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La Corsa Rosa

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To a foreign racer, at least, the Giro d'Italia is not without its flaws, but the parcours itself is pretty low down on such a list. Once again the organizers have designed a course that makes the imagination -- and the lactic acid -- soar. Not that it's hard to do: the country has about 10 square KM of flat surfaces, and 7600 km of scenic coastline. That fans and cyclotourists find the Corsa Rosa, or pink course, irresistable is no shocker, but in 2007 it's possible the riders will appreciate it too.

Well, maybe not the sprinters. They face untold horrors before getting to any real opportunity for glory, but the time trialers and the climbers will all love this event. Most of what stands out, apart from the usual succession of signature events and climbs, is the length of each day's stage. Recall, last year the race continued to lengthen to July distances, with five of the last eight days topping 220km. This year, following an offseason of soul-searching where race distances were identified as part of the doping complex, there are only three stages topping 200km, all relatively early on. The final week's major challenges range from 146km to 190. Here are some of the highlights.

Stage 1: Caprera-La Maddalene Team Time Trial

The length, 24km, won't be enough to set anyone too far back, but the winding, exposed course could be a dream or a disaster, depending on the winds (and how you feel about them). But Italians love aesthetics (have you seen the official Giro d'Italia fashion spread?), and a team time trial from Garibaldi's birthplace along the waterfront will give the Sunday papers some beautiful photos.

So much more on the Flip...

Stage 3: Barumini-Cagliari

One of, at most, five stages which should be won by a sprinter. This is perhaps the most obvious bunch finish day, besides the final parade into Milan, if only because stage 4 finishes with a 17km climb up Montevergine, throwing the pure sprinters into a survival mode that will grip them for another two weeks. Oh, and they get to burn the first rest day on a ferry back to the mainland afterwards. [Or their bikes will anyway. They do have airplanes in Cagliari I suppose.]

Stage 10: Lido di Camaiore-Santuario Nostra Signora della Guardia

After winding up from Mezzogiorno, skirting past Rome, and rolling through Umbria and Tuscany over tough but not decisive climbs, the peloton will cap its second-longest day (230km) with a hike up to this sanctuary above the Ligurian coast. It's nine km up, maxing out at 14 percent grade close to the top, so expect the climbers to show some interest. And with the bigger mountains still to come, the secondary climbers will all be seeking glory.

Stage 13: Biela-Santuario di Oropa ITT

One of Cycling's most exciting events, the uphill time trial, rewards the riders for having just survived the climb over the Cima Coppi (highest point of the Giro) into France and up the Col d'Izoard the previous day. Pretty much none of the stage's 13km are flat, with the steepest grades (13%) coming around the halfway point. Plus a long transfer to the start and a long transfer after the finish (this Giro has a lot of transfers) make for, well, a long day.

Stage 15: Trento-Tre Cime di Lavaredo

The Queen Stage of the Giro, and if the race isn't quite won here, certainly for most of the riders it will be lost by day's end. 190 km make it 54km longer than Zoncolan Day, and with either four or six huge climbs, depending on whether you think it's worth acknowledging the painfully brief respites before the road turns up yet again. En route are the Passo do San Pellegrino -- 11km in the 7% range -- and the Passo Giau -- 9.8km averaging at close to 10% -- before coming to this:

The finishing climb up Tre Cime is an absolute brute: 21km in all, 15km of them being uphill, by which I mean stretches of 12 and 18% before the final 4km riser, a non-stop beast of 12% average and 18% max. Even with the rest day following, only one person, at most, will be smiling afterwards.

Stage 17: Lienz (AUT)-Monte Zoncolan

Anyone who didn't swear when they heard about this stage wasn't planning to ride the Giro. The first 130km will be a workout, but it would be understandable if nobody felt like going out too fast. Not with the final climb looking like so:

As usual, Pez rode the Zoncolan and has some telling photos. You can claim that this is worse than the Tre Cime stage on this basis alone, and nobody would argue much with you. Pick your poison. Anyway, if you can't climb like a mountain goat, this won't be your day.

Stage 20: Gardaland-Verona ITT

A flat 40km time trial to sort out whatever time gaps are still in the single-digit minutes. This will either decide the winner or be completely unnecessary.

Take the poll on your right as to which stage you're most looking forward to.