Once again, the Giro d’Italia has presented a spectacular 2023 route with the hardest mountain stages in pro cycling. However recent history cautions cycling fans to lift their hopes too much, and it remains to be seen how many of them will actually take place. Next to the six mountain stages (three of them in the third week ), the parcours also features an extremely difficult mountain time trial to Monte Lussari and another two, mostly flat, time trials, which are 20km and 34km long respectively.
Remco Evenepoel, the big favourite for the Maglia Rosa, has already put on a show in the first of them. He beat Filippo Ganna by 22 seconds, with all GC contenders except Joao Almeida (29 seconds) already over 40 seconds behind. If the Belgian can keep this incredible shape for three weeks, it is hard to see him not winning, but especially the third week will give his opponents multiple chances to hope for a weakness.
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In this article we will preview all the decisive climbs of the Giro d’Italia 2023. This includes previous performances on the climbs, expected watts and predictions as to which riders each climb is suited towards. All watts and times are calculated using standard values for wind, draft, temperature and etalon weight of 60kg.
Lago Laceno, Stage 4.
The climb to Lago Laceno is a great short climb, that will be a good indicator of who the main contenders of Il Giro will be. With its 4,3km @ 8,74%, it is a very similar ascent to the Arrate Izua climb, on which Jonas Vingegaard performed exceptionally well a month ago, but can also be compared to Colle Passerino, where Joao Almeida lost over 3 minutes in the 2021 edition of Il Giro.
A similar scenario is very unlikely for Almeida, as he will have learned to fuel properly after this experience and a climb like this actually suits him quite well. Next to Almeida, Roglic and Evenepoel have also shown to be excellent on these climbs. If Remco rides this Giro with a similar strategy to his Vuelta last year, he can already blow this race apart on this climb, but such a scenario is more unlikely with the very difficult third week looming and his healthy time advantage from the opening time trial in the bank.
If Evenepoel really decides to split the race on this climb, the climbing record of Alex Zülle from 1998 is in danger. The record of 11’32min @ 7,20ᵉw/kg is undoubtedly fast and the performance even managed to drop Marco Pantani, who would go on to win the Giro that year, but an unleashed Evenepoel can go even faster.
ᵉW/KG Prediction: 7,30ᵉw/kg ~ 11’07min – 23’21km/h – 2029 VAM
Gran Sasso d’Italia, Stage 7.
Considering the four meter snow walls on the Grand Sasso currently, it is unclear if this stage can even take place as intended. Another possibility is that there will be issues to broadcast the race, like in 1999, when Marco Pantani won and set the climbing record of around 11’06min on the last ramp.
The watts on this final stretch (3,9km at 8,26%), which we calculate, will never seem as impressive, due to this only being the very last part of the full 26,5km at 3,4% climb. It is very irregular and consists of three main sections: First 13,8km at 5,9%, followed by an undulating 8,8km, before the final steep stretch mentioned above.
Due to the nature of the climb, action before the last 3,9km is almost impossible, but the long constant climbing might lead to surprising gaps in the last stretch. The main favourites should be fine here, but some of the secondary threats could already struggle to keep up. It will be especially interesting to see how Geraint Thomas will perform on this stage, as he was still struggling on the climbs in the Tour of the Alps and might have come into this race undercooked.
ᵉW/KG Prediction: 6,80ᵉw/kg ~ 10’13min – 22’90km/h – 1891 VAM
Croix de Coeur, Stage 13.
Stage 13 is the first monster mountain stage of the race, featuring 5212 meters of elevation gain and three massive climbs, two of which are to high altitude. The first ascent of the day, Col du Grand San Bernard, will already fatigue the riders massively, being 24,3km long and 5,5%. Topping out at 2470m, the mountain also serves as the Cima Coppi, the highest point of the race.
Croix de Coeur is an even tougher challenge, being one of the hardest climbs in pro cycling. The ascent is 15,4km long and 8,69% steep, topping out at 2167 meters of altitude. What makes this climb especially difficult, is that the hardest parts of the climb are in the second half, at higher altitude. After entering the Verbier town, the gradient kicks up to 9,2% for the last 8,7km.
The gaps at this point of the race will not be massive between the favourites, although the 34km time trial on Stage 9 will have badly hurt many GC ambitions, perhaps motivating some early attacks. Unfortunately, the long valley before the final climb, makes an attack on this climb very unlikely, especially with all the stages still to come. Therefore, this climb will sadly ‘only’ be used to add fatigue to the legs of the major contenders before the final ascent.
ᵉW/KG Prediction: 5,60ᵉw/kg ~ 50’20min – 18’36km/h – 1596 VAM
Crans Montana, Stage 13.
After the two massive altitude climbs before, the ascent to Crans Montana is certainly the easiest climb of the day. Without the super hard stage before, massive time gaps on this climb would be unlikely, as it is only 13km long and 7,21% steep. Thanks to the previous difficulties on the day, those gaps are very much expected however.
Due to stages with over 5000 meters of elevation gain being so rare in cycling, it is hard to predict which riders will perform on them. Nontheless, Remco Evenepoel should be the favourite, as he performs increasingly well, the harder the race gets. In the Volta a Catalunya he only managed to drop Roglic on the multi mountain stage, while the Slovenian was fine on both unipuerto mountain stages.
A domestique to watch out for on this stage is Jan Hirt, who always performs exceptionally on the hardest Giro mountain stages. He could be a massive help for Evenepoel on this day.
The Crans Montana ski resort has been the stage of legendary mountain stages, such as Laurent Fignon’s triumphant victory in the yellow jersey of the 1984 Tour de France, Lance Armstrong’s impressive time trial in the Tour de Suisse 2001 and Chris Froome’s first solid climbing performance in the Tour de Suisse 2011. The riders will not be chasing a record on this climb however, as this particular road to Crans Montana has not been used since routes are recorded.
ᵉW/KG Prediction: 6,50ᵉw/kg ~ 32’12min – 24’22km/h – 1746 VAM
Monte Bondone, Stage 16.
Right after the second rest day, another monster mountain stage is scheduled, where the riders will have to overcome 203km with 5851 meters of elevation gain! That is the most elevation gain on a Grand Tour stage since 2016, when the Giro participants had to ride over 5 categorised high altitude climbs on Stage 14. This stage is very similar to the Aprica stage (won by Jan Hirt) in last year’s Giro, which also was a very hard mountain stage right after the rest day, with no opportunity to attack before the last climb.
The action will only start on the second half of the Monte Bondone, as the previous climbs do not offer a good opportunity for a long range move and the first half of Monte Bondone is shallow and irregular. While the full climb is 22,1km at ‘only’ 6,56%, the last 8,4km at 7,8% offer a good opportunity to attack. Despite the enormous difficulty of the stage, the watts should be big and the gaps rather small, as the rest day is just before this stage.
At this point in the race of the race, Geraint Thomas should certainly have reached his peak, so it will be interesting to see how close he can be to the top favourites. He usually performs well on long, hard stages and could challenge here. Roglic on the other hand struggled mightily the last time he rode the final week of Il Giro. He has come a long way as a rider since, so he will most likely perform well too. The same goes for Joao Almeida, who struggled on the biggest climbs of Il Giro 2021, but has improved as a rider since and seems to be in the shape of his life currently.
This side of the Monte Bondone has not been used as a summit finish to a stage, so a new climbing record is almost a given. The nuclear climbing record from Ivan Basso was achieved on the other side of the climb, on the way to winning the 2006 Giro by nearly 10 minutes over the closest challenger.
ᵉW/KG Prediction: 6,10ᵉw/kg ~ 53’55min – 24’60km/h – 1614 VAM
Coi, Stage 18.
Stage 18 is quite overlooked among all these massive mountain stages, but the difficult finale also makes gaps possible. After the 9,7km long and 7,7% steep Forcella Cibiana, the hardest challenge of the day awaits: 5,9km at 9,41% to Coi. This is followed by a short descent and a final short ramp to the finish in Val di Zoldo.
Due to two hard stages following this one, it is rather unlikely, that the main contenders will go all out on this climb, unless one of them is committed to make up a massive gap on the GC leader, similar to Chris Froome in 2018. If the climb is raced hard, it should suit Evenepoel, Roglic, and Almeida, who have elite 20 minute power, while Geraint Thomas might struggle more.
As this scenario remains unlikely, an exciting breakaway battle could take place on this climb. Rigoberto Uran, who won a third week Vuelta stage last year, Buitrago, the winner of Giro 2022’s Stage 17 and Thibaut Pinot, who is back in top shape, are some of the riders to watch out for in such a scenario.
ᵉW/KG Prediction: 6,50ᵉw/kg ~ 18’01min – 19’65km/h – 1848 VAM
Passo Giau, Stage 19.
The stage of Egan Bernal’s never seen solo in 2021, Passo Giau, is back in the route of Il Giro. The altitude climb 9,7km at 9,51% is the third of five categorized climbs on Stage 19 and offers a launch pad for a long range move before the finale via Tre Croci and Tre Cime.
This stage is designed perfectly to make a long raid possible. 40 kilometers from the top of Giau to the finish is a good distance for a solo raid and satelite riders can be very helpful on the descent and on the undulating terrain between Tre Croci and Tre Cime. Joao Almeida is one of the riders, that might attempt such a raid, as he was willing to attempt a long solo in La Vuelta as well. Roglic and Evenepoel are two other obvious candidates attempt such an operation, if they need to gain serious time.
As the final two climbs and the upcoming mountain time trial offer enough ability to gain serious time, such a long range move is not extremely likely however. If the best riders go all out, Egan Bernal’s climbing record (32’45min @ 5,91ᵉw/kg) is very much breakable, but this scenario should not be expected.
ᵉW/KG Prediction: 5,70ᵉw/kg ~ 33’46min – 17’24km/h – 1638 VAM
Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Stage 19.
The ascent to Tre Cime is one of the most brutal finishing climbs in cycling, especially after a stage with 5423 meters of altitude gain like this one. The climb is 3,7km long and 12,11% steep with a median altitude of 2077m. After 18 tough stages and four altitude climbs on the day, it will be a pure battle of endurance.
It is very difficult to predict who will perform on a high altitude stage at the end of week three, but barring a dramatic blow-up, the usual candidates will most likely also dominate this stage. One rider I want to highlight for this stage is Hugh Carthy, who usually performs well on steep gradients in week three, so he should be expected to finish closer to the best than on other stages.
Tre Cime di Lavaredo has been the finish of multiple Giro stages, such as Lucho Herrera’s impressive win in 1989 or Nibali’s dominant ride in 2013, but the record was set in 2007. Danilo Di Luca climbed the ascent in 15’01min at 6,16ᵉw/kg, in pursuit of the Saunier Duval duo Ricco – Piepoli, who had escaped on the Passo San Pellegrino and Eddy Mazzoleni, who joined them on the descent from Passo Giau.
Despite all the difficulties in the stage and the race overall, given the current level of climbers it would be ignorant to believe that the best riders of 2023 will not break this record.
ᵉW/KG Prediction: 6,40ᵉw/kg ~ 14’23min – 15’43km/h – 1869 VAM
Monte Lussari, Stage 20.
After 3335 kilometers of racing, only the last, but possibly hardest, challenge of the race separates the pink jersey from overall victory: A 19km timetrial that includes the 7,3km long and 12,05% steep Monte Lussari. The steepest section of the ascent is 5,4km at 13,44%, before it gets slightly easier towards the top.
This climb will lead to some spectacular images, but the most interesting thing might be the team strategies regarding bike changes. One bike change before the climb will definitely be needed. These bikes for the climb could include some very rare and special gears, that will be needed to overcome the steepest sections of the ascent.
As cars will not be allowed on the climb, soigneurs will most likely sit on the back of motorbikes, holding a spare bike, in case a puncture happens. The same thing happened on the 2010 Plan de Corones time trial, as seen in the picture below.
Just like for the previous stage, predictions are hard to make, but considering his abilities, Remco Evenepoel will most likely be the favourite once again. Roglic’s physiological abilities are also perfect for this stage, but his record in Stage 20 time trials is very disappointing. No matter who the GC leader is at this point, he will be very nervous ahead of this stage, as a blow up could lead to a loss of over five minutes.
ᵉW/KG Prediction: 6,80ᵉw/kg ~ 26’52min – 16’30km/h – 1965 VAM
Considering his superior ability in the time trials and tremendous climbing power, Remco Evenepoel is the clear favourite to win Il Giro d’Italia 2023. Stages with over 5000 meters of altitude gain will be a new experience for him however and the back loaded race with a very difficult third week means any mistake could be fatal. His team is among the best in the race and Jan Hirt is a proven performer on the hardest Giro stages, which is another advantage for Evenepoel.
Primoz Roglic and Joao Almeida are the riders I see as the closest challengers, with Damiano Caruso and Geraint Thomas fighting for a podium spot as well. The very difficult route does make big surprises more likely however. Despite the 73 kilometers of time trial, the mountains should once again decide the overall classification of Il Giro.
Make sure to check in here during the race for watts estimations and articles on the various climbing performances over the course of the race.
Gabriel Stróżyk (@NaichacaCycling)