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West Coast Parents' Guide to Watching the 2011 Giro d'Italia!

Holy crap you guys... it's GIRO WEEK!!! Let the amore begin...

You've heard of our Workingman's Guide, first to the Tour de France two years ago and to the Giro d'Italia last year? The objective then was to examine each stage of these glorious grand tours, gauge the watchability of each, and dispense advice to working people everywhere as to when and how to quit their job to maximize their enjoyment of the Giro or Tour.

Giro-main_mediumWell, I enjoy and respect my job, but my kids don't. It's fair to say they don't really see that far beyond their immediate needs and amusements. And my kids tend to run the show, in the same unofficial and under-acknowledged way that weather determines my mood or the Bank of China owns my neighborhood. So I thought it would be fun to look at this year's Giro stages through the prism of the parenting decisions that I and similarly situated people in my time zone will be forced to make over the coming three weeks. Basically, the conclusion of every day's stage will occur right about at that time of day when critical decisions and actions are undertaken to get the kids' day going. In short, it's a mess, so guidance is needed.

Don't have kids? Stuck in the East or (gasp!) Europe? Our user-friendly guide is all about charting urgency, which you can apply to your own unique circumstances.

[Ed: Now, with stage links!]

Stage 1: Venaria Reale -- Torino TTT, 21.5km (Sat. 5/7)

Action: Team time trials aren't a ton of action, but a fluid team paceline is pretty to watch, and the chance for something horribly embarrassing to happen is as high as it gets without banana peels or North Sea winds being involved. After all, if there are two things Italian Cycling isn't famous for, it's time trials and cooperation. 

Pageantry: Day 1 of the Giro d'Italia is like the Super Bowl, World Cup, and New York Fashion Week all rolled into one. The pre- and post race processo will make the stage itself seem quaint and only vaguely necessary.

The Plan: For West Coast parents, the leisurely start to the Giro -- a stage that takes less than two hours -- means there's no need to get up too early. However, Saturdays are pure mayhem: baseball, soccer, gymnastics, gymnastic soccer, etc., so you may need to catch the highlights. But do catch them. For the luckier parents, Saturday is still date night, and one way you could spruce up your marriage is by gleaning fashion tips for the evening. White silk shirt and blue jeans? What works for Cipo can work for your family too!

BONUS! East coast parents! (weekends only) Since it's the weekend, I'd still put this in the record-and-watch category. Nice way to wash down a little chianti when the kids are winding down from their 4th or 5th activity of the day.

Stages 2-21... alla flippa!

Stage 2: Alba -- Parma, 242km (Sun. 5/8)

Action: Holy crap!! 242km? Three or four days from now and it would have "piano stage" written all over it, but this is the first mass start of the Giro, so the sprinters' teams will be playing yo-yo with the inevitable breaks all day.

Pageantry: No doubt at the start line you'll see the same collection of stars from the opening day. And there's the added suspense over whether any of them are still wearing the same clothes.

The Plan: West coast parents: I'll leave it up to you to judge the gullibility of any children involved, but if you consider this the Lord's day, you might further consider laying down the foundation for a few other religious concepts. Did you know that you can see more churches by watching the Giro than by sitting in one? Can I tell you the story of La Madonna del Ghisallo? I'd say you don't need to skip services for this one, but by the time you're finished reading this whole list you'll understand my advice about planning ahead.

BONUS! East coast parents -- unless the weather truly sucks, this is probably one for the recorder. Six hours' march to a sprint is hard to wait around for if the sun's out.

Stage 3: Reggio Emilia -- Rapallo, 173km (Mon. 5/9)

Action: God, I freaking love the Giro, and this will be the first (OK, third) day of the race where I am reminded of why. The others are catching on, but it's the Giro who wrote the book on how to take an innocuous early stage and make it surprisingly fun. Today is the first of those, thanks to the Madonna Delle Grazie peaking out 9km from the finish. In the preview video Zomegnan doesn't say much, so maybe it won't turn out to be very exciting, but then that's sort of like saying "that race didn't mean much, just listen to Edvald Boasson Hagen's reaction." The Madonna is a mere 2.6km but at close to 8%, and with a downhill, another brief climb, and a bomb to the line. After the previous day's death march, the chance of action at the finish is 50%, minimum. 

Pageantry: Low. Fashion people don't do Mondays, do they?

The Plan: Tough one. DS Little Bear cherishes Monday circle time, when he can get up and tell his classmates in unison about his new pogo stick record (570, yo). I guess I'll give in and take him to school on time... just this once. The saving grace is that the good part, if it happens, should fit neatly inside the Sporza wrapup video clip.

Stage 4: Genova -- Livorno, 216km (Tue. 5/10)

Action: Another flat stage with a sneaky little 4km climb close to the line. It's hard to know whether something so short will preempt the sprinters; on a long day with so little climbing I'll guess no. Particularly with a real mayhem-stage on tap for tomorrow.

Pageantry: The route is almost entirely along the Ligurian coast, which means the helicopter cam will be scoping out the talent on the beach. Special attention paid to topless sunbathers last featured in Saturday's gala. Otherwise, niente.

The Plan: Get the kids off to school and watch the processo from the office. Maybe get in a workout. Most of the decisions get harder from here on out.

Stage 5: Piombino -- Orvieto, 191km (Wed. 5/11)

Action: Don't believe me that the Giro is stage-hunting heaven? Today's romp -- featuring two categorized climbs and a finishing ascent -- should shuffle the closing deck nicely. None of the climbs are especially difficult but the last 2.5km are uphill, including a 500m stretch averaging over 11%. 

Pageantry: Meh. After four days of mostly coastline and urban settings, don't wait for the models to helicopter in to this hilltop village.

The Plan: An important part of every child's education is teaching them that a grand tour presents a special opportunity for several different classes of riders, each of which has its own merits and beauty. Not just the skinny climbers who can make it through an occasional time trial without shaming themselves. Hey boys, meet Luca Paolini, Giovanni Visconti, Johnny Hoogerland, Stefano Garzelli.... This is something the traditional public school cycling curriculum doesn't cover enough. Delayed start.

Stage 6: Orvieto -- Fiuggi, 216km (Thu. 5/12)

Action: Piano stage. Seriously, another 200k+ ride? This is a long, hard first week. This one rolls a lot, but won't kindle the ambitions of the sprinters or the climbers. About 95% sure a break stays away.

Pageantry: Bleh. Call us when you get back from the sticks.

The Plan: A good day to demonstrate, after yesterday's late arrival, our family's unquestioned dedication to our children's edumacation. Maybe an apple for the teacher? With Girbecco's likeness carved in the side?

Stage 7: Maddaloni -- Montevergine di Mercogliano, 110km (Fri. 5/13)

Action: Opening salvos for the GC! The short stage rolls to the bottom of Montevergine, 11km in the 5% range at the stage's end... where Damiano Cunego once wrested control of the Giro from his teammate Simoni, clad in prison stripes... and where Danilo DiLuca opened his account in 2007 en route to the overall win earned one medium-mountain stage at a time. That was then, but the point is, nobody gets a day off today.

Pageantry: Hm, it is a religious site, but that never stopped people from preening for the cameras. Particularly on the first day when the stars should come out.

The Plan: One card to keep in your deck is the health one. Not that anyone wants to stay home on a school/work day with a healthy, bored child, but you can always say he reported having an upset stomach and you needed to keep him home an extra 30 minutes "for observation."


Stage 8: Sapri -- Tropea, 217km (Sat. 5/14)

Action: The death march continues, now along the Tirrhenian coast to the toe of the boot. Nothing overly exciting about this course, but the sprinters will be looking for revenge after having their lunch eaten on Montevergine. Unfortunately the last 3km features a half-km of climbing at 7.8% before the red kite. So who makes it to the front in time and condition to sprint this thing out will be the question of the day.

Pageantry: The Southerners will be out in force, a site to warm my heart. Consequently, no Milanese will be within 100 miles of the stage.

The Plan: Save your chits. If it happens, it happens. But these long stages are likely to drag out into the first wave of activity plotting.


Stage 9: Messina -- Etna, 169km (Sun. 5/15)

Action: The first of the major mountain stages, and one of the most spectacular courses in all of cycling, as the peloton makes two ascents of continental Europe's warmest, smokingest hunk of rock. The first ascent is nearly as high as the final one (pictured above, between the forest of steam vents), and neither is very hard. Volcanos, at least the nice conical ones, are often modest grades and very consistent. The tempo will only weed out the non-players, so this will be more visual feast than anything else. Maybe some desperate stabs by the DiLuca-type marginal actors.

Pageantry: The stage rolls through Taormina, Sicily's version of Monaco. Yeah, it's on. 

The Plan: Another teachable moment: vulcanism! Plant yourselves for this one. It's Sunday.

Stage 10: Termoli -- Teramo, 159km (Tue. 5/17)

Action: Following the first giorno di pausa, which of course is completely undermined by the Giro's signature item, the massively long transfer, the peloton makes a surly march along the Adriatic, ending in a false-flat grind to a 4% power-sprint. Pozzato's kind of stage, though DiLuca makes a point of winning everything in Abruzzo.

Pageantry: Ah... not a chance.

The Plan: Fun finale in store, but in the spirit of pacing ourselves, I'd drop the kids off first.

Stage 11: Tortoreto Lido -- Castelfidardo, 144km (Wed. 5/18)

Action: True classics (media montagna) stage, rolling up and down the hills of Le Marche all day. At 144km it's short enough for everyone to stay in contact, but the finale is 3.5km of 5-6% inclines, with a steeper ramp or two, so the climby stage-hunters will be licking their chops. As will I.

Pageantry: This year the fashionisti know they don't have to come to the Giro, it will come to them.

The Plan: DS Little Bear has an early start on Wednesdays, thanks to music class, and it'll be touch-and-go as to whether I can risk bringing him in and dashing home for the finish. If not, I can sing to him on the way there instead. Close enough.

Stage 12: Castelfidardo -- Ravenna, 184km (Thu. 5/19)

Action: Flattest stage of the race... an annual pre-mountains Giro tradition since RCS began accepting the fact that all the sprinters were doing to DNS en masse as soon as the race hit the Dolomiti or Alps. They'll want to make some noise on their way out of the race, so it's Cav-Farrar-Petacchi-etc. all day.

Pageantry: Wait for it...

The Plan: Catch it live. It will be over a tad early, so the teacher may not even notice your kids' arrival.

Stage 13: Spilimbergo -- Grossglockner, 167km (Fri. 5/20)

Action: A classic KOM jersey stage, the day before the ascent which must not be named, and although it gets nasty on the way up, the final 8km is no big deal. Which means the Garzellis and maybe even SELLAAAA! can go do their thing in peace.

Pageantry: Oh very yes. Grossglockner, despite sounding like a weapons factory, is Austria's highest peak and the gorgeous Grossglockner High Alpine Road is worthy of a car commercial... or the Giro. Anyway, the Austrian Alps can surely put on the ritz.

The Plan: I don't like to do this very often, but it's not impossible to have the kids catch a cab to school. Just make sure you give the cabbie written instructions on where to sign them in and stow their lunches. Oh, and he has to remember to make them wash their hands.

Stage 14: Lienz -- Monte Zoncolan, 210km (Sat. 5/21)


Action: I swore I wouldn't fill up this post with numbers, but this stage is a grand tour unto itself. From the stage map I count roughly 5000 vertical meters of climbing in 210km, including the Monte Crostis, 14km at a pretty steady 11% avg (18% max near the top), followed by the legendary Monte Zoncolan, universally ranked among or atop the hardest climbs in pro cycling. For 10km it averages 14.9%, and is sprinkled with ramps of 18, 20 and 22%. Last year Ivan Basso was one of the sole beneficiaries of this madness, dropping David Arroyo and other rivals in a huge stage win. This is one of the two queen stages of the Giro.

Pageantry: The glitterati are invited as long as they stay the hell out of the way.

The Plan: We are a baseball family at the moment, and thanks to the wonders of climate we can legitimately pray for rain. Plan B is to call in favors from other families. No way am I leaving the house prematurely.

Stage 15: Conegliano -- Gardeccia/Val di Fessa, 229km (Sun. 5/22)

Action: The brutality of this Giro becomes apparent on this stage, a day after so many dreams and bodies are shattered. Want time to lick your wounds? Try the broomwagon; this beast of a stage packs five massive climbs into the endless march, including the Giau-Fedaia double (Cima Coppi at the former), and a horrible 11% run up to the Rifugio Gardeccia to cap things off.

Pageantry: The misery of this stage should keep the fun to a minimum.

The Plan: Today's life lesson is all about suffering. Since the lesson will stretch late into the morning, it's important to concoct a good excuse about why watching this stage is an adequate substitute for Sunday School. Whether it's Jesus' story, or the Exodus, or frankly the basic tenets of Buddhism, I'm guessing most major faiths can give you plenty of material to work with.

Stage 16: Belluno -- Nevegal, 12.7km ITT (Tue. 5/24)

Action: The previous day's rest day and today's time trial will have done little to assuage the sheer terror that will engulf the Giro by the final week. If you had to ride this thing, you'd want to get it over with rather than tinker around with 12km vanity stages. For the contenders, though, this mid-range (8% avg) cronoscalata will be important, albeit in a you-can't-win-but-you-can-lose sort of way.

Pageantry: Time trials offer a lot of standing around, and Nevegal is in the heart of Dolomiti resort world. Let's call this a cat-3 fashion day.

The Plan: Another can't miss stage. Consider a change in tactics -- why keep defending your kids' truancy when you can go on offense? Drop the words "charter school" or "home school" or "Wisconsin tactics" in order to change the conversation.

Stage 17: Feltre -- Tirano, 230km (Wed. 5/25)

Action: You could make an argument that this is the cruellest stage of the Giro. Consider, it's 230km and it skirts past -- rather than ascending -- the Mortirolo and Gavia passes. After the psychological beatings of the last weekend, making the riders pass by signs for the Mortirolo is like doing the fake-punching action to someone you've spent the last few hours pummelling, a key tool in Mr Van P's toolbox back in the day, since I couldn't tell my parents that he didn't hit me. So yeah, I know their pain.

Pageantry: Just a few stragglers around. Maybe some fallen figures looking to start the redemption process.

The Plan: Watch later. The kids will need pacing to get to Milano too.

Stage 18: Morbegno -- San Pellegrino Terme, 151km (Thu. 5/26)

Action: What the...? A very short stage by this Giro's truly horrible standard, and with only one major climb. The action could get very interesting though, as the descenders have their day on this other Giro specialty, the downhill finish. More of a stage-hunters' deal or a desperate play for anyone who doesn't like their chances over the weekend.

Pageantry: Famous resort? Cat-2 fashion alert.

The Plan: Early finish should take care of all problems. Kids should love the downhill shots. Happy times all around.

Stage 19: Bergamo -- Macugnaga, 209km (Fri. 5/27)

Action: Ugh... more climbing. This is an antipasto stage for sure. The finish is cat-3, but the earlier cat-1 should catch the attention of the KOM jersey guys.

Pageantry: Biding their time.

The Plan: Speaking of religion, surely it's some kind of holiday under some faith that you either observe already or can make a principled choice of decicing that you owe it a day of observation. As do your kids. They'll be in by recess time.

Stage 20: Verbania -- Sestriere, 242km (Sat. 5/28)

Action: Only in the Giro do you have trouble deciding which massive mountain romp is the definitive queen stage. We will give this stage its propers in due course, though I've included a whet-your-appetitce clip of the Finestre climb. For now, suffice to say that, to quote another Italian, today they'll settle all family business. The only question will be who plays Don Corleone and who gets Tattaglia'd.

Pageantry: Only if the stage is a mere coronation for a long-gone conclusion witll the otherwise formidable glitterati of Sestriere manage to muscle their way onto center stage. But they'll be around, for sure. As will every Giro alum of note. Cipo alert levels raised to electric magenta.

The Plan: Pull out all the stops. I plan to set the burglar alarm so the kids can't leave the house without my knowing.

Giro d'Italia 2005 - Climb of the Colle delle Finestre (sterrato) (7/8) (via worldcyclingarchives)

Stage 21: Milano ITT, 31km (Sun. 5/29)

Action: Board-flat ITT, but the distance will strike fear in any leader who's not a cronoman in some form.

Pageantry: It's tears all around: for the champions, for the end of the Giro, and for the glitterati who valiantly sipped cappuccini for three weeks, waiting for the race to come to Milan, only to see the cameras packing up and going home at the first opportunity.

The Plan: It'll be tears at home too. Tears of confusion as to whether this race will ever be over and the kids will be permitted to resume their lives again. The answer is yes, as soon as the maglia rosa is home. Tape the processo for afternoon reminiscences.