Stage 4: Catania — Caltagirone, 198km
At last, the Giro’s desert wanderings have come to an end and they’ve decamped for a place where there is... slightly more water.
What’s It About?
Tricky racing! After three pretty mundane stages in Israel (from a racing standpoint, which is fine considering there are still three more weeks left), things get more undulating, more open to chicanery, more... Italian. Well, Sicilian anyway. The locals will politely point out that these aren’t the same thing.
And making its 2018 Giro debut, l’ultimo chilometro:
This will probably tell the story of the stage. That ramp at the end of a long, hard stage should keep things from breaking apart too much, with the climbers hungering for something to do and little prior to the last km to separate them out. The sprinters should be in a gruppetto by then and the GC guys will be marking each other out of existence. So this will set up nicely for guys who want to launch a late attack.
Did You Know?
Caltagirone is another UNESCO World Heritage site, thanks to its dominance of the Sicilian pottery industry, something that’s been going on for literally a millennium (its name is an Italification of the Arabic name “Castle of pottery jars”). This is of course the 74th UNESCO site of the Giro’s first week, and you’re probably getting sick of old culture. So much so that I won’t even recommend clicking on this link where you can see how the Caltagironesi have made a ceramic bike. I will only say that I condemn this shameless marketing. I’m shocked! Shocked! to find that a bike race has been hijacked by salespeople!
I could also drone on about how many different civilizations have conquered the area (spoiler: all of them), but you’re probably sick of that too. So instead, and with today being a rest day, it’s time to curl up with a good book.
The ultimate classic novel of Sicily is called The Leopard, written by a count named Di Lampedusa in the 19th century but not published until 1958. It tells the story of the Risorgimento, which some (up north) call the Unification of Italy, though in the south “unification” is a lot like the American “war for unification” in the 1860s. Di Lampedusa chronicles the changes to the Sicilian world as Garibaldi and his army, i mille, arrive in Sicily and start knocking heads together in the name of a unified Italy. I haven’t read it — it’s completely devoid of cool stuff like lasers and cyber-intrigue and mentions of Tom Boonen — but it’s the classic of the area. Much better than Mario Puzo’s The Sicilian, which I did read, and which is OK, although there’s more to Sicilian life than the Mafia.
What I have read, which I am thinking of thanks to the start in Catania, is of course Dino Buzzati’s Giro d’Italia. If you have heard me drone on about this before, you can skip ahead to the obligatory (and spine-tingling) quote inserted below, but if you aren’t familiar with it, this is a collection of reports from the road written in real time by the famous Italian journalist and novelist regarding the 1949 race. That edition of the Giro is a bit like the 2010 Ronde van Vlaanderen, where a great, great race met a special moment of race-chronicling, with the only real difference being that Buzzati was a recognized genius and not an obscure, vastly less talented blogger. Buzzati’s articles were eventually gathered into a book called I believe Dino Buzzati at the Giro d’Italia, and then translated into English under the simple name “Giro d’Italia” because it was 1998 and this was basically the only book in English about the Giro.
Amazon link to the book is here. It’s presently available for $10 used, which is I-kid-you-not $100 less than it has been listed for at times in the past. It’s a bit hard to come by, or was, and it’s brilliant. Here’s a taste from the chapter on i gregari, the forgotten soldiers of the road, dreaming of escaping the likes of Coppi and Bartali en route from Palermo to Catania.
[Talking about the sleeping domestiques on the eve of the start] He dreams, the little soldier of the roads, who has never heard the crowd roar his name, nor been lifted on to the shoulders of the delirious throng after his victory. He is dreaming of what all men at one time or another have an absolute need to imagine, otherwise life would be too hard to bear. He is dreaming of his Giro d’Italia... an awe-inspiring revenge. Right from the first stage, of course. At 106 kilometers from Palermo, where the road begins to climb rudely toward the Colle del Contrasto, more than 3,000 feet above sea level, out of the thundering ranks of racers, still as compact as a herd of buffalo, who leaps out, no other than he, the gregario, the unknown one, whose name children have never chalked on suburban walls, neither to encourage him, nor to denigrate him. Alone, he hurls himself like a madman up the steep ascent; and the others don’t even pay any attention to him. “What an idiot,” says someone who knows it all, “just the best way to do yourself in; in five minutes at most you will explode.” But he continues to fly. As if carried by a supernatural impetus, he eats up switchback after switchback as if, instead of climbing, he was hurtling down the Stelvio or some other mountain pass. The others, in the rear, are now no longer visible. People along the road shout Bravo Bartali, but he shakes his head to make them understand that he is someone else. Who is he, then? No one recognizes him. In order to identify him, his number must be checked on the list printed in the newspaper. And panic runs through Sicily.
So yeah, buy and devour this book.
Whom Does the Stage Favor?
That finish will definitely catch the eye of the climbers — all of them. They have had pretty much nothing to do the whole time the race was in Israel, and then came to Sicily to sit around for a day, so they need work. Moreover, the GC top ten is separated by 30 seconds, and nearly 50 are within a minute. Not that there is a minute to be had on that last climb, but current leader Rohan Dennis of BMC will be under pressure to hang on to the jersey. Well, except I’m not sure Tom Dumoulin wants it just yet, and they are the only real climbers in the top ten apart from Simon Yates, who won’t be getting 22 seconds unless Dennis blows up.
So the ending will probably not see much of a fight among the bigs unless someone is hurting inexplicably. That leaves the stage to the puncheurs, of which there are many, including Giulio Ciccone, Tim Wellens, Max Schachmann, Wout Poels, Gianluca Brambilla, Diego Ulissi, ... ugh, I don’t think I am very good at naming all the Puncheurs at the Giro, nor can I tell you who will be a hot hand this early in the race. But I will say that one name comes to mind... More on that in a moment.
AmyBC’s Wine of the Day
Wine: Girolamo Russo 2015 rosato...Pink Giro wine!
This is the north face of Europe’s largest active volcano, Mount Etna, in the north-eastern corner of Sicily. The Russos have 26 hectares of land in and around Passo Pisciaro, with 15 hectares of vineyards surrounded by olive and hazelnut groves. The vineyards are high up, between 650 and 780 metres above sea level, inland from the beautiful town of Taormina. Many of the free-standing bush vines are over 80 years old, surviving in harmony with Etna’s black, mineral-rich volcanic soil. This is one of those “Wow, it went quickly” bottles. Very pale, with strong notes of cherry and pomegranate balanced by the zing of acid.
Pick to Win
Michael Woods! Dude’s on form, wants it, great ending for him. If he doesn’t win I’ll eat my lemon-infused Castelvetrone olives.