Giro d'Italia: Stages to watch

A look at the key stages for the 2009 Giro d'Italia:

May 9

Stage 1: Venice (team time trial), 12.7 miles
• Garmin-Slipstream will aim to repeat last year's opening day win, which put Christian Vande Velde into the coveted pink jersey, but they'll have considerable competition on this flat course.

May 10

Stage 2: Jesolo to Trieste, 97 miles

May 11

Stage 3: Grado to Valdobbiadene, 123 miles

May 12 and May 13

Stage 4: Padova to San Martino di Castrozza, 101 miles
Stage 5: San Martino di Castrozza to Alpe di Siusi, 78 miles
• It's almost unheard of to have a mountaintop finish this early in a Grand Tour, let alone two back-to-back. These forays into the Dolomites could be particularly tricky if spring snow lingers in the passes; the finishing Siusi climb is more rigorous than the one the day before.

May 14

Stage 6: Bressanone/Brixen (Switzerland) to Mayrhofen (Austria), 154 miles

May 15

Stage 7: Innsbruck (Austria) to Chiavenna, 152 miles

May 16

Stage 8: Morbegno to Bergamo, 130 miles

May 17

Stage 9: Milan, 101 miles
• One of the few showcase stages for sprinters this year, this circuit race begins and ends at the Piazzale Loreto, where the inaugural Giro rolled out in 1909. A hair-raising course with tight turns that will be taken at high speed, as befits an auto-racing capital.

May 18

Rest day, Cuneo

May 19

Stage 10: Cuneo to Pinerolo, 163 miles
This "queen" stage originally was supposed to cross the French border and include five major climbs, but was altered by organizers who cited problems with traffic and radio transmission. It's still the longest day of the race. The course lies completely within Italy now and features three significant climbs, including the traditional backbreaker up to Sestriere.

May 20

Stage 11: Torino to Avenzano (Genova), 133 miles

May 21

Stage 12: Sestri Levante to Riomaggiore (individual time trial), 37.6 miles
• This roller-coaster time trial course is so long and technical, many teams have declared their intention to attack it with modified road bikes rather than time trial bikes, which wouldn't handle as well on the descents. A potentially decisive stage for overall contenders.

May 22

Stage 13: Lido di Camaiore to Florence, 109 miles

May 23

Stage 14: Campi Bisenzio to Bologna, 107 miles

May 24

Stage 15: Forli to Faenza, 100 miles

May 25

Stage 16: Pergola to Monte Petrano, 147 miles
• The second half of this stage has two tough climbs that should whittle the peloton down to an elite group by the uphill finish.

May 26

Rest day, Chieti

May 27

Stage 17: Chieti to Blockhaus, 52 miles
• This one could throw a grenade into the overall standings. A short but most definitely not sweet stage that takes the riders from sea level on the Adriatic coast inland to more than 6,700 feet of altitude. The 14.5-mile Blockhaus climb saves some of its steepest stretches for last.

May 28

Stage 18: Sulmona to Benevento, 113 miles

May 29

Stage 19: Avellino to Mount Vesuvius, 102 miles
• A sexy, picturesque destination, but will the overall leaders still have cards to play on the 6-mile climb to the volcanic summit?

May 30

Stage 20: Naples to Anagni, 126 miles

May 31

Stage 21: Rome (individual time trial), 9.6 miles
• The course hits all the major tourist attractions. It may not be a parade lap, however. The time gaps would have to be super-close to turn this day into a difference-maker, but it's possible.

Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at bonniedford@aol.com.