Giro06 St1 Preview: PEZ Scopes La Corsa

The Giro starts in Liege, Southern Belgium tomorrow, PEZ man Ed Hood is out there taking his Colt hire car to the limit over the 6.2 kilometre course, with a few well chosen words from Italian Liquigas pro Dario Cioni too.

Welcome to Liege, southern Belgium, pretty it’s not but tomorrow it’s the centre of the international cycling world. The world’s second-biggest bike race lifts-off along the bank of the river Meuse at 14.30 hours tomorrow and at around 18.00 we’ll know who will pull-on the first pink jersey of 2006.

Hey, Why Belgium If It’s The Tour Of Italy?
Liege is a steel town and 60 years ago Italians, desperate for work flooded-in from the south to dig the coal and feed the smelters. The race starting here is in their honour, but no doubt a few euros will have changed hands too. Despite the fact that it’s below the old UCI limit of 10 kilometres; under which points were not awarded for a win they are calling it ‘stage one’ rather than a prologue.

The start is on the wide valley road, right beside the river, two streets back is Rue de L’Industrie – that should tell you about the area. The first 1.5 kilometres are flat and well surfaced, but the left turn away from the river takes the riders into territory which endorses that this is no ‘gift’ to the prologue-specialists of this world. I don’t think Brad McGee (Francaise des Jeux) can win here.

The climb is long, around 2.5 kilometres and varies in gradient with numerous roundabouts to negotiate, pros will probably go up in the big ring, but too high a choice of ratio could spell disaster given the technical nature of the climb and the fact that split-seconds may decide this race. The Belgian camper vans are up there already, complete with ‘Tom Boonen’ signs, I’m not sure they don’t know he’s riding!

The descent isn’t a gift for the full-on, big gear guys either; it has some dangerous, hard-to-read bends, more roundabouts and will suit last year’s winner and demon-descender, Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel). This ‘hairy’ drop back to the river lasts around two kilometres and then there’s a left turn back on to the bank of the Meuse.

There are 500 flat metres to the finish from there and the winner will have kept a little gas in the tank for the blast to the line.

What Does Dario Think?
It’s OK for me driving my word processor round the course, but what does PEZ 2006 Giro diarist, Dario David Cioni (Italy & Liquigas) think of the course? ‘Yes, I liked it, it is a good route we were round this morning, very hard of course and I think it will have an immediate significant effect on the overall.’ I asked about gearing; ‘I think I will go up the climb in the big chain ring, but I am fitting a 46 inner ring, just in case I have to go down the gears, it is important to retain your revs on a climb like that, better to be a little low than a little high.’ I suggested that the descent may be dangerous; ‘It’s not the worst I’ve seen; the roads weren’t closed so we couldn’t go at racing speed because of the traffic, I think we’ll be doing around 80 kph down there in the race.’ That’s fifty miles per hour and he says it like that’s a normal speed to ride a bike down through rough, twisting industrial roads

We’ll be talking to Dario (he prefers that to David) before and after the Stage tomorrow, so we’ll find out exactly what his computer maxed-out at.

Ed’s Tip?
It’s a real hard one to call, like I say, it’s not for the pure chrono-men’ so look for Salvoldelli and the CSC pair of Ivan Basso (Italy) and Bobby J (US of A) – but don’t bet the house on it dude because a good climber on a good day could surprise us all.

BelgiumGiro d'Italia 2006Seraing