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Giro Stage 7: The Home Run

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A rider and a writer talk about their ancestral lands

Vigil in L’Aquila for the tenth anniversary of the 2009 earthquake
NurPhoto via Getty Images

Hi, I’m former cycling wag Chris Fontecchio. You might remember me from such Giro stage previews as “Holy shit, the Giro is going through Fontecchio!” and “Goddammit, the Giro is just missing Fontecchio.” Well, Stage 7 of the Giro is grazing past the village of my ancestors, and generally doing interesting things in places that I know something about, so I am your Pontificator-del-giorno today.

Friday’s stage is a somewhat standard Giro menu item, ending in the Abruzzese capital of L’Aquila. Named “the Eagle” for its perch among the Apennine peaks that surround it, L’Aquila has been a regular stop for the Giro since its founding in 1254. More recently, the Giro has rather intentionally stopped in L’Aquila as a showing of support for the city’s struggles to recover from the earthquake of April 6, 2009, which killed 300 people and devastated the region. A decade on, the area is still full of cranes and homes wrapped in massive nylon straps to hold them together until they can be restored. Talk to the locals and before long you will hear the scarring stories: everyone either suffered or knows someone who suffered from the quake. We met people who were trapped in their homes and spent the better part of a year in hospitals afterward. They were luckier than some. So yeah, the Giro is back on the tenth anniversary of the quake. And with a fun stage route it should be one of the highlights of week 1.

The Route

Mappa della tappa:

Stage 7 route

Profile

Stage 7 profile

Naughty bits

As you can see, it’s got a finish that should make things exciting.

What’s It About?

The stage is a brilliant little tour of L’Aquila Province, a toned-down version from such past routes that ended up on the Blockhaus, south of Sulmona, or in the Campo Imperatore, the barren peaks and plains hovering just above L’Aquila. The start in Vasto is a beach moment, beginning in one of those coastal spots that was discovered by the Romans and will probably be discovered again by hordes of tourists, who may be ruining the place as we speak. But it’s got a reputation as one of the jewels of the Adriatic coast.

From the coastal run the race heads up into the heart of the Apennines, into the north-south axis of the central Apennine mountains. [There are three sets of Apennines: the Settentrionale from Liguria to Emilia, the central and highest ones in Abruzzo and Umbria, and the Meridionale ones scattered through Campania to Calabria.] This tilted Y axis is significant for the Giro d’Italia and any other bike race: once you get up to the plateau (by km 138 Friday), you can traverse the region in a gently rolling narrow valley rather than hammering out one climb after another. When you do climb, the roads are punchy and steep. Races can exhaust themselves in Abruzzo pretty quickly. And that’s not on the menu just yet.

Sheep routes in Abruzzo
Chris Fontecchio

This same mountain orientation is also part of today’s finish in L’Aquila. Those narrow valleys are historical livestock routes, connecting inland Europe and its fertile valleys by the Italian half-build land bridge to the Mediterranean. Cross from the valley of Fontecchio (the Aterno) to the one they use for the route, and you’ll pass by some evidence of old shepherd stops for people accessing the markets of the Mediterranean — without having to run the bandit-infested coastal route by Napoli. The town of Fontecchio itself was a stop for stock herders who could register their animals and buy some supplies in relative peace. But alas, the road from Fontecchio shrinks down to a one-lane ribbon clinging to the hillside, not likely to accommodate a grand tour anytime soon. Highway 17, which the race takes, is a wide, comfortable route pointing straight to L’Aquila without any geologic challenges.

Well, except the one on everyone’s mind when the race arrives in L’Aquila. The same valleys mark the line of faults extending from the southern tip of Italy into Emilia. The route from KM138 on is one long geologic time bomb, which went off most recently ten years ago, an event which will get mentioned a lot tomorrow.

Earthquake damage in L’Aquila, April 2009
Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Did You Know?

Before climbing up to the mountains, the race passes through another regional capital, Chieti, home to the current KOM holder Giulio Ciccone of Trek-Segafredo. Personally I knew Ciccone would like this stage. How? From his surname.

Italian surnames are some of the most varied on the planet, with one estimate of up to 350,000 different choices. Italian names tend to be about saints, places, and things that happened to Jesus... a pretty good pool of choices on its own. Add in regional spellings or misspellings, or Roman spellings, or even Albanian spellings (anything with the letter J) and they just keep multiplying.

Some of these surname formation patterns tend to be associated with particular places, and although Italians are pretty mobile nowadays, the names ending in -ccone are likely Abruzzese. [Also likely Abruzzese: anything ending in -is or -iis, left over from Roman times. Dino Di Laurentiis, come on down!] Ciccone is one of the most famous riders ever to come from Abruzzo, which should tell you something about the region’s meager contribution to cycling. In modern times, the roads are better and the soil is fertile for breeding cyclists, but it’s also a pretty empty place, relatively speaking, and it’s mountain biking heaven for those kids who do like to ride. So it’s not exactly on the map.

The most famous Abruzzese rider, for better or worse (debatable!), is still former Giro winner** Danilo Di Luca. One of his mentors is another of the region’s very few past notables, Vito Taccone. The Chamois of Abruzzo won 7 Giro stages and Il Lombardia, among other events, and was one of the punchy Italian climber-sprinter types of the 1960s. He’s also known for having maybe knocked some people over in the 1964 Tour de France, and for getting arrested for one of southern Italy’s signature sins, counterfeiting clothing. He was an entrepreneur, or at least an “entrepreneur”, with a line of clothing and liquor in his name.

Taccone’s meaning is unclear, but -ne usually means “big,” and Ciccone starts with “cicco,” a distillation of Francesco, so Ciccone is “Big Frankie.” Not all Italian stereotypes are wrong, and the naming thing has played out in America in ways that are both amusing and 100% derived from the old country. Ciccone shares his name with Madonna Louise Ciccone, possibly the most famous Italian-American prior to Lady Gaga. Yeah, that Madonna, whose family is from Pacentro, in the shadow of the Blockhaus. Giulio Ciccone became a household name in Italy in 2016 when he won a stage of the Giro in Sestola, and professed that he would like to meet Madonna someday. Yes, we have reached peak Italianness now.

AmyBC’s Wine of the Day: Tiberio Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo

One of the most exciting of the new wave of Abruzzo producers today, Tiberio was founded by the passion of Riccardo Tiberio, who having worked extensively at one of the region’s largest cooperative wineries, discovered a plot of rare 60-year-old Trebbiano Abruzzese vines in Cugnoli, 15km east of Abruzzo’s mountain region and 30km west from the Pescara coast. Riccardo’s children Cristiano and Antonio now run the estate, making careful massal selections from the old vines and pursuing clean, fresh and varietally accurate expression of Abruzzo’s native grapes.

Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo became its own DOC in 2010, reserved for Rosato/Rose wines from vineyards in the region comprised of at least 85% Montepulciano. Very little skin contact is applied, resulting in wonderful and interesting flavors of cherry, hence the Cerasuolo (Cherry) part of the name.

Who’s Gonna Win?

Ciccone. It’s too perfect. Fausto Masdana and Valerio Conti spent today winning the stage and assuming the Maglia Rosa, respectively, taking two Italians off the list of guys who should have the legs for Stage 7. And that list was already likely to be minimal, given the climbing nature of the stage combined with its GC unimportance. Ciccone will have the motive and the opportunity to take this one by himself, and it’ll be up to someone else to summon the interest and the energy to get past the final inclines into the city.

The GC guys could get animated though. Stage 8 looks like a piano stage for sure, and if one of the contenders is too far back or too far ahead, the rest of them could get moving. I doubt it, but I wouldn’t rule out anything. Ciccone is the easy pick, but hardly a certainty.