Have you ever raised two young kids and had your partner go away for a week to a retreat in the California desert during the Giro d'Italia? You know what I'm talking about. It sucks, right?
OK, full disclosure, I wouldn't know. Mrs. PdC will be back Friday night, sparing me the horror of making sandwiches with the RAI broadcast playing in the background, knowing I have to drive the carpool right when the RAI helicopter starts swooping down on beaches along the Riviera. But that's some serious horror. And over the years, while writing this feature, I've looked into similar horrors we all face during the grand tours, such as having to go to work during the key mountain stage of the Tour, or scheduling Mother's Day brunch smack dab in the middle first uphill stage of the Giro, as the race ascends to some volcanic peak or mountain-top seminary or something. Maybe you have a medical appointment during the main Tour time trial. Maybe your kid is starting at a new school on Bola del Mundo day of the Vuelta. Maybe... somebody close to you is getting married in the middle of Paris-Roubaix.
The point is, sometimes there is nothing you can do about it. In the past I have used this column to suggest taking action, but let's face it, you can't just quit your job ahead of the Mortirolo stage, at least not until you know whether the GC battle is close enough to expect a real fight.
So this column isn't about rating the Giro stages in accordance with how drastic a measure you should be willing to take to resolve potential conflicts. This is a column to recognize the unsolvable conflicts we all face in life, and to rate the 2015 Giro d'Italia stages according to how badly those conflicts should make you panic.
Without further ado, here is every stage of the Giro, along with the degree of panic you should feel about (hypothetically) missing your chance to watch the stage because of an unavoidable conflict.
Stage 1: San Lorenzo a Mare TTT
Saturday, May 9, 17.6km
Stage Awesomeness: Opening day at the Giro? Guaranteed awesomeness, albeit of a softer kind than, say, Mortirolo Day. Still, queuing up a Team Time Trial, and all its concomitant hazards, is a great way to set the riders' collective teeth on edge. Which makes for either great racing, or great crashing. Or both!
Lingering Importance: In terms of effort this is prologue distance. Each rider has to hammer for about 2km, which they do every day at the end of however many other hundreds of kms they just rode. Gaps will appear based on the ability to organize, which is to say at random. Shall we name Katusha the winner now and get it over with?
Unavoidable Conflict Panic Rating: Low. You should feel a low level of panic over missing this stage because of an unavoidable conflict.
What, is that not descriptive enough for you? OK, let's find a cycling illustration for these panic ratings, Cycling is a very nervous sport, so it won't be hard to come up with examples. Missing this stage should cause a level of panic in you equivalent to noticing for the first time, in the middle of a race, that your mechanic has changed your wheels to wider tires. No wonder something felt off coming thru those tight corners...
Stage 2: Albenga → Genova
Sunday, May 10, 177 km
Stage Awesomeness: Not bad, by first week standards. It's a sprinters' affair, but with two circuits and an urbanized finish in Genoa, it should be loaded with eye candy (and tram tracks, and cobbles, and road furniture...). Anyway, it's the opening mass-start stage of a grand tour that's light on top-end sprinters, so tune in at the end as 14 different teams simultaneously attempt to form a leadout train.
Lingering Importance: As long as everybody stays upright, minimal. Well, unless you think a sprinter will win the points competition, in which case I laugh in your face.
Unavoidable Conflict Panic Rating: Low. Picture yourself coming into a feed zone, grabbing a musette as the race slows down measurably, only to find that your PBJ sandwich is actually made with Nutella. Something like that.
Stage 3: Rapallo → Sestri Levante
Monday, May 11, 136 km
Stage Awesomeness: Potentially high. The Giro continues to follow the Ligurian coast at the beginning and end, but this coastal sandwich is built around about 90km of climbs and descents, ending with a mad plummet back to the sea for at least a reduced sprint of sorts. The stage tops out at 1115 meters, and it's possible a breakaway will be left alone all day, reeled in during the final, flat 20km. But riders may be hedging their bets here.
Lingering Importance: Stages like this put the top guys under a bit of pressure. Not a lot, but if anyone is unsure of themselves, it could be a memorable #fail. Weather would be another factor, but right now the forecast is glorious. And not in a Paris-Robuaix way. A normal human way.
Unavoidable Conflict Panic Rating: Low with a chance of moderate. Like, one of your four leadout guys got a flat and can't get back to the peloton in time for the final 3km.
Stage 4: Chiavari → La Spezia
Tuesday, May 12, 150 km
Stage Awesomeness: Medium or better. First, the stage will bring constant shots of Alessandro Petacchi, native of La Spezia, as long as he can stay in contact with the peloton. But that may not be an issue -- he could be long gone before the helicopters lift off. This is another classic Ligurian up-and-down-all-day affair, and unlike the previous one, it's got a high likelihood of preempting a sprint, since the final climb peaks out 10km from the line. It's a day for the less conventional stage-hunters, the sprinty climbers (which are a dime a dozen in Italy) versus the climby sprinters (Michael Matthews).
Lingering Importance: Only for the points jersey.
Unavoidable Conflict Panic Rating: Non-negligible. I'd say missed-a-feedzone-on-a-flat-day levels.
Stage 5: La Spezia → Abetone
Wednesday, May 13, 152 km
Stage Awesomeness: High. It's the annual first week MTF that may or may not tell us much about the overall ranking, albeit on a cat-2 climb that peaks out at 1386 meters, so yeah, probably not that much. Weaknesses will be exposed if they exist. Strengths will be guarded for another day. And Italian sprinty climbers will be crawling all over the face of this Tuscan hill. Oh, and it's the first of two stages to pass by Lucca, home to Mario Cipollini.
Lingering Importance: Let's say you don't ride for Katusha and your opening TTT wasn't a stunning, unpredictable success. It was more like a turd in the punchbowl of success. Maybe you ride for a Dutch team that hasn't won anything all year. Or a Danish one. Well, you had better keep your wits about you here if you still want your managers to treat you like a prima donna GC contender beyond the first weekend.
Unavoidable Conflict Panic Rating: Moderate. You can't not love at least part of the Giro's opening week, which they have mastered the art of constructing in the last decade. And this is as fun as it gets. So on the panic rating, let's go up to levels along the lines of "I'm a climby domestique and I missed a feed zone before the penultimate climb." You might not be completely miserable, but nobody is betting on you now.
Stage 6: Montecatini Terme → Castiglione della Pescaia
Thursday, May 14, 183 km
Stage Awesomeness: A missed opportunity. Castiglione della Pescaia (Fish net castle) has about 300 total meters' worth of flat surfaces, and somehow this stage has found all of it. It'll be lovely, and after the last few days there may be some relief in having a sprint stage.
Lingering Importance: Nil, apart from points.
Unavoidable Conflict Panic Rating: Low. Not to get all literal, but I'd put the panic level at "sprint stage after three hard days in the mountains" level.
Stage 7: Grosseto → Fiuggi
Friday, May 15, 264 km
Stage Awesomeness: Another Giro tradition: let's pass tantalizingly close by Rome without engaging at all with the Capital region. Oh, and let's make it a 264km death march that won't engage the peloton either.
Lingering Importance: Nil.
Unavoidable Conflict Panic Rating: I guess this rating depends on whether you have a fetish for breakaways. I like em well enough, though less so when they exist out of pelotonian indifference. And that's what we'll be served a heapin helpin of on this day. Thus, panic like it's 2pm and your time trial starts in an hour. And the tailwinds are picking up.
Stage 8: Fiuggi → Campitello Matese
Saturday, May 16, 186 km
Stage Awesomeness: High. The Giro loves to pack the weekend stages with action, and if it's week 1, we are talking low-altitude but high-awesomeness Apennine action. The climb to the Campitello Matese ski station is nothing too drastic, just 13km at 6.9%, but it's long enough to hurt whomever is susceptible to pain under such conditions. Or, you know, a stage battle.
Lingering Importance: I bet you'll get some time gaps in here. The early stages often bring some surprise, as overall contenders hit the slopes ahead of their best form. Nothing dramatic, but no big bunch finish either.
Unavoidable Conflict Panic Rating: Moderate. Like, I think I locked the keys in my car back at the team hotel levels. You'll be OK if you can't watch, but regrets may linger a bit.
Stage 9: Benevento → San Giorgio del Sannio
Sunday, May 17, 215 km
Stage Awesomeness: Deceptively low. It's Sunday. Italians have other things to do on Sunday, and no I am not referring to Calcio. Maybe a family dinner, assuming you don't still live with the family. Or a bike ride along whatever stretch of nirvana you reside on. This stage is watchable, but as we say back in the American West, it's all hat and no cattle.
Lingering Importance: A stressful ride will produce maybe a few gaps, but nothing terribly memorable come week three. I shouldn't poo-poo this stage completely. It may not measure up to the other medium mountain stages, but it will still set a few Directeurs sportif's teeth on edge. It's not a day to win anything, but could be a day to lose everything.
Unavoidable Conflict Panic Rating: A bit lower than Saturday -- more like, I left my car parked in a sketchy neighborhood back by the team hotel levels.
Stage 10: Civitanova Marche → Forlì
Tuesday, May 19, 200 km
Stage Awesomeness: It's the annual transfer stage -- not as in, there's a long transfer before or after the race, but as in the race course itself looks like a transfer. Long, flat, and straight as a Roman Road. Designed to advance the narrative toward week three, which is week 2's traditional purpose. There will be respectful pauses to the chatter as the peloton passes thru Rimini (where the great Pantani died) and Cesena (where the great Pantani was born). But with the energy high after the rest day the sprinters' teams won't take no-bunch-finish for an answer.
Lingering Importance: Points only. Hey, maybe the entire competition will be so thoroughly diced up among the sprinty climbers, climby sprinters, non-climby sprinters and GC guys that the battle will rage on all the way to Milan?
Unavoidable Conflict Panic Rating: Low. Like, I think that guy on Lotto is trying to break my record for most bidons.
Stage 11: Forlì → Imola
Wednesday, May 20, 153 km
Stage Awesomeness: Passing. There are lots of ups and downs, including two rated (cat-3) climbs, followed by four circuits around Imola and a finish at the Ferrari race track. Chances of that translating into a great race are approaching zero.
Lingering Importance: None, except the usual thing I keep saying about the points classification.
Unavoidable Conflict Panic Rating: Nil. Like, race-ending short time trial for non-GC contenders low.
Stage 12: Imola → Vicenza
Thursday, May 21, 190 km
Stage Awesomeness: None until the final ten minutes. The race is a board-flat run through Emilia-Romagna until reaching Vicenza in the Veneto, whereupon the peloton will be treated to an uphill sprint of some 140 meters of elevation. These endings are almost always fun.
Lingering Importance: Usual points thingy.
Unavoidable Conflict Panic Rating: Not nothing. About on the level with seriously having to pee with 10 km left in the race and you're on leadout duty.
Stage 13: Montecchio Maggiore → Jesolo
Friday, May 22, 147 km
Stage Awesomeness: High on visual awesomeness, as the race circumnavigates Venice about as closely as a grand tour can, winding up at the beaches of Jesolo on a barrier island engulfing the Venetian harbor. It's another board-flat day, with elevations in the single digits, as well as a short stage (always portending something terrible the next day).
Lingering Importance: Points, lather, repeat.
Unavoidable Conflict Panic Rating: Non-negligible, owing to the unique setting. Along the lines of, my tire is slowly leaking and there's 3km left in this climb. It probably means nothing but it's bugging the hell out of me.
Stage 14: Treviso → Valdobbiadene (ITT)
Saturday, May 23, 59.2 km
Stage Awesomeness: High. Time trials may or may not be your cup of tea, but this is one of the more important days of the entire year, at least as far as your aero helmet is concerned. The course is a standard Italian crono, with just enough climbing to keep the little guys from getting crushed, but it's nearly 60km which is fiendishly long.
Lingering Importance: It has a pretty decent chance of deciding the overall winner.
Unavoidable Conflict Panic Rating: High. Like, you are speeding along and suddenly, right behind you, is the Shimano neutral service vehicle. Sure, they probably won't try to run you over, but you'll consider crashing yourself into a nice soft field before they can do what they're gonna do.
Stage 15: Marostica → Madonna di Campiglio
Sunday, May 24, 165 km
Stage Awesomeness: Very high. This Giro is surprisingly light on killer mountain stages, which (lo and behold) has the effect of elevating the ones that are included above what might have been. The race to the Madonna, which starts in the adopted home of our Giro correspondent Susie Hartigan, ascends through Dolomite glory to the ski area below the fortress of rocks that form the Madonna's signature scene. It's hard to say how lovely this will be without using profanity. Fucking spectacular. OK? Are you happy?
Lingering Importance: Big. Will J is doing the more detailed mountain preview, but as I said there aren't ten more stages like this one in the last week. The GC contenders will need to do something here, and on the heels of a rest day you can bet they will.
Unavoidable Conflict Panic Rating: Very high. Like, my legs are screaming, Contador just attacked, Quintana is getting itchy and I think I see the 5km to go banner.
Stage 16: Pinzolo → Aprica
Tuesday, May 26, 174 km
Stage Awesomeness: Mortirolo Day. Do I need to say more? Also, it's the fourth of five climbs, the last one being the slow hump up to Aprica. Not sure about that last one? Google "2010 Giro d'Italia Aprica Nibali Basso Arroyo" and click on the longest Youtube clip that comes up.
Lingering Importance: Race-defining for the GC guys, as well as whoever is chasing KOM points, assuming you have time to care about such things at a moment like this.
Unavoidable Conflict Panic Rating: As high as it gets. Like, I'm overlapping wheels with Rene Haselbacher in the last 100 meters of a sprint and I'm pretty sure he doesn't know I'm here.
Stage 17: Tirano → Lugano (CH)
Wednesday, May 27, 134 km
Stage Awesomeness: Low. This is a transitional stage heading toward the Alps, via a sliver of Switzerland which is basically full of blonde Italians. After the last three days the big names will be all too happy to sit this one out.
Lingering Importance: Bubkis.
Unavoidable Conflict Panic Rating: Low. Like, I'm overlapping wheels with Rene Haselbacher in the last 100 meters of a mountaintop finish. And I know he can hear me wheezing.
Stage 18: Melide (CH) → Verbania
Thursday, May 28, 170 km
Stage Awesomeness: Pretty high. The course traces the shorelines of a few Alpine lakes, mostly Lake Maggiore, before setting up another item from the standard Giro menu: the post-mountaintop screaming downhill finish. The descent appears to be on the gentler side of Monte Ologno, but it twists and turns enough to make a few inattentive descenders come a-cropper.
Lingering Importance: Modest. If the race is extremely close, you could see a battle for precious seconds going both up and down Ologno. If it's not, then whoever is in the lead should have little trouble keeping the damage to a minimum.
Unavoidable Conflict Panic Rating: Medium. Like I'm meeting Rene Haselbacher for a drink, and he's been reading my blog posts.
Stage 19: Gravellona Toce → Cervinia
Friday, May 29, 236 km
Stage Awesomeness: Hopefully in Will's mountain preview he can explain why this race appears to stay in Italy even though all the villages along the way have French names. In any event, this is the Alpine warmup event before Saturday's ... well, hang on a moment there.
Lingering Importance: High-ish. I dunno, I'm sure there will be a battle. How many minutes are up for grabs is another story. Some, but ... well, wait for it.
Unavoidable Conflict Panic Rating: Pretty high, like having the team car take off up the road only to suddenly notice your saddle is broken. Saddles do actually break in races, right? I mean, it seems like they're always getting fixed.
Stage 20: Saint Vincent → Sestriere
Saturday, May 30, 196 km
Stage Awesomeness: How high does this scale go? Ten? Then this is an 11. The Cima Coppi gets awarded at the top of the Colle delle Finestre, after which it's a mad descent to the base of the climb to Sestriere. I'm not going to steal Will's thunder but the entire climb is over 9% and the surface of the last eight km is not paved. Oh, and I'm talking about the penultimate climb, not the MTF. This was the scene of possibly the most exciting day in Giro history, also known as the Day We Should Have Known About Danilo DiLuca, when he climbed a 9% gradient while casually opening an energy bar.
Lingering Importance: AAAAAHHHHHH!
Unavoidable Conflict Panic Rating: Maximum levels. Let's go with Contador just attacked my slim lead over the top of the final climb, I suck at descending, and my chain just stuck. And now I have to follow Rene Haselbacher down to the valley, where he will sprint in front of me and my stuck chain, and flat tire, and lost ambitions. That bad.
Stage 21: Torino → Milano
Sunday, May 31, 185 km
Stage Awesomeness: Your typical parade to a Grand Tour-ending sprint. Only there won't be any real sprinters left, because there was only one to begin with and he's a German on a Belgian team.
Lingering Importance: Points. Pride. Point of pride?
Unavoidable Conflict Panic Rating: Meh. Pretty much on par with everyone who's actually riding this stage. Soak in the sights of Milan. Have a glass of Prosecco. Do something.