Stage 19: Venaria Reale — Bardonecchia, 185km
Holy hell, it seems like forever since I’ve written a stage preview! This is a good one to come out of my slumber for. I pegged this as THE stage before the Giro, so of course it’ll be a boring march of negativity.
What’s It About?
Deciding the Giro d’Italia. This is the queen stage. No more archaeology tours, no more beach vistas, just pure, devastating grinding away on the pedals.
And the profile:
The sequencing of these mountains is nothing too unusual but a bit interesting nevertheless. The Finestre is the highest point in the entire Giro as well as the consensus hardest single climb of the race, and although it occurs far from the finish it will surely impact the outcome. But you might see the race hang together until the final climb, if Simon Yates is too strong to break. I strongly encourage you to read Will’s Mountains Preview for a better description, but I’ll look quickly over these beasts.
The Finestre is the Cima Coppi, the prize for the highest point, and has been in the Giro on three prior occasions. In 2005 it was the star attraction for one of the most memorable Giro stages in a while, when Gilberto Simoni escaped the grasp of race leader Paolo Savoldelli, along with Danilo Di Luca and Jose Rujano (remember him?). Di Luca held on to win the stage, while Simoni could not quite keep his hands on the race lead all the way to the end, in no small part due to Savoldelli calling for some help from some northern teams on the flats between the Finestre descent and the start of the Sestriere climb. Not the cleanest group of riders, so I don’t know what it all means anymore, but Simoni got to complain bitterly about another defeat, which is when he’s happiest I think.
Anyway, Vasil Kiryienka won here in 2011, and Mikel Landa won the stage in 2015 that incorporated the Finestre. But there is nowhere to put a stage finish. So it’s the bridesmaid.
Speaking of Sestriere, as you can see from the profile it’s hardly the most daunting climb, though it is the second-highest peak of this year’s race and it’s nothing to sneeze at. They have hosted multiple stage finishes here, including seven Giro stages and four more from the Tour de France. As far as I can tell, this is the only stage where Sestriere occurred in the middle of the stage.
As far as I can tell, the only time the Jafferau made it into the Giro was in 2013, where it hosted a brutal alpine stage won by Vincenzo Nibali. It’s a rough little climb, and by little I mean compared to the Finestre. Compared to things in my world, it’s a looming giant.
Taken together (including the Colle del Lys at the opening portion of the stage), this is a very long slog through the mountains, and the daunting presence of the Finestre, with its gravel surface and multitude of hairpin turns, is a huge disruptor.
Did You Know?
Lining the roads somewhere along the way, probably close to the end of the road at the Jafferau, you can expect to see some members of the Italian military sporting caps that look like the green moka pot I showed the other day in my coffee thread. These are the Alpini, the mountain men of Italy.
The Alpini are the oldest mountain army still in existence, having been founded in 1872 and served in two world wars, keeping the hordes of Europe from swooping down onto Italy proper and stealing their superior food. Their long list of engagements is something you can read about more here. It continues to this day in Afghanistan.
In relatively peaceful times, we recognize them more for their distinctive headdress, felt caps with a brim around the back and sides, and a long black feather (or white for officers) on the left side. This kind of style plays from the battlefield to the ferocious warzone of Milan Fashion Week, which they have also defended from invading French designers for 140 years.
Seriously though, this is an important infantry force in modern Italian history and is undoubtedly full of people bravely serving their country at home and afar. The added charisma comes more from being adapted to the ice and snow, and other challenges of mountain warfare, that they are uniquely adapted to. If they look cool and get to stand around watching the Giro, all the better.
Leave it to Dino Buzzati to tie everything together. His novel The Tartar Steppe is an all-time classic, rated as one of the best 100 books of the 20th century, and details the life of a young soldier adrift in the ambiguous world of border defense. Stationed high in the mountains at a fortress, he and his fellow soldiers wait for so long in anticipation of an attack from the barbarian hordes that time eventually loses all meaning. It’s a tremendously interesting meditation on humanity more than it’s about the Alpini, but since Italy isn’t famous (overseas) for its military stories, well, it just so happens that there is one truly notable book, that’s kinda-sorta about an Alpini brigade, by an author whose best book ever is about... wait for it... the Giro d’Italia.
Whom Does the Stage Favor?
That’s easy: the pure climbers. Personally I think this is a day where they, as Conor might say/recommend, go mental. All the ingredients are there. You have a stage where the race is sure to be smashed to bits by the halfway point. You have some reward available for not waiting until the final climb, or at least a minimum of punishment, as the last 70km from the summit of the Finestre to the end includes a lot of descending. You have a maglia rosa who maybe looked a bit weakened today. And you have a large number of challengers who are more than three minutes down on GC, who can no longer afford to wait.
And that’s really all I have to say. It’s clearly an epic battle and I’m not sure there are too many wrinkles to it. I suppose you could see some attacks on the descents, or even going up to Sestriere, at least as an element of surprise. Naturally the Jafferau will be the scene of some real action if there is anything left to be decided. Yates’ performance today makes me think that everything will be up for grabs on this stage. I can’t wait.
AmyBC’s Wine of the Day
Brovia, Langhe Freisa “La Villerina Secca”, 2015
Wow did I like this wine. I like freisa in general and this one was truly lovely. Also lovely, the company I shared it with.
From the importer: In 1863 Giacinto Brovia founded the Brovia estate in the village of Castiglione Falletto, in the heart of the Barolo district. The family has been continually engaged in the growing of grapes and the production of wine since that time. The phylloxera plague, economic upheaval and two wars interrupted production for almost 30 years but, in 1953, two brothers, Giacinto and Raffaele, grandchildren of the founder, resumed full-scale wine production. Giacinto, a trained enologist, was (and still is) responsible for the production of the wine while Raffaele, a trained agronomist, supervised the vineyard work. Sadly, Raffaele passed away in 2011 but two of Giacinto’s daughters, Cristina and Elena, are now completely engaged as the fourth generation, in the affairs of this family-run estate. Marina, Giacinto’s wife and mother of their children, is a brilliant cook and provider of wise counsel, and Alex Sanchez, husband of Elena, has joined the family enterprise.
Pick to Win
Miguel Ángel López. As to winning the Giro, I’m not giving up on Yates just yet, but am liking Dumoulin’s chances better and better.