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Giro d'Italia Centenary route to entice Nibali-Aru battle

The 100th edition will pay homage to Italy's greatest cyclists by stages starting or finishing in their home towns

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The peloton rides at the La Bonette pass (Col de la Bonette) during the 20th stage of the 99th Giro d'Italia, Tour of Italy, from Guillestre to Sant'Anna di Vinadio play

The peloton rides at the La Bonette pass (Col de la Bonette) during the 20th stage of the 99th Giro d'Italia, Tour of Italy, from Guillestre to Sant'Anna di Vinadio

(AFP/File)

Giro d'Italia organisers unveiled an epic route on Tuesday for next year's centenary edition that could entice the country's top two riders into a thrilling duel.

The May 5-28 Grand Tour starts with three stages in Sardinia, home of 2015 runner-up Fabio Aru, before hopping across the Mediterranean for two stages in Sicily, where reigning champion Vincenzo Nibali was born.

The 100th edition, which will pay homage to Italy's greatest cyclists, will then snake its way up the boot of Italy before cutting inland to begin a series of spectacular and gruelling mountain stages.

While Italian legends like Gino Bartali, Fausto Coppi, Felice Gimondi and Marco Pantani will be honoured by stages starting or finishing in their home towns, the underlying wish of organisers is to see two-time champion Nibali battle it out with former Astana teammate Aru for the pink jersey on the draining climbs and hairy downhill finishes.

The route features four mountain-top finishes, six stages for the sprint specialists and two time trials.

Nibali, who will race for Bahrain-Merida next year, said he was excited by the prospect of going at it in Sicily.

"It would be great to wear the pink jersey there, but let's see what happens," he said at the official race presentation in Milan.

When the route was leaked two days ago it also grabbed the attention of three-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome.

Although the Briton has previously said he will not ride the Giro because it would affect his Tour preparations, he posted a picture on Twitter of a cartoon character, surrounded by love hearts, with the message: "Looking at the leaked 2017 @Giroditalia route like."

The first week climaxes with a 14-kilometre climb to Blockhaus, at 1,674 metres, on stage nine.

The first time trial comes after the second rest day and will be held over 39.2 km in the Sagrantino wine-growing region.

Stage 11's ride from Florence to Bagno di Romagna will pass through the birthplace of three-time champion Bartali.

Two days later, five-time winner Coppi will be recognised when stage 13 ends in Tortona, where he died in 1960.

After a rest day in Bergamo, the birth place of three-time race winner Gimondi, the peloton will look ahead to the decisive final week with trepidation.

Despite only two summit finishes in five days of climbing the pink jersey contenders are in for a punishing final week.

On stage 16 they will tackle the Mortirolo, then the Stelvio -- from the more difficult Italian side -- before turning back and riding back up the Stelvio via the Umbrail Pass on the Swiss side of the border.

Contenders face a potentially decisive stage 18 in the Dolomites, with four mountain passes.

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