You've all seen the flowery press release from the organisers of the Giro Donne describing this year’s route, but even in translation there is probably a big question mark in your heads. What exactly does that all mean? So on the flip there’s a quick run through of the individual stages that seeks to answer those questions you all have buzzing around in your heads. What in cycling terms is "the perfect conjunction"? Jet-women on a billiard table? And most crucially of all, where exactly does Noemi Cantele live?
In 2009 the Giro Donne travelled through the south of Italy, and if you watch any of the videos available on You Tube you’ll see that it managed to be both spectacular and intimate, and showed us that Italy is sickeningly beautiful even in the bits that aren’t on the main tourist trail. This year it heads to the far north, traversing the four northernmost Italian-speaking provinces and taming the Alps.
Stage 1 - Muggia-Trieste 59km – 2 July
In a change from the traditional evening prologue, this year we start with a proper road stage in the easternmost corner of Italy, very close to the Slovenian border. It’s not a simple point to point race however, instead they ride an 8km circuit in Muggia four times (passing on every lap the HQ of Pasta Zara, a longtime supporter of women’s racing in Italy and one of this year’s major sponsor of the Giro itself) then head over to Trieste to do three laps of a 4k circuit. There’s a little timy bump between Muggia and Trieste, but given that the top two teams, Cervelo and HTC-Columbia, also have the top two sprinters, Wild and Teutenberg, this is a sprint finish.
Stage 2 - Sacile-Riese Pio X 130km – 3 July
As is the way with both versions of the Giro, next comes a long ride on the bus, but as the autostrada runs from Trieste to Pordenone, a few k short of Sacile, it shouldn’t be much of a problem. I hope not anyway as today sees the longest stage of this year’s Giro. The course heads west from the town of Sacile to cross the river Piave at Nervasa della Battaglia, the high point of the day at just 168m, although it could be quite steep if the profile is to be believed. There are, however another 70 k to the finish including three laps of a circuit around Riese Pio X, so it looks like another day for the sprinters.
Stage 3 - Caerano S. Marco-Biadene di Montebelluna 16.9km Individual TT – 4 July
Last year’s Giro TT concluded with a really nasty climb. This year’s version is about as untechnical a timetrial as you are ever likely to see, which really should give the favourites a chance to put some time into each other and to snatch the maglia rosa back from those pesky sprinters. Yo can’t even blame a poor performance on getting lost going to and from the hotel as this starts in the neighbouring village from where yesterday’s stage ended. This is the so called perfect conjunction, running from the headquarters of one sponsor, Diadora, to those of another, Geox.
Stage 4 - Ficarolo-Lendinara 90km – 5 July
After another transfer to the south of Padova, stage 4 meanders through the Po valley west and South of Rovigo. Any hills that may once have existed on the Po valley have been washed away by years of spring thaws washed down from the Alps, yet come July, the Po itself, alongside which todays route initially runs, will be no more than a little trickle . Today’s low point, 3m above sea level. The high point, 9m above. Lendinara was a finish for the Giro in 2008, the winner then Teutenberg. Nuff said.
Stage 5 - Orta San Giulio-Pettenasco 122km – 6 July
After a long transfer from the Northeast to the Northwest, the GC should start to get a bit more interesting. This stage should be spectacular, following the road which circles Lago d’Orta for three circuits before an uphill finish in nearby Pettenasco. The climb of Ameno also sees the first proper GPM points awarded. The organisers describe it as rideable, but tempting for breaks and attacks. The last ascent comes under 10k from the finish line, so the GC contenders will have to be alert.
Stage 6 - Gallarate-Arcisate 116.7km – 7 July
Another 100km+ transfer to Gallarate takes the riders to the start of stage 6, and if you’ve only been skimming to find out where Noemi lives then this is the paragraph you want. But unless you can ride your bike very fast then you ain’t gonna catch her. This stage doesn’t look as nasty on the map as yesterday’s stage, but the organisers advise caution. We are in Varese, familiar from last year’s World championship, even if the race skirts around the city itself, but she’s not the only local. The Australians have a house somewhere nearby and Nicole Cooke doesn’t live that far away in Switzerland, so even now there may be riders plotting exactly where they need to attack to avoid the nastiest road furniture.
Stage 7 - Como-Albese 110.8km – 8 July
There’s yet another bus transfer to Como, but now the climbing gets serious. This stage includes two biggies: the Sormano (1124m) and the well known Ghisallo (754m) before finishing at Albese con Cassano, the home village of Fabio Casartelli. The Sormano is unlikely to make much difference to the race overall, since it is so far from the finish, but someone could be tempted to try to get away on the Ghisallo and hold everyone off until Albese.
Stage 8 - Chiavenna-Livigno 93km – 9 July
Back on the bus again for an 80km transfer up to Chiavenna on the Swiss border, and if you finished one of the stages back in the Po valley, thought "gosh, this is easy" and went out partying for the night then you will really be regretting it. Actually it’s about now that you might start regretting not buying a motorcycle or even a pony instead of a bike, because now it gets really tough. Little Tibet is what the locals call this place. The stage leaves Chiavenna, about 333m above the sea, climbs up to the Passo di Maloja in Switzerland, 1815m high and 30km away, stays flattish for another 30km including going straight through the middle of ultra-glamorous St. Moritz before climbing another 500m to Forcola di Livigno on the way back to Italy and the finish in Livigno. The last 15km or so are all downhill, but only that extra 500m; the other 1500m of height stays in the legs.
Stage 9 – Livigno-Stelvio 68.5km – 10 July
OK this is the real meat of this year’s Giro, but as you’ve seen the organisers have given it a pretty good build-up. And thankfully they’ve also been saving up another little treat as stage 9 starts exactly where stage 8 finished. No transfer, just hotel, food, massage and bed. And let’s hope that they do sleep well and not wake up thinking about what’s to come. There’s a pretty good chance that whoever wins today wins the Giro, especially when you consider the cumulative effects of the last few days, and the lack of opportunity to recover properly. This is the first time the Giro Donne has been here, I’m sure we’ll find a lot more excuses for writing about it in the months to come.
Stage 10 - Autodromo di Monza-Monza 115km – 11 July
The GC should have been decided, there are no more GPM points, so all the holders of those jersies have to do is just hold on to the slipstream of whichever sprinters are left in the race. Another long bus ride leads to three loops of the Monza autodrome, then a trip out through the countryside and back for another spectacular finish in front of the Royal Palace in Monza. The terrain is just lump enough to tempt a break, just flat enough to make the sprinters want to keep it under control, and it will all come down to who has managed to save a little bit of leg strength from the Alps.
All these maps and profiles are available in a single pdf from Cicloweb on this page