We are one week removed from the presentation of the 2018 edition of the U23 Giro d’Italia. The route is insane, featuring a short prologue, two nailed on bunch sprints (and two stages that could be sprints or go to the break). There is a rolling stage to Asiago that will challenge the GC men but not break their backs, and is a carbon copy of the stage Thibaut Pinot won in the Elite Giro in 2017, as well as another Giro mainstay summit finish on day three to Sestola. There is also three very, very tough summit finishes, to Passo Maniva, the partly-sterrato climb to Folgarida and the summit finish to Pian della Fugazze. To top it all off, there is a pursuit-style ITT around the steep hills of the wine country, including the Muro di Ca’del Poggio. The winner of this race will certainly desrve it, as there is nowhere to hide on this parcours. Now, RCS, the race’s organisers, have released some profiles for the stages, and given today marks 100 days until the race kicks off in Forli, here is the U23 Cycling Zone analysis of the 2018 U23 Giro d’Italia route.
PROLOGUE: Forli-Forli (4.7km)
A relatively short prologue through the beautiful city of Forli. Not much to see here in terms of the GC. Sprinters may still be able to contest the win here, but track riders will also fancy their chances. Sprinters like Jasper Philipsen and Gerben Thijssen will be up for the win, but track riders and time triallists like Calum Scotson and Julius Van Den Berg should also be in contention
STAGE 1: Riccione-Forli (137.7km)
What should be a bunch sprint does fact the presence of two third cat climbs in the second half of the stage. The second of those climbs tops out at 20km to go. There is time for sprinters to return to the bunch, but they may not have the legs to win if they are dropped. Conversely, it is probably too far out for an attack to go. However, racing in Italy is fantastically unpredictable. A bunch sprint for stage one is still the most likely outcome for this stage.
STAGE 2: Nonantola-Sestola (128.3km)
If the leader’s jersey didn’t change hands yesterday, it certainly will on the race’s first summit finish of the race at the Sestola ski station. The racing should be aggressive today, as there is 75km of slightly uphill road before the foot of the cat two climb of Sant’Antonio, topping out after 91.5km. There is only a short descent before the rad rises up a cat three climb, which is summited with just under 20km to go. There is a much longer descent before the road rises to Sestola, a cat one climb. The Elite Giro favourite is 11.4km long and is steep at the top, before flattening out in the middle before, in true Giro fashion, the road steepens again towards the line.
STAGE 3: Rio Saliciento-Oriocenter (160.8km)
The flattest stage I have ever seen in an Italian race, outside of the traditional crit stage to end each edition of the Elite Giro. Perhaps, this is just as well, as this is the longest stage of the race, and the riders will need a virtual rest day given what they have to face in the coming days. The profile does indicate an uphill sprint, but a sprint there still will be. And the sprinters need to make the most of this chance, as they face a lot of mountains before the possible sprints on stages six and nine a, and even if they are fresh by that point, those stages are just as suited to breaks as they are the sprinters. We should see the fastest U23s in cycling battle it out on this stage.
STAGE 4: Mornico al Serio-Passo Maniva (127.9km)
Despite the run in to Sestola being much tougher than the riders will face in this stage, the cat ne finish atop the Maniva is the hardest of the race so far. The race is fairly simple, with a cat two climb at 82km serving as a leg softener before the Maniva, which begins almost immediately from the descent, although it does remain to be seen where the race organisers will officially mark the start of the mountain. All in all, the road rises for 36.7km, although roughly the first 11.5km of that is not especially steep. From Tavernole sul Mella to San Colombano, which is a 15.2km stretch of road that leads to the 10km to marker, the road steeps and the final 10km are the steepest of what is a brutal climb. This is the road stage that could really shake up the GC the most in my opinion, as anyone on a bad day here could lose minutes.
STAGE 5: Darfo-Folgarida (125.6km)
Given the pain the riders will have suffered yesterday, stage five is simply cruel. The road rises all the way from the start up until 50km into the race and the top of a cat three climb. After a short descent the road climbs again for around 30km, although the final 10.8km (which start in the fabled cycling town of Ponte di Legno) make up the cat one Passo del Tonale. Along 35km descent follows, before the riders tackle the HC climb of Folgarida. Much has been made of the sterrato climb over the last week, but while it has gradients that can mirror that of the feared and legendary climb of Colle delle Finistre, the 11.8km climb is mostly on asphalt, with just the final 2.2km of the climb taking place on gravel. This doesn’t make the climb easier however, as it is within these final 2,2km that the road to Folgarido is at its steepest. Another brutal stage and another touch of genius from the race organisers.
STAGE 6: Dimaro-Pergine Valsugana (121.7km)
There are not a lot of perfect chances for a breakaway to win stages in this race based on the parcours, although we know that U23 racing is so aggressive that a break can realistically win any stage. But in this race, most of the stages are either GC days or sprints. This stage looks like a sprint, but after the two marathon slogs in the mountains, there is a chance the sprinters and their teams may be tired. A mostly flat stage has two cat three climbs, the latter of which comes with 16.4km to go. Again, the road at the finish means there will be an uphill sprint. There is a chance this comes down to a bunch sprint, but there is a great chance a breakaway succeeds on this stage.
STAGE 7: Schio-Pian della Fugazze (135.4km)
The final road stage for the GC riders to gain a lead ahead of the pursuit style time trial two days later. The fist half of the stage is flat, before a cat three climb at 78.6km breaks the tension in the bunch. The cat two Passo Zova is just 5.9km long but does have some steep gradients, but coming just under 40km from the line, it is not likely to be more than a leg softener. A short descent before some relatively valley roads follow, before the road begins to tilt upwards to burn the riders legs more. Once the riders reach Valli del Passubia, the cat one climb to Pian della Fugazze begins. The climb is 11.4km long, but the opening few kilometres are not very steep, meaning the final 8-9km are steeper than usual.
STAGE 8: Levico Terme-Asiago (152km)
While this stage is a GC day, it is not so likely to affect the riders at the top of the overall standings. How can I say this? Well, this is carbon copy of stage 20 of the Giro d’Italia Elite from 2017. The opening part of that stage featured the Muro di Ca’del Poggio, which we see in stage 9b, but the HC slog of 24km at 5% of Monte Grappa, before the long descent and few kilometres of flat road before the cat one climb to Foza, swiftly followed by the rolling roads into a tight finish at Asiago all featured in a stage won by Thibaut Pinot. Foza is 14km long at around 6%, although it does bite towards the top with grades of 11%, enough to shake Tom Dumoulin in the pro race, although he limited his losses well on the rolling roads. There are no real U23s built like him though, so most riders distanced on Foza will find it hard to make it back. But the best climbers should be able to keep together and contest the stage in a sprint, that is unless this day is taken easier with tomorrow’s split stage in mind. This is the second of three possible chances the breakaway will get in this race.
STAGE 9a: Conegliano-Valdobbiadene (75.6km)
And here is the final chance for a break. This could be a final chance at glory for the sprinters too, which makes four in total provided they take every chance they get. They do face an early cat three climb, before taking on the cat two climb to Combai, topping out at 23.3km to go. However, Valdobbiadene finds itself in the heart of Italian wine country, and was used in a rolling TT in the 2014 Giro won by Rigoberto Uran. While the climb into Valdobbiadene is not categorised, it may actually be quite steep if it is the same hill that featured towards the end of that Giro TT. The climb tops out with around 3km to go, although it is false flat all the way to the line. This stage could be anything from a breakaway, a bunch sprint, a puncheur group, a solo attacker or a group of attackers. It is this uncertainty that makes Italian racing so great. One thing is for sure though, is that the Giro’s GC favourites will not be too keen to expend energy attacking, not with the brute of an ITT to come later in the day…
STAGE 9b: Muro di Ca’del Poggio-Muro di Ca’del Poggio (21.2km)
Remember when I said the inclusion of the sterrato Folgarido climb was genius from the race organisers? Well this ITT comes from the other side of that line: madness. Lets just get the course out of the way first. The first 3.5km km descends the Muro di Ca’del Poggio, followed by another few flat kilometres. From there the riders go up the less than 1km long Manzana climb, but that has a max grade of 12%. After that the road rises and falls all the way to the 15.4km mark (there is an intermediate time check at 11.7km). that 15.4km mark is the top of another rise, known as Confin, which is longer than Manzana, but is still very steep at the top, with a grade of 10%. From there, the riders get 4.9km of downhill before they reach the foot of the Ca’del Poggio, the most famous climb in the region. Despite being only 900m long, it reaches a max grade of 18%, which should be the steepest in the race. A simply brutal way to not only finish a TT, but the race overall.
Now for the best bit. However, we must caveat this information with the statement that the organiser’s have asked the UCI’s permission to do this, and at the time of writing I am not sure if it has been granted yet. But race organisers wish to run this ITT like a pursuit for the final top 20 in the GC. So, in theory, the current Maglia Rosa will set off first, and if he leads the second place rider by 30 seconds, then 30 seconds after the Maglia Rosa starts, then the rider in 2nd overall can start and so on until the top 20 have gone off. The first rider to the top of the Poggio wins the GC. This is something that will be great, especially on this parcours, and will make an already interesting ITT a contender for highlight of the year. This event could potentially revolutionise Grand Tour and RCS must be commended for being brave enough to think of this. Now UCI, please don’t mess this up by saying no to it, the cycling world begs you!