The 2020 Giro d'Italia route is not one for the faint-hearted.
If you thought the Tour de France parcours was tough, then the Italian Grand Tour organisers have come up with an eye-watering race profile.
Nine stages over 200km long is the headline feature, but a mountain-heavy final week that features three separate stages that each include over 5000m of climbing isn't far behind.
Three time trials and the subsequent outcome of time gaps will encourage aggressive racing.
The full Giro d'Italia 2020 route
The Expert View
Cycling journalist Felix Lowe (aka Blazin Saddles) has cast his eye over the route, and here are his major takeaways:
Mountain mayhem in final week
Before the final rest day, Stage 15 gives the riders a taste of what's in store with a lumpy ride over four peaks to Piancavallo for the second summit finish of the race.
But it's the final week where the race will be won or lost – starting with the hilly Stage 16 which concludes with three circuits and a triple ascent of the double-digit Monte Ragona.
All this is mere child's play, however, when set against the brutal Stages 17, 18 and 20, which include a who's who of fearsome Alpine ascents including the interminable Colle dell'Agnello, the Col d'Izoard in France, Monte Bondone and the mythical Passo dello Stelvio.
Such is the brutality of these long, arduous days in the saddle – which will push the gruppetto to breaking point – that the organisers have had to throw in a flat (albeit longest) stage to Asti on the final Friday: something to keep up the morale of the few remaining sprinters (expect Sagan, for instance, to have already packed his bags) and an apparent day of rest ahead of the penultimate stage to Sestrière.
Three potential Queen stages
Take your pick – it's so hard to make up one's mind. For some, the historical significance of the climb to Madonna di Campiglio (where Marco Pantani won in 1999 before being disqualified for a high haematocrit) makes Stage 17 the Queen Stage, especially given it also includes a maiden ride up the hard west approach of the Forcella Valbona, as well as Monte Bondone and the Passo Durone.
For others, though, the allure of the Stelvio makes Stage 18 the stand-out stage: over 209km the riders will tackle two early climbs, the harder side of the Stelvio, and then the stunning 21 hairpins – or "scale di Fraele" – of the final climb to Langhi di Cancano.
But then again, wait until you see what's in store on the penultimate day of the race: a monstrous 200km schlep up the snow-capped Agnello, entering France for the Col d'Izoard via the Casse Désert, then back into Italy via Montgenèvre before the final climb of the race to Sestrière as the riders break the 2,000m barrier for the third time in one day.
With each of these stages containing more than 5,000m of vertical gain, they all have regal status.
Milan conclusion with final race against the clock
It remains to be seen if there'll anything left to fight for in Stage 21, but the race concludes with a pan-flat 16.5km ITT into Milan which will crown the worthy winner of the 103rd edition of La Corsa Rosa.
Who's your money on? Early race favourites include Ineos' Geraint Thomas, Astana’s Jakob Fuglsang, Jumbo-Visma's Steven Kruijswijk, and the former Italian champion Vincenzo Nibali of Trek-Segafredo.
The Route in Full
Giro d’Italia 2020 – Stage 1
Saturday October 3, Monreale to Palermo (16km, ITT)
The Giro opens with what promises to be a rapid individual time trial. The 15km route is almost entirely downhill, although it does finish with some extremely technical corners with the line almost in sight.
Giro d’Italia 2020 – Stage 2
Sunday October 4, Alcimo to Agrigento (150km)
A one-day style route sees a number of short sharp climbs scattered around a tricky day in Sicily. The iconic temple at Agrigento will make for a picturesque run-in – not least because of the steep ramp to the finish.
Giro d’Italia 2020 – Stage 3
Monday October 5, Enna to Etna (150km)
Mount Etna features extremely early in the race. Simon Yates excelled on the volcanic climb in 2018, riding into pink as his teammate Esteban Chaves took the stage victory.
Giro d’Italia 2020 – Stage 4
Tuesday October 6, Catania to Villafranca Tirrena (138km)
A rare chance for the sprinters on a day that still has a sizeable climb but one that comes 75 km from home.
Giro d’Italia 2020 – Stage 5
Wednesday October 7, Mileto to Camigliatello Silano (225km)
A downhill finish could provide breakaway drama after a lumpy stage ends with a lengthy climb up Valico di Montescuro.
Giro d’Italia 2020 – Stage 6
Thursday October 8, Castrovillari to Matera (188km)
A second possible breakaway day in succession. Stage six opens with tricky terrain right from the gun, with a short sharp climb 25km from home offering another chance to attack, before an interesting uphill finish.
Giro d’Italia 2020 – Stage 7
Friday October 9, Matera to Brindisi (143km)
Take a look at that pan-flat profile and it’s fair to say this will be one for the sprinters… unless crosswinds hit the heel of Italy’s boot on the run-in to the coastal finish town of Brindisi.
Giro d’Italia 2020 – Stage 8
Saturday October 10, Giovinazzo to Vieste (200km)
Is this a day for the breakaway, or could the stronger sprinters stay in contention? It’s a fascinating stage… or at least it will be after the largely pan-flat opening 90km. The second half of the stage barely features a flat metre, such is the volume of punch climbs on the run-in to Vieste.
Giro d’Italia 2020 – Stage 9
Sunday October 11, San Salvo to Roccaraso (208km)
Four categorised climbs mean this is a chance for movement in the GC, although there are far bigger tests to come so the big names may wish to keep their powder dry.
Giro d’Italia 2020 – Stage 10
Tuesday October 13, Lanciano to Tortoreto Lido (212km)
A closing circuit at Tortoreto that features numerous short 20% ramps threatens to open up time gaps.
Giro d’Italia 2020 – Stage 11
Wednesday October 14, Porto Sant’Elpidio to Rimini (182km)
Another coastal stage could be disrupted by crosswinds… but if not then this is another chance for the sprinters.
Giro d’Italia 2020 – Stage 12
Thursday October 15, Cesenatico to Cesenatico (204km)
Stage 12 is a nod to the famous Italian sportive called Nove Colli Gran Fondo. Nine interesting climbs over 204kms make this a real classics-style day.
Giro d’Italia 2020 – Stage 13
Friday October 16, Cervia to Monselice (192km)
Two short ramps inside the final 35km threaten to disrupt an otherwise largely flat stage. The 2km ramp at Muro di Calaone includes sections exceeding 20%.
Giro d’Italia 2020 – Stage 14
Saturday October 17, Conegliano to Valdobbiadene (34.1km ITT)
This 34.1km ITT is a very different proposition from the race against the clock that kicked the Giro off in Sicily. A tough ramp inside the opening 8km could see big time losses early on.
Giro d’Italia 2020 – Stage 15
Sunday October 18, Rivolto to Piancavallo (185km)
There are four significant climbs on this tricky mountain stage, with the final summit finish to Piancavello particularly steep in the opening 6k of the climb.
Giro d’Italia 2020 – Stage 16
Tuesday October 20, Udine to San Daniele del Fruili (229km)
A 229km classics-style stage kicks off the final week in impressive fashion. The big climb of the Madonnina del Domm will sap the legs early, before a circuit featuring 15% ramps on three separate occasions.
Giro d’Italia 2020 – Stage 17
Wednesday October 21, Bassano del Grappa to Madonna di Campiglio (203km)
The Giro hits the business end as the mountains arrive in style. The riders will tackle the Forcella Valbona, Monte Bondone, Aldeno, Passo Durone and the Madonna di Campiglio, with over 5000m of ascending in total in the stage.
Giro d’Italia 2020 – Stage 18
Thursday October 22, Pinzolo to Lago di Cancano (207km)
Another massive mountain day sees the riders tackle over 5000m of ascending for a successive stage. This time that includes the famous Stelvio (2020 Cima Coppi), followed almost immediately by the tricky summit finish climb to Laghi di Cancano.
Giro d’Italia 2020 – Stage 19
Friday October 23, Morbegno to Asti (251km)
Stage 19 is a respite for the riders… if you can call a 251km stage a respite. This relatively flat stage should lead to a bunch sprint, but there will be some very tired legs in the peloton so don’t be surprised to see some drama.
Giro d’Italia 2020 – Stage 20
Saturday October 24, Alba to Sestriere (198km)
If Stage 18 wasn’t enough mountains, the Giro delivers again, including a brief crossing into the French alps during this stage. The Colle dell’Agnello, Col d’Izoard and Monginevro are all tackled, before a summit finish on Sestriere, where Chris Froome famously triumphed in his race-defining win in 2018.
Giro d’Italia 2020 – Stage 21
Sunday October 25, Cernusco di Naviglio to Milan (16.5km ITT)
There’s no procession to the line in the Giro. Stage 21 is a 16.5m individual time trial, which should play into the hands of the power riders. If time gaps are small then this could be a hugely interesting stage with the title on the line.