7 Things We (and Peter Sagan) Love About the 2020 Giro
The 2020 Giro welcomes Peter Sagan… and just when we thought the 2020 Tour de France would be the hardest race of the year, we saw the new Giro d’Italia route: it is quite a debut course for the Slovakian superstar, as he tilts at the sprinters jersey.
The 2020 Giro d’Italia was presented at the end of October in Milan, and all we can say is, “Madonna! What a course!” About 10 days after the route of the 2020 Tour de France was announced, the Giro’s organisers held serve with a vicious course that easily makes next year’s Giro the anti-Tour thanks to more time trials (three at the Giro compared to one at the Tour), longer stages (the Giro boasts 10 stages over 200km as opposed to only one at the Tour), and lots and lots of high mountains (three of the Giro’s final five stages are set in the high Alps, all with more 5,000 meters of climbing). While the riders are shaking in their cleats—Mitchelton-Scott General Manager Matt White called the Giro course “filthy”—as fans we can’t wait. Here are seven reasons why:
1. A Hungarian Opening
The Giro begins on Saturday, May 9 in Budapest, Hungary, (no, that’s not a typo) with a short individual time trial that will determine the first rider to don the maglia rosa as the initial leader of the Giro’s General Classification. This is actually the 14th time that the Giro has started outside of Italy, and we love the race organisation’s willingness to travel long distances to bring the race to wider audiences. Stages 2 and 3 are flat and expected to go to sprinters, but we still can’t wait to see the scenery alongside the road, giving us all a chance to experience a nation seldom seen on one of cycling’s biggest stages.
2. Peter Sagan Takes To The Start
The 2020 Giro welcomes Peter Sagan, who elevates the level of any race he enters, and he’ll be racing his first Giro d’Italia. Sagan attended the route presentation in Milan, confirming his rumoured participation. It’s a bold move: Sagan’s 2020 program will include the spring Classics, the Giro, and the Tour de France, with little time between for recovery. But considering that he won a record-breaking seventh green sprinters jersey at last year’s Tour, is a three-time world champion, and has wins at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix on his resume, why not try and add a stage win or two―and perhaps a victory in the Giro’s sprinters jersey competition―to his long list of achievements? Quite possibly – he is not Peter Sagan for no reason.
We can’t wait to see what he does in Italy—and Hungary, for that matter.
After three days in Hungary, a long post-stage transfer takes the riders down to Sicily for three stages on the island off the tip of Italy’s boot, two of which should begin to reveal the Giro’s top contenders.
Given the long evening transfer after Stage 3, Stage 4 is short but ends in Agrigento atop a four-kilometer climb. Anyone feeling a bit jet-lagged will suffer here, and with a descent into the base of the final ascent, things could get chippy as riders fight to stay at the front of the race.
The next day brings the first true summit finish of the race in what has become a fixture of the Giro’s trips to Sicily: Mount Etna. There are many roads to the top of the volcano, and this year the race tackles it from the north, on a road the race used only partially in 2011. A long, steady climb that saves its steepest gradients for when the riders approach the summit, the climb always comes early in the three-week race, which is why we generally see the GC contenders finish together in a small but select group, eyeing one another closely and searching for signs as to who’s looking good and who’s got their work cut out for them over the rest of the Giro.
4. Ode To The Pirate
Marco Pantani is one of the more controversial heroes in recent memory. As the 2020 Giro welcomes Peter Sagan, so it reflects on a similarly charismatic rider from a few decades prior; Pantani was a small, explosive climber famous for his bald head and dangling pirate earrings, his rise, fall, and death have captivated thousands of fans for decades―especially in Italy, where his popularity has never waned.
The event set-off a downward spiral that ultimately ended Pantani’s career, and more tragically, his life.
This year’s Giro honours him twice: first during Stage 12, which begins and ends in Cesenatico, his hometown; then again during Stage 15, which concludes with a summit finish on Piancavallo (this year’s “Montagna Pantani”), where il Pirata dropped his rivals while on the way to winning the 1998 Giro. And perhaps to serve as a reminder of the dark side of Pantani’s career, Stage 17 ends with a summit finish at Madonna di Campiglio, where three days from winning what would have been his second Giro, Pantani was kicked out of the race for a failed blood test. The event set-off a downward spiral that ultimately ended Pantani’s career, and more tragically, his life.
Well, by modern standards, three individual time trials is a lot—by comparison, the 2020 Tour de France will have only one. But we love the Giro’s willingness to favour multi-faceted GC contenders. At 8.6km, Stage 1 is too long to count as merely a Prologue, and with an uphill drag to the finish line in Budapest, there could be some relatively sizeable time gaps.
The main event is Stage 14, this year’s “Wine Stage,” an undulating 33.7km ITT through the vineyards that produce the grapes used to make Prosecco. This stage could put a new rider in the pink jersey, with time gaps of 1-2 minutes separating the best time trialists from the pure climbers. It also might be enough to attract Tom Dumoulin, one of the world’s best time trialists and a former Giro champion (2017), back to Italy to try and score another Italian win. But the race all comes down to Stage 21, the final individual time trial in Milan. At 16.5km, it’s too long to be merely an afterthought, and if the gaps among the top riders are close coming out of the Alps, it will be an exciting finale.
6. A Fearsome Final Week
The Giro tends to save its worst for the final week, and 2020 will be no exception with three high mountain stages leading up to the final individual time trial in Milan. The climbing starts with Stage 17, a 202km stage with more than 5,000 meters of climbing and a summit finish at Madonna di Campiglio.
At 209km, Stage 18 starts climbing right from the start in Pinzolo and ends with a trip over the Stelvio (more on that in a minute) before a summit finish atop a climb (Laghi di Cancano) in the Stelvio National Park. Stage 19 is almost perfectly flat, but at a whopping 251km in length—the longest stage of the race—it can hardly be called “easy” after almost three weeks of racing.
Which brings us to Stage 20, an Alpine beast of a stage that covers 200km, with four climbs in back-to-back succession in the latter half of the stage. Three of these four climbs, including the climb to the finish in Sestriere, take the riders above 2,000 meters, the point at which the altitude really starts to take its toll. In all, the final week contains five stages over 200km in length and a final 16.5km ITT in Milan to close the race. Wow!
7. The Stelvio – Sprinters, Make Way for the Climbers
In 2005, La Gazzetta Dello Sport journalist Claudio Gregori called the Stelvio “the sacred mountain of the Giro d’Italia,” and for good reason: one of the highest paved passes in all of Europe, the Stelvio is without a doubt a climb like no other.
And don’t discount the descent from the top of the Stelvio to the base of the final climb; it’s long, technical, and has several tunnels that plunge the riders in and out of darkness. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that the weather holds; the Alps often throw a wrench into the Giro’s plans, and on two occasions stages heading over the Stelvio have been cancelled or rerouted because of snow.