The Giro d'Italia is one of the three Grand Tour races in the men's calendar, taking place across 23 days. The route every year travels through various parts of Italy, taking in the countries most beautiful landscapes.
Each day features a new challenge and the Italian Grand Tour has a mixture of flat stages, time trials and gruelling mountain stages. With mountain ranges including the Alps, the Dolomites and the Apennines on Italy's doorstep, it would be rude for the race organisers not to take full advantage of the dramatic landscapes that will lead to an exciting race for viewers at home.
Over the years, the climbs have been crucial in deciding who will be wearing the pink jersey the following day, and ultimately on top of the first-place podium at the end. The 2023 edition of the Giro is no different and features climbs both old and new. Several of the climbs featured in this year's route will be long and steep enough to break up the peloton, with plenty of punchy gradients in the mix that will make each and every climb an opportunity to make gains on rivals. The climbers will certainly have a feast to tuck into, especially in the last week of racing.
We take a look at the hardest climbs featured in this year's Giro:
Stage seven - Gran Sasso
The Gran Sasso climb is the first of seven summit finishes in this year’s route. The 45km climb sits in Italy’s Apennines mountain range, and will be the final showdown for the riders on day seven of the Giro.
Translated in English to the great rock of Italy, the mountain is made up of three peaks: Corno Grande, Corno Piccolo and Pizzo Intermesoli. At 2,912m above sea level, Corno Grande is the highest peak in the Apennines. The finish line for the stage this year is in Campo Imperatore, which is 2,135m above sea level. The riders will have 5% less oxygen available at this altitude – adding another layer of complexity to an already challenging summit finish.
The climb starts steady with an average gradient of 4% before it dips into a false flat. It then ramps up again towards the end of the climb, with an average gradient of 8%. Just before the finish line, the Gran Sasso has a final sting in its tail when the climb features a punchy 13% gradient. While it is the first of many mountain stages in this year’s Giro, the Gran Sasso will provide a great indication as to who has the climbing form to potentially win the Giro.
Simon Yates during stage nine of the Giro d'Italia in 2018 (Justin Setterfield/Getty Image)
The climb was last featured in 2018, when Simon Yates beat Thibaut Pinot on the long uphill climb, winning the day's stage. Before that, the Gran Sasso had not featured in the Grand Tour since 1999, when Marco Pantani attacked 3km from the finish line and won the stage. Pantani also went on to win the pink jersey in that year’s GC competition.
Stage 13 - Colle del Gran San Bernardo and Croix de Coeur
Number 13, unlucky for some, and stage 13 will certainly be unlucky for some of the riders in the peloton as they are face a colossal day of climbing. The second summit finish in this year’s Giro, the route challenges the riders with three demanding climbs as they cross the border into Switzerland.
The approach to the first climb is flat until the 60km mark, where they then reach the base of Colle del Gran San Bernardo – an unforgiving and lengthy ascent. It is also the third highest road pass in Switzerland, standing at 2,469m. However, due to bad weather near the top of the climb, the ascent up the Gran San Bernardo will only reach as far as 1,900m – still no easy feat. The Colle del Gran San Bernardo, formerly the Cima Coppi of the Giro, will be replaced by the Tre Cime di Lavaredo as the new Cima Coppi on stage 19.
The men's peloton heading to the mountains at the 2006 Giro d'Italia (Tim De Waele/Getty Images)
With the same length down as it is up, this is the only break the riders will get before they begin another ascent up Croix de Coeur – a 15km-long climb with a vertical gain of 1,350m. Another descent and a short flat takes the peloton to the base of the summit finish where they’ll then negotiate the climb up to Crans Montana.
As the saying goes, all things come in threes, and stage 13 definitely does just that. As one of the most important climbing days of the race, GC contenders cannot afford to have a bad day here as they come face-to-face with three climbs tightly packed into the route. Riders will need to time their efforts correctly, as they could pay the price on the later climbs.
Stage 16 - Monte Bondone
Stage 16 opens up the final week of the Giro and is one of three tough mountain stages in the closing days. The route has over 5,000m of climbing over the course of 198km and takes in Passo di Santa Barbara, Passo Bordala, Mattasonne and Serrada. But it is the summit finish climb that'll be the final judge of the day. A 21.4km climb from Aldeno to Monte Bondone is where the peloton will tackle steep gradients. After already climbing for 16km, they’ll then be hit with a taxing 15% maximum gradient as they near the top of the climb.
Pacing will be crucial for the riders throughout the day on this stage as they tackle climb after climb. They'll need to tactically choose when to attack and on which climb, if they still have the legs for it.
It has been 17 years since this climb has featured in the Giro, with the last winner of this climb Ivan Basso in 2006. Before that, those to conquer the Monte Bondone included Giorgio Furlan in 1992 and Charly Gaul in 1956.
Stage 19 - The 'Holy Stairs' of the Dolomites
Stage 19 is a majestic stage across the Dolomites, featuring several gruelling, yet beautiful climbs. On their way to the bigger climbs that appear later in the day, the peloton will ride through Campolongo where they'll climb the Pass di Campolongo, which has previously featured 14 times in the Giro.
Descending into La Villa, the riders shoot back up again as they wind their way up the 13.9km climb to Passo Valparola. Hairpins bends are a dominant feature as the road makes it way up through the woodlands and out onto the open rocky landscape. However, these are merely stepping stones to the bigger peaks in the Dolomites. The route during stage 19 then takes the riders to, as dubbed by the Giro organiser, the "Holy Stairs" of the Dolomites – namely the Passo Giau, Passo Tre Croci and Tre Cime di Lavaredo.
The first step of the three is Passo Giau. A key climb in the legendary Maratona des Dolomites sportive, it made its first appearance at the Giro in 1973 and has only been featured a handful of times since then. Standing at 2,236 metres above sea level and boasting 29 hairpin bends, it's a relentless challenge as it climbs for 10km at a 9% gradient.
Brooding, brutal and beautiful, the third and final step is the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, which was first debuted in the Giro in 1967. However, it received mixed reviews, with the final 4km of the climb being deemed as too severe for the riders – even the GC results were annulled at the end of the stage after spectators helped push some of the riders. Nevertheless, the climb has continued to be featured in the Italian Grand Tour, despite it's eye-watering gradients. Most recently, it appeared in 2013 when Vincenzo Nibali conquered the climb in a snowstorm and won the maglia rosa.