OK, resuming our Guide to the Giro via a hot-take rating (also reflected by the chili-strength of the take)... Wait, what? Right, so the bit is that the hotter the stage, the more you should try to watch — hence this is a viewers’ guide. How will you perceive our watch recommendation? Via a hot take, which like all good (I know) hot takes, contains a mixture of truth and bullshit, not just pure entertainment. The take hotness is in turn rated by a corresponding chili:
- Hottest: Carolina Reaper — >2 million scoville units, which, whatever they are, that’s a lot of them!
- Habañero — Up to 500,000
- Cayenne — 50,000
- Jalapeño — 8,000
- Calabrian chili — 750
In Part I of the Viewers’ Guide, we covered the party phase of the Giro. Now, we get down to the business end. I’m not sure how hot I can make my takes, but I’m going to try.
Stage 12: Bra — Rivoli
Thursday, May 18, 179km
What’s It All About? Skirting around Turin, a city cursed by its horrible soccer team. Positioning, getting the climbing legs warmed up, staying out of trouble. Closing out the semi-serious phase of the Giro.
About that climb...
Hm, 10km uphill on some not insignificant gradients might make for some action. I just can’t believe the maglia rosa contenders will be tempted though.
What’s Along the Way? The race does a loop around the western fringes of Torino, home of the Taurini tribe, continuing the theme here. But I don’t know how to make the rest of this route sound very interesting. Even the start in Bra is not nearly as interesting as you would hope. Apparently “Bra” in the local lingua refers to an “open plain,” not mountains. [And “brassière” is the French word for child’s undershirt.] That said, the city is the birthplace of the “slow food” movement, emphasizing local fresh ingredients — the opposite of fast food — which I’ll tip my hat to.
How Much Does It Matter? Not much, although the Colle Braida climb should be super fun. There will be attacks.
Hot Take Watchability Pairing? Is Italian Cycling OK? Not really? If you are talking about the men only, yep, there’s a problem.
The substance alone is a one-pepper take because it’s been the case for years, but it’s still one chili’s worth of WTF? and this year is no different. The only two riders from the Boot ranked in the current top 25 are Filippo Ganna, a crono specialist, and Giulio Ciccone, an overachieving nice guy who was never going to win the Giro even before he got Covid and is now forced out from the start in his home region of Abruzzo. Italian riders have racked up 22 wins already this year, but the most prestigious of them is either Ciccone’s stage of the Volta a Catalunya or the win by Francesco Busatto in the U23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Recent big performances were by now-retired riders Vincenzo Nibali and Sonny Colbrelli. Diego Ulissi is probably the top classics rider left, unless you want to keep the door open for former Flanders winner Alberto Bettiol. Everybody thinks of UAE and Bahrain as former Italian teams, as close to a team legacy as Italy has now, with no actual World Tour squads registered there. They had one rider lose his job for being a racist jerk and another for shooting a politician’s cat. If we aren’t at bottom, I don’t know what the bottom is.
On the women’s side, it’s everything a major cycling nation should ask for — climbers, sprinters, all-rounders, champions. So maybe the solution is to just switch to watching the ladies.
Hotness Rating: Jalapeño
Stage 13: Borgofranco d’Ivrea — Crans Montana
Friday, May 19, 207km
What’s It All About? Hitting the major mountain climbs, at last, and leaving Italy for 24 hours, the only such occasion for this entire Giro, as the race parks itself at the Swiss ski resort of Crans Montana for a night. One programming note: with the stages getting serious, the less serious aspects of these stage previews will start to drop off a bit. There is only so much to say about ski resorts besides the technical race bits. The race itself changes its tone on this day too. From the racers to the commentators, it’s time to put down our wine glasses and cheese plates.
This is probably a good opportunity to remind you guys that the Giro doesn’t have a version of “hors categoire,” the “it’s one louder” of Tour de France climb ratings. Cat 1 is numero uno for difficulty. The little C on the Col du Grand St Bernard indicates the Cima Coppi, the highest point in the Giro, a special prize with some cash and extra KOM points.
Big Dog Climb:
Coming first of three brutal climbs, this one probably won’t see extra spicy action, but at close to 2500 meters it will be the place where we will want to keep an eye on weather. From what I can tell the road looks free of snow as of this writing.
As long and high as that one is, it’s kind of a mega-warmup for the day’s biggest challenge: the Croix de Coeur:
The section from Verbier village to the summit is especially brutal, both in terms of the gradient — 7km at 9-10% — and the dearth of switchbacks — just straight into the gradient for you! This climb has appeared in a few Tours de Suisse and the Tour de France back in 2009, where Alberto Contador won the stage.
At 1000 meters lower and “only” 13km (compared to 34km for the St. Bernard), the final climb is the least awful in and of itself, but will be raced with all of the desperation you can imagine at the Giro’s big Alps test.
What’s Along the Way? Well, at the Saint Bernard Pass the race goes by the ancient hospice, pictured above, that gave us some interesting history and a pretty awesome breed of dogs. Saint Bernard himself — who else? — established a hospice for travelers in 1049, though it’s thought that there were buildings at the pass since Roman days, and the current pair of buildings sandwiching the road date back to 1560 and 1898. By the 16th century, the pass had been dedicated to Saint Bernie, and around the very early 1700s begins the description of the hospice’s unique breed of dogs, trained by the older generation of dogs (not by the monks) to find travelers lost in the snow, buried in avalanches. They never apparently carried casks of brandy on their collars, but the rest of the legend is true. One dog named Barry is estimated to have rescued as many as 100 people.
How Much Does It Matter? This could easily be the stage that decides who wins the Giro d’Italia. It will go a very long way to deciding the KOM competition. Cat one climbs are worth 40 points (irrespective of stage ending) and the Cima Coppi is worth 50, meaning that up to 130 are available if someone goes crazy here.
Hot Take Watchability Pairing? The Tour de Suisse is the sport’s biggest missed opportunity.
Why are we talking about Verbier and Crans Montana at the Giro and not the Tour de Suisse? OK, actually we could because this year’s TdS has an OK stage over Crans Montana and another climb. And then it has a super high altitude stage to the Furkapass and Albulapass, in the 2400m range. Great stage. Then there are six other stages I probably won’t give even the slightest thought to.
The Tour de Suisse should lean way harder into its natural advantages as a cycling nation. Sure, the Swiss are only occasional challengers to the sport’s biggest thrones, but they’re in the mix and have had a meaningful place in the sport for a century. They understand what I’m talking about. So why not have eight days and four mega-mountain stages? Maybe it’s that they are prisoner to the Tour de France and feel like the TdS can only be a gentle warm-up race (not true in the 80s). Maybe the best finish lines are all mega-wealthy playgrounds now and the cost of doing business isn’t worth it. I don’t know. I’m sure there’s a logical reason, and it also sucks.
Hotness Rating: Carolina Reaper. Our first one!
Stage 14: Sierre — Cassano Magnago
Saturday, May 20, 193km
What’s It All About? Switzerland sucks, let’s go home.
I read somewhere that this part of Switzerland is connected to Italy by just two roads, the Grand St Bernard route and the Simplonpass. So the Giro, rather than doubling back, goes home the other way.
What’s Along the Way? Some villages, like Crevoladossola, Domodossola, Villadossola... are you sensing a pattern? These are all places in the Ossola Valley, which earned a bit of notoriety in 1944 when, on September 10, with the Allies stuck too far south and the German lines in between, the locals declared themselves an independent partisan republic, effectively declaring themselves free from Italy’s crumbling Fascist government. Something called the National Liberation committee encouraged partisans to declare themselves separate from the Nazi-Fascist alliance — which in hindsight seems like the right move — and 20 different locales across northern Italy took them up on it. The Germans would then swoop down and force the partisan republic to rejoin Fascist Italy within a few weeks, so they didn’t amount to much. But it’s good to know you were on the right side of history.
How Much Does It Matter? Precious little. Stage points and KOM honors only.
Hot Take Watchability Pairing? The Giro d’Italia website’s constant wine pairings are kind of pathetic.
I get it, the world is full of great wine, especially in the actual wine-producing regions of Europe. But on this site we started pairing wines to places on the Giro map a decade ago (shout out AmyBC!!), and long after we decided to change things up, everyone else is copying it. They Cycling Podcast, which I otherwise love, is leaning way into their collective wine knowledge. Now the race organization is too. It’s snobby tourist bullshit and it could not be less connected to the actual race. Apart from spraying prosecco after stage wins, the riders can’t touch wine or other alcohol during the race. Cycling is about blood and guts, inhuman effort, sweat and pain. Not some fucking pinot grigio paired with a leg of duck or whatever. Enough about the wine.
Hotness Rating: Jalapeño
Stage 15: Seregno — Bergamo
Sunday, May 21, 195km
What’s It All About? A princess stage — shrunken in scope from a queen stage, but with stabby gradients that would make us mortals spit our pinot grigios out of every orifice on our faces if we were foolish enough to try riding them.
None of these gradients will be at all fun to ride for any length of time. This is cyclotourist hell. For the pros, I guess they won’t care too much.
What’s Along the Way? The entire stage takes place within sight of Milan, it seems. Maybe not when they duck into some steep-walled valleys for the climbing sectors, but it’s kind of amazing how one can live in a giant, important urban space and have access to amazing grand tour climbs.
How Much Does It Matter? Medium level. It ends on a descent and there is too much else happening, but you could see the race break up on the climbs and stay in pieces. The Bigs will need to stay near the front, and the makeup of the break could force their hand if the wrong guy gets away. There may be 30km to the line after the final climb, but it’s a lot of descending, which could make it very hard for the peloton to reduce any gaps.
Hot Take Watchability Pairing? Paolo Savoldelli is a great champion.
Hey, I don’t know who put what in their bodies back then. He got busted for doping associated with the 2006 Giro, so the odds of him riding for Lance’s team and winning clean in 2005 are... not great. But Savoldelli did a lot for underinformed fans like me about the beauty of pure skill, particularly the nerviest skill in the sport, descending. The Falcon would swoop down on his rivals, just like he did in tracking down Gilberto Simoni to hold just enough of his overall lead in the final stage to Sestriere in 2005. Yes, EPO maybe got him over the top of the climb, but the magical part, on the way back down, that was pure Paolo. He took advantages wherever he could find them. You might even say that he’s an EPO-era Nibali, minus the pavé ability. More than any of the other Disco/Postal alumni, Savoldelli still holds a place in my heart. A voi!
Hotness Rating: Cayenne
Stage 16: Sabbio Chiese — Monte Bondone
Tuesday, May 23, 203km
What’s It All About? Business Time. Maybe not the Queen Stage — stage 19 takes that distinction — but it’s a very long day, four-plus summits with the finish atop Monte Bondone, or at least atop the paved portion of it.
Passo Santa Barbara: Double your pleasure with the Bordala rise, and take the descent between the peaks (in excess of -8%) with care.
From the map, it looks like the descent has only three switchbacks, so maybe it isn’t technical, but it will be fast.
The second climb is what gets this stage booted from Queen Stage consideration. It’s just not that hard.
Somehow we don’t even get a rating of the 500-meter ascent to Matassone, which I believe averages 7% for 7.5km. A mere detour. A distraction, even. Anyway, onto the main course:
Nine km of 8% is pretty miserable by any mortal rating. For them, it will be hard but not crazy-time hard.
What’s Along the Way? Welcome to Geology Corner! Monte Bondone sits in a subregion of the Alps called the Garda Prealps. These mountains are Southern Limestone Alps which stretch from around Trento to northeastern Slovenia. The Garda Prealps are NOT part of the Dolomites, even though they are nearly surrounded by them. Here’s their location:
The Eastern Alps have like 75 subdivisions — ranges — and we tend to think of this part of Italy, in Trentino, as being the Dolomites. But the Garda Prealps are tucked into a corner of the range adjacent to the Dolomites and the distinction is that the Dolomites are made of, um, Dolomite, while the Garda Prealps are limestone. I suspect that the Alps in general are the source of geology geekery beyond that which you can find elsewhere in the world.
How Much Does It Matter? The mineral content, very little. The stage itself though is everything.
Hot Take Watchability Pairing? Mountain stages to ski resorts aren’t real mountain stages!
We are taking the temperature up here, so exclamation points are required. Ski resorts are mostly gaudy rich-people playgrounds carved out of some of the world’s most precious (and fragile) landscapes. I’m not against human existence or anything (open to alternatives though?) but to me, it’s so much cooler when the Giro goes over mountain passes which exist for more serious purposes, like connecting Italy to the rest of the world, or enabling elephant-mounted armies to pop by the peninsula. Just biking to some ski resort parking lot and eating a bowl of crappy overpriced chili is not my idea of a good time.
Hotness Rating: Carolina Reaper
Stage 17: Pergine Valsugana — Caorle
Wednesday, May 24, 195km
What’s It All About? Clearing our heads, collectively, for the final crescendo of the race. And where better to go for that than a beach outside Venice?
The numbers, remember, are meters above sea level. Or meter anyway.
What’s Along the Way? A lesson in the disconnect between what we think of as a metropolitan area and the legal definition thereof. Here is what I think of as the Metropolitan City of Venice:
Here is what map after map keeps telling me is the Metropolitan City of Venice:
The yellow is the entire Veneto region and the red is the city limits. The part with the fucked up streets and gondoliers is one of those smaller splotches in the middle of the lagoon. The finish line for today’s stage in Caorle is at the easternmost tip of the red part. Jesolo, which has hosted a few sprint finishes, is along the beach between touristy Venice and Caorle. In all, metropolitan Venice is 2,467 square kilometers of land, including 118 islands, where some 900,000 people live, although for people on the island of Venice only in the months from mid-September to sometime in June, for their sanity.
This is a trivial matter, and also a complete shock to me. In terms of land, Venice is about 5x the size of Seattle, thrice the space of New York — all five boroughs — and twice the size of metropolitan Los Angeles. I always thought Chicago was really huge and spread out, but it checks in at one quarter the size of Metro Venice. The explanation probably has to do with human settlement, which goes back literally thousands of years to the arrival of the Paphlagonians, who may have been either from Turkey or Chile and probably invented the overpriced fleece jacket. Since Venice is both cool and swampy, some people probably centered around the lagoon as it became a connection to literally the entire world, while others moved to firmer soil with less humid air.
How Much Does It Matter? Not at all except for points and stage glory.
Hot Take Watchability Pairing? Italy needs to limit the number of tourists allowed into Venice.
I’ve never been there but know plenty of people who have, and nowadays it sounds like a complete shitshow in summer that is only going to get worse. What is the point of visiting a place if you are just going to experience what feels more like a TSA security line at Newark Airport than a living cultural treasure? Is anyone in favor of having their home invaded in this way, to the point where you can’t go anywhere, especially your favorite restaurant, or even a decent one? From what I know of tourists who would do something like visit Venice in July, a lot of them could be diverted by offering them a chance to take a high resolution photo of them on a CGI gondola on the CGI Grand Canal — free of charge! Check the box, email the photo to your friends, and move on down to Florence for a picture with CGI David.
Hotness Rating: Jalapeño
Stage 18: Oderzo — Val di Zoldo
Thursday, May 25, 161km
What’s It All About? The annual mountain stage that people aren’t going to pay enough attention to ahead of time because the names aren’t that familiar, but could easily decide the entire race.
What’s Along the Way? Signs in Ladin? Belluno province lies in the part of northern Italy where the locals have been known to switch languages (not unheard of elsewhere — see Sicily, Naples, Rome, etc...) to the Rhaetian-Romance Ladin language. This language group also includes very similar Friulian spoken between Venice and the Slovenian border, and Romansh spoken over the border in southeastern Switzerland. I don’t want to do too deep a dive here, but apparently these languages are a confluence of eastern Alps (Rhaetian) language as well as influence from the Etruscans, all splintering off from Latin in a way that differed from how Italian did.
How Much Does It Matter? The race came through this area in 2011’s 15th stage, which ended at Gardeccia, not too far off and generally marked by steep ascents (but also the Passo Giau). So while that stage doesn’t totally correlate, it is of similar character, and on that day the gaps were pretty large — four minutes plus separating the top ten and more than two minutes between some of the favorites.
Hot Take Watchability Pairing? Time bonuses are bullshit.
Who wants to decide anything based on which climber wins a sprint? Yeah, sure, it’s a neat skill... for winning La Flèche Wallonne. But separating the winners of grand tours in this way is pretty meaningless, and — worse — they encourage riders to accept a sprint finish if one of them thinks he can get those precious ten seconds. Without that incentive, guys would have no choice but to try to attack.
Hotness Rating: Carolina Reaper
Stage 19: Longarone — Tre Cime di Lavaredo
Friday, May 26, 183km
What’s It All About? The Queen Stage, or in hot-take parlance, the Him Stage. Tre C(Him)e di Lavaredo. Won by maybe Himco Evenepoel, or PrHimoz Roglic. Can it be the 1970s again please?
And then they save the beast for last:
I really, really don’t know how people do this sport for a living.
What’s Along the Way? Speaking of doing this sport, albeit not for a living, have you heard of the Maratona dles Dolomites? It dates back to 1987 and is an amateur event — billed as a race, but with 9,000 participants nowadays I think it’s more like a sportive, apart from the elite guys who really do race... maybe? Not sure. Anyway, here’s one version of their route:
This is the full, current route, which totals 4,230 meters of climbing. The colors represent different segments you can choose to do, with the full version being all of them. They also get celebrities and former pros like Bradley Wiggins, Pippo Pozzato and Paolo Bettini showing up to ride. Portions of the event are broadcast live in Italian TV. Not to get into apples versus oranges (hi Flanders!) but this has to be one of the coolest sportives in the world.
How Much Does It Matter? How much does the Queen Stage matter? I won’t insult you by answering. That said, the last time a very similar stage was run in 2013, Vincenzo Nibali beat Rigo Uran by a mere 19 seconds and the top ten were separated by only a minute. Part of the issue then was that Nibali had the Giro in hand by more than four minutes with one stage to go, so I have to believe he didn’t bother attacking, and nobody else did much either.
Hot Take Watchability Pairing? This stage is too hard.
Look at the gradients, the distances, the sheer number of climbs. How is anyone supposed to do anything more heroic than just surviving this thing? Worse, there is a mountain time trial tomorrow with its own house of horrors, so even if you think you can do something to your rivals here, you can’t afford to destroy yourself. The best any rider can do is watch his rivals lose.
Hotness Rating: a fistful of Carolina Reapers
Stage 20: Tarvisio — Monte Lussari ITT
Saturday, May 27, 18.6km
What’s It All About? Just a really steep mountain time trial to finish off and probably decide the Giro d’Italia.
Sometimes I think these profiles are exaggerations, but other times they sum it all up pretty well.
These numbers are gross. I feel nauseous just looking at them. The riders are human beings, not fleshy funiculars.
There is some news, however — apparently the teams are upset that the road is so narrow that support cars can’t make it up. It’s possible the Giro could make some changes to the stage as a result. Hang on while this gets worked out.
What’s Along the Way? The Malborghetto Valbruna funicular? Tarvisio sounds like it’s maybe heaven on Earth, at least for a week or so.
How Much Does It Matter? Again, not breaking any news by telling you that this stage is important.
The 2019 Giro included two minor uphill time trials. In 2016 there was a proper cronoscalata, but of just 10km up the Alpe di Siusi. You have to go back to 2014 to find a proper mountain time trial, where the 16km Cima Grappa climb blew the peloton to smithereens (4+ minutes separating the top ten). This is like that, only worse. The nicest thing you can say is that there is a warmup before they hit the climb.
Hot Take Watchability Pairing? THE GIRO D’ITALIA IS SUPERIOR TO THE TOUR DE FRANCE!!
I need to rest now.
Hotness Rating: a bathtub full of Carolina Reapers
Stage 21: Roma — Roma
Sunday, May 28, 135km
What’s It All About? One last shameless flex at the world. If the previous stages seemed like they lasted for eternity, here’s a chance to reflect on what the word “eternal” means?
It’s as if the peloton, for some reason, wants to start the stage by checking some bags at Fiumicino, or maybe can’t stand to leave Italy without one last look at the beach. None of that makes sense because something like 180+ riders and many more staffers are probably going to spend the next week on a beach somewhere.
This is lovely but flat and uneventful. There was one time when they rode a bit further east and climbed up to the outskirts of the Villa Borghese, then plummeted down into Piazza del Popolo, which was super cool, but not this time. It’s all just “shut up and pose in front of the Foro” today.
What’s Along the Way? Hm, the finish area of the old Roma Maxima course at least! The race enters Rome somewhere around the Via Appia Antica, then passes by the ancient baths of Caracalla before arriving in the shadow of the Colosseum. The victory of Cadrius, depicted above, was one of the best days of the Podium Cafe. We had fun, partly because we saw the Colosseum and assumed we were on vacation or a class trip or something.
How Much Does It Matter? It’s strictly for images, making this possibly the most important stage of the race.
Hot Take Watchability Pairing? The Giro is over too early.
For many decades, the grand tours were bunched together like the peloton approaching the Mortirolo, but in 1995 the Vuelta a España moved to September(ish), leaving the Giro a comfortable space between the spring classics and the Tour de France. That moved the end of the Giro back from the second week of June to its current conclusion in late May.
Are we sure this change accomplished anything? Sure, it made it vaguely possible to recover from the Giro in time to ride the Tour de France, but barring the odd blood transfusion, guys can’t really do that anyway and almost universally refuse to even try. The Tour is too hard for riders to compete with any lead in their legs, so even if it were possible (which it theoretically is and is tried on occasion), it’s pretty pointless. Go and win the Giro and forget about the Tour, or just have fun at the Tour. That’s the choice.
Did the change mix up the winners in some favorable way? Nope. After the change was made, 14 of the next 18 Giri were won by Italians, only two of which (Basso and Nibali) were credible threats to win the Tour. If anything, the Giro’s last run of great Tour de France champions was back in the 1980s when guys like Stephen Roche won the Giro... on June 13th, a few weeks before starting his victorious assault on the Tour. We have had really fun Giro winners in recent years, but they’re pretty much all guys skipping France.
But Chris, what is the harm in starting a couple weeks earlier? Hm, not much maybe, except it increases the risk of snow interrupting a mountain stage, and I think the Giro organizers shy away from some of the highest climbs in Italy, which rival those of France (or are literally the same pass). Sure, Andy Hampsten’s famous snowy Gavia stage victory over Erik Breukink (ducks) was on June 5, so the later start doesn’t solve the problem of snow cancellation, but it tends to reduce the chances.
Hotness Rating: Jalapeño
And we are out! Hope you enjoyed that. I will post some team previews but probably not before the Giro gets underway in 36 hours from now (ish). A voi!