Saturday kicks off a great weekend of cycling with the Giro dell'Emilia, a race that matters for a handful of reasons. First, it injects a massive jolt of energy into the fall calendar, right at the moment cycling fans can feel themselves slipping toward the looming offseason slumber. [Warning: actual offseason may not involve slumber.] It's also not a bad place to show off a newly-acquired jersey, for some lucky world champion, though circumstances (8,000 flying miles) and the identity of the winner should take that element out of this weekend's equation.
A diatribe, and a plea for your help! On the flip...
Most importantly, this being Italy and all, the race brings us the beautiful and competitvely significant climb to the Santuario della Beata Vergine di San Luca. The hill itself is known as the Colle della Guardia, 2km of leg-snapping gradients rising 215 meters, a cool 11% average with some ramps over 16% and mostly double-digit figures all the way up. But the star of the show is the Sanctuary, with its promenade of 666 stone arches lining the route to the Sanctuary that towers over the verdant hills outside Bologna. This shot does it no justice whatsoever, but gives you a sense of the layout:
The racers ride alongside, rather than inside, the famous arcade, built to protect an icon of the Virgin Mary as it was paraded up the hill. Not where you want to lay down tire marks or spill your Isostar bottle, though they pop through an arch here and there. Anyway, the combination of the riders struggling to the line on the fifth trip up the Colle, and the reddish-brown stone arches packed with fans, en route to the piazza, is perhaps the most visually stunning scene in pro cycling.
Or is it? Can you say what your favorite finish line is in the sport of cycling? Obviously the high alpine peaks offer tremendous natural beauty, and comparing them to the San Luca climb is apples-to-oranges. As for recurring finishes back down closer to Earth, this has to rate #1 for me. A few others to consider would be the Mur de Huy, the industrial coolness of the Roubaix Velodrome (under iron grey skies, of course), the descent off the Poggio to the line in San Remo, and in a very different way the Champs Elysees. Quebec and Montreal could make the list, but it seems premature to go there just yet. Got some other finishing scenes to nominate? If we get a good debate going, and some further nominations, I'll put it to a poll. Thanks!