With Classics season in the rearview mirror, it’s high time to get excited for the drama and the beauty of the Grand Tours. Many of the biggest names in the men’s peloton are headed to Italy this week to set out on the three-week adventure that is the Giro d’Italia.
This year’s race is set to pit world champion Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) against three-time Grand Tour winner Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) as favorites for the pink jersey with the likes of Geraint Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) headlining the list of challengers hoping to follow on the heels of 2022 winner Jai Hindley as the new Giro champ.
As ever, there should be plenty of opportunities for drama and no shortage of beautiful racing in the Italian countryside in this 106th edition of the Corsa Rosa, which gets underway on Saturday, May 6.
Here’s what you need to know about the 2023 Giro d’Italia. We’ll follow up shortly with our cultural preview, aka, everything you didn’t know you needed to know.
Route highlights: A (relatively) balanced Giro
This Giro features what amounts to a balanced route in 2023, with three time trials along the way to check the ambitions of any pure mountain goats. All told, it’s more than double the TT distance from last year’s race. As such, it will take a complete rider to triumph in Rome. That said, the final TT does close out with an extremely demanding climb, and there are some major mountain ascents on the route, particularly in the final few days.
Outside of the general classification battle, the stage hunters will have plenty of chances on intermediate days, with only a handful of days whose profiles scream bunch sprint. When all is said and done, there could be something like six days for the sprinters, but a few of those potential opportunities could very well go to breakaway riders.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the key stages and how they could impact the race – and keep an eye out for a more culturally-oriented look at the route coming later this week!
Right off the bat, the pink jersey hopefuls will have to be on their toes as the race kicks off in the Abruzzo region with one of those three time trials. The first TT is mostly flat with a bit of climbing at the end. Technically the toughest bits could be the early kilometers, which traverse a paved cycling path on the Adriatic coast. All told, the 19.6 km against the clock will set the tone for the first part of the Giro, as even minor differences among the GC contenders will impact the flow of racing and the workload of various teams.
From that point on it will mostly be about the stage hunters for a while as the race sojourns in southern Italy, with the exception of Stage 3, which features a second-category climb just before the finish.
The next major challenge will be Stage 7, which climbs to the awesomely named Campo Imperatore (Emperor’s Field) in the Appenines.
The stairstep profile of the finale, spread out across two categorized ascents, and the finish at 2,130 meters of elevation will be a major early test. The gradients are steep enough for differences to be made.
A lumpy Stage 8 won’t offer too much respite before the next key day, the Stage 9 time trial. It’s 35 km in length and it’s pancake-flat, which means it will go a long way towards determining the GC pecking order and probably dashing the hopes of more than a few climbers.
Finally, the riders will have a chance to enjoy a rest day, and then a handful of less critical days as the race heads north before the first five-star-difficulty day of the race, Stage 13. Climbing from the Piedmont region into the Alps in Switzerland, the stage includes the Cima Coppi (the highest point in the race) atop the Col du Grand Saint-Bernard, the first-category Croix de Couer, and the first-category finishing climb to Crans Montana.
There’s no two ways about it: This stage is going to put riders to the test.
A hilly trip through Lombardy two days later could set up some more interesting racing before the second and final rest day, and then it’s into a brutal final week.
Right off the bat coming out of the rest day, Stage 16 is another five-star test, packing two Cat. 1s, two Cat. 2s, and a Cat. 3 into its final 140 km. It’s the sort of stage that will punish anyone who starts to suffer early on in the parade of ascents.
A sprinter’s Stage 17 will offer a welcome respite before a hard-hitting trio of stages that will decide the GC battle. Stage 18 climbs to Val di Zoldo and packs three categorized climbs into its finale. Then it’s on to Stage 19, whose profile speaks for itself.
Taking riders high into the Dolomites, it features a whopping 5,400 meters of elevation gain, with the renowned Passo Giau among the steep ascents comprising that total. The last few kilometers are extremely difficult – the Cat. 1 Tre Cime di Lavaredo may only be a 3 km climb, but its 12.7% average gradient will not be kind to anyone struggling at the end of a very long day.
The GC riders will, however, face one more major test after that imposing mountain stage: the 18.6 km Stage 20 time trial. It’s an interesting one that start out flat before shooting up a supremely steep first-category climb. Support cars won’t be allowed behind riders, who will rely on motorcycles instead.
With that many challenges packed into a short span of days, this Giro will be unkind to anyone who can’t be at his best all the way through to the penultimate stage. Finally, the race will head down to Rome for a sprinter-friendly Stage 21.
Favorites’ form guide: The big two and Ineos, too
Like so many other races thus far in 2023, it feels like there is a clear order of battle for this Giro, with two major favorites. The Ineos Grenadiers provide the other two main candidates for pink at this race.
Remco Evenepoel, the most recent Grand Tour winner in the peloton, is hoping to keep alive the streak he started at the 2022 Vuelta a España with a victory in Italy. You probably don’t need us to tell you that he is in flying form so far this season. He won the UAE Tour, took two stages and runner-up honors at the Volta a Catalunya, and was imperious en route to victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. As an expert time trialist, he will like the TT kilometers.
The biggest question marks for Evenepoel are his team and his experience. Soudal-QuickStep does not have quite the same level of mountain goat firepower that we traditionally see from Grand Tour-winning teams these days, and Evenepoel has had a tendency to make tactical errors in his young career. With that in mind, this author is actually mildly surprised that he is an odds-on favorite with some bookies. In other words, he’s got shorter odds than the field, which seems like a lot of pressure for a youngster …
That’s especially true considering the similarly impressive form of Grand Tour veteran Primož Roglič, who won three stages and the overall at Tirreno-Adriatico and two stages and the overall at the aforementioned Volta a Catalunya. Evenepoel may have a slight edge in the TT department, but Roglič, the Olympic champ, is obviously good against the clock, and he has more experience contending on Grand Tours climbs at high altitude.
Injuries may have been a cause for concern over the offseason, but Roglič is clearly riding well right now and will be a formidable opponent. Jumbo-Visma has had to retool its Giro squad due to illness, but the team’s depth is such that it was able to swap the reigning World Time Trial Champion, Tobias Foss, for “merely” a former one, Rohan Dennis. Roglič will still be able to count of Sepp Kuss, Jan Tratnik, and Koen Bouwman as well.
Then there’s the Ineos Grenadiers, who will hope to play spoiler to the “big two” conversation. Their two heavy hitters both certainly have the résumés. Geraint Thomas is a Tour de France winner and Tao Geoghegan Hart won the Giro itself in 2020. The “form guide” is a different story. One of these riders has looked great this year: Geoghegan Hart. He was solid throughout the spring in his various racing appearances, with highlights including his Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana stage win and his GC podium at Tirreno, and then he won two stages and led wire-to-wire at the Tour of the Alps. Thomas, on the other hand, was relatively anonymous until racing the Alps in support of Geoghegan Hart.
With nary a stage top 10, let alone a GC top 10, to his name this year, it’s hard to like Thomas’ chances all that much. Then again, peak Thomas is a better time trialist, which could put him in the driver’s seat for the team early, and it has to be said that Geoghegan Hart’s recent victories this spring are his first since that Giro three years ago.
Long story not-very-short, it’s hard to find too many flaws in the two in-form stars at the top of favorites list, while the Ineos Grenadiers enter the race with some question marks, but plenty of reasons to be optimistic, It says something about Ineos’ past two seasons that despite their depth, they’re leading the way for the “outsiders” rather than true favorites. We’ll see if either of the team’s two former Grand Tour winners or the likes of João Almeida, Alexander Vlasov, Ben Healy, or Jay Vine can prove folks like me wrong and stun Evenepoel and Roglič in the pink jersey battle.
Maybe the biggest question mark is Thibaut Pinot. Groupama-FDJ’s beloved goatherder is, as you may have heard once or twice, retiring after this season and says he’s not here to just sign autographs. Tibopino is the most mercurial of GC riders, and his short Giro experience illustrates that: fourth in 2017, and a DNF a year later. Pinot’s vulnerable in flatter time trials, but he’s put together a very solid spring. Ultimately maybe not even Pinot knows how he’ll go at the Giro, but we’re going to find out.
Outside of the GC conversation, there are a few stars who will be hunting for stages, with Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), Mark Cavendish (Astana-Qazaqstan), Fernando Gaviria (Movistar), and Pascal Ackermann (UAE Team Emirates) headlining the field of sprinters and Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) primed to pounce on at least the two flatter opportunities to show off his expertise against the clock.
The Escape Collective star ratings
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐: Remco Evenepoel
⭐⭐⭐⭐: Primož Roglič
⭐⭐⭐: Geraint Thomas, Tao Geoghegan Hart
⭐⭐: João Almeida, Alexander Vlasov, Ben Healy
⭐: Jay Vine, Thibaut Pinot, Brandon McNulty, Rigoberto Urán, Damiano Caruso, Jack Haig, Sepp Kuss
So as not to limit you to the ramblings of just one cycling analyst, let’s bring Abby Mickey into the mix to weigh in on why we should be talking about more than just a “big two” …
Dane Cash: OK, Abby. One day we’re going to have a conversation where I’m going get more creative than asking you to tell me why it is or isn’t about a “big two” or “big three” – but to quote a movie we both love, “it is not this day.” I know you like Tao Geoghegan Hart for this race. More generally that means you’re looking beyond the “big two.” Why?
Abby Mickey: I feel like for a stage race, as opposed to a one-day race, there’s a lot more that can happen. I think that there’s more possibility that Roglič is gonna crash or something. I hope not, but there’s definitely that possibility and there’s a possibility that Evenepoel is coming in too hot – which I think he might be – and will fall apart in the end because the back end of the Giro looks really, really challenging.
DC: Evenepoel has definitely been in flying form, so I suppose there’s a risk that by the third week that that could tail off. What about Roglič though?
AM: It’s Roglič. The guy has the worst luck.
DC: It is true that we’ve seen crashes and other misfortune befall quite a few star riders in the Giro in recent years, sometimes leading to some surprising winners. In any case: Why Tao? Why not Geraint Thomas or really anyone else on the start list?
AM: He looks like he is riding super well at the moment. He looked incredible at the Tour of the Alps. He won multiple stages and the general classification, and honestly, he looks better than he’s looked since he won the Giro in 2020. I feel like he’s also in a really good place. I think that he had a lot of pressure was put on him as a younger rider to be the next great British rider for Grand Tours, and I think that that maybe took a toll on his early career. I think now, where he is in his career, he’s in a better place mentally. And I think that as the underdog for this race, he’s not going to have as many eyes on him. I don’t think that Evenepoel and Roglič are going to be as worried about him as they maybe should be.
DC: That all makes a lot of sense. OK last question: Do you have a dark horse pick?
AM: I don’t think I have any true dark horses, but I am really curious what UAE is going to do because they’re going into the race with some really interesting options as far as the general classification. They have Jay Vine, who’s new to the team, they have João Almeida who has obviously been good but has not really delivered that top, top result yet, and then they have Brandon McNulty. So I think that they have a really interesting team and I’m curious how they’re going to go.
Dane Cash: Primož Roglič
Abby Mickey: Tao Geoghegan Hart
Ronan Mc Laughlin: Tao Geoghegan Hart
Caley Fretz: Remco Evenepoel
Jonny Long: Geraint Thomas
Matt de Neef: Primož Roglič
Hopefully, we’ve covered everything you need to know. Fortunately, that’s not all we have to say about this race ahead of the Grande Partenza. There’s also all kinds of things that you probably don’t need to know, but that we’d love to talk about anyway. For that, stay tuned! Rather than sticking my musings on Nebbiolo and pasta at the bottom of this already lengthy write up, we’re splitting out our cultural notebooks into standalone pieces, so keep an eye out for that this week!