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Le Belle Tappe

[editor's note, by chris] Translation: the beautiful stages.

When it comes to designing transitional stages, nobody beats the Giro organizers. Think of all the long, hot, dusty stages across the flat areas of Spain, or yet another straight flat shot through Bordeaux in the Tour. The Giro has almost none of those. Think of last year's stage 4, along the Amalfi Coast. The Giro has lots of those.

I can think of two main reasons why the Giro is more of a visual delight than its grand tour counterparts: the Italian insistence (often to a fault) that everything is or should be beautiful; and geography. Skipping the former... I don't know every corner of Italy (yet), but apart from Emilia and Romagna there are very few flat spots, and when they say "mountains," they mean it. Add in some disproportionate amount of coastline, and frankly it's hard to design a stage that isn't beautiful. It's like planning a race in California, with twice as many water views and none of the traffic.

Since beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, consider this a survey... what stage (besides the obviously decisive ones) are you mostly looking forward to? For me, it's easy: stage 3 from Catania to Milazzo. First, my "Italian" experience consists largely of a glorious honeymoon in Sicily, the route of which is covered by parts of stages 2 and 3. Secondly, Stage 3 will be visual overload: Mount Etna could be the Italian Ventoux, but for the volcano's tendency to belch forth deadly anoxic gases at the summit. So instead the race follows the tourist route, climbing up the volcano to the open lava fields, around the cone, and back down to safety. Once they hit sea level, the peloton will make a promenade along the mouth-watering Ionian coast: think Amalfi without the price gouging. Over the right shoulder, a beautiful sea; over the left, old Sicilian villages hanging from the cliffs.

Other nominations?