Wednesday’s 97th edition of Italy’s oldest classic, Milan–Turin, is almost certain to be won by a gifted climber. That’s because since 2012 the finish has been decided at the Basilica of Superga situated 1,460 feet (445 meters) above the center of Turin.

Words by John Wilcockson/Image by Yuzuru Sunada

What’s more, on reaching the city streets after 158 kilometers of racing, the riders turn left to tackle the near-5-kilometer climb not just once, but twice. It averages more than a 9-percent grade, with a steepest pitch at 14 percent. No wonder the names of the past four winners are Alberto Contador, Diego Ulissi, Giampaolo Caruso and Diego Rosa—all very strong climbers.

This current version of Milan–Turin is very different from the first edition in 1876 (that’s 140 years ago!), when eight riders on velocipedes (also called “boneshakers”) started in Milan and only four completed the 150-kilometer journey in some 11 hours. The winner was a zoologist and explorer, Liceo Parini, who was cheered home by a crowd of 10,000. This happened seven years after Englishman James Moore won the world’s first point-to-point velocipede race, the 123-kilometer Paris–Rouen, in just under 11 hours.

On Wednesday, the peloton is scheduled to complete the flat opening 150 kilometers in three and a half hours before the mountainous finale to the186-kilometer classic. Perhaps the top finishers will be similar to last year’s when Team Astana’s Rosa attacked halfway up the final climb and was exhilarated by his victory (this image) by 16 seconds from Tinkoff’s Rafal Majka, with his Astana teammate Fabio Aru in third at 18 seconds. Those three will likely be challenged this year by AG2R la Mondiale’s Romain Bardet and Team Sky’s Wout Poels. It’s become a very different race since men such as Giuseppe Saronni, Francesco Moser and Phil Anderson were winning Milan–Turin in the 1980s.