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Is the 2017 Giro Course Too Hard?

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... and other observations on the 100th Corsa Rosa

2014 Giro d'Italia - Stage Sixteen Photo by Bryn Lennon - Velo/Getty Images

Today, all the details were revealed by the Giro d’Italia regarding its centenary race, and all you really need to know is that it’s about the eternal love.

OK, all you really need to know about the Giro is that it will be a rolling feast of climbs and assorted challenges across some fifteen of the twenty regions of Italy.

[Quick quiz: name the five skipped regions!]

The race includes:

  • nine mountain stages
  • two time trials totaling 67 km
  • five legitimate uphill finishes, plus two more — stages 16 and 20 — which will be largely defined by the final climb.

Here’s the one graphic that sums it all up.

This is not a course to be trifled with, and one of the numerous commentators assembled from Italian cycling lore by RCS for the gala came right out and told the organizers that it was too hard, seconds after the final stage video. The RCS talking head immediately went off to find the Mayor of Milan for more palatable answers.

I’m not sure how much we can say about the course just yet, but here are a few observations.

Mount Etna Explodes Photo by Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images

Three Weeks of Form?

Several of the riders, when chained to the stage and forced to answer questions for the assembled masses, said that having a Mt. Etna stage (#4) and a Block Haus finish (#9) means riders won’t be able to ride themselves into form. Instead, they will have to show up more or less at their peak. I don’t think that’s really true. Neither Etna nor the Block Haus will be nearly as challenging as stages 16-20, like almost every Giro. Sure, you can’t show up too far off peak and lose ten minutes in Sicily, but this is a 7% average gradient at a fairly steady clip. Chances of a GC guy going all out this early, on this sort of slope, are low.

I’m a little more sold on the importance of the Block Haus, which is both harder and, at stage 9 (day 10), more likely to be raced by the GC contenders in some important way. You only have to look back to 2011, when Alberto Contador took over the lead on stage 9 — at Mt Etna, of all places — and never let go. That was regarded as an early and somewhat surprising move, but he made it stick... against a sort of crappy field, led home by Michele Scarponi, once Contador’s results were withdrawn. You could also point to Contador’s win in 2015 for an early position, but really he and Aru rose above the somewhat watery cream of that field, and didn’t sort out their own issues til stage 14 and beyond. Finally, Menchov’s winning move in 2009 was also early, on stage 12, though that had more to do with the long Ligurian ITT and general lack of major mountains in that edition.

The Block Haus isn’t really any harder (statistically speaking) than Etna, maybe more like 7.3% depending on which map you consult — though they’re taking the steeper side, which has a long stretch of over 9%. How hard it is in reality is something I hope to be able to speak to about six weeks after the race. [Yay!] But anyway, it’s featured six times and been won by Eddy Merckx, Moreno Argentin, Ivan Basso and Jennifer Grey, to name a few.

Block Haus
Photo by Susie Hartigan

So yes, I would think that by stage 9, GC contenders should be at least close enough to their peaks to defend their position here. And with a challenging, uphillish ITT following on stage 10, it’s go time. So a bit earlier than normal.

2014 Giro d'Italia - Stage Fourteen Photo by Bryn Lennon - Velo/Getty Images

Cool Factor

The Giro, home to a gala presentation featuring a guy on a yoga ball, is all about providing good entertainment to the people at home and by the road side. So are we excited about the 100th running? I’d say.... sure. Here are some cultural highlights for me.

  • Sicilian Stages: Always a sight to see. Taormina will get a quick fly-by en route from Catania to Messina, where the race will nod in the direction of Vincenzo Nibali’s birth place. Sort of weird since he’s still racing. But that’s the Giro.
  • The pointy houses in Alberobello are... something.
  • The 14th stage finish at the Santuario di Oropa is a classic.
  • There’s a taste of Il Lombardia in the finish of stage 15, taking in the last two climbs of the fall classic and the finish.
  • The final day will be a time trial from the famous Monza track to the Piazza Duomo in Milan, where the original Giro d’Italia was born.
Italy Fans Watch The UEFA EURO 2012 Final Match Against Spain Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

OK, OK, What About the Mountains?

Basically you have five consecutive days of hard climbing. This is a bit more than we tend to see in any grand tour, and the back-loading plus the front-end stress of Etna and the Block Haus make for a really hard race. I don’t know where to draw the line and call something too hard, and the climbs featured in this year’s race are not generally the worst of the worst. Only the Stelvio and Mortirolo rank among the world’s most challenging climbs (as far as realistic grand tour stage inclusions go). By that objective measure, this Giro isn’t among the hardest.

But cycling is relative, and the final five days in the mountains will push everyone to and past their limit. And when that’s done... there’s a 28km ITT to Milan. I doubt you will see too many guys scrape themselves off the pavement in front of the Duomo to start training for the Tour. And I can guess that we will have a few more conversations in May about whether these races are unreasonable.

The Tour de France, by contrast, finishes with two mountain stages, then a mellow Provence stage, then a time trial in Marseille and a parade. The Pyrenean stuff isn’t drastically different. Nothing like the Giro:

  • Stage 16: Mortirolo-Stelvio-Stelvio
  • Stage 17: Aprica-Passo Tonale
  • Stage 18: Pordoi-Valparola-Gardena-Pinei-Ortisei
  • Stage 19: Sella Pianzutan-Piancavallo
  • Stage 20: Monte Grappa-Foza

Stage 17 won’t be too hard, but the rest are all brutes. This is a week from hell. Whether it plays out in some exciting fashion or not remains to be seen, but it had better, for all the riders will be put through.

OK, what say ye?

pordoi
Getty Images Sport