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Giro Stage 9: Blockhaus-buster!

The Cherry atop the Giro’s Mezzogiorno Sundae(y)

Blockhaus summit
DEA S. Montanari

Stage 9: Montenero di Bisaccia -- Blockhaus, 149km

I firmly believe this will be the first memorable day of racing with respect to the general classification of the 2017 Giro d’Italia. And maybe the most memorable, by the time we are done. This is the race to the Blockhaus, the Apennine giant that once made Eddy Merckx famous.


Stage 9 map


Profile St 9

Are you excited yet? Read on anyway.

AmyBC’s Wine of the Day

Vini Rabasco Vino Rosso Cancelli 2015

The 3.5 hectare estate of Iole Rabasco is located in the village of Pianella, province of Pescara, in the heart of Abruzzo. The area offers a unique set of meso and micro climates particular to this north-central corner of Abruzzo; the Adriatic is some 40 kilometers away while the base of Gran Sasso flanks the western edge of the Rabasco property. The vines across the property, almost all montepulciano with a couple rows of trebbiano, are also quite old, 40 years average and rest at some 450 meters above sea level. Soils are calcareous clay mixed with alluvial sediment and fossil remains.

Tasting notes: Cherry and some funk.

Did You Know!

That this is the last stage in Southern Italy? This is a big topic for a number of reasons. The Giro has started in the South fairly often, and most of the time it’s meant that the first week of the race has been mostly a showcase for the Mezzogiorno, a nickname for the seven southernmost provinces of Italy (Abruzzo, Molise, Apulia, Basilicata, Lazio, Campania and Calabria) as well as Sicily and Sardinia. The 2017 Giro has famously linked the two islands for the first time in the race’s history, while also passing through all the other parts of the Mezzogiorno except Campania and Lazio. That’s about as big a southern turn as you’ll get in the Giro.

I don’t want to go on and on about the Mezzogiorno (literally “midday” but also derived from the Latin “meridies” for south and used like the Midi in France) — just because it’s important to me doesn’t mean it should be overly important to everyone else. But I’ll be there later this spring, so it’s on my mind, and I’ve put a bit of extra effort into the stage previews as a part of absorbing the importance of our “homeland” visit.

But there is no question about the importance of including Southern Italy in the Giro as a general matter. There is a very eloquent article at VeloNews that sums things up better than I could, and the thorough appreciation of the Mezzogiorno embedded in this year’s route is quite notable, even by past Giro standards, and especially by recent Giro standards which paid almost no attention to the region. Even the great 1949 race, following the Quarto dei Mille route of the Garibaldini, left the region by stage 7 and skipped Apulia, Molise, Abruzzo and Sardinia. If you count Perugia as part of the “south” (as some do using Florence as the border), then the race could actually be decided in the region. That happened once before, in 2011, when Contador won on Etna, but even that doesn’t survive in the official records, with Pistolero scrubbed from the books and Michele Scarponi taking over his second place on stage 15.

Anyway, it’s just been all about the story of the Mezzogiorno so far, so it’s only fitting that we end with the region’s highest road, its greatest ascent, its biggest trophy... the Blockhaus. [Well, most of it anyway.]

Google Image of the Blockhaus

What’s It About?

The Blockhaus is making its sixth appearance in the race. Its debut in 1967 was a truly memorable one, as Eddy Merckx came around Italo Zilioli for the stage win, his first victory in a grand tour. Now that’s some hallowed ground! The summit was back in the Giro the next year, where Franco Bitossi took the honors. In 1972 José Manuel Fuerte won on the climb. In 1984 Moreno Argentin triumphed. And finally, in 2009 Franco Pellizotti won there.

Barren and open to the elements, the Blockhaus is the second-highest road in the Apennines and sits atop the Passo Lanciano, an add-on to the climb the way that the Kappelmuur is an add-on to the Muur in Flanders. There are three routes to the top and this year’s comes from Roccamorice, to the west. You can see all three roads on this screenshot of the map:

Blockhaus map

The summit is somewhere just above the Google logo at the bottom of the page, and the route in use is the one to the left. But as Will points out in his preview, the race stops at the 1665 meter mark, whereas the road climbs to 2142 meters. Apparently there is some difficulty with lugging the race to the very top, because they haven’t gone there since the 1984 edition.

Anyway, here’s the profile of the final climb, the Passo Lanciano-Blockhaus combo:

Blockhaus profile

Summit or no, that is a brutal climb, over 13km with a large percentage of it in the 9-10% range. The weather forecast is not overly hot or windy, so the misery will come strictly from the road itself. Apart from a small climb as the race passes through Chieti, this is the only feature to pay attention to, and with a truncated 149km on tap, it will simply be all about the final climb, and the would-be Giro champions who hope to tame it.

Pick to Win

Being a hard stage doesn’t necessarily elevate the Blockhaus to the hill anyone wants to die on. More likely we will see some hopes ended dramatically than a winner found, but with a significant time trial around the corner, there will be some anxiety about this stage and how riders are positioned versus each other. But it’s still only stage 9.

I’ll go with Mikel Landa. He looks frisky so far and is a pure climber whose longer term prospects are cloudy, due in part to his teammate Thomas maybe being their guy. Landa has the least to lose of the top, top riders. Not a bad recipe for a stage 9 win.