You don’t need to be into cycling to have heard of the Tour de France. But did you know there’s another epic European bike race? One that can match it for drama and surpass it for shear beauty? It’s time for the Giro d’Italia…

Set against a backdrop of stunning coastlines and spectacular mountain passes, there’s a reason why Italy’s Grand Tour is called ‘the most beautiful bike race in the world’. 

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It’s the first in a triumvirate of epic European stage races that have become the holy grail of bike racing. Taking place in May, the Giro d’Italia is followed in July by the famous spectacle of the Tour de France. The racing season is then bookended by the dramatic plains and hills of the Vuelta a Espana in September. 

Beginner’s guide to the Giro d’Italia

The Giro d’Italia is the first opportunity of the year for the biggest names in cycling to go head-to-head in a three-week stage, the pinnacle of professional mutli-stage races. The Giro, the Tour and the Vuelta each run the length and breadth of their respective country.

They often cross into neighbouring countries for commercial purposes too. This year the Giro crosses into Switzerland for a few stages mid-way through the race. Men’s Fitness caught the race as it passed through Verbier, as UK sports eyewear company and Ineos Grenadiers sponsor SunGod unveiled its new signature glasses for race leader Geraint Thomas.

How to win the Giro d’Italia 

As with any professional multi-stage bike race, the winner is the rider to arrive at the finish – in this case Rome – with the lowest cumulative time. They don’t have to be the one to cross the finish line first in Rome (in fact that happens extremely rarely); they just need to have taken the shortest time overall to get there.

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In fact it’s quite possible to win the Maglia Rosa (the leader’s iconic pink jersey) without winning any of the race’s 21 individual stages. It’s all about riding consistently over three weeks – on the flat spint days but particularly in the mountains and during the individual time trial stages. After the final stage the rider who is top the the GC (General Classification) wins the Giro. 

What other jerseys do riders compete for at the Giro d’Italia? 

As well as the overall leader’s pink jersey riders will fight for three other coveted competitions.

  • The Maglia Cicclamino is the purple jersey worn by the leader in the sprint competition. (There are points to be won at intermediate sprints and at the finish line of every stage.)  
  • The blue Maglia Azzurra is the prize for the winner of the King of the Mountains competition. That’s the rider who bags the most points on the summit of classified climbs. (Smaller climbs are designated cat 3, medium ones cat 2 and long, steep ones cat 1. The biggest summit finishes are designated super-cat, where the most points can be won. 
  • The Maglia Blanca is the white jersey worn by the leader of the young rider competition. That’s the highest rider on GC who’s aged 25 or under. 

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How long is the Giro d’Italia? 

This year’s Giro begins in Costa dei Trabocchi on the east coast. It finishes with a circuit around Rome on the final day. On the way the peloton will have ridden mountain passes in the Alps and the Dolomites.

When the riders reach the finish in Rome they will have ridden 3,489.2km (2168.1 miles) and climbed an incredible 51,400m (168,635ft). The average stage length over the three weeks is 166.2km per day (103.3 miles). Over those 21 days of racing riders will have just two rest days to recover. 

Who is the favourite to win the Giro d’Italia? 

At the beginning of the 2023 Giro d’Italia, the riders in the frame to win the coveted Maglia Rosa were Britain’s Geraint Thomas and Tao Geoghegan-Hart (both riding for the Ineos Grenadiers team), Slovenia’s Primoz Roglic (Jumbo Visma), Belgium’s Remco Evenepol (Soudal Quickstep) and Portugal’s Joao Almeida (UAE Team Emirates).

However, at the time of writing Geoghegan-Hart has crashed out of the race. And Evenepol has been forced to retire following a positive Covid test. So it looks like it’s between Roglic, Thomas and Almeida…