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Giro d’Italia Stage Previews: The Opening Week (Stages 1-4)

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A look into the details of each stage, what makes them interesting, and who stands to profit

Two workers carrying an advertising totem, during the... Photo by Vincenzo Izzo/LightRocket via Getty Images

Every stage of the Giro d’Italia is worth plenty of individual attention. Even in a somewhat muted year (covered at the beginning of the week), the Giro is still a movable Italian feast of roads, sporting challenges, ancient culture and food. We plan to obsess over those details, starting here and as the race progresses. By the time you read this (i.e. I finish it) the first stage may be in the books, but hopefully we won’t lag too much as the race goes on. Part one of... several.

Stage 1: Torino ITT, 8.6km

What Is It? A prologue. Why can’t we say this word anymore? Is it hurtful to the time trial designers? IDK/IDC, this is under 10km. It’s a prologue.

Detailed Description: The race is just a spin around Torino, a major metropolitan area whose narrow streets will make for a not entirely unfamiliar setting, given the tendency of the Giro to finish with urban ITTs. It’s worth noting that Torino itself hosted an ITT in 2005, and a team crono in 2011. This is a much shorter event than either of those, however, so consider this a unique course in recent Giro history.

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I guess it isn’t board-flat, which makes some sense for a city defined by the Alps in the background. I’ve never been there, but the profile looks to be gently rolling throughout. Probably not enough to mess with anyone’s rhythm. Just maybe you shift a bit more than you would in Milan. With about 10 turns total, this is not a technical course. This is about pure power. And handing out a maglia rosa.

Giro-Ness Factor: asd

Torino is Italy’s fourth-largest city, a sparkling ancient hub of humanity founded by the Celts and Ligurians some 2300 years ago. We know Torino as Turin, as in the shroud, or as the host of the 2006 Winter Olympics, or maybe as the home of Fiat and Juventus? That’s not the fault of the Torinese; like I always say, if a kid from Staten Island is a Yankees fan, I don’t really blame him as much as pity him. Some things just are.

Starting in Torino is like starting the Vuelta in Barcelona, if Barcelona were a bit more like Switzerland. Apparently it’s all very beautiful and full of haute cuisine and great museums and so much that we don’t associate with rough-and-tumble Italy. Lest we lean a bit too much into the sheep pastures and hilltop villages and beachscapes as what Italy is all about... well, it’s about big industrial cities and first world culture too. Fair enough.

Profiteers: There can be only one.

103rd Giro d’Italia 2020 - Stage Fourteen Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images,

OK, Filippo Ganna may not be the only contender for the stage, but it does seem like the Giro wants their homegrown world ITT champion to have a moment in the sun. Ganna is even from Verbania, just 100km north of Torino near the Swiss border. There are a few other notable crono guys around, but nobody will have his pedigree. But the race to make Ganna sweat will be interesting enough.

Stage 2: Stupinigi — Novara, 179km

What Is It?

A blissful journey through the Piedmont countryside, past low-gluten wheat fields, prosecco grape vines, and the occasional FIAT factory, en route to a sprint finish.

Detailed Description: While this will be the typical week 1 sprint stage with no major geographical challenges, it does have a downtown finish in Novara, though even that looks pretty painless. The course takes a couple right-hand turns on large roads approaching the finish, at 4km and 1.5km, before a long straightaway run down the Viale Kennedy on the western edge of town.

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Giro-Ness Factor: Like I said above, this is definitely a part of Italy, albeit not what we are used to. While known for the House of Savory generally, and in Stupinigi the intimidating Palazzo di Cazzo Caccia, a hunting lodge roughly equivalent in size and down-home charm to Versailles, the fact is that Piedmont has its share of peasantry in its history. It’s just that they aren’t miserable peasants, like we usually associate with the Giro’s rural forays.

A quick ranking of historical Italian peasant misery (not especially applicable to the 21st century BCE):

  1. Calabria/Basilicata: I don’t know too much other than that Basilicata is home to Carlo Levi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli, a memoir of his time being exiled to the south. Basically, to the Fascist government, sending someone to the sole of the boot was akin to shipping them to Siberia. And they probably weren’t wrong.
  2. Apulia: Kind of the same situation, although there are points of pride to be derived from the trulli, a housing design whose sole purpose was to deceive tax collectors.
  3. Campania: However bad things got, and they did get bad, there was always a chance that whoever caused this problem would be buried alive the next time Vesuvius blew.
  4. Sicily: Where you want to strike back at the law and aren’t going to wait for a volcano to do it for you.
  5. Abruzzo: Mezzogiorno to the core, but they never completely lost perspective on what things could look like. I’d summarize it as “maybe I don’t have very much, but hey, how many Marcheggiani does it take to screw in a lightbulb?! Hahahaha!”
  6. ...

[some other numbers]

Second to last: Piedmont.

Last: Tuscany. Try telling anyone from there that they were once miserable.

Profiteers: Sprinters, of course. Which ones, it’s hard to predict, but the list includes Elia Viviani, Peter Sagan, Dylan Groenewegen, Caleb Ewan, Giacomo Nizzolo, and Tim Merlier. The Giro points competition rarely goes to the pure sprinters, however, so this may just be a little window dressing. Pay attention to the climber guys picking up partial points, they may be playing a longer game.

103rd Giro d’Italia 2020 - Stage Eleven Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images,

Stage 3: Biela — Canale, 190km

What Is It? A not so sprinterly sprint stage. The Giro continues to meander around Piedmont, and it all seems pretty straightforward, but things aren’t always what they seem... are they?

Sorry, that was maybe a bit too cliche’d. It’s really just a dull week one affair that the pure bunch sprinter guys might have some trouble with.

Detailed Description: Heading south, which will become a familiar orientation from here, the race crosses the Po Valley for a while before skirting along the edge of the Ligurian Apennines, hitting a few climbs to stretch the legs out and make things interesting. This is a bit of a problem for the sprinters, who will have to negotiate a quartet of short but not inconsequential ascents — including the final 3km climb up to Guarene, averaging over 7% and touching 15% at the end — if they are to hang around for the finish. There is an intermediate sprint point positioned just before the climbs start, as if the Giro is waving goodbye to a few of these fast finishers.

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Climbs

Guarene climb

Giro-Ness Factor: I’m not a huge wine guy — I’d like to be, but you can only stuff so much information into the best brain, and... eh, let’s not go there. But whatever, if you want to have a thousand different wine label names shoved down your throat, this will be the day (along with the Montalcino stage, and probably half a dozen others). I am beginning to wonder if maybe there was a point to all of this winding around Piedmont. Like maybe these wineries, probably not the poorest of their kind, banded together to create a rolling advertisement for their product. I could be more irritated, but this is pretty much the entire history of cycling, and anyway all they managed to buy was a boring Monday stage.

Profiteers: That second level of sprinters who can get over some climbs. Lord knows the Giro loves its stars, and Peter Sagan should be just the guy to hang around a stage like this for the sprint. Here, though, is where maybe Merlier gets everyone’s attention though? That would be quite a thing.

Overview of the flood with the drone during the flooding of...
Po River
Photo by Stefano Guidi/LightRocket via Getty Images

Stage 4: Piacenza — Sestola, 187km

What Is It? The first true climbers’ stage, and not a nothing-burger either.

Detailed Description: Following a short transfer east on the E70, the Giro wakes up in Emilia-Romagna, makes a fairly gentle beeline for Parma, turns south, and then... it’s business time. There are three rated climbs, two of which are detailed below and have some nasty ramps to them, though in altitude and difficulty we are definitely talking medio montagne level. Still, by the time they reach the ski resort at Sestola, the peloton will have climbed a cumulative total of 1800 vertical meters. No easy day in the saddle, this.

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Climbs

Montemolino Climb
Colle Passerino

Giro-Ness Factor: I don’t know why I’ve never really written anything about the Po, but it is a river of immense consequence and the alluvial plain which is named after it is equally important. It’s a bit jarring to think that Italy is home to the largest uninterrupted flat space in southern Europe, because Italy always seems like an uninterrupted chain of mountains as far as the Giro is concerned. But it’s a land of extremes in both directions.

The Po is a bit like our regional river, the Columbia (named for a wayward Ligurian), which drains a large and majestic arc of mountain ranges and, thanks to some lower hills, has to meander a ways hunting for an exit, continually swelling until it finally reaches the sea. All by itself (and its 140 tributaries), the Po drains the Stelvio, the Mortirolo, Zoncolan, Sestriere, and the Turchino. It drains the Val d’Aosta, the hills of Lombardia and the endless passes of the Veneto. At more than 400 miles it drains so much of northern Italy that it can swell to more than 500,000 cubic feet per second, at its extremes. [The Columbia sits at 250k during spring and has a record of 1.2 million cfs, but this is a 1200-mile-long river.]

That water feeds a plain where you can find a pretty hefty portion of the country’s agricultural output, too varied to get into here. It houses maybe a third of the country’s population and many of its finest universities. The delta is a network of complex coastal ecosystems and a biological treasure. I could go on. Suffice to say that the ride along the river will be a chance to take in the Italian heartland.

Profiteers: Obviously a 4.25km blast up a 10% grade isn’t fun for us normal people, but the top climbers will arrive at the Sestola ski resort in fine shape. Everyone else may be gasping for breath, however. I could see a breakaway being left up the road, but a more likely scenario is that the heads of state take this stage somewhat seriously and do a bit of early jockeying for position. Also, this being Italy, there will be a decent number of guys who can climb and finish off a sprint as well, the Ulissis and whomever. It’s an mildly interesting day for the overall hopefuls, and a circle-the-calendar stage for a certain class of stage hunters.