The Podium Cafe Viewers' Guide to the 2012 Giro d'Italia!

Giro-bullseye-right_mediumEvery year, with an almost drone-like devotion, I publish a guide to watching the Giro d'Italia, for the benefit of people whose busy lives don't allow them to watch at will without making some significant tradeoffs. This is a valuable service and we will not let you down this year. And in keeping with past years, I try to find a different theme to mask the repetitive nature of these posts... be it the West Coast parents' guide or the guide to watching and staying employed. So with that in mind, and the lake of self-pity I am currently wallowing in, I bring you... the post-surgical guide to watching the 2012 Giro d'Italia!**

Recovering from surgery, even routine matters, presents the unlucky soul with some unusual choices. First is the medication, which is typically indispensable (and a little bit fun) at first but can take its toll on one's sanity after a while. Before long, the choice is between tolerating whatever lingering pain is around and taking leave of one's senses, again, as well as on the verge of falling asleep at any given moment. Then there's the activity level. Recovery is all about restoring normal life, and a few days on the couch will make plenty of people long for normal life, particularly cyclists unaccustomed to taking it easy without first hammering over a few hours of roads. Your mind wants you to get moving again, and your doctor will too, in the right dose. But the couch and the meds are waiting for you when you've moved enough. Or else. The Giro d'Italia presents the post-surgical cyclist or cycling fan with a perfect excuse to kick back for a couple hours anyway. Doctor's orders. What state of mind fits the session, well, that depends on the stage. So here we go.

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Stage 1: Herning (DK) ITT, 8.7km

Saturday, May 5

Stage Excitement: The opening of the Giro d'Italia is always a momentous occasion, though a prologue(ish) stage around central Denmark is about as free of real intrigue as it gets.

Race Impact: Not insignificant, as far as the first several maglie rosa are concerned. A win here could keep a rider in pink for half the week, including the first transit/rest day, where the honor of starting the first Giro stage on Italian soil in the lead comes with plenty of attention. Secondary jerseys too perhaps.

RAI-ness Forecast: The understated nature of the Danish people will be a mere speed bump on the road to a glitzy, star-studded, completely unnecessary level of pomp courtesy of the world's liveliest nationalized TV network. This will need its own post.

Viewing Recommendation: Definitely take your medication. A flat prologue might seem exciting if you mix it with alcohol. And the RAI pre-race show will make perfect sense.

[**This post is purely an exercise in fun, with my recent and thoroughly banal knee thing just something to hijack in the name of a classic Cafe nonsense post.]

Stage 2: Herning - Herning, 206km

Sunday, May 6

Stage Excitement: Flat, unless you count the Osterberg (47 meters at 4.5%) But sprint stage intrigue is made or not by consensus, and the first sprint stage of the Giro d'Italia is a sure-fire battle royale, even when the race hasn't been starved of sprints for three years. Cavendish, Farrar, Goss, Feillu, Demare and a dozen speedy Italians are here, testimony to the worthiness of the sprint stages.

Race Impact: The points competition will heat up in a hurry. Also, if there are time bonuses (help?), the maglia rosa could be in play, either now or after the TTT, as a result of the Danish sprints.

RAI-ness Forecast: Moderate. Celebrities will probably have off-loaded to Copenhagen at least. But Herning must have something going for it for the Giro to have dropped in. And with only one euphoric day in their systems the RAI-istas will be, um, effervescent.

Viewing Recommendation: It's still Sunday, so medication is definitely an option. Defo get your exercises done by the TV.

Stage 3: Horsens - Horsens, 190km

Monday, May 7

Stage Excitement: More rolling than flat, but no major obstacles to another sprint. Almost nobody from the bunch gallop peloton will be sated after a single stage. Not with what lies ahead.

Race Impact: Same as Stage 2.

RAI-ness Forecast: Poor conditions. With a flat Monday stage in the Danish hinterlands between them and a plane back to Italy, nothing less than a fast stage with a clean finish will satisfy the gang.

Viewing Recommendation: Make it to the office. Going to work is a key part of the post-surgical experience, both for the sake of whatever it is you do for a living and for the sake of not doing that thing when the action gets hot. More in a bit.

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Stage 4: Verona TTT, 33.2km

Wednesday, May 9

Stage Excitement: Ah, the cronosquadre. It's also the first Italian stage, following a rest day as the flotilla docks in Verona. The course is flat and non-technical, and 33km is warm-up distance, so the complaints about whatever happened to the riders in the process of transferring from Denmark should be taken with a grain of salt. Anyway, these stages are always a major point of pride for a handful of strong TT teams. Not sure who Garmin thinks of as its rival now that HTC is toast, Sky maybe? Look for GreenEdge, Astana, BMC, Rabo, Vacansoleil, the Shack and the big Italian GC teams to put up a good fight.

Race Impact: For the GC teams, the only real task is not to lose. Whatever time gaps appear here should melt away in the mountains like lowland spring snow flurries. But! Several of the contenders have sprinters, so the maglia rosa battle will be fra diavolo indeed.

RAI-ness Forecast: Rapturous. I don't like to generalize about Italians, but it's safe to say they like being home. TTT gives plenty of space for unintended comedy.

Viewing Recommendation: Hm, given the paucity of intrigue on deck, this is a perfectly OK stage to play any of several cards available to justify coming in to work late. PT appointment, unexpected swelling, that sort of thing. Not a must though; if you don't care about who wins, this is a fun stage to watch on tape delay too.

Stage 5: Modena - Fano, 209km

Thursday, May 10

Stage Excitement: This may not matter to the race, but the map is truly bizarre by Giro standards: a virtual straight line for the first 150k, before some small hills and slight curves on the coast. It's possible the peloton will be bored to tears, but the right combination of sprinter interest will still probably result in a timely catch of the break.

Race Impact: Points. At this stage we might get a sense of who the long-term points players are. Namely, the Italians who can sprint and who will be crucified if they even think of dropping out of the race before the Alps.

RAI-ness Forecast: Based on the race, low, but the course grazes Cesenatico, home to one Marco Pantani. Also at some point the race will mark the one-year anniversary of last year's tragedy. Not every day will consist of Alessandra fending off Mario Cipollini's advances.

Viewing Recommendation: Go to work. Get ahead on some stuff.

Stage 6: Urbino - Sant'Elpidio, 210km

Friday, May 11

Stage Excitement: Finally time to flip the script. This stage takes in a dozen small climbs thru Le Marche region, topping out at the Passo della Cappella and passing through Montelupone, neither of which is the worst climb of the day (that would be Montegranaro). Flat finish might entice a sprint, but more likely it will be from a small selection. The stage hunters won't be kept at bay any longer.

Race Impact: The race lead could change hands if a break gets a lot of time. Certainly the KOM jersey will wind up on the back of a skinny dude, though the points fare is antipasto grade.

RAI-ness Forecast: Hm, maybe a lecture on Saint Elpidius the Cappadocian?

Viewing Recommendation: Not a bad time to drop some meds. Pain management isn't over til it's over, so a day here and there on the sauce isn't a bad idea. Nothing less will make this stage interesting.

Stage 7: Recanati - Rocca di Cambio, 205km

Saturday, May 12

Stage Excitement: The second weekend means either great racing or eye candy, and this stage to the Rock of Change represents the first decent uphill finish. The Appennini should not be confused with the Alps, but the gradients can hurt.

Race Impact: Sort of like the TTT for the Pozzovivo types, i.e. a stage to do well or at least not lose any real time, though taking it very seriously isn't the best idea. Abruzzi... uphill... you know what this stage calls for? Il Killer di Spoltore. Yes, I am bitter now. Free the Danilo Nine!

RAI-ness Forecast: Into the L'Aquila region, which means the day's theme will be sympathy for earthquake victims. It's been a few years, but what else are a bunch of Milanese media types gonna do in rural Mezzogiorno?

Viewing Recommendation: This will be a fun race to watch straight, and in its entirety, which is a given for anyone not working weekends. For me though, it will be a mix of pleasure and pain. The race finish will be visible from the town of Fontecchio, down in the valley below the Rocca. Is it a great honor to be 5km from the end of a Giro stage, or a terrible insult to give a stage finish to those ragtag hill people instead of a civilized place like Fontecchio? I'm going with terrible insult. Hey, Giro staff, have fun finding a decent pensione up there.

Stage 8: Sulmona - Lago Laceno, 229km

Sunday, May 13

Stage Excitement: We're piling on the km now, with this mid-mountain stage to a small southern ski resort outside Avellino, the southernmost extension of this northerly-oriented Giro. The race climbs 10k to the Colle Mollela before dropping down to the lake, which should make for a gorgeous finish and some serious action in the breakaway too.

Race Impact: As with any obvious break-stays-away day, the only question is how big a gap. A few nibbles of KOM points too, as well as a chance for some guys to start building the non-climber points jersey strategy.

RAI-ness Forecast: Ski resort? Say no more! Count on RAI to gin up a southern version of its usual parade of people who hang out in fancy places... weekend-grade.

Viewing Recommendation: Check in early, see if there's a story. If not, with subsequent weekends overloaded this is a fine time to schedule a brunch.

Stage 9: San Giorgio del Sannio - Frosinone, 166km

Monday, May 14

Stage Excitement: Short, rolling with some climbs topping out with less than 20k, then downhill to Frosinone, the traditional you-don't-want-to-get-any-closer-to-Rome stage finish. This is one of those days (I suspect) that Farrar was referring to in our chat last week as a sprint possibility, depending.

Race Impact: Minor jerseys only. Even if a break succeeds, I doubt there will be big gaps.

RAI-ness Forecast: RAI don't like Mondays. Maybe they pay a visit to Cassino? Maybe interview Dino Buzzati's grandkids?

Viewing Recommendation: Absolutely definitely go to work. The decisions keep getting harder from here.

Stage 10: Civitavecchia - Assisi, 186km

Tuesday, May 15

Stage Excitement: Thrilling finish, with short, steep (15%max) climbs to the hilltop village of Assisi. Hard riding all day. Classic Giro stage.

Race Impact: Wheat, say goodbye to the chaff.

RAI-ness Forecast: A stage to the hometown of St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan order of monks and patron saint of Italy? Um, yeah, this could go any of several ways -- celebrate Italy? Interview robed monks? -- and none of them will be boring.

Viewing Recommendation: Don't you have a morning PT appointment on Tuesdays?

Stage 11: Assisi - Montecatini Terme, 255km

Wednesday, May 16

Stage Excitement: Blerg. The longest stage of the Giro is (cough) enlivened with 3km of climbing starting at 14k to go, but will otherwise a be sprint. With the mountains coming soon, the flat-landers will be hungry for one last sure-fire sprint.

Race Impact: Usual variables and minor jersey stuff.

RAI-ness Forecast: Hm, a visit to the Viner factory in nearby Pistoia? Copters swooping in on spa bathers? Otherwise nothing much.

Viewing Recommendation: Go to work. Highlights will suffice.

Stage 12: Seravezza - Sestri Levante, 155km

Thursday, May 17

Stage Excitement: Another medium mountain stage as the race leaves the interior for the Riviera. Sestri Levante is where Denis Menchov won the Centenary Giro (more or less). The downhill finish on the coast could be fun. At 155km the break might be on a short leash if there are enough stage hunters left.

Race Impact: Minimal, except the all-rounders in the points category will want this one.

RAI-ness Forecast: Beaches always bring the possibility of RAI copters going in search of sunbathers. But it's been a few years since this trick worked.

Viewing Recommendation: Delayed arrival. Maybe a little morning telecommuting while you combat some unexpected swelling.

Stage 13: Savona - Cervere, 121km

Friday, May 18

Stage Excitement: Last day for Cav, Farrar, and a few others. The course features some stout early climbing but then flattens out en route to the Po Valley. Sprint prospects are helped by the short day in the saddle, but the fastmen better have domestiques to burn here, because the GC teams won't lift a finger the day before the alps.

Race Impact: Next to nothing.

RAI-ness Forecast: Calm before the storm leaves RAI short on storylines. Wait, isn't this the closest we get to Il Campionissimo's love-shack in Novi Ligure? Problem solved!

Viewing Recommendation: Highlights only. Start wrapping up big projects at work if possible.

Stage 14: Cherasco - Cervinia, 206km

Saturday, May 19

Stage Excitement: Alps! The Col de Joux may not be the Joux-Plane but it's cut from similar cloth and is the main attraction, race-wise. Cervinia is 27km but not especially steep.

Race Impact: Gradients on the final climb probably aren't sufficient to drop any of the true contenders, but the GC types who are holding back for July will take a beating before this stage ends.

RAI-ness Forecast: Finishes under the Matterhorn. Get ready for a zillion camera shots. [Actually this should be awesome.]

Viewing Recommendation: Entering the Alps on a weekend? Say no more... except: this stage will go on for a bit, which can be tricky on a busy Saturday. Depending on loved ones' level of sympathy, you might want to pop a painkiller conspicuously, all the while insisting it's nothing too bad. But don't overplay your hand here -- buy a little time or a small excuse, but be careful bagging out on anything important. You'll need it more in a week.

Stage 15: Busto Arsizio - Lecco, 169km

Sunday, May 20

Stage Excitement: More alpine MTFs. The major climb is early in the day, but the final climb will be fun. The short distance and the long-awaited rest day could really favor a break. After the previous day, there will be plenty of tired GC contenders and even more ex-contenders desperate to save face.

Race Impact: Modest reshuffling of the top ten, at best.

RAI-ness Forecast: Sunday in the Alps is good for something, but there will be no hiding the anticipation of the rest day and the coming week.

Viewing Recommendation: DVR it if there's anything going on. It will be plenty watchable, but banking some credit is the wiser choice.

Stage 16: Limone Sul Garda - Falzes, 173km

Tuesday, May 22

Stage Excitement: This should be a hoot, with pave late in the game and a steep, short climb to the finish in Sud Tirol (basically Switzerland without the economic benefits). Good stage battle for a few guys, while the GC contenders keep the engines idling quietly, waiting....

Race Impact: You might see a few jabs among the lead guys. With a rest day behind them, it's not a bad time for the curious contender to see what his rivals are made of.

RAI-ness Forecast: I'd say the best we can hope for is the RAI on-air staff trying their hand with German.

Viewing Recommendation: PT Tuesdays. Can't afford to miss em.

Stage 17: Falzes - Cortina d'Ampezzo, 186km

Wednesday, May 23

Stage Excitement: Four major passes, including the Giau, with a screaming descent into the glitzy Dolomite resort of Cortina. The battle will be joined.

Race Impact: Moderate. None of the big-name descenders are on the startlist, as far as I can tell, so the GC guys will probably keep each other in sight. The Giau will extinguish a few dreams though.

RAI-ness Forecast: Big day. The race is "on" but not sucking the air out of the room. Meanwhile, half of RAI are hanging out in Cortina, scouring the scene for famous people. Could be the best RAI stage of the Giro.

Viewing Recommendation: Yesterday's PT appointment went a little awry, and now you have some swelling that requires you to take medication overnight. From there, it follows that you have to stay home in the morning, because you can't operate a car until the painkillers wear off. It's not your fault. There's nothing you can do.

Stage 18: San Vito di Cadore - Vedelago, 149km

Thursday, May 24

Stage Excitement: When you see a 150k downhill stage late in the Giro, you know you're in big trouble the next couple days. Sprinters' stage for whoever's left.

Race Impact: It's possible that some of the faster fastmen will make it to Milan, and this will be a key day for them to bag points from the all-rounders vying for the jersey.

RAI-ness Forecast: Pacing themselves...

Viewing Recommendation: Go to work. But toward the end of the day, stage an accident. Try not to actually reinjure yourself, of course, since a near-miss will do wonders too. Nobody will blink an eyelash when you say you plan to work from home the next day. In fact, if you do it right, the prospect of your coming in Friday will horrify them. They will insist on your taking it easy til Monday.

Stage 19: Treviso - Alpe di Pampeago, 198km

Friday, May 25

Stage Excitement: Sadistic little stage with a number of climbs, including two trips up the nearly 10% Pampeago. The finale doesn't hit the summit, like the first passing, but that will be of little relief to a GC crew in full cry.

Race Impact: Definitely a day when the Giro can be won or lost. Sometimes the biggest stages aren't as selective because they destroy everyone. This could be the real game.

RAI-ness Forecast: In decisive-racing mode, where there is no room for distraction. But RAI calling a hot race at full drama is as great as anything.

Viewing Recommendation: Couch, meet tuchus. In the nine-to-five world, Friday morning at home is close to nirvana. Enjoy it.

Stage 20: Caldes - Passo di Stelvio, 219km

Saturday, May 26

Stage Excitement: I am reluctant to allow myself to think too much about this stage this far in advance. For starters, the information to consider could break my brain: the Stelvio consists of 48 switchbacks, 2757 meters, and the Cima Coppi... and that's not the day's hardest climb. That honor goes to the Mortirolo. Better to save this energy for a longer post closer to the day. Oh by the way, here's a shot from the live webcam taken earlier today at the Stelvio:

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So yeah, let's not get too wrapped up in the Stelvio until we know they're actually getting up the thing.

Race Impact: Massive. Incalculable. Or maybe, like I said, the course will kick everyone's ass equally. But the modest Stelvio gradients are a good place to attack for anyone who's not about to keel over.

RAI-ness Forecast: An orgy of Stelvio worship. The Mortirolo will struggle to get air-time on the day they had the Giro finish a stage on top of the f*%king Stelvio!!

Viewing Recommendation: This stage has to be watched live, in its entirety. On the west coast, nobody in your family cares if you're stupid enough to get up at 4am to watch cycling (trust me). On the east coast... you might need to stage a near-accident at home. Do what it takes.

Stage 21: Milano ITT, 30.1km

Sunday, May 27

Stage Excitement: In a close GC, this could still sort things out by a minute or so, particularly when you add in enough GC guys who are allergic to riding in the aero position. Add in the tricky course -- I count 26 turns of 90 degrees or more, if I'm reading the map right -- and you have a pretty crazy event on tap.

Race Impact: Potentially decisive, depending on the gaps. Surely some reshuffling of the top ten will happen.

RAI-ness Forecast: Saying goodbye to the Giro is never easy for our crew. They won't go quietly into that good night.

Viewing Recommendation: Final hour only for live viewing, if you have any other demands on your time (like sleep). But DVR the whole thing, especially the processo, for the same reason you have a little grappa and tiramisu after a nice meal, even if you're full.

All images courtesy of the Giro d'Italia, except the webcam shot.

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