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Stage 12 Preview: Scalenghe - Briançon

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Some details about the stage from Il Ciclismo:

  • At 2744 meters above sea level, the road over the Colle d'Agnello (the Cima Coppi as well as the Italian/French border) is the highest paved road in Italy, 14 meters above the Stelvio.
  • The Agnello is also the site of some 15th-century escapade called "le cheval errant," which I think has to do with a stray horse, but I can't find an English version. I'm sure it was hilarious though, except maybe to the French and Italians.
  • At 1452 meters gained, it is the largest single chunk of vertical rise in this year's Giro. By comparison, the Zoncolan checks in at 1200 meters gained.
  • The other dimensions: the climb is 30km long, making the grade average out at a manageable 6.5%... with at least one small ramp at 15%. All of the lengths and averages vary depending on where you think the climb begins. These are the Giro's official #s.
  • Three times the Giro has ended at Chianale, two-thirds of the way up the slope, with Dario Frigo winning here most recently in 2003. My Italian is poor, but I get the sense the race has never gone all the way over the pass before?? Though the Tour de l'Avenir came here in 1976.
  • Then on to the Col d'Izoard, a mythical landscape including the Casse déserte (which Il Ciclismo refers to as a lunar landscape) and a monument to Coppi and Bobet, who dueled here during the Tour. The Izoard, IIRC, was also part of the Cuneo-Pinerolo stage where Coppi seized the 1949 Giro by the throat.
  • Izoard stats: 14km at 7.3% average grade, max grade 14%. Not fun. This is the south face, which I believe is the opposite from what the Tour uses? From there it's a steep 22km down to Briançon.

The stage finish in the valley reduces the chances that the climbers will truly sort themselves out tomorrow, though a tricky descent may prevent anyone who blew up on the Izoard climb from rejoining their rivals. We'll see. Mostly, this is a stage to soften up the riders... there's a lot of suffering packed into these climbs, and if the gaps don't show up Thursday, look for them on Friday or Saturday.

Also, RAI is insane if they don't assign a motorbike to Paolo Savoldelli. As the most respected (?) descender in the field, at least among the heads of state, Savoldelli's chances rate from excellent to miserable tomorrow. He could completely come unravelled on the long ascent... though the early returns suggest he's better than he was a year ago. He could also make it across the Izoard with the leaders... and unleash a dizzying downhill attack for the stage win. Or he could do his usual climb-at-my-pace where he gives the impression all is lost, only to rejoin the mountain goats on the way down.

We are not guaranteed major fireworks tomorrow; all we know is this stage is going to hurt just about everyone... and could begin the final sorting.