us. Here’s our stage-by-stage guide to the race together with the British national champion’s expert analysis of the route.

Stage 1
Saturday 7 May
Venaria to Torino, TTT 21.5km

This year, the Giro celebrates Italy’s 150th anniversary as a unified country. Fittingly, the opening team time trial starts at one of the former residences of the House of Savoy, which provided Italy’s royal family from 1861 until the monarchy was abolished in 1946, and ends in the heart of the new country’s first capital. The weather forecast’s good, but with Turin so close to the Alps, that can change in an instant.

GT: It’s quite technical, especially for a team time trial, with lots of corners. HTC are strong, they’ll know how to ride that. Rabobank too, who won the team time trial in Tirreno-Adriatico, and Liquigas will always be there or thereabouts. If it rains, it’ll be slippery – Italian roads aren’t great in the wet. For the main GC guys, it’ll probably be about getting round and limiting losses, Lampre with Scarponi and people like that. They’re more likely to just be trying to limit the damage on the day.

Stage 2
Sunday 8 May
Alba to Parma 244km

The day will start with a sombre tone due to the untimely death last month while cycling in South Africa of Giovanni Ferrero, heir to the family confectionery business. Ferrero is based in Alba, and has strong links with the Giro, owning Estathe, sponsor of the maglia rosa. Today is also the longest stage of the race is it heads east across the vast plain of the River Po.

GT: You’re looking at a bunch finish today, and there aren’t too many flat stages in the race, so the sprinters aren’t going to let an opportunity like that go by. Whoever won the team time trial yesterday and has a man in the leader’s jersey will have to control things today, especially if they also have someone going for the GC, and I think they’re also likely to be a team with a decent sprinter.

Stage 3
Monday 9 May
Reggio Emilia to Rapallo 178km

Shades of Milan-San Remo in today’s closing kilometres. This may be the Riviera del Levante rather than the Riviera del Ponente – denoting, respectively, the rising and setting sun as seen from Genoa – but it’s the same old coastal Roman road, the Via Aurelia, made famous by La Classicissima di Primavera. The Madonna delle Grazie climb 10km stands comparison with San Remo’s Poggio.

GT: This could be a dangerous stage. There will definitely be a breakaway, and if they can get over the top of that long drag to the Passo del Bocco, when they reach the bottom of the descent, there’s only 25km left to the finish. The peloton will want to keep them within one or two minutes, any more than that and they could be away. The other danger is the Madonna della Grazie, it’s about 7% for 2.5km, and especially if it’s been a long day chasing and they get the break back, someone like Italian champion Giovanni Visconti could launch an attack and get all the way to the finish line.

Stage 4
Tuesday 10 May
Quarto dei Mille to Livorno 213km

Garibaldi’s quest to unify Italy began with his embarkation here, together with 1,000 followers, for Sicily. It will be another five days till the 2011 Giro reaches the island, starting with today’s run along the coast into Tuscany. As yesterday, a short, sharp climb lies in wait ahead of the finale, which could spice things up a bit.

GT: It looks like another bunch sprint today, and if Cav hasn’t got one yet, this could be the day given that he lives nearby. The final climb isn’t too long, and he’ll have a strong team around him, so if he gets over it 20 seconds back he’s looking good. But Alessandro Petacchi will want the win too, this could be his last Giro and the stage passes his hometown. It’s a day for the sprinters.

Stage 5
Wednesday 11 May
Piombino to Orvieto 201km

Last year’s Montalcino stage over the strade bianche, won by Cadel Evans, was perhaps the single most memorable day’s racing of 2010. The organisers have clearly taken notice of the reception that epic stage got, with stretches of the white gravelled roads featuring inside the closing 40km. Inside the last 5km, the gradient hits 15% on the way to the finish in the historic Umbrian hill town.

GT: From the GC rider’s point of view, those gravel roads can be quite dodgy, especially on the corners, so they’ll want to keep near the front and out of trouble if there’s a crash. It will be a bit like a Classic, with positioning crucial going into the sectors. I think they’ll all be watching each other at the front. But a good strong breakaway could stay away, people like Acqua & Sapone’s Stefano Garzelli who won the overall in 2000, although he may still be riding GC at that point. And from Team Sky, Thomas Lovkvist won the Strade Bianche when he was with Columbia, he’s comfortable on those sorts of roads, but he may be riding for GC as well, so he may not get the chance to go in the break. Peter Kennaugh as well, he can climb a bit and may fancy his chances.

Stage 6
Thursday 12 May
Orvieto to Fiuggi Terme 194km

It seems strange that in a year celebrating Italian unity, today’s stage bypasses the nation’s capital, instead heading into the Apennine foothills to the east of Rome. However, the city was still under papal control 150 years ago, and wouldn’t become the young country’s de facto capital until 1871. An anniversary to mark in the 2021 Giro, perhaps?

GT: It’s not a flat stage, but Cav can climb pretty well, if he still hasn’t got a stage, or if he decides he’s just going to race flat out for the 12 days or so he’s at the Giro, could be up for it, or Petacchi, we could see him try and drop Cav on the climbs. But the less well known Italian teams like Androni-Giocattoli, they’ll be on the attack today for sure, and they could be hard to bring back. It could go either way, depending how the race has gone so far.

Stage 7
Friday 13 May
Maddaloni to Montevergine 110km

Italian unification signalled the end of Bourbon rule in Naples, and a reversal of the city’s fortunes. Its economy collapsed, a wave of emigration to the New World began, and it has never recovered. Like Rome, this year’s Giro passes nearby, but doesn’t visit the city. On the last two occasions a stage has finished here, the winner has gone on to take the overall – Damiano Cunego in 2004, and Danilo di Luca in 2007.

GT: Today we’re likely to see the real start of the GC battle, with one of those guys winning the stage. It’s a short day, so I don’t imagine that the break will get too much of a lead, it could all come down to that last climb with the likes of Scarponi, Nibali, Contador and Menchov fighting it out up there. But with legs not too tired, the first GC day can see a big group form with everyone just marking each other. It’s later on in the race where you’ll see the bigger time gaps.

Stage 8
Saturday 14 May
Scapri to Tropea 214km

The cliché of Italy being shaped like a boot is unavoidable today. It’s a straight run down the shin before skimming across the top of the foot and ending up on the big toe. Towards the end of the stage, the race passes close to where eight cyclists from Lamezia Terme lost their lives last December, and it is likely that some kind of commemoration will be made.

GT: The wind is always a danger along the coast, and today’s stage changes direction when it turns west towards the end, and if that’s into a crosswind it could be a dangerous day. Having said that, we’re probably looking at a bunch sprint today.

Stage 9
Sunday 15 May
Messina to Etna 169km

No Sicilian has ever won the Giro, and one of the big favourites this year, Vincenzo Nibali, hails from Messina. Some 5 million people live on the island, and it would be no surprise if most of them came to cheer on their hero. Sicily’s flag is similar to that of the Isle of Man, which should give Mark Cavendish and Peter Kennaugh some cheer as they and the rest of the peloton tackle two separate ascents of Mount Etna.

GT: Being from this part of Sicily, Nibali knows the roads, he’ll be pretty geed up for this one and be looking to make an impact for sure. It’s a big day for the GC, especially with tomorrow being a rest day. The temperature will be a factor, it will be very warm down there, which brings issues such as hydration into play too.

Monday 16 May
Rest day (transfer)

Stage 10
Tuesday 17 May
Termoli to Teramo 156km

The race now swings north up the Adriatic coast and Friday’s appointment with the first Alpine stage will start to loom large in the minds of those with GC aspirations. Today’s stage links two of Italy’s less well known regions – starting in Molise, and ending in Abruzzo, which still bears the scars of 2009’s disastrous earthquake.

GT: Another sprint day, there’s not many of those left, and with Cav heading off soon, he’ll be looking to make an impact today. As for the GC guys, it’s a day to stay out of trouble and not lose any time. But again, with the race turning away from the coast towards the end of the stage, the wind could play a part.

Stage 11
Wednesday 18 May
Tortoleto Lido to Castelfidardo 160km


It’s a very bumpy profile today as organisers give the coastal road a miss in favour of the hills inland on the way to Castelfidardo, a stage town back in 1961, and which in 1860 was the site of one of the pivotal battles in Italian history when Piemontese troops defeated French forces fighting on behalf of the Papal States. The town’s other claim to fame? It’s the world centre of accordion production.

GT: It definitely looks like a day for a breakaway, someone like Garzelli if he’s lost a bit of time on GC, he loves this sort of terrain. This stage could suit riders such as Pzzovivo from the small Italian teams, or even someone from say Vacansoleil.

Stage 12
Thursday 19 May
Castelfidardo to Ravenna 171km

Today’s stage is as flat as it gets in this year’s race – from tomorrow onwards, it’s mountains pretty much all the way to Milan. You’d expect there to be a few farewells said at team dinners as many sprinters leave the race, but with a monster 250km transfer to tomorrow’s stage start, there’ll be precious little time for that.

GT: There’s a few corners inside the closing kilometres, so from the sprinters’ teams’ point of view they’ll want to be in control and at the front. If you’re in the bunch, you have to sprint for them a bit more, whereas if you’re at the front you can cruise round them. So the more organised teams like HTC will be able to deal with that, and any sprinter with a good leadout train will just have to position himself well.

Stage 13
Friday 20 May
Splimbergo to Grossglockner (Austria) 167km

The two individual time trials apart, this is the second shortest stage of the race, and the riders will be glad of that after the journey up from Ravenna. Today marks the start of three tough mountain stages that will see the main contenders for the GC emerge. Unlike on its previous visit in 1971, the Giro doesn’t go all the way to the summit of the Grossglockner – a rare concession from the organisers granted ahead of the weekend’s efforts.

GT: It’s going to be a tough day. I don’t think people will be saving themselves for tommorrow, it’s just going to be full on racing for the GC by now. We could see a breakaway involving the Italian teams again, again Pozzovivo, or Androni’s Jose Rujano, someone who can climb but isn’t quite there on GC. Or even RadioShack’s Ben Hermans, he’s been climbing well.

Stage 14
Saturday 21 May
Linz to Zoncolan 210km

Rated by some as the toughest climb in the sport, the Zoncolan is where Ivan Basso effectively won last year’s race. But this year’s riders first have to negotiate Monte Crostis, making its debut in the Giro, which has a maximum gradient of 18%. The one-two punch of the climbs will provide gripping stuff for the tifosi to watch, but pain for the riders inching up them.

GT: This will be another day when the GC riders just go for it, and you’d expect to see the big names – Contador, Scarponi, and Nibali for instance – just fighting it out, particularly on the last climb, the Zoncolan. It will be a great day to be watching it on TV, and together with yesterday’s stage and tomorrow’s these are big days for the GC.

Stage 15
Sunday 22 May
Conegliano to Gardeccia 229km

Today sees the Cima Coppi, the highest point of each year’s Giro, this year awarded to the Passo Giau. That’s one of several tough climbs that will be tackled on the way to the summit finish at the Rifugio Gardeccia, an ascent that gets progressively harder, with the gradient nudging 16% towards the end, and matters are made worse for the riders by gravel roads, not to mention nearly seven hours in the saddle.

GT: There will be big gaps by now with the previous two days’ stages, and obviously today’s a very long day as well. Some guys are going to lose a lot of time here, while others are going to put a minute or two into some of the favourites.

Monday 23 May Rest Day

Stage 16
Tuesday 24 May
Belluno to Nevegal 12.7km

There’s a shuffling of the order at the top of the GC in prospect today, with a short mountain time trial where the climbing begins some 5km in. The gradient eases off in the final 3km, but it’s the section in between that will see those riders proficient at climbing against the clock pick up time, while those who can ascend but lack time trialling skills may struggle to limit their losses.

GT: Today’s mountain time trial is really a test of riding style as much as ability. Someone like Carlos Sastre, who tends to start a climb on a normal mountain stage a bit further back in the group and works his way through to the front could have problems here, whereas someone like Contador is likely to thrive on it.

Stage 17
Wednesday 25 May
Feltre to Sondrio 230km

While there’s some climbing today, and the Tonale and Aprica certainly aren’t to be taken lightly, the stage will have a different feel to the others in the high mountains. It would be unsurprising to see those fighting for the GC spending the day marking each other – though as ever with the Giro, you never know.

GT: This looks like a day for a breakaway to get off down the road and stay away. The GC men aren’t likely to want to fight it out – it’s not too hard a finish compared to what we’ve seen over the past few days.

Stage 18
Thursday 26 May
Morbegno to San Pellegrino 151km

If there’s a transitional stage in the second half of the race, this is it, with little in the way of climbing the riders heading out of Valtellina, along the eastern shore of Lake Como and past Bergamo. However, a detour there into the hilltop old town could cause splits in the peloton. The Passo di Ganda then the subsequent descent to the spa town of San Pellegrino of sparkling water fame give an opportunity for attacks, too.

GT: Today is the last real chance for a breakaway, and while you won’t see it on TV, it could be really hectic at the start. Days like these can be the hardest on grand tours. Depending how strong it is and which teams are there, it could go all the way. But with that descent to the finish, you could get someone perhaps tenth or so on GC with a bit of balls who might launch one an attack on the climb and if there’s a break up ahead try and bridge across. It’s a day for an opportunist.

Stage 19
Friday 27 May
Bergamo to Macugnaga 209km

Yet another day when the peloton is given a flat run in the opening half of the stage, with the action reserved for the second half, starting with the ascent of the Mottarone. The summit finish is on the Macugnaga, not the steepest climb in the race with an average gradient of 4%, but at 30km, it’s certainly one of the longer ones.

GT: It’s a long drag up to the finish. By this stage it’s all about who’s recovering the best and who’s still got legs left, whoever is feeling the best. The finish tomorrow isn’t quite as hard, so we could see some people go all out today. It will have been a long hard race, and some riders may not fuel up enough and could bonk.

Stage 20
Saturday 28 May
Verbania to Sestriere 242km

The stage finish is at the ski resort of Sestriere, but it’s the Colle delle Finestre, a gruelling 18km climb that hits 14% in places and has gravelled roads towards the summit, that may settle the 2011 Giro for once and for all. It was on this climb that Paolo Salvodelli sealed his 2005 overall win, although at times during the stage both Jose Rujano and Gilberto Simoni seemed destined to take the maglia rosa. In an extra twist, the climbing today doesn’t start until nearly 200km into what is the race’s second longest stage.

GT: It’s an interesting day, if people like Menchov or Contador are there or thereabouts then with tomorrow’s time trial to come, the pure climbers are going to want to try and get rid of them, or at least take a few seconds back. There will be a lot of tired bodies around and anything could happen on the Colle delle Finestre climb. Someone could go away and build up a decent lead and hold on to the finish.

Stage 21
Sunday 29 May
Milano to Milano ITT 31.3km

Milan is the Giro’s spiritual home, but it was left out of last year’s route in what was seen as a snub to the city following a rider protest during the Stage 9 criterium there, due to the perceived danger of the circuit. Today’s individual time trial route goes out from the Castello Sforzesco to the north west of the city before coming back into the city centre and the race’s finish in front of Milan cathedral.

GT: When Menchov won, he crashed a couple of times, and especially if it’s wet it could be dodgy with lots of corners on the course. The usual time trial guys will fancy their chances, for example David Millar, depending how he’s come out of the race, with it being a bit technical, or Pinotti, winner here last time. It’s also a chance for Contador or other GC contenders to jostle for position if it’s close at the top. But it can be dangerous, there will be a lot of tired people, and that’s when you can make little mistakes. So it’s still all to play for.


Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.


Alan Tullett [1570 posts] 7 years ago

Very interesting. Some tough climbs there  19