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Giro d'Italia: And still, more mountains

Dolomiti Giro d'Italia By Susie Hartigan

Chasing Giro 2011: Part 3

And so we come at last to the final week of the Giro. (Wondering how you got here? Check out part 1 and part 2.) After the devilishly difficult weekend of the Zoncolan, the Giau, and the Fedaia, the riders receive a brief respite. Yes, at last, a rest day. But the good times don’t last, and soon it’s back into the mountains for still more climbing as the Giro winds its way to Milano.

The Giro organizers seem to have acquired an allergy to time trials. Certainly, next year’s race is no dream for the cronomen. The race includes only two individual time trial stages, and one of those stages is uphill. The cronoscalata returns to the Giro during stage 16. The course runs 12.6 kilometers stage from Belluno to Nevagal. The Nevagal climb is of the switch-backing persuasion. (You can stop climbing at Nevagal, though the profile continues a few kilometers further uphill.) The climb starts out easy, then pitches up steeply to 11%. As the road wends its way to the top, there are "easier" sections intermixed with steep ramps. I use that term "easy" rather loosely, of course. Definitely, this stage won’t tickle. Right now, it all looks rather snowy.

The following day, the riders awaken to more climbing. The stage runs from Feltre to Sondrio, and includes the Passo Tonale, Aprica, and a relatively short climb, Montagna Vallelina just outside Treviso. By the standards of this Giro, this stage is Giro d'Italia By Susie Hartiganrelatively easy on the legs. The Passo Tonale never hits anything like 12% (scandal!), while the climb from Edolo to Aprica has fairly slack gradients. Aprica has served as a finishing climb on several occasions in recent years. You want to know the best part about this stage? Descending finish! The road drops off the Montagna Vallelina and it’s a fast descent to the line. Vincenzo Nibali has already marked it down in his diary.

Only one climb? The Giro organizers are getting soft, here. The riders roll out from Morbegno, and the first 100 kilometers of stage 18 are mostly flat. Then, it’s one big climb over the Passo di Ganda. Rising up from Gazzaniga, the Passo di Ganda is a new addition to the Giro d’Italia. It’s around 10 kilometers of climbing with gradients in the 7%-9% range. Difficult, but not monstrous. From the summit of the Ganda, it’s a long bumpy descent and there are just under 5 kilometers of flat racing to the finish in San Pellegrino Terme. Looks good for the breakaway riders, this one.

After racing through the mountains of Giulia-Venezia and Trentino-Alto Aldige, the Giro arrives in northwestern Italy near the border with France. Running from Bergamo to Macugnaga, this stage passes tantalizingly close to Milano. There’s one major climb and an uphill finish. Sounds easy, eh? It’s all relative like time and light. Or so they tell me. The main climb of the day, the Mottarone, looks rather unpleasant. The climb runs 10.5 kilometers and hits gradients in the 10%-12% range. The sprinters, if there are any sprinters still left in this Giro, will be looking for the grupetto.

Twenty kilometers of flat racing follow the long descent from the Mottorone, and the race may well come back together. Certainly, the climb sets up the possibility of a quality drag race through the roads of Piemonte. The final 30 kilometers of the stage are uphill from Piedimulera to the finish in Macugnaga, which hosts its first Giro finish this year. The finishing climb starts with a rather wall like 2 kilometers, then, it’s a steady grind to the top. In the normal way of things, this climb isn’t difficult enough to force a selection, but deep in the third week of a difficult grand tour, strange things can happen. Vediamo.

Some races become immediately famous. You watch them knowing that you will not likely forget them any time soon. In 2005, the Giro climbed the Colle delle Finestre, a climb notable for its gravel roads. On the early slopes, Simoni, DiLuca, and Rujano, the on-form climbers of that Giro, escaped. Pushing against gravity and the clock, the threesome ran down the race lead of Paolo Savoldelli. Italian television, milking every drop of drama, ran black and white filters over the video. Anything in black and white must certainly be heroic. Savoldelli, known best for his fearless descending, never lost his nerve. Throughout that Giro, and all his Giro victories, he rode doggedly against the flamboyant attacking of the climbers.

At the summit, the white gravel blinding in the sun, the threesome held a solid advantage over Savoldelli. But the Bergamasco had not played his final card, and on the road to the stage finish at Sestrière, the race turned over. Simoni and Rujano left DiLuca for dead on the road, after DiLuca cramped. I crampi, i crampi! Savoldelli, meanwhile, found (or bought) friends on the road, and the lead of the climbers steadily disappeared. At the line, Simoni declined to sprint Rujano. In the end, the dramatic attack dissolved into nothing more than a beautiful memory, and Savoldelli ended the Giro as the overall winner.

This year, the Giro d’Italia returns again the Colle delle Finestre with this stage beginning in Verbania. The first 188 kilometers are mostly flat, but never fear, the finale will more than compensate for it. From Susa, it’s nearly 19 kilometers of climbing to the summit, and much of that climb is on gravel roads. The gradients hang in the 9%-10% range, with several steep bits as the road switchbacks to the summit.Milano Duomo Giro d'Italia By Susie Hartigan There’s nowhere to hide on this one, and only the climbers will smile at the thought of this stage. The Giro again pairs the Finestre with the climb to Sestrière. The finishing climb follows almost immediately after the long, twisting descent from the Finestre and offers a last chance for a rider to recoup his losses. Good luck with that, I hope you find a few friends on the road.

It’s all over but the crying, or so you’d think. This year, the Giro finishes with a time trial in Milano, all the more reason for the sprinters to go home early. The 32.8 kilometer test runs from the Piazza Castello to the Piazza del Domo. It is entirely flat. The stage is long enough to alter the overall standings, should the mountains have failed in the business of blowing apart the bike race. If any two riders are close on time after the mountain stages of this Giro, it will be quite remarkable.

So, there it is, the 2011 Giro d’Italia. It’s plainly a climber’s party, which seems to be the trend in grand tours right at the moment. Also, this race is quite ridiculously hard. We are months from seeing a startlist, but it should be interesting to see who decides to take a crack at this mountainous race. Surely, no one with hopes of Yellow in July will want to drag his carcass over so many mountains. Their loss, really, for the rider who wins this Giro will certainly have earned his shirt.

Okay, my work is done here.

Photos: Susie Hartigan. Grazie Mille, Susie!