The Giro d’Italia celebrates its 101st edition in 2018 with its Grande Partenza (Big Start) in Israel. Here’s five things we’re keeping an eye on this year:
1. The Giro d’Italia leaves Europe
The race begins on Friday (4 May), but it won’t start in its home country.
The Giro has had grandi partenze outside Italy in the past, most recently leaving from Northern Ireland in 2014 and the Netherlands in 2016.
But never has any stage of the race left Europe, as it will do for its first three stages this year, beginning with an individual time trial around Jerusalem.
— Giro d'Italia (@giroditalia) September 18, 2017
The second stage runs from Haifa to Tel Aviv, and will be one for the sprinters to contest. Day three from Be’er Sheva to Eilat should be much the same, although a breakaway could succeed.
The decision to visit Israel hasn’t gone without controversy, with some groups calling for a boycott of the race.
Organisers also had to remove references to ‘West Jerusalem’ after Israeli opposition to the term.
2. The climbs
The backbone of any three-week Grand Tour is its mountains.
The finish on Etna will be the first climbing finale of the race as the Giro returns to the volcano for a second time in as many years. The riders’ legs will be tested again just two days later with a closing climb up Montevergine di Mercogliano before Gran Sasso the day after.
Stage 11 sees the next summit finish, a short but sharp climb in the town of Osimo. This stage will take in the Muro di Filottrano — an homage to the late Michele Scarponi, who lived in Filottrano.
The cyclists will have a few days of gentler riding before the Zoncolan, making its sixth Giro appearance. With five classified climbs, that stage will play a crucial role in the race for the leader’s pink jersey, the maglia rosa.
— Giro d'Italia (@giroditalia) November 29, 2017
As is usual on Grand Tours, the last three summit finishes come in the final week of the race.
The first of the three sits at the end of an otherwise-flat Stage 18 from Abbiategraso to Prato Nevoso. The climb will set the tone for Stage 19’s queen stage which includes the race’s highest pass.
That honour goes to the Colle del Finestre (2178 m), with its 18 km ascent — half of which will take place on gravel. It is one of four classified King of the Mountains ascents on a difficult day that ends up the Jafferau in Bardonecchia.
If the winner of the maglia rosa hasn’t already been decided, there will be one final battle on the penultimate stage to Cervinia, with three long Category One climbs.
3. Smaller peloton
The International Cycling Union (UCI) has limited the size of the peloton in WorldTour races this season, and the smaller field will take effect in a Grand Tour for the first time at the Giro.
Each team will have to count on one fewer cyclist compared to previous seasons, with team sizes reduced to eight men.
Cyclist safety was cited as the key reason for the reduction in the number of riders, after a number of serious accidents in recent years.
For the general classification contenders, it means one fewer teammate to help. In theory, the move should help prevent any one team from controlling a race.
The idea is that it would prevent strong teams like Team Sky riding all their riders at the front of the peloton to stop attacks, and would make the racing more exciting to follow.
Whether it turns out like that or doesn’t actually end up making a real difference is yet to be seen.
4. A cloud over Chris Froome
Chris Froome is going for a rare hat-trick. He’s bidding to become the third man to win the three Grand Tours in a row. Only legends Eddy Merckx (who won four straight) and Bernard Hinault have previously achieved this feat.
If he succeeds, he would become the first man to do so since the Vuelta a España became a late summer race in 1995.
However, the two-time Olympic medallist is under investigation by the UCI and anti-doping bodies for an abnormal anti-doping result related to the use of asthma medication during the 2017 Vuelta.
He will take the start line in Jerusalem not knowing whether his result will stand if he’s sanctioned for his adverse test result.
Froome has denied any wrongdoing.
Team Sky have provided the Briton with a strong supporting cast. Wout Poels, who finished sixth in last year’s Vuelta helping Froome to victory, is among his lieutenants once more.
5. The other favourites
Froome won’t have to contend with Vuelta runner-up (and winner of this year’s Milan–San Remo monument) Vincenzo Nibali. The Italian sitting out his home Grand Tour to focus on a tilt at winning the Tour de France.
Froome’s biggest challenge may well come from defending champion Tom Dumoulin. The Dutchman has the legs to rival Froome on the time-trials, having beaten the Briton for Olympic silver in Rio.
Some other names to consider include Astana’s Miguel Angel Lopez, who was eighth at the Vuelta, and 2015 Vuelta champion Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates).
Mitchelton-Scott have named joint-leaders in Esteban Chavez and Simon Yates, who are also in with a shout.
Will any of them dethrone Froome and halt Team Sky’s seemingly unstoppable train?