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5° Tappa Preview: Ghosts and Sprinters

Tomorrow's stage from Teano to Frascati is largely flat, following the Liri River up to the outskirts of Rome. Not much word on the run-in, at least that I can read, so I'll assume the battle will shape up as Petacchi v. McEwen until someone tells me there are hidden obstacles near the finish. The day's sole climb, the Cantoniera Macere, is all of 327 meters, though it's close enough to the finish to maybe make the finale hard on one sprinter or another... but it's anyone's guess as to who. Last time the Giro came here, Mario Cipollini won, so the route could be about as selective as the Zolder world's course.

Lest you think tomorrow's a total yawn, here are a few notes of interest. First off, the route also passes through Cassino -- known to Cycling fans as the setting for one of Dino Buzzati's master strokes in Giro d'Italia, where Buzzati carries on a conversation with the ghosts of the town and WWII battle dead concerning the fact that the Giro is passing over their graves. For background, Wikipedia has a chilling photo and detailed summary of the Battle of Monte Cassino. It's kind of involved, but Cassino served the Germans as a redoubt against the oncoming Allied forces in 1943, thanks to some high ground and a network of rivers that would prove difficult to ford. Numerous Allied forces threw their full weight at the Germans, sustaining huge losses (e.g., 80% of the U.S. 34th Infantry Division), sandwiched around a controversial bombing campaign that destroyed the famous Abbey. By May, assault #4 finally dislodged the German Army and opened the door to the capture of Rome... but at incredible cost to Italy, civilians, and most or all of the armed forces involved. It's said that every building in Cassino was completely destroyed by rounds and rounds of air raids and artillery shellings.

On a more pleasant note, the finish in Frascati, at the southern gates of the Eternal City, is also home to Vino Frascati, a/k/a that crappy wine the winners spray on each other at the podium every day. Expect an extra big bottle, particularly if Alessandro Petacchi wins... as I will predict.