Everywhere you look this week, people will be speaking/writing/tweeting (which is not writing)/telepathically signaling their thoughts about the Giro d’Italia, which starts on Friday in Budapest, Hungary. And because it’s the Giro, a nearly month-long period of each year where I become irrationally excited about a race that ... doesn’t often end up being all that memorable of a competition, well, nothing will stop me from telling you what I think about the 2022 Giro.
As a reminder, we here at the Podium Cafe have a long history of acting irrationally around the race. And we have made some very important contributions to the reporting around the race. We have chronicled the Giro-ness of many a Giro stage. We have regularly compared the importance of stages to major life events. We were the only ones willing to ask hard questions around the rumored disappearance of Girbecco, his subsequent murder, and the incredibly strange saga around his underappreciated cousin Tourbecco.
In other words, we are all over this race here at the Podium Cafe. This year will be no exception.
In the next day or so I will go over the teams and riders, and what the hell, probably get lured into making a few predictions. I’ll also preview stages examining the beauty of each stop along the way, because if you can’t use the race to let your imagination meander around this amazing country, then what is the purpose of following the Giro d’Italia?
But for now, let’s just hit a few of the high notes.
What Is My Tweet-Length Summary of the Giro Percorso?
The Giro course is ideal for a long-running, back and forth battle... as long as enough riders show up ready for that sort of thing.
Do We Really Think the Southern Stages Will Control the Outcome?
To me, this is by far the most interesting question heading into the start of the race, in part because it would upend Giro tradition, whereby week 3 usually decides everything, up north somewhere. And in part because of the mountains involved.
There are no less than four mountain stages of real consequence in the first six course in Italy, as testing a tour of the Mezzogiorno as we have seen in a long time. Upon landing in Sicily after the Hungarian start, the peloton heads straight for Etna. It appears to be a unique approach up the southwest side of the old volcano, but there are so many ways up the mountain that it’s not worth debating. Statistically, it’s not tremendously hard.
A day later the race glides past Etna heading north along the gorgeous coastline, before turning into the Sicilian hinterlands over the Portella Mandrazzi, a 16km drag of 4.5% in the Sicilian sunshine. Stage 7 rises up from the Calabrian coast into the backwaters of Basilicata over a series of rated climbs. A loooong day out. The next day is an urban loop around Napoli that includes a short climb they go over 1000 times — and I will be blogging about that stage A LOT. But not today. Because right now I am beating around the bush before talking about... the Blockhaus.
Check this out, a graphic from the 2017 race:
This shows the three Blockhaus routes: the easiest one that goes via Pretoro to the Passo Lanciano, and then continues to the “summit” (of the road; the mountain itself keeps going). It also shows the road that starts at Lettomanoppello and rejoins the Pretoro route atop the Passo Lanciano. Then there is the one marked in red, starting in Roccamarice and ascending parallel to the Lettomanoppello route, but skipping past the Passo Lanciano straight up to the summit. This is the one that local boy Dario Cataldo called the hardest way up when the Giro prepared to go this way for the first time in 2017.
And that is where they are going in just under two weeks from today... but not before going up the Pretoro route to the Passo Lanciano, and then descending the rather daunting drop to Lettomanoppello, then circling around to Roccamarice to start the main event. This is a brutal, epic stage, and could make a massive dent in the hopes of several contenders.
When climbed in 2017, it was a 152km event featuring pretty much just the Roccamarice climb. In that relative isolation, it still resulted in a stage where the top 10 were separated by 2.35 — for reference, last year’s stage to Monte Zoncolan caused a separation among the top 10 finishers of 2.22. The simpler version of this face of the Blockhaus is a Zoncolan-level challenge. So what does it do to the legs when it’s the just back nine?
What’s Cool About This Edition?
Two things: the start in Hungary, and the number of major cities involved.
The Hungarian Grande Partenza is another milestone event for the Giro, which has been racking them up over the past couple decades. Having never started outside the boot, apart from a couple trips to Belgium, the Netherlands, and one ride to Greece, the race has been searching for new adventures — Scandinavia, the UK, Israel, and now finally Eastern Europe. Technically the Giro has rolled into former Iron Curtain territory, dipping into Slovenia, but starting in Budapest, a large, stately old European capital, should be memorable.
Then the urban stage starts and finishes, which is something the Giro doesn’t often want to deal with. This edition goes to six of the thirteen largest cities in Italy, and in the case of the Napoli circuit race, dwells all day in truly historic urban territory.
All of this is a bit reminiscent of one of the post-war races where the Giro rode around the broken, battered landscape reconnecting people who had just undergone traumatic separation. The Hungarian start got pushed back two years due to COVID, having been planned for 2020 before getting scratched for the obvious reasons that year — no international travel — and a second year as Italy tiptoed around the subsequent waves of viral madness, sticking to a lot of smaller towns. Now not only is the race prepared to make a real go of it, but we are no longer telling fans to stay away. In fact, we are taking the race to many of the largest populations in the country.
OK, that’s just a start. Can’t wait for Friday.