With the Tour de France route being announced last week the Giro d’Italia followed in close succession.

Not wanting to be out-done by it’s big French (only 6 years older) brother Italy looks to be offering up a spectacular course for 2011.

The official route guide given out in Turin describes the 2011 Giro  as ‘the toughest race in the most beautiful place’. The 2011 Giro certainly looks the toughest race on the map, with 40 major mountain climbs and seven mountain finishes.

Graced by Nibali, Michele Scarponi, Ballan, Alessandro Petacchi, Giovanni Visconti and Damiano Cunego the presentation was notably missed by Basso who was racing in Mexico at the time.

The route visits 17/20 regions of Italy during the three weeks of racing. An intial team time trial in Turin, the race then heads to Parma and then Reggio Emilia and then heads south.

The first mountain finish is at Montevergine di Mercogliano near Naples. It is where Damiano Cunego won in 2004 and first indicated he would go on to dominate that Giro.

The Giro touches the toe of the Italian peninsular after a week of racing with a finish in Tropea and then takes the ferry to Sicily for a mountain on the slopes of Etna. The Giro climbs the active volcano twice: first to the Citelli refuge at 1631 metres with a 18km at an average of 6.1%. The stage then dives back down the Mediterranean coast before climbing for 19.4km at an average of 6.3% to the Sapienza refuge at an altitude of 1904 metres. If you are going to watch one stage – watch this one!

In 2011, the only time trial mid-Giro is 12.7km cronoscalata between Belluno and Nevegal.

Mountains, mountains and more mountains feature in 2011. Three transfer stages across the Lombardy region takes the Giro east for the mountain finale on the Colle delle Finestre.

It was climbed for the first time in 2005, when Paolo Savoldelli managed to hang on to the leaders jersey (maglia rosa). It is 18.5km long and climbs at 9.2 per cent, with the second half is on dirt roads. The tifosi packed the summit of the climb, instantly making it a legendary stage.

If the climbing the dirt roads and the final climb to Sestriere does not decide the Giro, the final 32.8km ITT around Milan will, with the winner of the maglia rosa crowned in the shadows of the Milan Duomo.

Route Highlights:

Stage 9:

You can just make the road out at the bottom.

Fancy a ride up Mount Etna?

That’s right, stage 9 takes the riders 160km and up the famous volcano (the largest active volcano in Europe!) of Mount Etna.

As said, climbing the slopes twice, once to 1631m and secondly to the finish at 1904m (both from around sea level).

The equivalent to finishing on Mont Ventoux or AdH this will be a fantastic day if you’re going to get up early to watch the race.

Stage 10:

After a rest day since climbing a volcano (that does sound cool) the route for stage 10 brings the riders back to the coast and for a fairly serene ride North up to Teramo. If Cavendish is firing on all cylinders we’ll hopefully see him shine here.

Stage 14:

One word for stage 14 – the Monte Zoncolan.

In 2010 is provided an amazing spectacle as Cadel tried to hold onto Ivan Basso’s wheel. The brutal ramps and crazy crowds must make this a love/hate climb for most riders.

It’s 4th year in the Giro, the climb was reported to have hundreds of thousands of spectators on this year, cheering every rider regardless of team or nationality. The brutality of the climb makes anyone who can ride up it a hero (look out for riders racing on compacts and 12-27/29 cassettes – they aren’t just for amateurs!)

Riders Reactions:

They’ve been quick to comment on the 2011 route, perhaps the massive amount of climbing has put the fear in?

Vincenzo Nibali:

“After finishing third in the Giro and then winning the Vuelta, I think I can legitimately aim for victory in a grand tour,”

“I’ll almost certainly be the team leader but that will only be totally clear at the end of the race. We’ll see what happens out on the road but on paper it’s almost a perfect route for me.”

“It’s a tough Giro with a lot of hard stages but I proved at the Vuelta that I can handle the climbs. I know some of them already but there are a lot I don’t know and so will have to go and see them.”

Carlos Sastre:

Supposedly racing all 3 Grand Tours Carlos seem to be aiming high for the 2011 season.

This year he’s finished eighth at the Giro d’Italia, 20th at the Tour de France and eighth at the Vuelta a Espana – no headlines but hardly poor.

He’s riding for a new team: Geox complete with Dennis Menchov. A take-over from Footon Servetto, they are hoping to gain entry to the Grand Tours – something not guaranteed at present.

Matt Lloyd:

The young Aussie who won the climbers jersey this year will be back and is pleased with the route.

“The route looks pretty good, really good. It’s going to be a deep and agonistic race,”

“This year’s Giro has transformed my career. The Giro is one of the biggest races in the sport and has the history to make you a different rider. Everyone always told me I could do something and when it does happen, it feels good and it was nice it happened at the Giro.”

Ivan Basso:

This wouldn’t be complete without the view of this year’s winner.

“I like the route a lot. It’s got everything and is perfect for me. Who said I’m not going to ride it?”

“I’ve noticed that with the dirt roads, the testing descents, the tough roads and the possible traps, there won’t be any easy or transfer stages. The strongest rider will definitely win and he’ll be a climber.”

“The Giro has everything and everything is there in the right amount. I think the Zoncolan stage best reflects the spirit of the 2011 Giro. I dropped Evans and it changed my career. In 2010 there was a pre-Zoncolan and a post-Zoncolan. The same thing could happen in 2011. And if the Crostis is as hard as people are saying….”

Our thoughts:

Will it be possible to ride the Tour and the Giro?

Not according to Sean Yates of Team Sky:

“I’m not expecting many of the Tour favourites to be competing here (the Giro) now because I think it’s simply going to be too hard to do both races in such a short space of time”

On the 2011 route – “It’s savage, there’s no other description for it,” he said. “Seven mountain-top finishes has got to be some kind of record, and the fact that they are hard ones as well means it’s going to be an unbelievably tough race. It’ll be great to watch from a spectator’s point of view though.”

This just as Carlos Sastre announces he’s riding all 3!




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