SPORT NEWS - Seven summit finishes and three individual time-trials, this year's Giro d'Italia gets under way in Bologna on May 11 and finishes in the Verona Arena, a Roman amphitheatre on 2 June.
The race will mostly run through the northern half of Italy with the first week favouring sprinters and time-trial specialists before the mountainous final week in the Alps and Dolomites.
Here AFP sport looks at five key stages out of 21 that could decide the pink jersey winner of the 102nd edition of the three-week race.
May 19 - Stage 9: Riccione - San Marino (34.8km time-trial)
A hilly time-trial from the Adriatic coastal resort of Riccione to the Republic of San Marino is one of the classics of the Giro and will test legs before the first rest day.
The route is winding and undulating for the first 22km up to the border of San Marino, the only time this Giro leaves Italy, before running up hill all the way to Fiorentino. The climb is particularly suited to rouleurs-climbers.
A time-trial ending in San Marino is one of the classic Giro stages. On the last two occasions, the winners took over the leader's pink jersey, Roberto Visentini in 1987 and Pavel Tonkov in 1997, but neither could hold on to it.
May 24, Stage 13: Pinerolo - Ceresole Reale (Lago Serru) (196km)
The race hits the Alps in northwestern Italy at the start of the third weekend. The first of five highly difficult stages starts at Pinerolo with three climbs culminating at Ceresole Reale.
This high-mountain stage features three difficult summits: Colle del Lys, Pian del Lupo and the final Colle del Nivolet climb, leading to Lago Serru, on a route that includes gradients of up to 15 precent.
May 25 - Stage 14: Saint-Vincent - Courmayeur (Skyway Monte Bianco)(131km)
A high-intensity 131km mountain stage up the Aosta Valley in north-eastern Italy bordering France and Switzerland with just 14km of flat and five mountain climbs awaiting riders.
There are climbs up Verrayes, Verrogne, Truc d'Arbe and Colle San Carlo, over 10.5km with a gradient of 9.8 percent, before the final climb up to Courmayeur, on Mont Blanc.
The only previous time the Giro took this route was on the second-to-last day 60 years ago when Luxembourg's Charly Gaul won the stage to grab the pink jersey.
May 28 - Stage 16: Lovere - Ponte Di Legno (226km)
Beware of the recovery. Following the second rest day, on the shores of Lake Iseo in northern Lombardy, the riders face the queen stage, a second gigantic alpine challenge with 226km riding. It includes a brutal circuit at high altitude, partly on old military roads, cresting at 2,618m, the highest point of this year's race, on the Passo Gavia.
This stage offers almost no respite for tired legs. The first kilometres start the climb to the Passo della Presolana. That is followed by the majestic Gavia, where the Giro hit a memorable snowstorm in 1988. Then comes the Mortirolo one of the toughest slopes in Europe over 11.9 km with gradients of 10.9 percent. The stage ends with a very fast descent and a final 15km over a false flat up to Ponte di Legno in Brescia.
June 1 - Stage 20: Feltre - Croce D'Aune-Monte Avena (194km)
The final uphill battle will be played out on the penultimate day, with this towering stage of 194km including five consecutive climbs, hitting heights of over 5,000 metres, in the Dolomites.
Starting in Feltre riders will climb Passo Manghen (2,047 metres), Passo Rolle (1,989m) and culminating with the climb of Croce d'Aune (1,011m), where gradients reach 16 percent. The last summit finish features long climbs, over 15km, with the final 7km entirely uphill as riders negotiate hairpin bends all the way up to the Monte Avena ski resort in the Venetian foothills.