Oh, dear Giro, how I love your stage designing. As you can see, we aren’t doing a normal stage-by-stage thingy this year, going instead with a group approach picking three favorites. I have a slight advantage in writing after Shawn and Andrew have gone, so I don’t wind up choosing any of theirs. And those Sicilian stages were mighty tempting. I also paused briefly on the Montevergine stage, a Campanian romp through places like Agropoli (Hey, look! Ancient civilizations!) with some nice seaside views and a good battle at the end. But there were three stages that just seem a bit special, unique, and fun. Let’s go...
Stage 9: Pesco Sannita — Gran Sasso d’Italia/Campo Imperatore, 225km
This stage narrowly misses the town of Fontecchio, instead going one valley to the east (where the Fontecchios actually lived), and then up into the high plateau of Gran Sasso d’Italia. The Campo Imperatore is known as the Tibet of Italy, a place of wind-swept high-altitude vistas so remote that when Mussolini was deposed they stashed him at a ski resort up here until the Nazis happened by and released him. [Planning might not have been the strong suit there.] Anyway, they’ve chosen about as majestic a spot in central Italy that you can find, and one where a pretty interesting race should be on tap, particularly if the weather is at all wonky.
The Giro loves to toss in small MTFs in the opening week, but somewhere along the way it likes to get serious, and this is where that happens. There is hardly a meter of flat in that 225km course, and a lot of old roads jutting up and swaying hither and yon along the route. The climb to Casascio is a switchback course averaging 6% and the finale hits 13% gradients approaching the line. This isn’t your polite Abruzzo stage, this is a battle.
Stage 19: Venaria Reale — Bardonecchia, 185km
My Queen Stage. I know Monte Zoncolan will get the headlines, but this is a special one for two reasons. One is the collection of climbs, including long descents, which could shake up the race in ways that a single mega-climb might not. And two is the Colle delle Finestre, home to a particularly fun Giro memory from 2005 (in the same combination as this year with Sestriere, but with more to do afterward), when Paolo Savoldelli used guile, descending, and deal making to fend off a stern challenge from Gibo Simoni to win the race. It’s also largely unpaved, making it a hipster gravel-dude paradise on top of its racing virtues.
Stage 21: Rome Circuit Race
Just when the race can’t get any more hysterically historical, they tack on a stage the likes of which I don’t think we have ever seen. I mean, we have had a time trial finish in Rome back in 2009, and the race has ended in Rome from time to time in the distant past. And of course we had the Sixth Monument, Roma Maxima, but that didn’t get too deep into the city. This race, this is something else.
That’s 10 laps, each of which takes in the Villa Borghese, turns through the Piazza del Popolo, heads down the Via del Corso toward the Forum, south through some park areas, and up into downtown around the Colosseum. I can’t tell whether this is even a good idea. But I do know it’s happening, and it will be quite a show. The route isn’t exactly flat, will be technically complicated to the point of annoying, and should end in a pretty cool battle. Or at least it’ll look amazing. Which of course is what the Giro does best.