You’re glad to be back in the home of the Giro, with your cupboards freshly stocked with goods from the Italian deli. After those rapid few days in the Netherlands, your stomach is feeling the extra inches from those caramel stroopwafels and you’ve been in need of a decent mountain fix to burn off those chocolate flakes you’ve had on your toast for breakfast every day. But don’t fear; the Giro convoy safely made it over to Italy on those plush chartered flights and here’s all you need to know to catch up:

RCS: GIRO; GIORGIA + MAGLIE

So far it has been full gas from the start, with Marcel Kittel coming into form bang on time for those early sprint stages, and wiping away any question marks over his condition. But as the stages go on, so too do the climbs and now it’s time for the Giro to weave its way northwards to the Dolomites, before venturing into the French and Swiss alps and the final roll into Turin.

Highlights

As always, the 2016 Giro is going to be marred by mountaintop finishes, hairpin-heavy descents, tunnels and a hell of a lot of pasta. Like any good ‘vendemmia’ harvest, the wine region of Chianti is going to split the good grapes from the bad, and if you manage to nab the pink jersey here you could be fortunate enough to have it until Turin.

Pencil off any other events on 21st and 22nd May, as the six passes and the 4,700 metres of climbing will render the 14th stage more than worth watching. We’d recommend the full immersion – it’s just a shame virtual reality glasses aren’t yet de rigeur: Passo Pordoi, Campolong, Giau, Valparola. What more can we say, this is the Dolomites at their most beautiful and most challenging. Then there’s no time for the riders to catch their breath as the following day heralds the first mountain time trial since 2005 and this 8% average 10.8km climb up to South Tyrol’s Alpe di Siusi has been a long time coming.

Two more mountain stages come later in the week, dipping over the border into France for this year’s highest mountain: the Colle dell’Agnello (Col Agnel for the Francophiles). Now before you scoff at the distance of the 20th stage (just 134 km), go and ride the three consecutive climbs on the Col de Vars and you’ll realize what the riders have ahead of them. Then it’s back to Italian soil with the Col de la Bonette dishing up the final battleground before the victor can raise the trophy in Turin.

Whats worth watching out for

Aside from hard-to-decipher on-bike footage for highlights of the previous day and the Italian penchant for zoomed-in images of the backsides of podium and startline ‘ragazzas’, 2016 has kept us hooked for the past week and the next two weeks ahead are turning up the heat. Are these same guys going to be saving themselves for the Tour de France? With last year’s victor Contador at home, all eyes are on Nibali, who last won the maglia rosa in 2013. The Italian tifosi will be going mad for him and he’s got a strong team behind him. But let’s concentrate on the outsiders right now, who’ll hopefully snatch at least a stage win: Domenico ‘Dr Pozzovivo’ from team Ag2r, one of the few university grads in the peloton, and four times in the top 10 at the Giro since 2008 – even while he was riding for the odd-bod wild card Bardiani CSF team. It’s questionable whether Colombia’s Rigoberto Uran can repeat his second place finishes from 2013 and 2014. Now riding for Cannondale, it’s going to be a question of how his younger teammates can support this 29-year-old through the mountains. And after the first week and still with the maglia rosa on his back, everyone’s wondering whether baby-faced Tom Dumoulin can rely on his sprinter-strong team to see him through his first Giro at the front of the peloton.

If you’re still putting together your Fantasy League team for the next two weeks, then expect the homegrown Italian talent to be a force to reckon with, and teams like Lampre-Merida should clinch at least one stage win. The nostalgic ones amongst us might hedge our bets with Cancellara for at least one win, for old time’s sake, you know. More nostalgia comes in the form of Damiano Cunego, who’ll be hopefully riding this Giro in the name of his retirement fund.

Preparation:

Wore out all your pink garments last week? No worries, dig out those white linen trousers, button up your shirt and pour out a fair measure of Chianti, apples from Trento and some raspberry-flavoured ice cream. Ideally perch yourself on a balcony, or hang out your window – it’s what the best hairnet-clad Italian nonnas do. Soak up the amore and sit back for the remaining drama of the year’s first Grand Tour.

Words: Couch Cyclist Photos: Thomson Bike Tours

Words & Photos: Claudia Zerries