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Stage 6: Transition With a Twist

A very Giro-like finale to a Calabrian confab

The Purple Codex, Calabria

Stage 6: Reggio Calabria — Terme Luigiane, 217km

The Giro arrives on the Italian mainland at last, but still a long way from home, as it tours the quiet southern region of Calabria, with a variety of sights along the way, including some lovely hairpins, plenty of seacoast, the region’s largest city... and the odd sixth-century biblical text (the Purple Codex, shown above). But I digress.


stage 6 map


St 6 profile

That little bit at the end deserves its own look:

Stage 6 final km

A very Giro-looking finale brewing. We will get to that in a moment, however. Since the stage itself isn’t terribly complex, let’s cover some historical ground first.

1908 Earthquake, Messina

Did You Know!

That this region isn’t known very well for buildings that were constructed before 1908? That’s because one of history’s more destructive earthquakes took place that year, with its epicenter right underneath the ferry crossing between Stage 5’s arrival in Messina and this stage’s departure in Reggio Calabria.

On December 28 at 5:01am, after months of tepid seismicity (not unusual in this area close to Etna), a powerful earthquake struck the Straits and the surrounding landscape, registering 7.1 on the moment magnitude scale as well as a maximum (XI) rating on the Mercalli intensity scale. [The former, often called the Richter scale, measures energy released, while the latter measures the consequences to humanity and society on a I to XII scale.] In other words, this was a big quake, but even more so its location could not have been much worse as far as humanity was concerned.

From Wikipedia:

A young doctor who escaped with his life later recounted that, moments before the earth started to rumble and violently shake Messina, there had been a sinister whistling sound which he likened to a thousand red hot irons burning in the water. Other survivors reported that there were three separate and different movements during the 30-40 second mainshock: the first shaking backwards and forwards, the second thrusting violently upwards, with the third moving in a circular motion. All accounts concur that it was the second upwards motion that caused the widespread destruction in Messina; the accompanying noise described as having been exactly like that made by a fast train in a tunnel.

People died in their beds, if they weren’t up by 5. They died in schools, hospitals, train stations and other major structures where people gathered at that hour, when things collapsed -- and more than 90% of the structures in hardest-hit Messina collapsed, including a Norman cathedral, the 17th-century promenade, and all of the city’s historical jewels. Reggio Calabria was hard-hit as well, its historic city center gone, all but 50 homes destroyed, though on the mainland side the epicenter’s location was just above the toe and completely devastated smaller towns to the north of the capital.

1908 Earthquake, Sicily and Calabria

In the aftermath a 40-foot tsunami hit both coasts, devastating the lungomare of Reggio Calabria and nearby Villa San Giovanni. Second and third waves smashed the harbor of Messina to bits and swept some 2000 people out to sea. Some have speculated that the real culprit for the waves was a massive landslide at Giardini Naxos, 40km south on the Sicilian side. Fires raged from broken gas lines, while a torrential rain storm hit at the same time, which combined with the wintry climate to create a scene of unimaginable chaos and horror. Nearly 300 aftershocks were felt all the way into May, 1909. Buildings continued to crumble and collapse for a long time afterward, making rescue and recovery exceptionally treacherous. The hospitals and doctors and nurses were gone anyway. Relief came by sea, as the Russian and British navies steamed toward Messina to help the stricken area evacuate and/or recover.

The final death toll was estimated between 75,000 and 200,000.

The cause of the quake was a vertical displacement of the Calabrian Arc, a series of small, fragmented plates between Africa and Europe, that happens when the African Plate surges underneath it. The latter collides with the Eurasian Plate and other smaller plates underneath Sicily. The Straits of Messina are home to several faults, as are the toe of the boot (Calabria) and the area around Etna, so when the pressure gets too high between the European and African continental plates, this spot is a likely release point. The result is a number of Europe’s worst earthquakes as well as the constant threat posed by Mount Etna. The earthquakes of last year and 2009 in Abruzzo and Le Marche? Same basic problem, except there the pressure caused by Europe and Africa butting plates was released further up the chain of microplates underneath Italy.

Messina seismicity map

I can’t fully explain or understand exactly what we are seeing here except that the precise spot where the Giro is traversing now is an area of intense seismic potential, and nearly 98 years ago that potential was unleashed in a terrifying , full-throated roar.

Need a drink yet?

AmyBC’s Wine of the Day

Casa Comerci Calabria Bianco 'Rèfulu

From the importer: This family estate is located in the tip of the toe of Calabria in Italy’s deep south. The family works exclusively with the native Calabrian varieties Magliocco Canino and Greco Bianco, which they farm organically on their 15 hectares (with another dozen hectares devoted to olive trees).Francesco De Franco from A’ Vita, Calabria’s most important natural wine producer, is an active part of the project. All wines ferment with indigenous yeasts, and all fermentation and aging is in stainless steel. Total annual production is 45,000 bottles. Tasting notes: Another unusual grape, Greco Bianco. Tropical and easy drinking.

Tale of the Tappa

The race departs from Reggio Calabria, along the coastline whose destruction I just covered, and up along the top of the boot’s toe, with only a brief departure from the sea around Mileto. It’s a long day out, 217km, but not much can be expected to happen until the final 30km. There, it starts with a 2km climb of so over the Fuscaldo:


Then it’s down and up and down until Acquappesa, where the peloton ascends a famous set of hairpins:

And finally into Terme Luigiane and the finale shown above, averaging 5% for the last 2km with a 10% ramp for good measure. This won’t put anyone into extreme difficulty, but it will probably eliminate all the top sprinters from the stage battle, since the steepest parts are just below the line.

Pick to Win

Shall we round up a list of punchy Italian-style sprinter-climbers? Ciccone, Gasparotto, Montaguti? Not that many really; this could have been a tremendous showdown between Ulissi and Colbrelli if either were here. Among the foreigners Ben Hermans, Rui Costa, and Michael Woods come to mind.

Frankly, I can think of a lot of guys who could enliven the daylights out of this course. But they pretty much all rode the Ardennes Classics last month, which I can’t complain about, and largely went on vacation for the Tour, which I can complain about but why bother? Anyway, that left the Giro with a startlist heavy on conventional GC contenders as opposed to the borderline types who are fun for short, punchy stages before falling apart in the mountains. As they sometimes say, you just might find... you get what you need.

I’ll go with Gasparotto. Bahrain-Merida (Bah-Meh) need an actual win, not a false one on the penultimate lap, so they could do well to set up Gaspa here.