The Giro has a way of sucker-punching you with with its excellence sometimes. I had a distinct sensation of non-excitement at the time the Giro was announced this winter. Maybe it was all the focus around Froome’s will-he-or-won’t-he? and the start in Jerusalem but I did feel the course was kind of lukewarm. Now looking at it up close when we’re days away I can’t figure out why, there is a lot to love here it turns out. And not just the fact that we get a Froom(e)-Doom duel either.
Stage 4: Catania - Caltagirone 198 km
As lovely as foreign Grande Partenzas are there is something even lovelier about when the Giro returns home to the motherland and starts for real........ cue Italian folksong here..
When you look at the profile above there is something reassuringly familiar about it. The eternal ups and downs and then the classic Giro-feature, the steep uphill sprint. The Sicilian landscape is sure to be a sight to see as well. We’re definitely home in Italy now and this years edition offers more of these nuggets. Stages 5 and 11 also have the sharp uphill finishes for puncheurs. These days really are the best of the Giro in many ways, especially when there are a few teams with experts for them who really do the work to set up their captain and avoid a win for the long breakaway.
Stage 15: Tolmezzo - Sappada 176 km
Wedged in between the the high profile stages 14 (Zoncolan) and the obvious Queen stage 19 (Finestre/Jafferau) we have this nasty piece of work. Coming the day after Zoncolan where there will be no hiding for the GC boys this is a curious little thing. Instead of the traditional Dolomite menu (Pordoi/Fedaia/ Giau etc.) the race goes a more unusual route with a climbing finale that looks like a recipe for some team or rider with the legs left for an ambush attack. (Monday the day after is a rest day too so no need to save your energy folks.)
The race does two fairly gentle climbs, most notably the Passo Tre Croci where the obvious option would have been to continue up to Tre Cime De Lavaredo. But this time we instead enter a much more uncertain finale. The last 40 kms passes two sharp climbs with winding small road descents before we hit the bottom of the final climb upp to Sappada. This is on a bigger less steep road, a climb of 6 km which is mostly 4-5% gradients. It is that Passo di Sant’Antonio / Bosco dei Giavi combo that looks vicious though
How any team is going to control this finale is beyond me so we should see the Bigs head to head here again. This day has every potential to be crazy so I’m going to go ahead and designate it the “Tappa Girbecco”
Stage 19: Venaria Reale - Bardonecchia (Jafferau) 184 km
There is no getting around it; put Colle delle Finestre in the Giro and I’m hooked. Such a brute with its shear length and steepness and with such singular character. The narrow forest road that opens up to hairpin heaven as they enter the second half with the asphalt giving way to gravel road. Zoncolan may have one of the best amphitheaters for a MTF but the spectacle of the Finestre is surely one step above. This time the climb comes mid stage with two more climbs to go after, the gentle rise up into Sestriere and then the not so gentle 7 km beast of a final climb to Jafferau.
Last time we were here it was a long pictureless wait to see who would emerge out of the mist to take the stage, but hopefully we get to see the finale this time.
Lastly I now have an even more special place in my heart for this stage as it transverses an area I was lucky enough to visit last summer. My wise* guide knew that I would be in no shape to tackle Finestre so we did a variation on the theme. We rode from Sestriere up a gravel climb to Colle Basset and the high military road Strada dell’Assietta which we then followed along a bit as it meanders along the ridges between Susa and Sestrieres basically. You can read all about this cycling heaven and the ride options here.
Had we continued further than my untrained legs could carry me we could have intersected with the Colle delle Finestre. The weeny Giro riders of course don’t go this way to Sestriere, instead they descend on paved road to the valley that climbs gently up to the ski resort. The valley road where the climb to Sestriere starts is down there on the left in this picture.
Long story short we had a fantastic day which would have been even better had I been in shape and more friend with the mountainbike. But that only served as fuel to make sure that this place is first on my list to go back to the day I am fitter. That time the cycling will be sure to include Finestre and much more of the Strada dell’Assietta. This year I’ll stick to watching it on TV and enjoying it.
-* Not guaranteed to be wise