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Giro d’Italia: I hear there’s some climbing

Giro d'Italia Como By Susie Hartigan

Chasing Giro 2011, Parte Uno

Over the weekend, the Giro d’Italia announced its course for next year’s race. It involves some mountains. A rather large number of mountains, in fact. The Giro will include seven mountain-top finishes, and that’s not counting the random assortment of stages that have uphill finishes. There are several.

If you like time trials, you are out of luck. There is only one flat individual time trial, and it falls on the final day of the race. There’s also a team time trial in place of a prologue, and an uphill race against the watch. Apparently, you can never have too much climbing.

Below the fold, I take a closer look at this year’s Giro. With pictures! And climbing profiles! Except when I couldn’t find them! This installment covers the first week of next year’s Giro. Watch for a second part to cover the rest. Because you really can’t have too much Giro. If you’d like to follow along at home, here is Gazzetta’s Giro stage list.

The 2011 Giro celebrates 150 years of Italian unity, and the race begins in the northern city of Torino which served as the first capital of united Italy. It’s a flat team time trial to start things off. Never fear, the course runs only 21 kilometers, so it shouldn’t cause too much damage to the overall classification. Which is good. We would not want anyone to lose the Giro on the first day. Except maybe Riccò. Did I say that? I think I just said that.

From Torino, the Giro races from Alba to Parma for one of the very few straight-up sprinter stages of the race. Then, the Italian grand tour runs into the hilly terrain it likes best. Two stages take the Giro down the Ligurian coast, running from Reggio-Emilia to Rapallo (by way of the Passo del Bocco) and Quarto dei Mille to Livorno (by way of the Passo del Bracco). Both stages boast climbs conveniently placed within the final 10 kilometers, which could mean trouble for the sprinters.2011 Giro d'Italia map With fresh legs for the chasing, it’s possible the sprint teams could bring these stages back together by the finish. But it won’t be a sure thing. Mmm, the scent of suspense, my favorite thing.

The Giro is headed toward Sicilia, so it’s all south all the time during the first week. Of the next four stages, all except one have an uphill finish. Running southeast from Piombino to Ovrieto, the fifth stage climbs three short passes at Saragiolo, Croce di Fighine, and Valico di Monte Nibbio. Then, it’s 5 kilometers of climbing to the line in Orvieto. On to Fiuggi Terme, the sixth stage runs all up and down. It should be a day for the breakaway boys, as it’s the kind of terrain that burns up the legs of the chasers.

The following day, a short 100 kilometer stage takes the Giro from Maddaloni to Montevergine di Mercogliano. The final climb includes a maximum gradient of 10%, which comes just before the finish. It’s fast and switchbacking, and we should see a gruppo ristretto of favorites arrive together. The most recent winners on this climb are Damiano Cunego in 2004 (jail stripes and no helmets, oh my!) and Danilo DiLuca in 2007 (bread and water, baby!). Someone’s legs will hurt here, and this stage will offer the first glimpse of who has brought his climbing legs to the Giro.

No rest for the weary, a long stage from Sapri to Tropea brings the Giro at last to the tip of the boot and within sight of the first week’s grand finale. It’s a long grind down the coast to Tropea and a short uphill jaunt to the line. The finish is twisty, steep, and good positioning will win the day. Most recent winner? Why Paolo Bettini, of course. Bettini won in Tropea in 2005.

Zomes to Prudhomme: Oh yeah? You’ve got mountains? Well, I've got a Volcano. Nyah nyah nyah.

Zomes to California: Don’t even talk to me.

After a lengthy run down the length of Italy, the Giro comes to the grand finale of the first week: the climbing stage finish at Mount Etna. Not only does the Giro have a volcano, it has an active volcano. Because you know, the Giro isn’t exciting enough as it is. (If you’re worried it might erupt, feel free to keep an eye on the webcam.) The stage begins in Messina and climbs Etna from two sides. The stage finishes at altitude, because if you’re going to climb a volcano, you might as well put the finish at the top. Actually, it’s the not the real top, as Etna reaches just over 3300 meters at its highest point, and the Giro finishes at 1904 meters. Simoni would surely be disappointed in such candyassing.

The first ascent runs to Etna Citelli (Rifugio Lenza on the course profile) on the northern slopes of the volcano. It is nearly 30 kilometers of uninterrupted climbing from Fiumefreddo di Sicilia on the coast to the Rifugio Lenza at 1631 meters above sea level. Giro d'Italia PodicciFrom the summit, the course descends and runs around the base of the mountain. Then, it climbs again on the south side, from Nicolesi to Rifugio Sapienza at the summit. The finish line sits at 1904 kilometers on the flanks of Etna. You can see the whole world! Unless it’s cloudy.

This Etna stage, which takes the Giro briefly into Sicilia, should create the first separation among the climbers. With so much climbing left to go, no one will win the Giro on Mount Etna, but certainly, someone could see his hopes evaporate in the heat of the southern sun.

A rest day and a lengthy transfer by plane follow the Etna stage. Prediction: Twitter will crack under the onslaught of rider complaints about this transfer. After the rest day, the Giro resumes in Termoli on the Adriatic Coast, and begins its northward journey to the high mountains of Italy, Austria, and France.

Read Part 2.

Photo: Susie Hartigan