Start location: Capua
Finish location: Gran Sasso d’Italia
Start time: 11:15 CEST
Finish time (approx): 17:14 CEST
The Corno Grande peak of the Gran Sasso massif is the highest point of the Apennines. Though there are higher peaks to be found elsewhere within the national boundaries of Italy — up north of the Po Valley in the Alps, and offland in Sicily’s Mount Etna — Corno Grande peak of the Gran Sasso massif is the highest point on the Italian Peninsula. At almost 3,000 metres above sea level, the views at the top are awe-inspiring, where you can witness the entire width of the nation, from the Tyrrhenian Sea in the west to the Adriatic coast in the east.
Gran Sasso is therefore one of closest places Italians can get to the heavens, which may or may not be the reason why former pope John Paul II used to visit here and to take a break from his papal duties, and sometimes even go skiing. The current pope, Francis, also visited the nearby provincial capital L’Aquila last year, albeit for more formal reasons. He became the first pontiff in over 700 years to preside over the local tradition known as the Celestinian Forgiveness, an annual commemoration of when, in 1294, Pope Celestine V granted a plenary indulgence to anyone who crossed through the Holy Door of the Basilica of Collemaggio.
Stage seven profile sourced on the Giro d'Italia website
To get to the top of Gran Sasso at the end of stage seven, the riders will of course have to spend a lot of time climbing, and the 45km road to the summit is an especially long climax to stage seven. The organisers have officially split the mountain into two distinct sections, the first being the category two summit of Calascio, then the final road to Gran Sasso rated category one, but for the riders it will feel like one, cruelly unrelenting effort, with only the minor relief of a few false flats on the way.
The gradients are at least not too steep, with the road to Calascio rising steadily at 6%, and the majority of the finale to Gran Sasso not even rising above 5%. But things get really hard in the final 4km, when the gradient ramps up to over 8%, and the air starts thinning as the riders exceed 2,000 metres in altitude.
It was on this steep finale that the action kicked off in 2018, the last time a Giro stage finished with these climbs. Wearing the pink jersey, Simon Yates rode away along with Thibaut Pinot, Esteban Chaves, Domenico Pozzovivo and Richard Carapaz, and out-sprinted them at the top to take victory, while Chris Froome and Fabio Aru were dropped and lost over one minute. It is therefore a proper mountain top finish, and one of the toughest of the race — but not necessarily one that will be decisive in determining the outcome of the race. While Yates, Pinot and Chaves all came unstuck later in the race and ended up tumbling out of overall contention, Froome recovered in the final week to mount a stunning comeback and claim overall victory. Whatever happens today, there is still a lot more racing to be done.
It's time to release the climbers as the mighty Gran Sasso is designed for purist of uphill specialists only. Finally, they'll have a chance in the limelight after a number of sprint stages opening the Italian Grand Tour. But there have been a few tough climbs the riders have already had to contend with which has given us a glimpse into who might reign at the summit.
Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) haș been beaten once before on the Gran Sasso and he'll be determined not to let that happen again. The French rider has been the king of the mountains so far, wearing the blue jersey since stage three, which looks promising for the first summit finish proper of the race.
But he'll have to contend with the leading GC contenders who are looking to make up some time after the opening time trial. Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) is among those wanting to claw back time after losing 43 seconds to his main rival Remco Evenepoel (Soudal - Quick-Step) in the time trial. Going into stage seven, the Slovenian is behind Evenepoel in the GC standings by 1-12, so the Gran Sasso will provide a prime opportunity for Roglič and the Jumbo-Visma team to make some gains. But Evenepoel will also be hoping to extend his advantage, and potentially eye another stage victory too.
Ineos Grenadiers' Geraint Thomas is currently leading amongst the British team, but Tao Geoghegan Hart might just have the edge when it comes to this type of climb. Demonstrating his abilities at the Tour of the Alps in the lead-up to the Giro, he came first overall in a line-up stacked with climbers, winning two stages along the way.
Another rider in the GC rankings who will be looking to make up time is João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates). Italian rider Damiano Caruso (Bahrain-Victorious) could be a contender for this stage and will be boosted by the fact he could conquer such an iconic climb in his home country. His team-mate Jack Haig should also be amongst the race leaders on a climb like this.
Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost), his teammate Rigoberto Uràn, and Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe), should also be contenders here, while Eddie Dunbar (Jayco-Alula), Domenico Pozzovivo (Israel-Premier Tech), and Einer Rubio (Movistar) might be outside shouts at a win.
With a deficit to the main GC contenders and some fine climbing form, we think Thibaut Pinot could nab the win in his final Giro. He may be able to capitalise on the GC contenders marking each other and escape to better his second place on this climb in 2018.