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My Own Personal Guide to Watching the 2010 Giro d'Italia

A year ago we published the a Guide to watching the Giro d'Italia, offering advice on exactly what point in the race you should shirk various responsibilities in favor of the Centenary Corsa Rosa. I'm not sure exactly how many of you foresook careers and loved ones on that advice, and if there isn't a principle in family law that recognizes a centenary grand tour as an excuse for non-support of your family, there should be. On further review, however, I feel like it's a bit presumptuous of me to tell you how to live your lives. If anything, I should focus on leading by example. So after each stage description (a mix of action and predictable RAI nonsense) is my own plan for watching the stage, or not, and from there you can draw your own conclusions.

Planimetria_generale_mediumSaturday, May 8: Stage 1
Amsterdam ITT, 8km

Action: I've never been a huge fan of prologue-watching, but this is a pure power course and a bit longer than your average prologue, meaning it should have some early implications for who gets/has to carry around the maglia rosa for the first week. The big names (non-doping edition) should be too sensible to get their hands dirty here -- this is a monster Giro, folks -- but the cronomen and basically anyone from Italy will be going all out. Marco Pinotti, anyone?

Pageantry: Pretty over the top. RAI will be a non-stop parade of celebrities, beautiful women, past victors, and hopefully some Dutch dignitaries as well. The race starts behind the Rijksmuseum, so an art theme is possible, though I can't imagine that lasting more than 45 seconds. In other words, this will be Italian TV production at its finest.

The Plan: I don't have DS Little Bear's tee-ball schedule handy, but suffice to say that if it's a morning game, it's canceled. Believe it or not, rainouts are rare here, so I may have to tell him the umpires are on strike.

Sunday, May 9: Stage 2
Amsterdam-Utrecht, 209km

Action: Between the barriers, it will be all about the inevitable sprint. Can Oscarito fly the home colors? Or alternatively Graeme Brown? Personally I would settle for a Greipel-Farrar showdown. Outside the fence, there will be some tension as to whether Frinking or Superted can get themselves on camera. My money's on the latter: Ted lives so close to the finish that the UCI has rented his living room for the post-stage doping controls.

Pageantry: Not good. After Saturday's big blowout, the entire RAI staff will be simultaneously unburdened and available to indulge in a night out on A-Dam. Come Sunday morning, look for everyone wearing sunglasses, even indoors, and a collective loss of short-term memory. Can they explain the Treaty of Utrecht without stopping to order a pizza? Doubtful.

The Plan: Hm, Sunday morning. If we can't wrap up the sprint before Sunday School, well... G-d will still be around in June.

Monday, May 10: Stage 3
Amsterdam-Middelburg, 209km

Action: Another virtually identical race? By the end it may feel that way, though the route to Middelberg goes along the coast, including some long water crossings (up to 10km??), so crosswinds could come into play. This could be more exciting than stage 2, easily.

Pageantry: After the highs and lows of the first weekend, it's down to business for the last of the Holland showcase stages. Look for plenty of windmills and shots of Old Middelberg. Also, this will likely be the first time in history that the Giro has gone below sea level, at least on purpose. The RAI staff's tearful video farewell to the Netherlands should be unwatchable.

The Plan: Watch the replay on the trainer. Monday nights are peaceful, and since Tuesday is a travel day, waiting will help break up the interminable 45-hour break between live races.


Wednesday, May 12: Stage 4
Savigliano-Cuneo TTT, 32.5km

Action: Everyone loves a good team time trial, and this one, while not especially difficult, should make for good times. Nobody is bringing a mega-crono-squad to the Giro as far as I've seen, so the national anti-crono affliction might not be the usual drag, and the entire stage will be tricky to predict. Unlike every TTT the Tour has ever held.

Pageantry: Back to Italy, with much relief. Time trials always allow for lots of messing around, particularly in the early hours.

The Plan: Not sure. The name "Cuneo" used to pair with "Pinerolo" to mean the 1949 Giro stage when Fausto Coppi put the wood to Gino Bartali over five ridiculous alpine ascents, including most notably the Col d'Izoard in France. Now it means the truncated 2009 reenactment of that famous stage, thanks to road problems, one of the biggest letdowns in my time as a cycling fan. Can I put my bitterness aside and rejoin the live broadcast? No. I'll watch, but bitterly.

Thursday, May 13: Stage 5
Novara-Novi Ligure, 168km

Action: Kind of a meh-fest. This is probably a good time to piont out that Daniele Bennatiand Alessandro Petacchi are back in action. It's fun to root for the Greipel/Farrar showdown in Holland, but back in bella Italia the homeboys will be in charge.

Pageantry: Every Giro features one stage that's more or less an excuse to dwell on Fausto Coppi, whose racing and marital exploits have transfixed the nation for half a century. A few grainy racing videos should take up about 30 seconds of RAI coverage, followed by regular checkins with the satellite truck parked in Novi Ligure outside the Villa Carla, home of Fausto and Giulia Occhini, the "White Lady." Will Fausto's former neighbors' descendants make amends to the church for Coppi's infidelity? Will Giulia's grandchildren successfully discredit Bruna Coppi and defend Giulia's moral character? Is the scientific panel at the University of Novi Ligure ready to announce the results of its re-inquiry into the cause of the Campionissimo's mysterious death? This could be Italian television at its finest.

The Plan: Another one for the trainer, though with recording devices on standby.

Friday, May 14: Stage 6
Fidenza-Carrara, 166km

Action: In amongst the 2000+ meters of climbing is the Bedizzano, topping out some 10km from the line, a 3km hump up terrain averaging 8%. If there's any type of rider Italy churns out faster than climbers who can sprint, it's sprinters who can't climb. The gaps won't mean much by Verona, but look for an interesting selection and for the jersey to change hands.

Pageantry: One of maybe six stages with a beach nearby. This is more significant when, like today, the beach is near the finish. If the weather is nice, the RAI helicopter is fairly certain to use the long lag during the post-stage processo to cruise the beach for women whom the pilot wants to put on camera. Possibly NSFW.

The Plan: Get to work early so I can concentrate on the last 15km or so.

Saturday, May 15: Stage 7
Carrara-Montalcino, 215km

Action: A true transitional stage, where the last 100km are ripe for mayhem. If a breakaway doesn't survive, it'll be because an elite group of stage-hunting climber types chased them down. The big names will keep their powder dry for Sunday's epic, but for racing purists this should be good fun.

Pageantry: Nothing special, just a long day at the office interspersed with some wine tasting.

The Plan: Woops, looks like the umpire strike hasn't been settled yet. Well, unless mia moglie is willing to take DS Littler Bear to tee-ball to watch his brother.

Sunday, May 16: Stage 8
Chianciano Terme-Terminillo, 184km

Action: The first major ascent and uphill finish of the Giro, expect to see the favorites emerge, some pretenders melt away, and otherwise a lot of cagey, defensive riding. It's stage 8, nobody's winning anything today.

Pageantry: A semi-serious stage like today's is sure to draw out some Italian climbers whose presence in or near the lead will throw RAI into pretty high gear. Also, the Terminillo has plenty of Giro history. Such as this note from La Gazzetta:

Trekking and summer hiking complete the athletic scene at Terminillo, a parapet overlooking Rieti, the birthplace of Adolfo Leoni, the “aristocrat of the pedal”, as he was defined by Fausto Coppi.

Il Campionissimo! Was there anything he couldn't do? Let's check back with our team outside Villa Carla...

The Plan: Sunday mornings are mine! Without going into details, suffice to say that my wife and I have worked out a plan where I get Sunday mornings off to do my big training and/or racing. I'm still playing catch-up on the latter, which means this is a training day. And watching people climb the Terminillo -- a 16km ramp that fixes on 8% and stays there -- is at least as painful as anything I planned to do on my bike.

Monday, May 17: Stage 9
Frosinone-Cava de'Tirreni, 187km

Action: A classic Giro stage, seemingly harmless looking profile except for the last few KM, when the road rises and shakes up an otherwise predictable finish. Or not -- 3% grades for a few km? 'Tis but a scratch. It'll be a hard sprint, but a sprint anyway.

Pageantry: Muted. The route passes Cassino, victim of a WWII bombing campaign so achingly conjured up in Dino Buzzati's Giro d'Italia. The finish on the Amalfi Coast means endless landscape shots. Plus it's Monday. Fortunately Naples has excellent coffee, even by Italian standards.

The Plan: More trainer material. Monday mornings are a bit nuts anyway.

Tuesday, May 18: Stage 10
Avellino-Bitonto, 220km

Action: Nothing much to speak of, apart from a likely breakaway. This is a downhill run from the Tirreno to the Adriatico, a long haul on the day before an even longer haul. Lotta guys earning their pay on this day.

Pageantry: The most I can say is that the devil makes work for idle cameramen. Beyond that, Bitonto is renowned for its olives. I like a good olive, but still...

The Plan: If I miss a stage, it's this one. Avellino is one of two spots on the route with family connections, but my grandfather's (detested) sheep meadow will be long gone by the time the TV cameras turn on.

Wednesday, May 19: Stage 11
Lucera-L'Aquila, 256km

Action: Pure survival mode. Remember how you felt when you rode your first century, around mile 75? That should capture the mood of the peloton, even before we add in spring weather in the Appennines.

Pageantry: Decidedly somber. L'Aquila was added as a finishing town out of sympathy for the victims of the terrible earthquake that devastated the region just over a year ago, killing 300 people and toppling thousands of old buildings. Reconstruction has been slow and painful, to put it superficially. And turning to cycling won't lift up many spirits either: last time the Giro came to town, local hero Danilo DiLuca won the stage. This day can't end fast enough, for anyone. [And by the way, was there a conscious effort to make tragedy the theme of this entire Giro? Just asking.]

The Plan: This day has "telecommute" written all over it. L'Aquila is the other family connection, just a few km from Fontecchio as well as our actual family village, Capestrano. I'll be glued for the coverage, and need at least a few hours to recover, emotionally.

Thursday, May 20: Stage 12
Citta Sant'Angelo-Porto Recanati, 191km

Action: More transition. Given what's coming, they'll need it. At least this one is delightfully "short" at under 200km, for once. Sprint time in Porto Recanati, a regular stop in Tirreno-Adriatico.

Pageantry: Beaches again! After the previous couple days, the mood should be noticeably lighter.

The Plan: Morning checkin for the finish. I have my weekly crit that afternoon, so I may have to roll into work early.

Friday, May 21: Stage 13
Porto Recanati-Cesenatico, 222km

Action: Another one for the long breakaway crew. Mostly flat along the coast, this stage features a succession of climbs between 50-70km from the line, including some short, nasty ramps. If someone wants to attack here -- and really, we all know the answer -- the pack won't be overly inclined to chase.

Pageantry: Proving the 2010 Giro will leave no tragic stone unturned, it's now time of course to pass through the hometown and resting place of Marco Pantani. The satellite truck will have disembarked from Villa Carla by now to the home of Marco's parents and/or last girlfriend, while the RAI crew checks in with the scientific panel from the University of Cesena to see if they're ready to announce the results of their re-inquiry into il Pirata's mysterious death.

The Plan: There had better be a damn good points competition going if I'm to suffer through the Pantani tributes. Possible skip material. No more effort than what's required to catch the sprint.

Saturday, May 22: Stage 14
Ferrara-Asolo, 202km

Action: Monte Grappa will be the story of the day -- a 19km brute averaging 8% and topping out close enough to the line to matter. The mega-favorites might not attack each other much, given the magnitude of the coming stages, but on a climb like this the GC will at least start to take shape, and if there's a dominant winner, we should know by day's end.

Pageantry: It's business time at the 2010 Giro, as well as the 11th day without a rest and the day before Monte Zoncolan. For the usual frivolty, tune in to Giro Notte, or come back on the rest day.

The Plan: Boy, you'd think they would have sorted out that tee-ball umpire's strike by now, wouldn't you? I mean, do they even have umpires in tee-ball? Ah well, what can you do?

sunday, May 23: Stage 15
Mestre-Monte Zoncolan, 218km

Action: A lot of people will see their GC hopes extinguished today. Monte Zoncolan constitutes ten of the nastiest kilometers in cycling, averaging some 11.5% (not a typo). The commentary over at climbbybike is a funny mix of respect and bile. I don't quite get the Giro history angle -- the race has only been here twice, both won by Gibo Simoni. Anyway, the earlier climbs will hurt enough, as will the distance. And there's a fairly decent chance the Giro will be decided here.

Pageantry: More all-business, although if they start in on the Pantani tributes, I'm going to hurl. The guy finished 5th here in 2003, his last good day on a bike, but as accomplishments go that's one shapeless lump of zirconium. Fortunately the day's events will keep a lid on the sidebar stuff.

The Plan: Same as last Sunday. And if you think watching the Terminillo was good training, well, watching this stage should really put my form over the top.

Tuesday, May 25: Stage 16
Plan de Corones ITT, 12.9km

Action: Needs little introduction. This is a replay of the 2008 ITT on the same terrain, "won" by Franco Pellizotti. Some riders excel more over this kind of terrain in a mass-start than in a time trial (see Basso, Ivan) and not everyone likes this kind of effort without a couple hours of actual racing to warm up. But for the most part the guys from Sunday will be poised to extend their leads.

Pageantry: Still all business. Maybe they can get Pellizotti in the booth to help with the call. That'd be great for ratings.

The Plan: Here is where things get complicated. This day marks the start of a three-day conference with co-workers, including a couple guys in the management chain who are huge cycling fans (hi guys). Worse, it's on the east coast, which means the timing doesn't work with the business day. The only way to watch it live is to skip part of the conference -- emergency call in my room, anyone? -- but this won't go over well if the other cycling nuts are sitting there suffering and notice me missing. My only hope is to make them accomplices in any plan, or to schedule the evening around the rebroadcast and go into full media blackout -- including phone service -- for about 10 hours. The latter seems likely. Seriously, don't even think of texting me for anything less than a life-or-death matter.

Wednesday, May 26: Stage 17
Brunico-Peio Terme, 173km

Action: Minimal. Peio Terme is in the shadow of the Stelvio (52 switchbacks anyone?) and the riders will be happy to keep it that way. There are some undulations but not enough to trouble anyone who survived the previous two stages.

Pageantry: Meh. A zillion landscape shots. Maybe some recon of the Stelvio, to wonder what might have been. Zoncolan, Terminillo, Plan de Corones, Mortirolo, Gavia... would anyone even notice if they had added the Stelvio too?

The Plan: Roughly the same as the previous day without the media blackout. This will be a pretty stage but lacking in any urgency.

Thursday, May 27: Stage 18
Levico Terme-Brescia, 151km

Action: Transitional stage. Like riding in long breakaways? Not dead yet? Today's your day.

Pageantry: Plenty of time to kill. And by stage 18 the crew from RAI could be getting a bit punchy.

The Plan: Under less trying circumstances I would probably tune in, but with travel involved it's almost a sure miss.

Friday, May 28: Stage 19
Brescia-L'Aprica, 195km

Action: Like Alpe d'Huez or Mont Ventoux or the Ghisallo sector of Lombardia, this stage features one of the holy lands of cycling, the loop over the Mortirolo from/to L'Aprica. Maybe the Giro will have been decided by this point, but this is a day where you watch to appreciate cycling and the Giro absolutely, without reference to who wins and loses.

Pageantry: Mortirolo Day isn't just another Giro slugfest. But it is all about cycling. Expect much talk of the Giro greats who have triumphed here, along with plenty of semi-grainy footage (the climb was first used in 1990). Unfortunately the top has sometimes been called the Cima Pantani, after the guy who set the "record" for fastest ascent.

The Plan: Not sure what my travel schedule is at the moment. In other words, it's not too late to rearrange around a viewing window.

Saturday, May 29: Stage 20
Bormio-Ponte di Legno (Tonale), 178km

Action: Last chance for the climbers to make their point. Of course, in past years when the Giro has been this ridiculously hard, the race has ended early, so expecting the GC battle to still be taking shape may be too much to hope for. Nevertheless, we don't name our co-editors after lesser climbs than the Passo di Gavia. Oh, and the Forcola di Livigno is about as hard. And the stage finishes with a 12km hump to Tonale Pass.

Pageantry: There's nothing fun about watching grown men cry.

The Plan: Honestly, it's pretty shameful that they still haven't settled the North Seattle Little League Tee-Ball umpire's strike. Shouldn't someone have called the NLRB by now?

Sunday, May 30: Stage 21
Verona ITT, 15.3km

Action: 90% chance of formality. OK, make that 98%. A 15km time trial won't often make a difference, and among the favorites there are only a couple guys I can identify as "competent" against the watch: Evans and Nibali. The mountain goats will have spent a lot of time making those guys hurt before today, so mostly this will be a coronation and a farewell.

Pageantry: Love and sadness go together like garlic and tomatoes in Italy. So the end of a Giro is often pure poetry.

The Plan: After three blown Sundays and missing my weekly crit, it's time to hit the bike. I can't stand goodbyes, except on replay.