Let's face it, I've been doing this blog since 2006 and am getting pretty old. During this time it has occurred to me that quite a lot of you are also old, and getting older. Now, if you're like me, you regard most of the manifestations of your impending/ongoing decay as the cost of doing business, and rather than fighting it you just accept the next iteration of your demise. Here's a nice summation:
But some of you are athletes. And others aren't all that old. And even for me the "it's just shitty now" approach doesn't apply to every medical matter, such as screenings for things that will get significantly shittier if you ignore them. In short, now that the Guvmint has taken over your healthcare or -- even worse -- forced you to accept that being European or Canadian means you have always had high-quality, affordable healthcare, you probably aren't too far off from your next trip to the doctor.
"Sure," sayeth ye, "I've got some stuff I need to have checked out. But the Giro d'Italia is coming up. What can I do?"
I'm glad you asked.
Each year we bring you, our dear readers, a helpful guide to determining which of the Giro d'Italia's many, many great stages are more un-missable than the rest. But since everyone's set of priorities are completely unique, like snowflakes or opinions about Filippo Pozzato, We try to frame our recommendations in terms you can understand. And today, the logical way to do so is in terms of weighing the day's stage against dealing with medical problems. Specifically, should you watch the stage or deal with a medical issue? Or even more specifically than that, what sort of medical issue would it take for you to NOT watch the stage?
Without further ado... it's the Viewers' Guide to Watching the 2014 Giro d'Italia in times of medical distress!
Stage 1: Belfast TTT, 21.7km
Friday, May 9
On Its Face: A team time trial, with a pretty decent number of twists and turns, along an urban course. Team time trials are fun, and this will be no exception.
Deep Inside: Spoiler alert! There are some ridonkulous mountains in week three. This is about finding someone to carry the maglia rosa for a while. That's it.
Extra Digits: Belfast might be a little less glamorous than the RAI crew are used to, but the grand opening of any Giro d'Italia is all sunshine and maggica. As for the setting, all I know about Belfast and Northern Ireland more generally is from listening to U2, but somehow I think they'll strike a more upbeat tone. It's not like the race goes down Shankill Road. Also, it's no longer 1972.
Prognosis? An opening is always great fun. If you're not in constant pain or a danger to yourself, I would skip any procedure that can be pushed off for a few days. After all, there is a rest day on Monday. Skip stage for major medical emergencies only.
Stage 2: Belfast -- Belfast, 218km
Saturday, May 10
On Its Face: Rather long road stage, topping out at 278 meters at a place called Cushendall Road. Definite sprinters' stage.
Deep Inside: And this is probably as good a time as any to mention that the sprinters at the Giro are doomed. But hey, enjoy Ireland.
Extra Digits: It'll be interesting to see what RAI come up with for a three day weekend in a foreign country. A dropoff in emotional energy is not an option. Scenery should be utterly breathtaking as well.
Prognosis? It's Saturday, and any doctor who can be is on the golf course or a sailboat. All that leaves are certain dental offices with a short Saturday morning schedule, and emergency rooms. If your ailment involves the latter, well, Monday is a long way off, and this is a bunch sprint stage. Skip stage for any ailment requiring emergency assistance.
Stage 3: Armagh -- Dublin, 187km
Sunday, May 11
On Its Face: More sprinters' fodder. Moderately curious Irish fans aren't getting the broadest cross-section of Giro racing here. Perhaps in a couple weeks people will begin to ask "did Nacer Bouhanni wind up winning the Giro?" At some point the sprinters' teams get tired and let one go, but a race into downtown Dublin, virtually unheard-of, probably isn't the occasion.
Deep Inside: Staying upright will be the main story for anyone with a hope of any kind.
Extra Digits: More gorgeous coastline, I suspect. Personally I prefer the spooky shipyards of Belfast and the human history oozing out of them. If I want gorgeous coastline and dark clouds, I know where to go already.
Prognosis? Same as before, though with Monday coming soon, minor discomfort can be ignored for one more day. Skip stage for any ailment requiring emergency assistance.
Stage 4: Giovinazzo -- Bari, 121km
Tuesday, May 13
On Its Face: Another sprint stage, this one of the "amuse bouche" distance. Or maybe more the "bloody mary" distance, as in the cocktail that gently reverts you back to your previous drunken state. I can't decide if the short distance means there's no time for a break to get away, or no time for the peloton to reel them in. Leaning toward the former, as the sprint party ends in downtown Bari.
Deep Inside: Easy or no, the favorites will be anxiously checking the engine to see if it lost anything on the long transfer. Also, this is about the time Ursula starts emailing me with subjects like "maybe a sprinter CAN win the points!!" And I write back "I'll have what he's having."
Extra Digits: How do you tell Bitonto from Bitetto? Not sure, but I am officially volunteering my services in the up-close examining of this question. RAI folks should be thoroughly out of sorts after a day of international relocation and getting all those makeup jars though airport screening.
Prognosis? Yesterday would have been a fine time to get caught up on your medical issues, so there shouldn't be any excuses, barring sudden medical matters cropping up. This is day one back in Italy, and in one of the more curious urban centers, a pretty port city with all the same convoluted past, present and future of other southern towns. I'd teleport there in a heartbeat. Skip the stage for serious, sudden ailments.
Stage 5: Taranto -- Viggiano, 200km
Wednesday, May 14
On Its Face: First of the Giro's bread-and-butter stages, with an uphill finish of no great importance except to the dozens of climberly stage-hunters. Italy manufactures guys who can climb and sprint faster than you can say "Diego Ulissi," but I'll leave the actual picking to Jens. Suffice to say, this will be action-packed.
Deep Inside: There won't be anything like real time gaps happening, so while the maglia rosa will change shoulders, it'll be from one stand-in to another. However, we will see our first stage-ending KOM points (they give out a handful of points every day) and the real battle for the points competition may find its origin here, if as suspected none of the pure sprinters make it to Trieste.
Extra Digits: Hm, I already covered the wonders of the Tarantella last year. It's clear I have a thing for the southern hinterlands, and that's where we're going.
Prognosis? It's tempting to bail on anything less than a major medical emergency for a hard-fought stage battle, but there are several more coming, each one more intriguing than the last. Pace yourself. Which raises the question: when is a good time to have major surgery which will render you incapable of getting off the couch for an extended period of time? This might be a good day for the really serious stuff that will keep you laid up into June, since the first few days of that would typically involve medication that will make it hard to focus for more than a short time, but by, say, the second rest day you're in full Giro absorption mode, with no pressure whatsoever to go back to work. For anything with a shorter recovery time, you might want to save til the second rest day. Skip the stage for emergencies, pre-planned appointments, and minor discomforts.
Stage 6: Sassano -- Montecassino, 247km
Thursday, May 15
On Its Face: If it turns out stage 5 was more of a false flat to the line, this one is for real an actual climbers' finish... if they make it one. Like I said, they get more intense as they progress, but I think we will see the mountain men poke their noses out here.
Deep Inside: Same as stage 5: some points intrigue, some early KOM scoring, and no expectation of the two general categories being radically altered.
Extra Digits: Montecassino's story is one of never-ending tragedy, as it's been destroyed by the Lombards, Saracens, earthquakes, Napoleon, and finally by the guns of every army engaged in World War II. No telling who will destroy the city next. [My money is on hipsters.] Anyway, writer Dino Buzzati's work hovers over at least a part of every Giro now, and he did some of his most haunting work portraying the ghosts sensing the Giro's return to Montecassino in 1949. Calling something "Buzzati's most haunting work" is a bit like saying "Flannery' O'Connor's most horrible plot twist." Find that chapter and devour it before this stage for the full effect.
Prognosis? The sicker the stage, the sicker you had better be to miss it. Skip the stage for major medical emergencies only.
Stage 7: Frosinone -- Foligno, 214km
Friday, May 16
On Its Face: The Giro is a lot of things, but subtle ain't one of them. Here they have concocted a stage that screams "SUCCESSFUL BREAKAWAY" at the top of its proverbial lungs. A long distance, amidst several enticing stages, but this isn't one of them. Hilly enough for the sprint teams to abstain, but definitely not selective enough to engage any of the climbers.
Deep Inside: Are you tired of lugging the Maglia Rosa around all week? Here's a great day to dump it. Unless it's in the hands of a team which needs to squeeze out every last drop of attention while they can, like a smaller Italian squad or a French team. Someone who isn't planning to contest the Marche/Tuscany battles looming on the weekend, or any of the bigger stuff later on. Then you might see a desperate, attention-seeking effort to hold on one last day. Not that they'll get so much as an ounce of help from anyone else.
Extra Digits: In the ever-delightful Giro media guide you can find the story of Girbecco:
"I was born in the woods, near the top of a mountain, and i immediately started to race… but i’m not sure why, i just raced. of course, when i started out i raced on foot because i hadn’t met the great bicycle maker Prometheus yet (who gave me my first and only incredible racing bike), but i knew that one day i would do something important; with such great desire for speed and to feel the wind between my horns. my parents (anna and fausto becco) had to constantly chase after me up and down the Pordoi Pass, down to the valley and beyond. once my father chased me all the way to the big river… that day, when i was coming back towards home and getting yelled at yet again, we heard shouting and we hid behind some trees. The shouts came closer and all of a sudden the fastest men in the world came around a bend on the road that ascends towards the Pordoi Pass (on the mountain). They zoomed, shouted, sweat and were like a huge snake sprinting on gleaming, incredible bicycles. i wanted to race so much that it took all of my father’s strength to hold me back. now i knew what i was going to do in life: i was going to race, just like those men… i just needed a bike. but that’s a whole other story."
I bring this up as we hit the Apennines, where Stambeccos are actually from. There's something deeply weird about this. Has the Giro marketing department, at long last, jumped the shark? Ah, whatever. Girbecco, I can't quit you.
Prognosis? Don't merely skip this one for pre-planned appointments, actually go make a plan, like a kid's dental cleaning. This will be about as interesting as a rest day. Skip the stage for any ailment.
Stage 8: Foligno -- Montecopiolo, 174km
Saturday, May 17
On Its Face: The first serious MTF (mountain-top finish) of the 2014 Giro. There's a nasty 7km climb to kick off the last hour of the race, followed by a potentially tricky descent the leads into the final climb, a two-part ascent of no particular nastiness but 15km of going uphill nonetheless. Sink or swim for any of your fringe contenders.
Deep Inside: This stage should represent a chance for an early seizure of the maglia rosa, should anyone have that on their to-do list, as well as a chance to grab a minute or so on some of your competitors. Time gaps could be minimal, since the stage isn't deadly and none of the top guys will be too worn down by this point, but you never know. If no one sprinter has consolidated a big lead in points, you could see the top of that classification getting more crowded by the day here.
Extra Digits: All business for the Giro, as special guests on the Processo exclude celebrities, models, local mayors and army veterans. Today, the strategy of cycling will be on everyone's lips. Giro junkies like a good fight.
Prognosis? Not to be missed if you can help it at all. Still, it's Saturday, and you can only writhe in pain for so long. Skip the stage for any ailment requiring emergency assistance.
Stage 9: Lugo -- Sestola, 174km
Sunday, May 18
On Its Face: One more "medium mountain" stage to get you to the second rest day, and it's an intriguing one. The charismatically named Passo del Lupo is 16km of hard work, or two sectors of moderate work sandwiched around a tough piece of meat. It's the same distance as the day before, with less overall climbing but more in the final hour.
Deep Inside: Take your pick as to which stage the GC stars come out to fight. Probably not both of them. KOM and Young Rider jerseys will be in play, and the Maglia Rosa could be too if there's a tight battle for possession underway. Like Saturday, it's probably best not to count on big gaps.
Extra Digits: If this is Emilia, it must be time for someone to come to the RAI studios and talk about their personal relationship with, and theories about the not at all mysterious death of, Marco Pantani.
Prognosis? Sunday before a rest day. Are you sure you can't just pop a few advil and make it til tomorrow? Skip the stage for any ailment requiring you to take a dependent family member in for emergency assistance.
Stage 10: Modena -- Salsomaggiore, 184km
Tuesday, May 20
On Its Face: Pure sprinters' stage, which might get ignored except that the peloton (namely the sprinters' teams) will be somewhat rested, and the number of sprintable finales remaining is rapidly approaching zero.
Deep Inside: Hm... it's at this point in the race where I start emailing Ursula with subject lines like "you might be right about a sprinter winning the points competition." He usually ignores me.
Extra Digits: Did you know that "salso maggiore" means higher salt? This is pretty much a literal description of the Terme, or thermal baths, located at the spa, which rate 16 degrees on the Baume scale. One degree equals 11 grams of salt per liter of water, so 16 degrees is... a whole lotta salt! Basically, you can cure your meats and fish in the baths inside of an hour.
This stage also takes a quick swing through downtown Parma, joining Bologna, Bari and Taranto as major(ish) Italian cities traversed by the race, in addition to Dublin and Belfast. Urban centers rarely make appearances in bike races, especially in Europe where things like tram tracks can really ruin the fun. Bears watching. Oh, and they didn't quite make it into downtown Mantova. Not sure why. I hear it's lovely.
Prognosis? Should be a complete snore, except for the swing thru Parma and the final 5km. I'd try to tune in a bit later, to see if RAI are doing any experiments to see what floats in highly saline water. Witches? Very small rocks? Microphones? Only one way to be sure. Skip the stage for any ailment whatsoever.
Stage 11: Correggio -- Savona, 249km
Wednesday, May 21
On Its Face: The annual Descenders' Stage, this one hits the (roughly) 7% Naso di Gatto (cat's nose) climb outside Savona before plummeting back to the city for what's left of a sprint. That's the second of two cat-2 climbs on the day, which should leave the sprinters in the cold. Even if the GC guys leave the break up the road, this one promises to be action-packed. Oh, and as the longest stage of the Giro, it might be running a bit behind schedule.
Deep Inside: By the end of this stage Ursula and I should be in agreement on whether or not the sprinters have a prayer at the points jersey. It's also an oddball stage, and strange things can happen on such stages, such as British former Tour de France winners falling off their bike and losing hope. Bad weather could make this a true wild card. Good weather could make it pretty meaningless for GC and young rider. No matter how you slice it, two cat-2 climbs will make a dent in the KOM race.
Extra Digits: Add Genoa to the list of cities whose daily hum is interrupted by the passing of the Giro. This coastal stage should be a camera's delight. Toss in the long day and the risk of a helicopter scouting "talent" on the beaches rises to a 10 out of a possible 10.
Prognosis? I know there are more important days ahead, but every year some rudimentary Giro stage leaves us all figuratively gasping for breath. Unless you are literally gasping for breath, you might want to hang around for this one. And even then, figure out how to do a self-Heimlich and keep watching, if possible. Skip this stage only for an ailment requiring emergency assistance.
Stage 12: Barbaresco -- Barolo TT, 42km
Thursday, May 22
On Its Face: This course is no cronoman's delight; it's a rather strenuous affair involving 500 meters of ascent in the first 12km (~4.5%) plus another two kicks upward at the end. I always look at these profiles and think the inclines are exaggerated, but in the end they aren't.
Deep Inside: The length means this will be an earlyish opportunity for the favorites picture to clarify itself. Not that it won't come down to the penultimate day, but my guess is that a crono of this length knocks out a few pretenders. Also the young rider comp should really develop.
Extra Digits: Contrary to popular belief, this is not a race between two wine shops. Hopefully that won't stop some of the Processo guest from getting stinking drunk.
Prognosis? Biggest stage of the race so far. Push stuff off for a day if possible. Skip the stage for major medical emergencies only.
Stage 13: Fossano -- Rivarolo Canavese, 158km
Friday, May 23
On Its Face: Recovery day, as the race heads up the Po Valley, somehow skirting a major metropolitan area (Torino) for the first time all race. The action will be... questionable. Breakaway day? Or getaway day for the sprinters?
Deep Inside: One last gasp at a points competition, before it gets absorbed into the GC battle.
Extra Digits: Literally the only thing to like about this stage is the apparent tribute to the Eagle of the Canavese, Franco Balmamion, winner of two Giri in the early 1960s... and not much else. Was he the Stijn Devolder of his day? Yeah... pretty much.
Prognosis? A Friday stage before things go berserk can only mean an opportunity to pack in every medical treatment you can think of. Anything requiring anesthesia, today is probably for it. Colonoscopy? You can sleep all afternoon knowing you didn't miss anything important. Even worse, this stage will probably feature the most fans in Juventus jerseys. Skip the stage for any medical issue involving you or someone you know, or someone they know.
Stage 14: Aglie -- Oropa, 162km
Saturday, May 24
On Its Face: Shit just got real. Three climbs include the Alpe Noveis, which is nasty, brutish and short, plus the longer Bielmonte and Santuario di Oropa ascents. For the Alps, the altitudes and lengths aren't anything too crushing, but this is the harder stage of the weekend Alpine adventure.
Deep Inside: Likely GC battle of real consequence. Certainly something will happen here, with the only caveat being the rest day Monday means guys dig deeper on Sunday. This might also be the annual Mass-DNS Day for the fastmen. If so, points comp goes haywire too.
Extra Digits: Down to business, at last. And by business I mean obsessing over the not-at-all surprising death of profligate doper Marcon Pantani, whose demise was met ten years ago on this day and who last won a Giro stage here in 1999. Considering he was busted several days later for a high hematocrit, it baffles me to this day why we would want to look back on that previous stage win and reminisce. "Wasn't that stage of the Tour Ricardo Ricco won right before he was tossed completely awesome?" said nobody, ever.
Prognosis? Skip the pre- and post-stage nonsense at all costs. But the stage itself will be exciting. It's not the riders' fault. Skip this stage for major medical emergencies only.
Stage 15: Valdengo -- Montecampione, 217km
Sunday, May 25
On Its Face: Being billed as one of the race's highlights, the final 18km are a steady, reasonably steep (8-9% tempo climb to a ski resort outside Bergamo. Altitudes still aren't near 2000 meters, so snow shouldn't be an issue. Also, this is on my list of potential secret dud stages, owing to the long, flat slog to the bottom of the mountain, during which practically nobody will lift a finger. Might see a breakaway win.
Deep Inside: More of the same, though only one climb means the KOM guys will empty the tank the previous day.
Extra Digits: Pantani won here too, in 1998. Back before he was doping. Can I go now?
Prognosis? With a rest day on the horizon, the advice is, as usual, put off anything you can. But as compared to other mountain stages, I wouldn't let any pain fester too long. It gets WAAAY better after this. Skip this stage for significant discomfort and emergencies.
Stage 16: Ponte di Legno -- Val Martello, 139km
Tuesday, May 27
On Its Face: Uomini forti anche piangere...
Gavia. Stevio. Val Martello. What I love particularly about this stage is the lack of anything else. The climb of the Gavia starts after 5km. Once they descend to Bormio, it's time to hump it up the Stelvio -- the Cima Coppi. From the descent there is a 20km interval of nothing too strenuous, which itself becomes a strategic ibstacle -- the dreaded flat before the final climb. Anyone with a lead will have to make a quick calculation about how badly they want to preserve it. Just a great, great stage all around, until snow ruins it of course.
Deep Inside: Possible race-breaker. The KOM will be decided here, most likely, since the Cima Coppi is worth a metric fuckton of points. Young riders will have their fight/flight reflexes tested. GC guys will turn themselves inside out, hoping for the best. No need to keep going on really. You get it.
Extra Digits: Oh, and if you really want a laugh, click here for the current webcam. If you can see a road in there someplace, you win a prize.
Prognosis? By now I hope you've heeded my advice about concocting some sort of long-term injury that will prevent you from anything more strenuous than, say, watching the Giro d'Italia all week. If not, You need to come up with something, STAT! [See what I did there?] Major physical ailments are tough to fake, but psychological problems are much easier to pull off. If you can conjure up something, e.g. panic attacks, you could ride out the rest of the week in peace. Skip this stage for a life-threatening condition, and only then if it'll be life-threatening during the stage.
Stage 17: Sarnonico -- Vittorio Veneto, 204km
Wednesday, May 28
On Its Face: Bumpy little downhill stage. In the midst of madness, hardly anyone will feel like chasing down breakaways. Which sorta means there will be a successful breakaway, except that it could also mean that someone who knows nobody wants to chase him will take off anyway. My guess is nothing happens here.
Deep Inside: Bupkis stage, though points will be points.
Extra Digits: Vittorio is the original name of the finishing town, and only then because it signified the place of the final battle in WWI between Austria-Hungary and Italy. So no, it is not named after a Marco Pantani stage win.
Prognosis? Plan on needing medical assistance after stage 16. Skip the stage for any ailment.
Stage 18: Belluno -- Rifugia Panarotta, 171km
Thursday, May 29
On Its Face: Brutal stage with an unforgettable MTF: over 1500 feet in 17km, meaning the average gradient is more than 8%. And this comes after the Passo San Pellegrino as well as some other middling climbs.
Deep Inside: The Giro could easily be won or lost here. If someone (coughNairocough) feels like they have a distinct climbing advantage, he should put the hammer down now and salt this one away.
Extra Digits: Just saying hello to the sprinters here. Hey sprinters! You're not missing much.
Prognosis? Oh, nothing important. Just figuring out who wins the Giro. See who's got the Giro-winningness going. Skip this stage for a life-threatening condition.
Stage 19: Bassano del Grappa -- Monte Grappa ITT, 26.8km
Friday, May 30
On Its Face: The "decisive time trial," except that it never decides anything at the Giro. Should be fun regardless, even at that distance.
Deep Inside: It's the Other Chrono. It's a big deal.
Extra Digits: The word of the day is "grappa".
Prognosis? Climbing time trials are suspenseful, if not packed with powerful statements. I'll take a wait-and-see approach.
Stage 20: Maniago -- Monte Zoncolan, 167km
Saturday, May 31
On Its Face: AAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGHHHH!
Deep Inside: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!
Extra Digits: Aaagh?
Prognosis? Watch it or die. If stage is skipped, do not resuscitate.
Stage 21: Gemona -- Trieste, 169km
Sunday, June 1
On Its Face: Circuit race around yet another major metropolitan area. Not that there will be any pure sprinters around, but someone will take this on the line.
Deep Inside: Settling all scores.
Extra Digits: Last of the big Buzzati chapters, following his telling of the Giro's return to Trieste in 1949, after years of not only not hosting Giro stages, but being absorbed into enemy territory to boot.
Prognosis? Skip the stage for major medical emergencies only. You've got the rest of the year to get fixed up.