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Giro Stage 18: One More Delicious Appetizer in Pinerolo

An OK stage to a scene of Giro greatness.

Stage 18: Muggio -- Pinerolo, 244km

Wait, how long is this stage??

What's It About?

A Long March across Italy's industrial heartland, from Muggio in the Milanese suburbs to Pinerolo, an old village outside Torino on the banks of the Chisone River, a main tributary to the Po. Muggio's significance isn't as obvious, and the route crosses numerous towns of some renown, including a chunk of Torino, but the headliner is the finishing city. Pinerolo is an old fortress town for the Dukes of Savoy, dating back to the tenth century, since it sits just below the Alpine passes to France. Its fortifications were removed as part of a treaty with Louis XIV in exchange for ceding the Piedmont back to its own jurisdiction (Italy wasn't a nation yet).

But Pinerolo's renown to cycling fans goes well beyond old wars. The city has hosted Giro d'Italia and Tour de France stages dating back to 1909 -- the first Giro -- and including one of the race's most famous days of all-time, the stage of the 1949 Giro when Coppi dominated Bartali over several passes in the French Alps, prompting famed journalist Mario Feretti to state: "Un uomo solo è al comando; la sua maglia è bianco-celeste; il suo nome è Fausto Coppi." Every Italian cycling fan knows this refrain. The Giro has returned to Pinerolo eight other times, and the Tour de France popped by to say hello in 2011, when Edvald Boasson Hagen set FSA Directeur Sportif hearts a-flutter with a stage victory. The following day the Tour departed from Pinerolo back to France, where Andy Schleck set off alone to win one of the Tour's more heroic recent stages, over the Col d'Agnel, Col d'Izoard and Col du Galibier. Heroes may not be crowned tomorrow, but it's nice to think that quite a number of them have been here before.

Course Features

Not to douse you with graphics but... here's a dousing of graphics.

giro st 18

A long, slow drag across the Po Valley. 244km is gonna leave a mark somewhere. But at least some in the peloton will get interested thanks to those features toward the end. The main climb is this:

Pramartino climb

The Pramartino is just outside the town of Pinerolo, and in fact the race passes by the finish area and jogs out to do this lump of a scalata, just for kicks. As to whether it will shape the race, here's how close it is to the finish:

Pinerolo final km

Basically you descend to the 1.5km to go mark, then have a bombing 3% downhill for another 500 meters and a final km of flat. So yeah, it's all about the Pramartino. Woops, was conflating the two. OK the real story is that the Pramartino is long and difficult enough to sort out the stage hunters -- and maybe the GC desperados -- before the finish, and this short but very steep kicker up the San Maurizio, which briefly hits 20 percent before leveling off, will set the stage for a finale that's hectic enough to reinforce whatever went down already. That said, anything less than a real separation on the Pramartino could allow a regrouping in the 13km between the summit and this kicker. Which means we will only see the final battle play out in the last 3km, in rapid order.

No matter what happens, it promises to be a fun last hour.

Riders of Interest

To GC or not to GC? In a tighter battle, I would write this stage off as not worth contesting for the main contenders, with two incredibly hard Alps days coming. And I still think they'd rather not spend the energy. But for all but maybe two of Steven Kruijswijk's rivals, desperation is setting in, and that means taking every chance you can. Nibali will almost certainly try something. And it will end up backfiring, again.

Among non-contenders, the obvious guy is Diego Ulissi, Lampre's stages-and-points guy, and you can be 100% assured of seeing him at the end of this race. In fact, he's so locked into the points battle now that the peloton may even let him go in the early break, unless Trek can stop him on Giacomo Nizzolo's behalf. Heck, you might even see a Faustian bargain where Nizzolo goes too, bags the sprint along the way, and hopes he can get over the next two stages to preserve the lead he will probably surrender to Ulissi tomorrow... but have an excellent chance of regaining Sunday in Torino.

Others? Well, Joe Dombrowski was rather dramatically called back to the team car yesterday. Was that to save himself for Pinerolo or the Col d'Agnel? Giovanni Visconti is a complete mercenary whom you can expect to try for this stage regardless of Movistar's orders (why do they even have him around?). Stefano Pirazzi might be there. Domenico Pozzovivo could use something to smile about. Just guessing after that.

AmyBC's Food and Wine Pairings

Each stage we bring you suggestions regarding the local fare from AmyBC. Check out her blog Winebookgirl for more.

Wine: 010 Vallana Spanna del Piemonte. From the importer:

Spanna, the local name for Nebbiolo, is a grape of terroir. While the Langhe showcases a beautiful expression, especially in the Barolo and Barbaresco regions, no list is complete without the wines of Alto Piemonte. Here, at the base of the Alps, at the foot of Monte Rosa, where the Mediterranean and Continental climates meet, Alto Piemonte takes on a charming and highly aromatic character. Alto Piemonte has acidic soils, rather than the alkaline soils of the Langhe, giving the wine its acid backbone and ultimately the structure and character that adds to the age ability. These vineyard sites are on gently sloping terraces along the left bank of the river Sesia and Lake Maggiore. Vallana owns vineyard sites within Colline Novaresi including the 2 important crus of Boca and Gattinara.

The classical labels that adorn Vallana’s bottles represent the family’s connection to the past, as well as their deep roots in the wine world. The estate as we know it today was formed in 1937, but the Vallana name was synonymous with great wine as early as the 18th century.

Food: Bettelmatt cheese. From the importer:

The history of using alpine huts in Val d’Ossola has been known since before the first century. The mountains of this area, even at very high altitudes, have wide, sheltered pastures for the animals and it is this characteristic that the local alpine shepherds have turned to good account in creating excellent cheeses throughout the centuries.

The most famous alpine cheese-making hut in the Ossola area is Bettelmatt, in the high Val Formazza, in the northern part of Ossola, but equal fame has spread to those in Toggia, Kastel, Sangiatto, Lago Vannino, Alpe Forno and Poiala – all situated at over two thousand metres and all in the Val Formazza. They have a very limited production of only a few hundred forms each every year. These are all made during July and August and used to be brought down to the valleys by mules but, more recently, they make the trip down in helicopters. Since the summer season of 2003, in order to distinguish them from their numerous and widespread counterfeits, the alpine Toma from Bettelmatt have been fire branded with their name.

Pick to Win

Diego Ulissi, almost too easily. Really, pretty much nobody else has the motive or opportunity, save for a breakaway group. And if there is one, I expect Ulissi to be in it.