Ciao! This weekend the 96th Giro d'Italia begins. And if you like mountains, you'll love the course. Seven mountain top finishes, including an uphill Time Trial. Nice.
The Queen stage?
Without a doubt stage 19 with I think it's Passo Gavia, Passo dello Stelvio, and a mountain top finish at Val Martello. Wow.
Top Line Thoughts
This is a backloaded Giro. Virtually all the difficult climbs appear in the final week. And while there are some slightly bumpy roads in the first 9 stages - it's pretty darn flat - and anything uphill pales in comparison to the jaw-dropping climbs of the last few stages.
Seven mountain top finishes (see MT column in the chart below) including some monsters makes it hard to imagine anyone but the best of climbers being in contention. Can Wiggins really compete on this sort of course?
The do-not-miss stages for climbing fans? 14, 15, 18 (TT), 19, 20*.
To rate the climbs I have used the difficulty index from www.climbbybike.com that we have used previously. I know, I know, it's a flawed formula. But it's easy to calculate and useful as a starting point of discussion. See this link for more on the difficulty index.
Let's take a very brief look at the numbers:
1. Passo dello Stelvio (stage 19)
Perhaps the most famous climb in all of cycling. Note, this is the same Bormio side that featured as a mountain top finish in the 2012 Giro. Sun and snow walls please.
Stelvio was first climbed by the Giro in 1953 with Fausto Coppi and Swiss legend Hugo Koblet leading over the top. In 1980, conquering the Stelvio was key to Hinault's Giro victory. More recently, it was probably the Stelvio stage last year where people started truly believing that Ryder Hejsedal might actually win the race.
It is a truly fabulous climb, but they will not ascend the more famous jaw dropping, hairpin filled side that we've all seen photos of. Instead they will descend these 48 signed hairpins (please let there be good helicopter shots that day). Note, the snowy photo below was taken in July. We may need to sacrifice a Girbecco to the weather gods.
2. Passo Gavia (stage 19)
Woohooo, what a beautiful climb. The Giro will be climbing the harder -- and in my opinion more scenic -- south side of Passo Gavia. It's the side with the very narrow stretches signed at 14% and 16%. Hard work.
Passo Gavia has a storied Giro history with several famous "snow" stages. Perhaps none more famous than the 1988 blizzard during the climb where Andy Hamsten took advantage on his way to pink and Giro victory. At the chalet at the summit are lots of photos of these stages:
3. Passo Giau (stage 20)
Giau was the Cima Coppi (the highest climb in a Giro) a couple of years back. This is the short steep monster of the 2013 Giro. Although listed at 15 kms, it's the last 9 or 10 that will hurt.
Your author was once hailed on in July here ..... about 15 minutes after the photo below. It's the toughest climb in the hugely popular Maratona dles Dolomites cyclosportive. I note on strava.com that Broerie climbed it 19 minutes faster than me. He must have been tired that day.
Giro pundits will mistakenly identify just about every mountain in the Giro as part of the Dolomites. But Giau really is in the heart of the Dolomites. Beautiful.
4. Moncenisio (stage 15)
I used the Italian name in the title as it is primarily in Italy. But the top (and last few kilometres) are in France. The giant south side of this great climb is long and steady. The final hairpins as it approaches the huge dam and lake at the summit are superb. Note, in stage 16 they will also climb the much shorter, entirely French, north side as they re-enter Italy. The "summits" of the two sides are several kilometres apart --- with a relatively flat stretch along side the lake.
Hairpin heaven as the road approaches the giant dam:
This is another location that could win a beauty contest. Note to cyclotourists: Mont Cenis is historically an important link between the north and south side of the alps. But it's a big wide road, and trucks and through traffic use the 13 kilometre Fréjus tunnel nearby, so it's a pleasure to cycle. The Giro will ride alongside and above the high altitude Lac du Mont Cenis:
5. Val Martello (stage 19)
I don't know anything about this climb --- but it's the uphill finish after Gavia and Stelvio in stage 19 and it may very well decide the Giro. So I guarantee you drama here. Yes, I guarantee it.
Val Martello is not a mountain pass but the end of a valley in Stelvio National Park.
6. Col du Galibier
Galibier? In the Giro? And a summit finish? I think the French Balance-of-Payments just improved.
I know some people aren't happy with Galbier appearing in the Giro. But what a stage. The Tour de France itself has only had one mountain top finish up Galibier (highest TdF finish ever) --- and it climbed the easier south side.
The Giro will climb the better north side of Galibier - via Col du Télégraphe. The chart ranking excludes Télégraphe, but combined it's a huge 35 km ascent (including a 4 km descent between the two). I've seen written that there may be some sort of Pantani commemorations here. Recall, Pantani clinched his Tour de France victory on a stage finishing at Les Deux Alpes, but including Galbier.
There is a new Pantani monument 3 kms from the summit of Galibier - see here.
Galibier is one of the truly great climbs in France. It first appeared in the Tour in 1911 - and became the highest summit finish in Tour history a century later in 2011. A brief history of Galibier here.
Below: slowly approaching the tunnel on a nice, snow day - you can just see summit sign up top right of photo:
Officials have been busy ploughing (and even dynamiting) the road to clear the snow. Galibier is often closed well into June. If it is a sunny day, this will be yet another truly beautiful stage. Hot TV viewing tip: On of our Swedish friends might be seen running naked next to the leaders near the summit.
Tre Cime Lavaredo
* NB. Due to a small descent and flat stretch between -- the Giro split the final climb to Tre Cime Lavaredo into two climbs ranked 15th and 17th in chart. But combined, this final climb of the entire Giro is huge and truly beautiful.
The last 4 kilometres averages 12% - ouch - with a stretch at 18%. Tre Cime Laveredo first appeared in the Giro in 1967 and was where Mr. Merckx took control of the 1968 Giro. Less interestingly, the last rider to have won here was Ricardo Ricco in 2007.
I've never been there, but my friend and cyclotourist extraordinaire Vélocia has given me permission (thx!) to use a couple of her photos.
The stage 20 finish will be at the Rifugio Auronzo - pictured below (wow):
Also if you search Jered Gruber's FLICKR photos (user name smashred) for Tre Cime pics there are some truly amazing views - for example.
I'll stop drooling here. But yes, I am excited. The Giro may take a while to arrive at the mountains, but when it does, it will be fun. Ciao.
Jens, turn your head:
Photo courtesy Girbecco
N.B. - This is an updated version of a story that first appeared last September when the Giro route was first announced.