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Giro d'Italia: Yes, there are mountains

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Dolomiti Giro d'Italia By Susie Hartigan

Chasing Giro 2011: Part 2

In our last episode, we reached the summit of Europe’s most active volcano, Mount Etna. After a long transfer and a rest day, the Giro resumes in Termoli. During its first week, the Giro travelled south to the tip of the boot. Now, it’s time to head back north to the Dolomiti, the Alps, and the Giro’s finale in Milano.

Three transitional stages move the Giro up the map toward the mountainous north, and the second week of the race opens with a sprinter-friendly stage running from Termoli to Teramo. There’s a long grind to the line in Teramo, but it should suit the fast men, those who actually bother to show up, that is. The following day, the Giro stays on the Adriatic Coast, but the flat days are over. It’s all up and down from Tortoreto-Lido to Castelfidardo, and four main climbs provide the day’s entertainment. The climbers will like this finish, as the road runs 9 kilometers uphill to the line. Now, now, don’t cry, sprinty boys. Those sprinters adventurous enough to take on this Giro (or whose teams are desperate enough) will find their reward during stage 12, which runs over flat terrain from Castelfidardo to Ravenna. The most recent winner in Ravenna was Alessandro Petacchi. Too bad the party won’t last.

For the Giro soon says arrivederci to the Adriatic Coast and its happy flat roads and white sand beaches. Three hard mountain stages stand between the riders and the second rest day. Until unification, much of Northern Italy belonged to the Austrian empire, and for stage 13, the Giro heads into the Austrian Tyrol to finish on the Grossglockner. Giro d'Italia Zoncolan By Susie HartiganWe’re in the northeast corner of Italy now, in the Venezia-Giulia region. The stage sets out from Spilimbergo, a town not far from Udine. After 50 kilometers of mostly flat racing, the first climb appears, the Passo di Monte Croce Carnico, which marks the border crossing from Italy to Austria. A short bump interrupts the descending goodness, but 20 kilometers of flat racing follow the descent. That should make everything okay.

A bit of a stinger comes next. The Iselsbergpass is relatively short, but the gradients hang in the 7%-8% range. After a short descent, the stage begins climbing and doesn’t stop until it reaches the finish at Kasereck on the Grossglockner. The final 30 kilometers of the stage are uphill, though the Grossglockner is listed at 13 kilometers. The climb continues beyond the finish, so don’t let the profile lead you astray. You can stop climbing at Kasereck. Because really, I know you were dying to keep going.

Another day, another mountain-top finish. That’s just how it goes at the Giro d’Italia. The Giro returns again to the Zoncolan, which provides the finale for this stage that departs from Lienz in Austria. In the main, mountains define the borders between Italy and Austria, and this stage crosses several before reaching the Monte Zoncolan, nicknamed "the Monster." You know you’ve made it as a mountain, when you have your own nickname.

The stage profile is a bit silly, when it comes right down to it. It’s not enough to climb the Monte Zoncolan. Rather, the Giro passes over four categorized climbs before reaching the "the Monster:" Passo di Monte Croce Comelico, Passo di Saint’Antonio, Passo della Mauria, Monte Zoncolan Giro d'Italia By Susie HartiganMonte Crostis, and Monte Zoncolan. These final two climbs are a nasty pair of troublemakers. The Monte Crostis offers just under 15 kilometers of unrelentingly steep climbing. Several sections hit 11% and the maximum gradient comes near the top at 14%.

And that’s not the hardest climb of the day. The Monte Zoncolan returns to the Giro this year, and the riders will climb it from Ovaro just as they did in 2010. Ivan Basso is the most recent winner on the Monster. Gilberto Simoni has also won on the Zoncolan (or, with music!), and holds the distinction of winning the ascent from both sides of the mountain. If there was any doubt that this Giro is for the climbers, this stage with its fearsome double of the Monte Crostis and the Monte Zoncolan should lay those doubts to rest. The time gaps should yawn open by the summit of the Zoncolan, as the monster gorges itself on the hopes and legs of the Giro favorites.

There’s still one more mountain stage to go before the second rest day. This one’s a classic Dolomiti death march that crosses four passes before finishing at altitude at Gardeccia Val di Fassa. That’s five climbs in all. (Yes, sometimes, I can count.) The stage departs Conegliano and with rather uncivilized haste climbs the Piancavallo. Are there any climbs without 12% gradients in the Dolomiti? I’m going to go out on a limb and say no. In fact, I feel certain there is a law on this matter. The course bumps along for a bit, then it’s on to the Forcella Cibiana, which stays true to the Dolomiti trend of being rather steep and nasty.

From the Forcella Cibiana, it’s a long, gradual climb up the valley to the base of the Passo Giau, the Cima Coppi for this year’s Giro. Mountain goats only beyond this point. The Giau is a frequent fixture at the Giro. It’s not especially long, at under 10 kilometers, but it’s consistently steep. There’s really no space for recovery on this one.

Following the descent off the Passo Giau, the climbing begins again immediately on the Passo Fidaia. The Fidaia is known as the Graveyard of Champions. You see what I told you about nicknames? Giro d'Italia Dolomiti By Susie HartiganIt’s also one of the more picturesque of the Dolomiti climbs as the road on the lower slopes of the climb serpentines through rock crevices dotted with waterfalls. The passo summits high above the tree level in the signature wind-carved rocks of the Dolomiti. The final climb of the day to Gardeccia Val di Fassa is noticeably easier than the monsters that precede it. This is typical Giro style. It’s only just over 6 kilometers to the summit, but the Gardeccia Val di Fassa does follow the 12% rule. Inside 3 kilometers to go, the road is wicked steep.

At last, the Giro d’Italia reaches its second rest day. During its second week, the Italian grand tour runs nearly the length of the boot from Termoli in the south to Trentino-Alto Aldige in the north. The final mountain stages loom ever closer now, and after the rest day comes a climbing time trial to Nevegal and then, still more mountains. But that, my friends, is a story for another day!

Go on, read part 3.