It was clear that something needed to change. The past two editions of the Giro d’Italia produced late twists on the penultimate stage, but on neither occasion did the dramatic denouement feel like an adequate pay-off for the long waiting game that preceded it.
The final week of the Giro has always played host to its most demanding stages – witness Fausto Coppi and Hugo Koblet on the Stelvio in 1953, for instance, or Alex Zülle’s collapse at Marco Pantani’s expense in 1998. But in recent years, it was hard to escape that the sense that an increasingly backloaded race was losing its balance.
Cramming the toughest climbs into the final days was one way of guaranteeing suspense deep into the Giro, but it was an act of engineering with an obvious structural flaw. The sheer difficulty of the third week was making overall contenders understandably reticent to go on the offensive earlier in the race.
The first two-thirds of the Giro, with the exception of the occasional set-piece time trial or hilltop finish, became an exercise in conserving energy for the GC men. Witness the stalemate at Gran Sasso d’Italia in 2023 or the inertia of the race’s second week, where the gaps between eventual podium finishers Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers), Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) and João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) didn’t change by so much as a second. And even in the redoubtable third week itself, the succession of imposing mountain passes often served more to inhibit attacking than to inspire it.
The 2024 Giro route, presented in Trento on Friday evening, marks a change from recent editions, with director Mauro Vegni seeking to distribute the key stages across the entire race rather than hoarding them for the final week, and the overall volume of climbing has also been lowered considerably.
“That was the intention,” Vegni admitted. “In the past, we saw having such a difficult final week wasn’t allowing the riders to express themselves fully during the first two weeks, so we have tried to create a course that has climbs from the first week, and that also features more manageable climbs in the third week. And in total, we have about 20% less climbing than we did last May.”
In 2023, there were some 51,300m of total climbing on the Giro route. Next May, there will be ‘only’ 42,900m of climbing across the race’s 3,321km. In 2023, the final week included two stages with more than 5,000m of climbing and one with just under 4,000m, not to mention a…