MILAN (AFP) — Vincenzo Nibali will kick off the defense of his Giro d’Italia title in 2014 with three days of racing in Northern Ireland before a key final week in the high mountains.
Nibali (Astana) claimed his maiden pink jersey after a dramatic 2013 edition that was blighted by torrential rain, cancelled stages and a snow-hit stage to Tre Cime di Lavaredo in the Dolomites.
Next year’s edition is set for an equally dramatic end with some key mountain stages, including the 20th and penultimate day to Monte Zoncolan, labeled the “Welcome to Hell” stage, set to decide overall victory. Before then, however, Nibali and a handful of rivals including Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), Ivan Basso (Cannondale), and Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Leopard) will begin the three-week race with three days of mainly flat racing in the north of Ireland.
“It’s a balanced and great looking race, but we’ll all have to race well,” said Nibali. “There are a lot of stages that suit the climbers. The big riders that were here at the presentation are the ones that will go on to fight for the 2014 win.”
In a break from tradition, the race will begin in Belfast on a Friday with a team time trial and continue with two mainly flat stages that should suit the sprinters like Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).
After a stage 3 finish across the border in Dublin, the peloton will enjoy a rest day on May 12 before resuming the race the next day from Giovinazo to Bari on the heel of the Italian peninsula.
“I think it’s great. I know that people have been working very hard for many years to get the Giro to the two countries so I think it’s really exciting and it’s a huge achievement for the people involved and for both countries to host this fantastic cycling event,” said Irishman Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff). “For the cycling fans in both countries, it’s going to be a unique experience.”
The race makes its way north with a slightly uphill finish on stages 5 and 6 and another flat stage, which the sprinters and non-climbers will welcome, on stage 7.
The first of five stages in the mountains come on stages 8 and 9, from Foligno to Montecopiolo and Lugo to Sestola, respectively.
After the second of three rest days, the puncheurs — riders who excel on lumpy finishes — will have a chance to shine on stage 10 from Modena to Salsomaggiore Terme.
The next day has a hilly start, but finishes on the flat.
The battle for the race’s pink jersey will move up a gear on stage 12 during a 46.4-kilometer individual time trial which is almost all uphill. From Barbaresco to Barolo, Giro owner RCS Sport has labeled it “The Wine Stage.”
After a flat finish on stage 13, the race only gets harder and harder.
Stage 14 features four climbs and an uphill finish at Oropa before the following day’s 217 kilometers feature a long flat stretch before ending with the climb to Plan di Montecampione.
After the final rest day, three climbs and another uphill finish welcome the peloton on stage 16 to Val Martello.
Another uphill finish features on stage 18 to Malga Panarotta, a day before the overall contenders tackle a difficult uphill time trial over 26.8km from Bassano to Cima Grappa.
The following day will likely see the race’s key stage, in the 167km ride over three mountain passes, including the mythical Monte Zoncolan.
“It’s not as concentrated as previous editions, but they are certainly not easy stages,” said Evans. “You go into the last week already with some stages with a lot of climbs in your legs, not necessarily in the high mountains, but they are difficult.
“At this point we have to look at Nibali (as the favorite), but experience will help guys like Ivan and myself.”
The race’s 21st and final stage, from Gemona to Trieste, brings the race to an end on a circuit to be raced eight times.
2014 Giro d’Italia:
May 9: Stage 1 Belfast to Belfast 21.7km (Team Time Trial)
May 10: Stage 2 Belfast to Belfast 218km
May 11: Stage 3 Armagh to Dublin 187km
May 12: Rest day
May 13: Stage 4 Giovinazo to Bari 121km
May 14: Stage 5 Taranto to Viggiano 200km
May 15: Stage 6 Sassano to Montecassino 247km
May 16: Stage 7 Frosinone to Foligno 214km
May 17: Stage 8 Foligno to Montecopiolo 174km
May 18: Stage 9 Lugo to Sestola 174km
May 19: Rest day
May 20: Stage 10 Modena to Salsomaggiore Terme 184km
May 21: Stage 11 Collecchio to Savona 249km
May 22: Stage 12 Barbaresco to Barolo (Individual Time Trial) 46.4km
May 23: Stage 13 Fossano to Rivarolo Canavese 158km
May 24: Stage 14 Aglie to Oropa 162km
May 25: Stage 15 Valdengo to Plan di Montecampione 217km
May 26: Rest day
May 27: Stage 16 Ponte di Legno to Val Martello 139
May 28: Stage 17 Sarnonico to Vittorio Veneto 204km
May 29: Stage 18 Belluno to Malga Panarotta 171km
May 30: Stage 19 Bassano to Cima Grappa (Individual Time Trial) 26.8km
May 31: Stage 20 Maniago to Monte Zoncolan 167km
June 1: Stage 21 Gemona to Trieste 169km