A beginner’s guide to the Giro d’Italia


08.05.19 at 11:44 am

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The month of May has finally rolled around and for us cycling fans that can only mean one thing – it’s Giro d’Italia time.

As the first Grand Tour of the season, the Giro is always met with a lot of excitement and eager anticipation, as fans itch to see their heroes wage war over some of Europe’s highest mountain passes. It’s the first chance for the gladiatorial GC riders to test their form against one another and, as such, it almost always produces a breath-taking race.

For a lot of us, however, these battles between riders can be a little confusing; who is riding for which jersey? What does each jersey mean? Why is that rider attacking his own teammate? Quite simply, what the heck is going on?


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It’s a confusing race is the Giro, so we’ve put together this guide to help you understand what’s going on and give you some insight into some of the baffling things that we’re about to see over the next three weeks…

What is the Giro d’Italia?

For many cycling aficionados, the Giro d’Italia is the toughest test that a pro cyclist can face, with stages that are often harder, longer and colder than any at the Tour de France and Vuelta a España. It’s also one of the most enigmatic and unpredictable Grand Tours, many main favourites flying well under the radar until the final week.

But it does share some similarities with the other two, especially regarding its creation and inception. Like the Tour and Vuelta, the Giro was created after a struggling sports newspaper, La Gazzetta dello Sport, which has always been printed on pink paper, desperately devised an advertising campaign to try and revive their business. Like L’Équipe and the Tour de France, La Gazzetta’s Giro d’Italia didn’t gain a lot of recognition and notoriety at first, but fast forward 100 years and it’s now one of the most prestigious and revered races on the pro cycling calendar.


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Like the Tour and Vuelta, the Giro takes place over 21 stages with just two well-deserved rest days, tackling some of the highest and steepest peaks in the Italian Alps and Dolomites along the way. You thought your weekend club ride was tough? Try doing it at double the speed, with ten times the number of riders, through both searing heat and icy rain, day after day for three whole weeks – that’s the Giro for you.

Who wears what?

Forget everything you learned from our Tour de France and Vuelta beginner’s guides last year, the Giro’s jersey colours are radically different…

Pink jersey: the maglia rosa indicates the leader of the overall classification and the unofficial ‘big boss’ on the road – no attack or breakaway goes without this rider and his team having a say in it, at least in theory. The wearer is the rider with the fastest cumulative time across all completed stages, so consistency is key in this classification.

Cyclamen jersey: the leader of the points classification wears the maglia ciclamino. Points are accumulated during intermediate sprints and at each stage finish, with a rider’s finishing position determining the number of points they’re awarded. This is usually one for the sprinters, but they’ll have to make it through the vicious third week if they want to keep it all the way to the finish in Verona.


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Blue jersey: the Giro does away with the traditional polka-dots in favour of a marine blue to signify the leader of the mountains classification. The jersey, the maglia azzurra is awarded to the rider who has amassed most mountains points over the whole race. Points can be scooped at the top of any classified climb – the higher and harder the climb, the greater the haul of points. To succeed in this classification usually requires a consistent presence in breakaways and some of the best climbing legs in the peloton.

White jersey: awarded to the best placed young rider in the general classification. To be eligible, a rider must turn 25 in the year of the race, so anyone born since 1st January 1994 could wear the maglia bianca.

The key stages

The Grande Partenza will be in Bologna this year where a tough 8km time trial lies in wait for the riders. There will be no grand and ceremonial sprint stage to open this edition, it’s straight into a race of truth with a gruelling final climb up to the Santuario di San Luca.

The rest of the first week is relatively tame, the organisers saving the real tough stuff for the second and third weeks. The sprinters won’t get it all their own way, however; the ‘flat’ stages still have a few tricky hills to negotiate which may see some of the fast men distanced.


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Before the riders reach the first rest day, there’s yet another tough individual time trial, and like the opening stage this one also finishes with a steep final climb. It’s a lot longer than the first stage at 34.8km, and the final climb is a different beast entirely, climbing 900m in just 10km. This stage is bound to create some sizeable gaps and favour the larger riders who specialise in races against the clock, so don’t expect to see any of the tiny climbers at the top of the standings here, despite that beastly ramp.

Week two begins with a couple more opportunities for the sprinters before sending the peloton into the medium mountains that surround Turin and Lombardy. The four stages around these regions mark the real start of the GC battle, with tough category one climbs no doubt catalysing some massive attacks from the main favourites.

The riders will thank the organisers for the placement of the third and final rest day. Positioned just before the ‘Queen Stage’ of this year’s race, it should give them valuable time to recover some of their strength for the hell that is to come.

At 226km long and with over 5,600m of vertical gain, stage 16 is one of the most outlandish days that we’ve seen on a Grand Tour for several years. With both the Passo Gavia and Mortirolo to summit before the finish, we expect that there’ll be a lot of riders almost literally crawling to the line, and some may even abandon the race completely.


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The rest of the third week follows a similarly tortuous pattern with relentless climbing as the peloton trudge their way to the finish in Verona. With their steep summit finishes, stages 19 and 20 may provide a last chance for the diminutive mountain goats to take time out of the TT specialists in the general classification competition.

Of the three Grand Tours, the Giro d’Italia is often the only one to extend the GC battle all the way to the final stage. Where the Tour and Vuelta opt for a ceremonial sprint stage, the Giro ordinarily chooses another, often race-defining, time trial. It’s not a long one this year, just 17km, but with a leg-breaking climb in the middle, it’s certainly going to make or break a lot of riders.

This could well be where the 2019 Giro d’Italia will be decided, in Verona, on the final day of racing – as it should be.

Riders to watch

There will be no defending champion at this year’s Giro d’Italia; Chris Froome has chosen instead to save his energies for July and a chance to enter cycling’s hall of fame as only the fifth rider to score five Tour de France titles.


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His newly branded team, Team INEOS, are without pre-race favourite Egan Bernal, who will be watching from home nursing a broken collarbone. In his place the youthful line-up will be led by young stage-racing talents, Pavel Sivakov and Tao Geoghegan Hart.

At the top of the list of favourites is the 2017 Giro d’Italia champion, Tom Dumoulin of Team Sunweb. The former time trial world champion will be licking his lips at the prospect of this route and its plentiful time trial kilometres with which to punish the tiny climbers.

Sharing the top spot with Dumoulin is Jumbo Visma’s Primoz Roglic, another time trial specialist. Having won both the Tour of Romandie and Tirreno-Adriatico, two big preludes to the Giro, many are touting Roglic as the one to beat in this race.


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After his breakthrough ride in the 2018 edition, where he took three stage wins and spent most of the race in the maglia rosa, Simon Yates returns as one of the main favourites. He’s looking even stronger than he did a year ago, and with a new-found ability on the TT bike, he could be one of the riders to derail the GC hopes of Dumoulin and Roglic.


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With so many mountains to crest in this year’s race, it would be foolish to look past the pure climbers for the overall win. Riders like Miguel Angel Lopez, Mikel Landa, Richard Carapaz and two-time Giro champion Vincenzo Nibali should be hard to beat when the roads go upwards and could just cause an upset if they’re let off the leash.

In the sprints, look no further than the Italian champion, Elia Viviani. With home support and scintillating form to boot, it’s going to be a tough task to beat him in the bunch sprints. Fernando Gaviria, Caleb Ewan, Pascal Ackerman and Arnaud Démare will give it a good go however, and with more than a handful of Grand Tour stage wins between them, they’ve more than enough talent to usurp Viviani as the ‘King of the Sprints’ in this year’s race.

Giro D'Italia

Excited for the first Grand Tour of the season? Of course you are, it’s the Giro d’Italia, only the best of the year! Make sure you follow us on Twitter and drop us a like on Facebook to keep up with our ramblings over the next three weeks.

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