Giro d’Italia 2018 - Amore Infinito ... a Race Made in Heaven

Keith Tuffley - Founder, Grand Tours Project

Dec / 1 / 2017

[The route of the 101st edition of the Giro d'Italia was announced this week - and what a race it will be! Our Founder, Keith Tuffley, has selected his "Top 3" List for many of the diverse aspects of the Giro, and we've designed a collection of fantastic tours on and around the course. Click on the links in Keith's blog below for our corresponding tours.]

As the Giro d’Italia heads into its 2nd century of racing, it’s fantastic to see the organisers creating such an innovative and challenging route through Italy. At Grand Tours Project, we are super excited about the 2018 route, for so many reasons that we’re not sure where to start and finish. But with the race starting in Jerusalem and finishing in Rome, and the 2,000-year religious significance of these two extraordinary cities, I’ll stick to the religious theme and provide my personal list of “holy trinities” - my “Top 3 List” - for the 2018 Giro.

Having studied the route maps in detail over multiple cappuccini and focaccia at the Bianchi cafe in Milano over the last two days, and then discussing it with some of the pros who attended the Giro presentation – Dumoulin, Nibali, Contador – here is my considered opinion … with the hope of generating significant disagreement!

Top 3 Mountains

  1. Monte Zoncolan (stage 14)
  2. Colle della Finestre (stage 19)
  3. Mt Etna (stage 6)

A tough one and arguably a dead heat among these three very different mountains. Mt Etna in Sicily featured in last year’s Giro, and we had the joy of riding with a great group of strong cyclists through the black lava flows – there is nothing quite like riding up an active volcano, and Europe’s largest at that. Long, hard, hot, and exposed … but hopefully the volcano gods have a quiet day while we’re ascending. Finestre in the Alps, a favourite of one of our team members (Alain – who cycled over it when he rode all the way from Belgium to Istanbul), is this year’s Cima Coppi (the highest mountain in the Giro). Apart from being long, steep and windy, it has a 9km section of unpaved road at the top, which will surely test the climbers. But Zoncolan narrowly takes my 1st prize. Regarded by many as the toughest climb in Europe (I place it alongside Angliru in Spain), it is simply steep-steep-steep (10km, average gradient 12%, maxing at 22%), with extraordinary views of the Alps / Dolomites, and unbelievable numbers of vocal fans at the summit. Featuring for only the 5th time in the Giro’s history, Zoncolan was last conquered by yours sincerely in 2014 when I was not at peak fitness – something I promised would never happen again. Training has started!

Top 3 Stages

  1. Pesco Annita - Gran Sasso d’Italia (Stage 9)
  2. San Vito Al Tagliamento - Zoncolan (Stage 14)
  3. Susa - Cervinia (Stage 20)

A really tough choice, given the number of great stages at Giro101. Stage 20 of the Giro is always a classic as it often decides the pink jersey winner, and this one is a beauty – 214km, 3 category 1 climbs, and a finish at the southern base of the Matterhorn, Europe’s most beautiful mountain. I last climbed Cervinia at the 2012 Giro, and it remains one of my favourite ascents. Stage 14 is also epic – it’s a 171km ride over 4 categorised climbs, just to the base of Zoncolan! A total of 4,500 metres of climbing, this will be an exhausting day. But my winner is actually stage 9. I love the Apennines as a cycling destination – they are wild, beautiful, and surprisingly challenging. And in my view, stage 9 will be surprisingly tough. Hilly all day, a very long 224km, and finishing with a massive 1,850m climb over 46km, to the highest peak in the Apennines, the Gran Sasso d’Italia. Can’t wait for this day!

Top 3 Cities & Towns

  1. Rome (stage 21)
  2. Jerusalem (stage 1)
  3. Assisi (stage 11)

I love the hilltop town of Assisi in Umbria – birthplace of St Francis, and simply one of the loveliest places in Italy to visit. I last cycled here in 2012 when a Giro stage raced through the narrow streets to finish in the middle of town. I could easily stay here for a week, or longer, cycling around Umbria and eating and drinking in Assisi’s great restaurants … hmm, another tour to organise! Jerusalem is a huge innovation for the Giro – the first time a Grand Tour has raced outside of Europe, and in Israel of all places. A 10km time trial through this ancient city, mixed with a wander through the Old City to some of the historical and religious sites, will be a new experience … for all of us. Rome has featured only 3 times in the 100 editions of the Giro, so this will be a very rare opportunity for the pros, and amateur cyclists, to ride on car-free roads around the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Circus Maximus … 10 times! I’m looking forward to seeing these ancient sites decorated in pink to celebrate the positive values that the Giro stands for. And given the historical and religious connection to Jerusalem, the organisers have done well to select Rome for the Grande Finale.

Top 3 food & wine destinations

  1. Piemonte (Stage 18)
  2. Israel (Stages 1-3)
  3. Sicily (Stages 4-6)

This is Italy, and Italy means great food and wine (also great opera, fashion, fast cars, and football … despite the World Cup absence in 2018!). The Giro is seeing a lot of Italy in 2018, traveling all the way from the football (Sicily), to the toe (Calabria), to the top (the Dolomites in the north-east and the Alps in the north-west), and then Rome. So there is a lot of stiff competition for the Food & Wine category. Sicilian food is a real favourite of mine, with its Mediterranean flavours and Arabic influences. I’m also looking forward to eating Middle Eastern food in Israel, particularly in Jerusalem. But Piemonte, often regarded as the food capital of Italy and the birthplace of the slow food movement, is my top pick. One of our team members, Luca, originates from Piemonte and his insights into the best and wine food locations in the region will guarantee us a great culinary experience.

Top 3 Hotels

  1. Du Parc et Du Lac - Lake Garda (stage 17)
  2. Borgo Pantano – Sicily (stage 4)
  3. Castello Di Monterado - Le Marche (stage 12)

We’ve found some amazing hotels to stay in on our Giro tours, so we’re looking forward to hosting our guests to these gorgeous places – from medieval castles, to luxury villas, and lakeside hotels. After a big day on the bike, arriving at a good hotel with friendly service is a necessity, and fortunately Italy offers many great options. Once again, it’s a tough choice for Top 3. The Castello Di Monterado on the Adriatic coast is a magnificent medieval castle with great views of the surrounding countryside, with an inviting pool to match. The Borgo Pantano in Sicily is another stunner – next to the ancient city of Syracuse, one of the great cities of the Greek civilisation, this resort is nestled in the country and massive gardens and pool to cool the hot Sicilian sun. My top place goes to the Du Parc et Du Lac in Riva Del Garda which has one the best views of Lake Garda one can wish for. This exceptional resort with is superb food, gardens and service will be difficult to leave.

Top 3 Pros

  1. Chris Froome
  2. Tom Dumoulin
  3. Vincenzo Nibali
  4. … Adam Hansen!

The huge news from this week, apart from the route, is that Chris Froome has confirmed he will be racing in the Giro101. Already the holder of the Tour de France and La Vuelta winner jerseys, if he can win the Giro, it would be 3 consecutive Grand Tour victories – a “Grand Slam”. This has only been achieved twice in history – Eddy Merckx in 1972-3 (won 4 in a row) and Bernard Hinault (1982-83), typically seen as the two greatest road cyclist of all time. In my view, a win for Froome would elevate him to one of the top 3-5 greats of all time! The UCI TT World Champion, Tom Dumoulin is in fantastic form, and he raced brilliantly to win the 2017 Giro in one of the most exciting races in years. And Italian favourite and 4-times Grand Tour winner Vincenzi Nibali, is also a personal favourite of mine … having cycled every kilometre of the Giro in 2013 just as few hours ahead of the peloton, I loved witnessing his epic climbs through the several snow storms we experienced that year. (However, I did climb Col de Tonale in massive snow, which he didn’t … that stage was cancelled just after I completed my ascent!! Which reminds me ... I still need to ask him to autograph the pink jersey I’ve been carrying around for the past 4 years!) I’m also adding a 4th pro – Adam Hansen. Why, you may ask? If he competes and finishes, it will be his 20th consecutive Grand Tour, more than any other pro in history … only 34 pros in history have completed all 3 Grand Tours in one season, and Adam has now done this 6 times, from 2012 to 2017!!! Go Adam.

Froome, Dumoulin, Nibali, Hansen and the other 172 pros will be "following our lead" as we cycle just a few hours ahead of them, on every single stage of Giro101.

So here is my list of “Trinities”. I’m not sure what Pope Francis will think of this, but at least he will be pleased that I have selected Assisi (birthplace of St Francis, in honour of whom the Pope has chosen his papal name) as a top 3 city, only beaten by Jerusalem and his hometown of Rome. I’ll have to ask him when we get to St Peter’s in stage 21.

So what do you think? Radical disagreement please!

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