The Giro d'Italia route for 2011 has been unveiled at a star-studded event in Milan and the early impressions are that the first Grand Tour of the season could be even more brutal than the testing Tour de France parcours that was also announced earlier in the week.
The action gets under way with a 21.5km team time trial from Venaria to Turin and the General Classification should be shaken up as early as the fifth stage when the race hits the 'strade bianche' on the undulating trek between Piombino and Orvieto.
The first of seven mountain-top finishes comes just 24 hours later on the Montevergine di Mercogliano, and after two transitional stages sweeping down to the southern tip of the country, the race will cross over into Sicily for another brutish finish up the iconic Mount Etna.
During the first of two rest days the riders will decamp to Termoli and once the action resumes they will continue in a northerly direction towards the Alps, where the Austrian peak of the Großglockner is waiting for them at the end of stage 13.
The race returns to Italian soil the following day but there is no let-up in the torment as the Monte Zoncolan is looming large there for the second year in succession.
The highest climb of the tour, the Passo Giau (2236m), makes an appearance on an equally-mountainous 15th stage into the Dolomites, and a third successive mountain-top finish on the Rifugio Gardeccia should again prove decisive.
After a well-deserved rest day, the climbers will be looking to shine once more on the tough individual time trial from Belluno to Nevegal before the sprinters finally resume centre stage with three flatter days down in the valleys.
The penultimate day will see the weary riders battling it out back on the dirt roads of the Colle delle Finestre before one last summit finish in Sestriere.
The 94th edition will reach its conclusion with a pan-flat individual time trial around the centre of Milan before the worthy winner is announced.
Yates pulls no punches
After the presentation we caught up with sports director Sean Yates, who had been among the invited guests, and he believes it could well be one of the toughest races in Grand Tour history.
He said: "It's savage, there's no other description for it (laughs). Seven mountain-top finishes has got to be some kind of record, and the fact that they are hard ones as well means it's going to be an unbelievably tough race. It'll be great to watch from a spectator's point of view though.
"Although the team hasn't been decided yet, we are going to have someone there who'll be looking to contest the GC, and if they are able to ride consistently over the full three weeks then they will have a great chance of finishing right up the standings.
"I'm not expecting many of the Tour favourites to be competing here now because I think it's simply going to be too hard to do both races in such a short space of time.
"Vincenzo Nibali has got to be the early favourite for me. He'll have got the belief after his Vuelta win this season and the fact that the race visits Sicily, where he's from, will be another big incentive for him to perform.
"Riders like Damiano Cunego, Stefano Garzelli and Michele Scarponi will also be bang up for it though and they will definitely be worth keeping an eye on as well."
The full route for the 2011 Giro d'Italia is as follows:
Saturday 7 May: Stage One - Venaria to Torino (TTT) - 21.5km
Sunday 8 May: Stage Two - Alba to Parma - 242km
Monday 9 May: Stage Three - Reggio Emilia to Rapallo - 178km
Tuesday 10 May: Stage Four - Quarto to Livorno - 208km
Wednesday 11 May: Stage Five - Piombino to Orvieto - 201km
Thursday 12 May: Stage Six - Orvieto to Fiuggi Terme - 195km
Friday 13 May: Stage Seven - Maddaloni to Montevergine di Mercogliano - 100km
Saturday 14 May: Stage Eight - Sapri to Tropea - 214km
Sunday 15 May: Stage Nine - Messina to Etna - 159km
Monday 16 May: Rest day
Tuesday 17 May: Stage 10 - Termoli to Teramo - 156km
Wednesday 18 May: Stage 11 - Tortoreto Lido to Castelfidardo - 160km
Thursday 19 May: Stage 12 - Castelfidardo to Ravenna - 171km
Friday 20 May: Stage 13 - Spilimbergo to Großglockner (Austria) - 159km
Saturday 21 May: Stage 14 - Lienz (Austria) to Monte Zoncolan - 210km
Sunday 22 May: Stage 15 - Conegliano to Val di Fassa - 230km
Monday 23 May: Rest day
Tuesday 24 May: Stage 16 - Belluno to Nevegal (ITT) - 12.7km
Wednesday 25 May: Stage 17 - Feltre to Sondrio - 246km
Thursday 26 May: Stage 18 - Morbegno to San Pellegrino Terme - 147km
Friday 27 May: Stage 19 - Bergamo to Macugnaga - 211km
Saturday 28 May: Stage 20 - Verbania to Sestriere - 242km
Sunday 29 May: Stage 21 - Milano to Milano (ITT) - 32.8km