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Woof! It's the Viewers' Guide to the 2016 Giro d'Italia!

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Your annual-plus assessment of what grand tour stages to watch, filtered through real life dilemmas!

Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

One thing you may or may not know about me is that I have a dog. For a long, long time I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about dogs. Mostly I love animals (except the occasional jerks, like whoever keeps digging up my yard), but to me dogs got all the attention while pretty much every other species had very little to gain from interacting with humans. I got a couple cats, then married someone who also had two cats, at which point we had... too many cats. But time resolves a lot of problems, like having too many cats, and one thing led to another to the point where we now have a dog.

He's an awesome dog, named Koji. He's an Icelandic Sheepdog, which doesn't mean he roots for Scandinavian cyclists or anything, but he does eat salmon and he seems to enjoy gloomy weather and jumping in the icy waters that surround Seattle. [He also has dew claws that turn his feet into small plates, ideal for hiking in volcanic ash.] He's neither too big nor too small, pretty mellow, and friendly to everyone. In general, he's been a positive force in our lives.

2016 Giro d'Italia map

But even the perfect dog comes with one major downside: he needs walks. Particularly in the morning. And you know what else needs to happen in the morning? Kids need to get fed I need to watch cycling. Especially in May. Hence the conflict, not merely between two competing uses of your time, but the internal conflict that rages when a very friendly, innocent creature politely asks you for something they need your help with, at a time when maybe you have lost the ability to care about anything beyond the TV screen.

So... that's the filter through which we will view this year's Giro d'Italia course. Should I walk the dog now, while the Giro is on? Or should I make him wait, no matter how much he shadows me making wordless (but oh, so loud and clear) eye contact with me?

By the way, one of the assessments I like to make for each stage of the Giro is the penchant for RAI-related nonsense. This idea was born back when the helicopters would fly along beaches and look for topless women while the graphics guy put together the general classification standings. But I have to say, RAI folks don't quite fool around so much at the Giro like they used to. Sure, they'll pack the post-race studio with celebrities, but it's gotten a bit old and lost its ridiculousness. It's just RAI. So I'll have to come up with some other version of color for each stage. For now, the plan is to make it up as I go along. Let's get started!

Stage 1: Apeldoorn ITT (9.8km)

Friday, May 6

Stage Awesomeness: Opening day! And a flat ITT around a Dutch city on a lovely spring day. What could be better?

Er, not much, I suppose, as opening stages go. The Netherlands and the Giro have quite a relationship going. Actually, ever since SuperTed declared that dopers do in fact suck and no longer warranted his support, all three grand tours have gone crawling back to him, one by one, begging him to reconsider. It's only been six years since the Giro started in Amsterdam.

Beyond that, board-flat >10km ITT stages don't tend to provide a ton of excitement. The only intriguing thing I can think of off the top of my head is that the finish is a few km north of the start, so maybe the wind will change over the course of the stage and unfairly screw over riders at either the start or the end. Everyone loves natural-origin injustice.

Lingering Importance: Nothing too long-term, but having an opening ITT makes it pretty clear that the first week will have a real-life maglia rosa, as opposed to someone borrowing the jersey on tiebreakers. That alone should get the Italian riders to focus on this most intrepid discipline. [Sigh... I miss Malori.]

Dog Guilt-Deflection Potential: Diminishing. These prologue-esque ITTs are a cycling rarity: stages that get less interesting as they go on. You could easily run your dog around the block a few times before the last starters get going, to take the pressure off everyone.

Stage 2: Arnhem -- Nijmegen (190km)

Saturday, May 7

Stage Awesomeness: I'll do a deeper dive of the Gelderland later on, but this is essentially a stage for touring how the Dutch geographically strangled pre-21st century European commerce. The peloton will cross rivers on and off all day, including the Rhine (Waal) and the Meuse, pass by castles built as monuments to the strangling of European commerce, and even bring commerce to a halt in places like Malden and Berg En Dal. And of course Nijmegen, where the peloton does a nifty little 8km circuit two times, strangling anything resembling normal life on both banks of the Waal.

There's another grand tour tradition, where riders start piling up on top of each other as soon as they hit the Netherlands and its famous road furniture. Gelderland may be a bit more rural before hitting Nijmegen, but we will have our fingers crossed from then on. Berg en Dal features some alleged hills but they don't merit any further discussion being 40km out.

Lingering Importance: Well, I guess I can concede that the point awarded for the winner of the Berg en Dal climb will result in assigning the KOM jersey. But mostly this will be about points, and not getting left behind in pileups.

Dog Guilt-Deflection Potential: He can wait. I think the loops in Nijmegen will be exciting enough to allow you to ignore the dog.

Stage 3: Nijmegen -- Arnhem (190km)

Sunday, May 8

Stage Awesomeness: Um, didn't we just do this in reverse? No! We did not! Taking a page out of Liege-Bastogne-Liege (without the hills), the Giro is heading back via a completely different route... albeit one potentially less interesting than the preceding one. There's another cat-4 climb, still far from the line, and lots of cow pastures. A Will J Specialty Stage?

Lingering Importance: To the cows, minimal. It's not uncommon for humans to pass by in large numbers, even on bikes, and it all happens so fast that if you're a cow and you are focused on a patch of grass that you are hoping the others haven't noticed yet, you may not detect the Giro's presence at all. As for the humans, yeah, it's a flat sprint stage. There aren't a ton of places to rack up big point tallies once the race returns to Italy, but Saturday will be more exciting. Sunday's ends with buses and airports and a late-night landing in deep southern Italy. Everyone will be focused on getting the day over with.

Dog Guilt-Deflection Potential: Pretty good, actually. Tomorrow is a rest day to accommodate the mega-transfer, so the dog will get all the attention he wants then. Today? He can wait.

Stage 4: Catanzaro -- Praia a Mare (200km)

Tuesday, May 10

Stage Awesomeness: Ah, back in the Mezzogiorno. This will be a lungomare stage for the most part, winding along the volcanic Tyrrhenian seashore, going up and down some coastal outcroppings, and descending down into the beach town of Praia a Mare for what figures to be a pretty inclusive finale. A good way to exhale from the hectic Dutch adventurism of the opening stages... along the quiet towns that time and tourists still haven't quite remembered. (Yet.)

Lingering Importance: Two more jerseys in play as the KOM points double, then double again! To a measly maximum of 14 points for whoever cares most from the inevitable breakaway. There's enough climbing toward the end that if a sprint team wants to make trouble for someone and has the sprinter who can climb enough to do it, you could see some real winners and losers from the points competition. That should be about it.

Dog Guilt-Deflection Potential: Didn't you take him for like a two-hour walk yesterday? He can wait. Hell, dogs supposedly watch TV, maybe he'd appreciate all that nice, cool-looking water.

Stage 5: Praia a Mare -- Benevento (233km)

Wednesday, May 11

Stage Awesomeness: Hmm! This one is a little hard to predict, though it's still early and 233km is awfully long. A worn-out group of riders will arrive in Benevento, which by the way does not mean "good wind" but, improbably enough, "site of bad events." Or so thought the Romans. In any event, this is an inland journey to some truly ancient places, including the finish line, so it won't lack for visual feastiness for us Italophiles.

Lingering Importance: Some. I seriously doubt if any of the overall contenders will become unstuck, but it's a long day and there are few flat surfaces along the route. The more temperamental sprinters will probably not find much opportunity on this day, which ends in a slightly uphill sprint anyway. Should be great theater... or our first piano stage.

Dog Guilt-Deflection Potential: Pay close attention to the time calculations. This could easily be a day where you and pooch can sneak out for a pretty brisk walk, and still make it back in time for the excitement at the end. I wouldn't put it on the straight-up "make him* wait" category, given that it's the Giro and if I don't exercise any self-control I'll say that about every stage.

* And yes, I realize I have chosen a gender for this hypothetical dog. My very much non-hypothetical dog is a boy, so I'm going with "him" instead of the very callous-sounding "it." Don't get all bitchy with me! [See what I did there? I kind of hope so actually.]

Stage 6: Ponte -- Roccaraso (157km)

Thursday, May 12

Stage Awesomeness: Pretty high. This is your standard Week 1 MTF, not knee-buckling but certain to string things out and maybe even lead to some light skirmishing among the favorites. The stage ends at a ski station, Aremogna, a/k/a Skipass Alto Sangro (High Blood Ski Pass), where 37 of 91 trails remain open in advance of the Giro's arrival. This is where the Giro enters Abruzzo, and for good measure the final climb launches from Castel di Sangro (Blood Castle), whose soccer team is the subject of a very entertaining book by a person who gets a little too involved in the sporting event he's covering. NTTAWWT.

Lingering Importance: Giri have been won in week 1 before, at least when there's a contender who kicks ass at time trialling (compared to his rivals) and puts them away before the ITTs really begin. I don't see that in play here, but it'll be a stage to pay attention and limit losses. It'll also be a stage where the winner of the day might have something that lingers in our imagination a bit longer than the parade of sprint finishes that are hard to care about for more than 24 hours. Oh, and that stage result might eventually affect the points competition, though the latest version definitely favors flat sprinters if one can dominate.

Dog Guilt-Deflection Potential: Toss him a bone or something (not a tennis ball, wrong message!). He'll have to wait.

Stage 7: Sulmona -- Foligno (211km)

Friday, May 13

Stage Awesomeness: Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. For example, if the ride up the valley to L'Aquila passes narrowly between the village of your ancestors to the east and the village of your surname to the west, chances are you'll be beholding a lot. It also skirts the parklands of the Gran Sasso d'Italia, the summit of the Appenine mountain range, though there's a lot more where that came from in week 3. Would it help if I told you there are Stambeccos living there?

Lingering Importance: As lovely and haunting as a stroll through Abruzzo may be, everything about this stage screams "let a massive breakaway go do its boring thing and don't bother me today."

Dog Guilt-Deflection Potential: Dog wins out, once the race passes L'Aquila.

Stage 8: Foligno -- Arezzo (186km)

Saturday, May 14

Stage Awesomeness: I don't want to sound ungrateful or anything, but it strikes me as weird that a weekend stage is dedicated to a long, transitional route with just a wee bit of intrigue at the end. Back in the day, the Giro could be counted on to load up every weekend stage with something huge. Now? Are they not trying anymore? Are they taking us for granted?

Lingering Importance: Wait, Nibali is here, and this stage ends with a long, tricky descent (and a false flat sprint). I take back what I said before.

Dog Guilt-Deflection Potential: I think "Nibali" is a strange enough sound to a dog accustomed to hearing English that this stage presents a teachable moment, one your dog might need to remember as the race progresses. "Nibali" is somehow synonymous with your owner saying "I'm busy right now." But only if your owner says it; not if you hear it from the machine, where they say it an awful lot.

Stage 9: Chianti ITT (40.5km)

Sunday, May 15

Stage Awesomeness: Big. Bigger than big. The Giro rarely does long, difficult time trials, and this one is... hm, probably difficult. It goes down more than up, so there's that. It also winds through Chianti, and the Garibaldi (media guide) is overloaded with branding opportunities. I like Chianti. Try not to spoil that for me.

Lingering Importance: This stage won't do much for the traditional cronomen so much as the overall contenders who can both climb and descend. Gee, I sure wish I could think of someone who met that description.

Dog Guilt-Deflection Potential: There's that word again. Guess I have to wait.

Stage 10: Campi Bisenzio -- Sestola (219km)

Tuesday, May 17

Stage Awesomeness: Coming off the much-needed rest day, only to be greeted by a rather sloggish up-and-down effort to Sestola, including a 3km rise at the end. The stage victory will come from a reduced field, for sure, and the tourist industry will get a big boost from a couple hours' worth of heli shots of Tuscany.

Lingering Importance: With luck, some of the more interesting climbers will be motivated by their disastrous time trial performance and come out to play at the end. Otherwise this is a breakaway route.

Dog Guilt-Deflection Potential: Some early spins around the block are in order. First, pooch just got in a nice long one yesterday, so he can't complain. And you can't rule out the potential for last-half-hour mischief.

Stage 11: Modena -- Asolo (229km)

Wednesday, May 18

Stage Awesomeness: Oy, the odometer just keeps on ticking over, doesn't it? If yesterday was a slog, this is more of a forced march, across the Po Valley to begin the transition to the Dolomites. The stage also bypasses all the fun places like Venice, only to throw a few curveballs at the sprinters in the last 5km and ruin everything. If you can think of a nice thing to say about this stage, I'm all ears.

Lingering Importance: It's a sprint stage, which means huge points, but there's a chance that intrigue is nullified by some unusual suspects surviving the small hills toward the end.

Dog Guilt-Deflection Potential: If dogs ever gained full awareness and found out you refused to walk them for *this* stage, they might... be 5% less friendly. For a minute or so.

Stage 12: Noale -- Bibione (182km)

Thursday, May 19

Stage Awesomeness: Last hurrah for a while for the sprinters, and Venice looms very close by! Well, the finish in Bibione is a ways off, but we should get some nice heli shots of the main Piazza. And a definite sprint finish.

Lingering Importance: Strictly for the points guys.

Dog Guilt-Deflection Potential: Um, I don't want to alarm anyone, but there's a place in Bibione called La Spaggia di Pluto... A beach for dogs! An entire fucking seaside resort for dogs!!! I'm sorry, I know dogs can be sensitive around bad language, but this is HUGE. Don't go anywhere until after the processo, which will be in Bibione, and probably feature a variety of talking dogs.

Stage 13: Palmanova -- Cividale del Friuli (170km)

Friday, May 20

Stage Awesomeness: I wish I could say I was calm now, but it's not true. Though it might be by the time this stage goes anywhere, since it's kind of a faux mountain affair, warming up the legs for the weekend but not delivering any real incentives to attack with a downhill-to-flat finish. Cividale del Friuli continues the theme of Roman influence, since it looks like the whole place is an archaeological site.

Lingering Importance: Fleeting. I mean, someone will be incentivized by the hills before the end, but it won't be the guys we write about that week.

Dog Guilt-Deflection Potential: Better prioritize getting in a good walk. Last one for a couple days.

Stage 14: Alpago -- Corvara (210km)

Saturday, May 21

Stage Awesomeness: Oh. Omigod.

Stage 14 Giro

Ouch. The Passo di Giau is the visual feast of feasts on this day. Apart from the racing, that is.

Lingering Importance: Hm, definitely a day when you can lose it all if you aren't careful, but given the profile I'd be not at all surprised if "careful" was a word we heard a lot on this day.

Dog Guilt-Deflection Potential: Monday is another rest day. Hang in there. "Nibali."

Stage 15: Castelrotto -- Alpe di Siusi ITT (10.8km)

Sunday, May 22

Stage Awesomeness: Welp, here's your stage profile.

Stage 15 Giro

Personally I think this will be by far the most decisive Dolomite stage, with riders from the GC putting serious time into other riders from the GC. Maybe not the biggest of all, but things will be shaken, not stirred.

Lingering Importance: Speaks for itself. It'll also be a day to check in on the young rider classification. Points, not so much. And mountains, not like the other mountain stages.

Dog Guilt-Deflection Potential: Well, there will be quite a lot of riders going off early in the day that aren't worth watching. Buy yourself some real peace and quiet for the end of the stage with a preemptive walk.

Stage 16: Bressanone -- Andalo (132km)

Tuesday, May 24

Stage Awesomeness: A tough, transitional route heading out of Trentino with some heavy climbing but maybe not too enticing of a finale. In context, it'll be a lovely little march.

Lingering Importance: I smell more breaking away.

Dog Guilt-Deflection Potential: Very little. Accept it. Build up your credit while you can.

Stage 17: Molveno -- Cassano d'Adda (196km)

Wednesday, May 25

Stage Awesomeness: Downhill affair as we draw closer to the Alps... but not very close actually.

Lingering Importance: Points fight! Sprinters on alert! Presumably there are still a few left hanging around? Not everyone quit to go on vacation with their dog?

Dog Guilt-Deflection Potential: Still low.

Stage 18: Muggio -- Pinerolo (244km)

Thursday, May 26

Stage Awesomeness: Um, that's almost monument distance. Which is a little weird, since the start is north of Milano and they have to skirt the suburbs to get going. Seems like a good place to cut out 20km or so? Not sure why they didn't do this but I can gue$$.

Lingering Importance: At 2.5km to go they hit a ramp that reaches 20% and averages 13% for half a kilometer. So buh bye sprinters. 242km just to hit that thing? Cruel.

Dog Guilt-Deflection Potential: Rising. The tension will be on the way up and if we have a close GC you could most definitely see people out to steal seconds. I'm assuming the 10-second time bonuses are still around this year? So yeah, be around for the finale.

Stage 19: Pinerolo -- Risoul (162km)

Friday, May 27

Stage Awesomeness: Incalculable. It's not that often the Giro goes to France with the idea that something big will happen there, but that's exactly what's in store on this day. Will's mountains preview will do a vastly better job on this than I can, so go there for more.

Lingering Importance: GC will hang in the balance. Anything else related to the mountains too.

Dog Guilt-Deflection Potential: It's a dog's life. Get over it.

Stage 20: Guillestre -- Sant'Anna di Vinadio (134km)

Saturay, May 28

Stage Awesomeness: Arguably the Queen Stage, covering the Col de la Bonette in France (snow levels permitting) as well as the Colle Lombarda and a shorter climb at the end to Sant'Anna di Vinadio, where if there's anything left to fight over, it'll be all-out war.

Lingering Importance: All-out war. Get the picture?

Dog Guilt-Deflection Potential: Who?

Stage 21: Cuneo -- Torino (163km)

Sunday, May 29

Stage Awesomeness: Exhale time. Sip prosecco while biking. Not them, you.

Lingering Importance: If the points race is close, the sprint in Torino will be a battle. Otherwise, just clap a lot.

Dog Guilt-Deflection Potential: Zero. It's Sunday, time to go jump in Puget Sound while the park rangers aren't looking.