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Viewers’ Guide to the 2017 Giro d’Italia!

Your stage-by-stage counsel on when and why to watch the Corsa Rosa

2016 Giro d'Italia - Stage Three Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Once, a while back, I thought it might be fun to start a blog called Date Night Seattle. Not because Mrs. PdC and I are so incredibly clever and adventurous in going out on the town, but because we didn’t live here before having kids, and anyway life is largely about making it up as we go along, so between that and the interactivity it could have spawned, maybe some interesting observations about the search for inspiration in a big city, or restaurant ideas... something would have come out of it. There’s a long, long list of reasons why I never got around to that, starting with the fact that Mrs. PdC and I aren’t incredibly clever and adventurous about going out. But I’m at least pleased to report that Date Night comes in a lot of shapes and sizes.

[People without the same situations in life, particularly the kid part, are most definitely free to groan at the term “date night” which has become so cliched that Tina Fey had to make an entire movie savaging the concept. But for me it exists — not as a soul-crushing routine into which we shove our partnerships, because rather as shorthand for “I’m ready to spring for a sitter tonight.”]

You know what else comes in a lot of shapes and sizes? [Wait for it...] Bike races! Grand Tour season starts Friday, and of the Big Three, if there’s one that can’t be shoved into a soul-crushing routine by Team Sky, it’s the Giro d’Italia. Not that the Giro doesn’t have its recurring themes, but one of them is the dominance of Italian riders, and if I can generalize for a moment, Italians aren’t generally associated with rote behavior, which makes them both fun and bad at time trials. So yeah, the Giro might end up looking like the last one, but the path it takes to get there is consistently inconsistent.

With that, let’s take a look at this year’s stages, and liken them to a date night idea of equal inspiration level. As usual I will phrase it as something you’d be willing to exchange for the privilege of watching the stage, with the better races taking the place of more exciting nights out, and boring sprint marches maybe only worth a movie. Where applicable, I’ll do this in hetero male terminology for simplicity’s sake — I like to think I’m pretty woke for a white suburban dude who once heard someone say “in today’s news, President Johnson...”, but making every pronoun into a menu can be tedious. The ideas are freely interchangeable to your own situation, to be sure.

OK, let’s launch this hulk...

Stage 1: Alghero – Olbia, 206km

Friday, May 5

What is it? The Giro d’Italia starts on the island of Sardinia with a trio of stages, kicking off the national unification theme of this year’s Giro. The basic plan is to visit as many of Italy’s regions as possible to celebrate the 100th edition, and so far it’s been a catastrophe, with Sardinian Giro favorite Fabio Aru hurting his knee and withdrawing from the race. The basic problem is that the 100th edition is separate from the 100th birthday, which happened eight years ago. I’m not blaming anyone for canceling eight editions of the Giro along the way, what with the whole World War thing, but you only get so many bites at the apple. I had a big party when I turned... a certain round number, let’s call it 50, but I’m not going to have another such party next year to commemorate the 50th time I remembered to celebrate my birthday.

Anyway, the Giro is now living under a curse, and it’s claimed one rider so far. Next up after Sardinia is Sicily, so I think we know where this is headed.

Who does it favor? It’s a coastal romp choc-a-bloc with twisting, turning, rising, falling roads, leading to a sprint, because it’s Day 1 of the Giro. On the plus side, it’s always fun to discover that there are sprinters at the Giro.

Why does it matter? Well, “matter” is maybe a bit strong but this year’s point’s competition will definitely pit a small number of bunch gallopers against the uphill stage grabbers. This is a chance for the former to keep at least some faint hopes alive. There’s also a day in the maglia rosa available, which is always nice, but two days would have been nicer.

What date night would you sacrifice? Movie night. I like a good movie, and there’s a bit more to going to the theater than just waiting for it to land on Netflix. There’s the big screen, maybe a drink afterward to talk about it if it’s intellectually stimulating. It’s a fine way to kill an evening. Just not that memorable.

Stage 2: Olbia – Tortolì, 221km

Saturday, May 6

What is it? The first mezza montagna stage, with a 900-meter ascent of the Genna Silana near the end, followed by a descent and 10km of flats. The Giro intends to get its money’s worth out of the island, and there’s a lot more to it than just coastal loveliness.

Who does it favor? Good question. Italian cycling has struggled to produce a variety of champions, as its sprinters and grand tour hopefuls have been swamped by the mondialisation of the sport. But they still pump out sprinty punchers and punchy sprinters like they’re the next innovation in fashionable espresso machinery.

Why does it matter? It’s the corollary to why Stage 1 matters. The other points guys might poke their heads out, particularly since they can steal the overall without too much difficulty. KOM jersey will be given out too. Actually, stage 1 has a few cat-4 placements but this time a cat-2 (14 points to the winner) will be involved, which will keep someone in azzurra until Etna.

What date night would you sacrifice? Dinner and a movie. A bit more substance than just a movie, which we hardly ever do, since I can enjoy movies at home without the $15/hour meter running. This is clearly the meat in the Sardinian stage sandwich.

Stage 3: Tortolì – Cagliari, 148km

Sunday, May 7

What is it? A tribute to Fabio Aru, the shining hope of Sardin... oh. Ok, then a transitional sprint stage.

Who does it favor? Well, it was supposed to favor Fabio Aru. Except he can’t sprint his way out of a wet panini wrapper, so maybe not.

Why does it matter? Believe me, it doesn’t.

What date night would you sacrifice? Spouse’s office Christmas party? This isn’t an actual thing in my life — she’s not working ATM and I like socializing with my own work associates. I’m just struggling to come up with a way to capture the (relative) pointlessness of this stage.

smoking etna

Stage 4: Cefalù – Etna, 181km

Tuesday, May 9

What is it? The start of the Sicilian double-leg of the race, and the first Mamma mia! moment of the Giro. Following a mercifully early rest day to account for the long water transfer, the Giro sets off from beautiful Cefalù to forbidding Etna, the hyper-active stratovolcano that dominates the eastern Sicilian horizon. There are a lot of ways to climb Etna, and this one is called Salto del Cane, or leap of the dog. I’ll defer to Will J’s mountains preview for the true character of this climb, but the name alone makes it a winner in my book.

Who does it favor? The GC guys. It may be something of a defensive battle, given the general tendency of grand tour hopefuls to let their form evolve into a third-week peak, but the Giro is sometimes won pretty early on, or half-won early and sealed with several stages remaining, and this day featuring two long climbs will punish anyone who isn’t ready for battle.

Why does it matter? Even if the GC isn’t decided, it’ll certainly be shaken up dramatically, and someone is likely to enjoy a long stay (if not a permanent one) in pink. Also a strong play for the KOM will be made. The extra day in Cefalù won’t be a holiday for many riders.

What date night would you sacrifice? An intellectually stimulating dinner party. I’m not sure how many truly original ideas there are for these things, but last night we went to a theme dinner called the Odd Topics Party, where three of the guests volunteered to present an odd topic that they recently discovered for discussion. It was a lively affair that ran more than an hour past the expected time, and ended with a late-night walk around a semi-haunted city park that once housed a native longhouse as well as the Martha Washington School for Insane Girls. That’s how much I love Sicily, Etna and this stage.

Stage 5: Pedara – Messina, 159km

Wednesday, May 10

What is it? Precisely what you’d expect for a follow-up to an enormous stage 4... a recovery ride with gorgeous scenery and a sprint ending. There’s a little TV sprint (traguardo volante = intermediate sprint) in the dreamy village of Taormina, which could be one of the most beautiful spots of the entire race. But mostly it’s a march to Vincenzo Nibali’s hometown of Messina.

Who does it favor? Not Vincenzo Nibali, he can’t sprint and anyway the Giro’s unification theme is cursed, as I previously explained.

Why does it matter? Hm, well it’s stage one of the portion of the Giro where one of the top guys should be in pink, but if he and his team would prefer to give it away, the identity of the breakaway will become tremendously interesting. Whether it’s this stage or not for several more days is tbd, however.

What date night would you sacrifice? No assurance of a jersey change? I’ll go with a double date with friends. Always enjoyable and comforting, but something you can always push back a week or three.

Stage 6: Reggio Calabria – Terme Luigiane, 217km

Thursday, May 11

What is it? A little bit of everything, from flats to climbs to beaches to ancient, quiet Calabrian landscapes. Unfortunately it’s also on a few large highways, so it might be a piano stage.

Who does it favor? Tough to call. There aren’t any Calabrian riders in the peloton, as far as I can tell so it’s hard to say who may or not be cursed by this stage. But there are a few km of climbing to the line, in the 5-10% range, so expect an Italian stage winner.

Why does it matter? Thinking... thinking... does the winner get some local salami? That would be big.

What date night would you sacrifice? Uh, an early child (PEPS) playgroup reunion cocktail party?

The famous Trulli Alberobello
Raul Ariano, Getty

Stage 7: Castrovillari – Alberobello, 224km

Friday, May 12

What is it? One for the tourists, as the race transitions along the sole of the boot, bags two more provinces (Basilicata and Puglia), and finishes near a UNESCO World Heritage site, the terra dei Trulli, pictured above. Apparently the use of mortar was a taxable event, and nothing drives Italians to the pinnacle of collective creativity than the avoidance of taxes. This is because Italian history is comprised of some people ruling a bunch of other people, something that didn’t really change a lot once Italy became a unified country. Which is why I believe that if the Giro keeps hammering away on the “unified Italy” theme, the entire notion might disappear from the face of the Earth. Anyway, the Trulli are stone houses with roofs built by stacking two layers of stone in a conical shape to look cool as fuck.

Who does it favor? The roofs? I guess they favor people who like cool weather, I’m sure they don’t keep the home super hot but maybe they’re a benefit in summer. It gets blazing down there in August.

The stage itself is one for the sprinters or the break. There are some small climbs close to the end, but the uphill stage hunters will have been sated by the previous day’s events, and it’s a downtown finish in Alberobello, so a twisty sprint is in order if the pack takes an interest. There are a number of fairly long stages in this Giro, but a flat 224km won’t feel long if the wind is blowing in the right direction.

Why does it matter? Are we starting to get the sense that a sprinter could win the points jersey this year?

What date night would you sacrifice? A night out to see a documentary film at the local art house theater. You can have the same experience watching the helicopters hover over the Trulli for the last 30 minutes of the race as well as the whole Processo alla Tappa.

Stage 8: Molfetta – Peschici, 206km

Saturday, May 13

What is it? Yet another coastal romp that finds a few geological features to have fun with late in the stage, this time the Gargano Peninsula, a proboscian lump of granite that sticks out into the Adriatic and for our purposes will cause the race to do some climbing late in the stage, particularly at the very end where the last 1.5km goes up, getting gradually steeper as it progresses to a 12% ramp right at the line.

Who does it favor? Pretty clearly the uphill sprinters. Alejandro Valverde would completely ruin this stage if he were here.

Why does it matter? Hm... well, obviously the points battle will rage on to the very end. But there are also a couple time trials to be reckoned with, and if you are a GC rider who doesn’t fancy his form against the watch, the small gaps and time bonuses on offer here should be worth your while. The GC could be a chess match, and now would be a time to play a pawn or two.

What date night would you sacrifice? A theme party. Theme parties are a lot of work, which is a problem for me, not because I don’t like work but because I have enough of it already, thankyouverymuch. So the result is, they had better be good themes, that people get into and have fun with. If they are, then they can get beyond “just another house party” status, or at least give people an excuse to keep drinking.

Stage 9: Montenero di Bisaccia – Blockhaus, 149km

Sunday, May 14

What is it? A beast of a climb to an Abruzzese legend, a climb so famous it got stuck with a German name, though it’s actually a reference to the ruins of a stone house at the summit, where you can also find... tadaaa... a stone inscribed with the names of people who opposed the unification of Italy (or some of them, at least). Full marks to the Giro for presenting both sides of the story. Will J is pecking away at a climbs piece where he will have more meaningful sporting things to say. All I can tell you is that it’s the cherry atop the Passo Lanciano sundae, and it’s been an occasional treat for the race since 1967. Oh, and it’s close to tiny Molise province, which the race bags with the start in beautiful Montenero di Bisaccia.

Who does it favor? GC guys, all day long. And by long, I am referring to how short this stage is, but whatever, the idea is to make for an explosive uphill finish. Giulio Ciccone is the most Abruzzese name in the peloton, with the -ccone being a local signature (Ciao a Vito Taccone), and the race rolls through his home in Chieti, but climbing this a hundred times in his life won’t help him hold Don Nairo’s wheel.

Why does it matter? Pretty obvious in and of itself, but with Etna early on and some small climbs where you can pick off bits of time, the GC might be starting to get away from some of the big names. And the race isn’t half over yet.

What date night would you sacrifice? Reservations at a five-star restaurant. I like good food, but this is a five-star stage, and unlike the restaurant I won’t owe anyone $300 after watching. Plus we can always order Indian.

Stage 10: Sagrantino ITT, 39.8km

Tuesday, May 16

What is it? The Wine Trial, as it’s called, a fairly typical Olympic-distance event but with a mix of super-straight and flat, followed by 4-5% climbing, followed by a technical descent, a long false flat, a visit to the mall, a few more errands, and ending with dinner at grandma’s house. None of that is made up. Anyway, look for lots of vineyard views to break up the number crunching.

This is probably a good time to point out that this Umbrian stage followed by a trip to Florence in Tuscany means the race, for all its inclusivity, misses out on La Marche, home region of the late Michele Scarponi. So there won’t be one particular point where the peloton stops to pay homage to their compatriot, except maybe at the start in Sardinia.

Who does it favor? A mix of the pure cronomen and the climbers who are half-decent at the discipline. With emphasis on the former.

Why does it matter? A singularly important stage. Well, actually there is a second time trial, the final stage into Milan, but nothing big happens on a last-day time trial.

What date night would you sacrifice? A nice dinner at a restaurant that isn’t too hard to get reservations at, but maybe isn’t one you can just walk into. There are a couple places in Seattle which specialize in oysters in a way that the tourist places downtown only think they specialize in oysters. I’d give up a night at one of the downtown places, but not the other ones.

Stage 11: Firenze – Bagno di Romagna, 181km

Wednesday, May 17

What is it? A passage between cycling hotbeds Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna. The latter is a merger between Emilia and Romagna, with Emilia being the northern and western parts and Romagna the southern one. Each historic region has its own dialect and distinct history, making this Italy’s version of Belgium. Today’s stop is dedicated to the Romagnan portion, and it’s a beefy mezza montagna day.

Who does it favor? Climbers and descenders, with two ascents each from categories 3 and 2, with the final one the cat-2 Monte Fumaiolo, then a screaming descent to the line. Not a bad day for the breakaway to have its fun.

Why does it matter? It doesn’t. The GC men will be a bit worn out from two stages of intense competition and ten days still left. So whoever wants to race can be their guests.

What date night would you sacrifice? A walk up to the local wine bar. Our kids are 13 and 10, making them kinda sorta able to watch themselves when we go out, but of course we don’t completely trust them, so if we don’t have a sitter, we stroll up to the small cluster of restaurants and shops in the neighborhood. It’s fun and cost-effective, plus we can get home quickly if the conflict there progresses from “we can’t agree on a movie to watch” to “he hit me with a whiffle bat.”

Stage 12: Forlì – Reggio Emilia, 229km

Thursday, May 18

What is it? The Emilian flip-side of stage 11, which means the over/under for Pantani references is 42 ½. It’s also a mostly flat stage grazing the urban centers of Modena and Bologna, with a trip out to the hills... where Pantani frequently trained (insert sobbing)... and a finish in Reggio Emilia.

Who does it favor? Sprinters, sprinters and more sprinters.

Why does it matter? I probably won’t be saying that for much longer.

What date night would you sacrifice? One of those non-date dates where we catch up on what isn’t happening with the kids or planning a trip.

Stage 13: Reggio Emilia – Tortona, 187km

Friday, May 19

What is it? Board-flat run to the Piemontese town of Tortona, with passages by Piacenza and Parma along the way.

Who does it favor? Sprinters, and people who love prosciutto and cheese wheels.

Why does it matter? I am definitely done saying these things. Today would be an opportunity for one or two sprinters to decide if they have enough points to justify not dropping out of the race.

What date night would you sacrifice? A night at the movies to see a movie that one of us has already seen.

Santuario di Oropa
Will J

Stage 14: Castellania – Oropa, 131km

Saturday, May 20

What is it? The starting gun for the heavy final phase of the Giro. Also a gimmicky version of a climber’s stage, a short, flat run to the ascent to the Santuario di Oropa. But with a start in Fausto Coppi’s home town, and all that implies.

Who does it favor? All the climbers, including the ones who only have a single 40-minute effort in their legs.

Why does it matter? As the third MTF (mountain-top finish) of the race, it will certainly kick off hostilities in a big way, and with the next stage a toned-down climbers’ route, this will be a day to burn some matches.

What date night would you sacrifice? A show featuring a beloved band/musician whom we’ve seen before and will see again. I’m looking at you, Justin Townes Earle.

Stage 15: Valdengo – Bergamo, 199km

Sunday, May 21

What is it? A soften-the-legs stage with a long, flat run-in to a pair of tough, technical climbs/descents before heading downhill to a reduced sprint.

Who does it favor? The aggressive, which I don’t know who that will be, with several fearsome stages coming before and after, but they’ll identify themselves before too long.

Why does it matter? Hm, maybe the KOM battle will heat up for this stage, though cat-2 and 3 climbs aren’t everything.

What date night would you sacrifice? One where we have to bring the kids, which isn’t really even a date night. Sort of like this isn’t really a mountain stage.

Stelvio Will J

Stage 16: Rovetta – Bormio, 222km

Tuesday, May 23

What is it? Hell unleashed, in the form of the Mortirolo, the Stelvio, and a climb in Switzerland called the Umbrailpass. This is one of two contenders for the Queen Stage, and would be my choice on the basis of pure majesty.

Who does it favor? Nobody, but especially the guys who aren’t in the top five or so of the general classification.

Why does it matter? It will be one of two... wait, three... OK, technically four remaining chances to win the Giro.

What date night would you sacrifice? An anniversary celebration. There’s always another one coming (right?).

Stage 17: Tirano – Canazei, 219km

Wednesday, May 24

What is it? Vaguely transitional stage, with only the Aprica slow climb and the Passo del Tonale in the way, and far from the finish.

Who does it favor? A breakaway, or my name isn’t Giovanni Quattroformaggi.

Why does it matter? It gives the top guys a chance to reload their muskets.

What date night would you sacrifice? A run to the store for bagels?

Stage 18: Moena – Ortisei, 137km

Thursday, May 25

What is it? The Other Queen Stage, the one where the Giro batters the peloton with so many climbs (Pordoi, Valparola, Gardena, Pinei) that it’s not at all apparent what we’re supposed to do with them all. The key is the MTF at Ortisei, not because it’s so hard but because it might cause a lot of the top guys to hold their fire for a while.

Who does it favor? The real mountain goats. Not riders, I mean actual goats.

Why does it matter? If you are strong and can soften up the legs of your competitors before unleashing madness on them, this would be the place to do it. Also, if you’re desperate and just far enough back that the top guys might accept the risk of letting you go, a long-range attack is a chance to become a legend.

What date night would you sacrifice? A show with someone I’ve either never seen before or might not see again. I’m looking at you, Steve Earle.

Stage 19: San Candido – Piancavallo, 191km

Friday, May 26

What is it? The last gasp for the climbers, and a trick stage where you think you might be done with this madness, heading south toward Venice... but NO! Suddenly the race takes a right turn and it’s up the beastly Piancavallo for one last MTF.

Who does it favor? The still sane. In other words, very few of us.

Why does it matter? Probably the biggest MTF of the race, which is a thing.

What date night would you sacrifice? Tickets to Hamilton. I’m sure it’s awesome. But $800 per person awesome?

Stage 20: Pordenone – Asiago, 190km

Saturday, May 27

What is it? Last of the major cheese stages. At this point the Giro hasn’t united all the regions of Italy, but it’s definitely done a good job of rounding up the cheeses.

Who does it favor? Another breakaway. There are some km of climbing near the finish, but not of GC caliber. And nobody will have much in the tank that they want to use up on this stage.

Why does it matter? Just setting the stage for Milan.

What date night would you sacrifice? Tickets to the ballet. Why would I want to watch a bear drive around in a tiny car? [I am getting punchy now.]

F1 Grand Prix of Italy Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Thread Hijack by Will:

Just Don’t Sacrifice Date Night With the Boys! Stage 20 features Monte Grappa, and they serve beer at the summit. Don’t stand me up.

Thread re-jack by Chris:

Hi Will. See you in the next post.

Stage 21: Monza – Milano ITT, 29.3km

Sunday, May 28

What is it? Allegedly a final stage to decide the race, but really an homage to the motor-heads. If there is one way to unite all of Italy, it’s not through bike racing, it’s through a few circuits of the famed Monza track featuring the best offerings of Ferrari, Lamborghini, and whomever else. This is something the entire country can agree on.

Who does it favor? Pure chronomen who have a shot at the stage and the overall.

Why does it matter? Given all the climbing, the overall probably won’t be down to mere seconds, but 30km is nothing to sneeze at if it is.

What date night would you sacrifice? Depending on the standings coming in. If it’s a blowout, a trip to the local Indian joint. If it’s close... a night atop the Space Needle.