The final week of the Giro d’Italia is upon us! To anyone who watches Grand Tours, it will come as no surprise that the third and final week of racing at this Giro will be packed with challenging stages, but it must be said that this year’s race is particularly backloaded. If you’ve spent the past 15 stages waiting for the GC battle to heat up, the route will at least be doing its part to give the pink jersey hopefuls ample opportunities to attack each other over the next few days.
Whether they will take advantage of those opportunities remains to be seen, but with six stages left in the Italian Grand Tour, let’s take a closer look at what awaits surprise race leader Bruno Armirail (Groupama-FDJ), Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers), Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), and the rest of the peloton at the 2023 Giro d’Italia in the week ahead.
Unfortunately for Armirail, he will have to come out of Monday’s rest day ready for a fight if he wants to hold on to pink, as Tuesday’s stage 16 is a five-star difficulty day according to the organizers.
Over the course of 203 km of racing in northern Italy, the riders will tackle a Category 1 ascent followed quickly by a Cat. 3 and then two Cat. 2s before a very difficult first-category Monte Bondone finishing climb. At 20 km in length, it will be a long trip to the top on an average gradient of 6.8 percent. It’s the sort of day that will likely see a very small GC group riding into the final few kilometers, with some steep launching pads that could help propel some late attacks.
The next day, the GC riders will welcome the chance to take things a bit easier for what should be an opportunity for the bunch sprint specialists, with nary a categorized climb on the menu and a long flat run-in to the line.
Things will be a bit different for the following three stages.
Stage 18 is an interesting one with a substantial amount of climbing and a very demanding finale, where a pair of second-category climbs await. The penultimate ascent to Coi, with its 9.7-percent gradient and topping out only about five km from the finish, could be a thrilling battleground. At the very least, it will give the climbers a chance, and it will be up to them to take it. Whether they will want to do so is another story, and with two critical days to follow, it’s always possible that the Giro favorites ride more conservatively here.
Stage 19 will be the last major mass-start mountain stage, and it should be brutal. There are five categorized climbs, and three of those, including the finishing climb to Tre Cime di Lavaredo, are first-category ascents. The altitude should play a role too: All three Cat. 1s go up over 2,000 meters. With the shortened 13th stage avoiding the Grand Saint-Bernard summit, the 2,304-meter Lavaredo is the race’s new Cima Coppi, or highest point.
After nearly three weeks of racing, such a relentless day will almost surely see some overall hopefuls implode on this parcours.
Anyone left fatigued by the challenging 19th stage, however, will have to wait a bit longer to take it easy, as stage 20 is an extremely difficult individual time trial.
The first half of the TT is mostly flat, but then the road shoots upward in a very, very (did we say very?) steep climb to the Monte Lussari. The 12.1-percent average gradient is something rarely seen in a time trial, and it will be interesting to see what equipment choices riders make and how those impact their days. Plus, the stage does climb up to some 1,760 meters above sea level, which will favor those riders who are comfortable putting in that sort of effort at altitude.
Sometimes, Grand Tour GC battles are contested by riders with different skillsets, where the climbing stars do their best to put time into the time trial specialists, who claw back seconds in the TTs – but Thomas, Roglič, and UAE Team Emirates’ João Almeida are all well-rounded stage racers who can put in a great performance either attacking out of a bunch or pedaling by themselves against the clock. There’s just 22 seconds between them on GC. And of course, don’t forget Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious) lurking another minute or so back. This should be a close final showdown.
At last, following the stage 20 time trial, the peloton will transfer down to Rome for one last day of racing that will give the sprinters –at least those that made it through the Dolomite gauntlet – one last chance to claim the spoils of a Giro stage victory. As that happens, the Giro will also crown its overall champion.
Whoever that ends up being, he will have earned it in the mountains of the final week.