(AP) – After last year’s start in Israel and Chris Froome’s victory in Rome, this year’s Giro d’Italia is likely to be a far more Italian affair.
And, with only two previous champions competing, one of the most open races in recent history.
Froome has decided to focus on winning a fifth Tour de France title rather than defend his Giro crown. Vincenzo Nibali is back, though, after the 2013 and 2016 winner decided to skip his home Grand Tour last year. Dutch cyclist Tom Dumoulin, who won the race in 2017 and finished runner-up last year, is also looking for another victory.
The 102nd edition of the race runs from May 11-June 2 and consists of 21 days of racing, totaling 3,518.5 kilometers (2,186.4 miles) between the start in Bologna and the finish in Verona.
Here are some key things to know about the race:
Nibali is looking to become the oldest Giro winner as he will be 34 years, 200 days when the race concludes in Verona.
The current oldest winner is Fiorenzo Magni, who was 34 years, 180 days when he won the 1955 Giro.
Nibali, who has also won the Tour and the Spanish Vuelta, has finished on the podium each of the previous five times he has competed in the Giro and Bahrain-Merida general manager Brent Copeland has warned rivals he is in great form.
”We have worked hard to get to the start of this Giro with the best possible team,” Copeland said. ”Vincenzo has worked tremendously hard to the buildup of this race and his physical condition is at one of the best I have seen in years before a Grand Tour.”
Nibali’s main rivals include Dumoulin, Miguel Angel Lopez, Mikel Landa, Primoz Roglic and reigning Vuelta champion Simon Yates, who led the race for 13 days last year.
Another pre-race favorite, Egan Bernal, had to pull out after breaking his collarbone in a training accident last week. World champion Alejandro Valverde and Fabio Aru are also out with injury.
The Giro features three individual time trials and seven mountain finishes in a testing route which features the toughest climbs during the second half to the race.
In total the riders will have to climb 46,500 meters of elevation, in what organizers have called ”one of the hardest courses in recent years.”
There is just one stage suitable for sprinters in the final week and three high difficulty stages.
The final week starts with a bang as stage 16 is a long, testing Alpine leg of 226 kilometers with 5,700 meters of climbing.
The riders will face the Presolana Pass, the Croce di Salven Pass, the Gavia Pass – the highest point of this edition – and the Mortirolo Pass from the hardest side of Mazzo di Valtellina.
That is one of the toughest days of this year’s race along with the 14th stage, which is a short but intense leg, with 4,000 meters of climbing packed into 131 kilometers from Saint Vincent to Courmayeur.
There are four steep climbs in quick succession before the final ascent up to the foot of the Monte Bianco Skyway.
That comes before the race’s longest leg: 237 kilometers from Ivrea to Como
This year’s Giro will stay almost entirely in Italy.
The race will cross into another country just once – and briefly at that – as it visits the republic of San Marino for the uphill finish of the ninth-stage time trial.
The 34.8-kilometer leg could mark the start of the real battle for overall victory and every second lost will be tough to pull back as the race heads into the mountains.
That day is also the race’s ”wine stage” as it celebrates the red Sangiovese wines of the area.
A number of important social and cultural references will be made over the course.
Stage seven finishes in L’Aquila, where the Giro will commemorate 10 years since the earthquake that devastated the city and its surroundings in 2009.
The Giro will also remember people that have impacted Italy’s history.
The third stage will start from the birthplace of Leonardo da Vinci, 500 years after his death. Stage eight finishes in Pesaro, the birthplace of the composer Gioacchino Rossini.