What's Cool In Road Cycling

GIRO ’09 Corsa: Grandissimo!

Giro Corsa: Like every journey with taking, it’s not where you start, or end up – but how you get there that makes it worthy. Next year’s Giro route from Venice to Roma is like nothing we’ve seen before. RCS Big Boss Zomegnan may have truly defined the blueprint for future Grand Tours with this inspired corsa – Here’s why…

Nothing about this course is what we expect from Grand Tour organizers, not the direction of the race, stage choices, stage lengths, placement of mountains, time trials, the complete lack of ‘boring’ days, we’ve simply not seen a Grand Tour parcours like this before…

The 2009 Giro route is an elixir of such depth, character, and potency, that it should be – nay, must be savored bit by bit. The general route was leaked weeks ago, and like teenage boys clamoring for a peek inside the girls’ shower at camp, we couldn’t wait for a look, and now that the curtain has dropped it’s not since that happy summer that we’ve been so gobsmacked – and certainly like never before by any Grand Tour route. (Remember how things were never the same after that …?)

General glee over the most exciting design of any Grand Tour in years – ( …ever…?) has fans across the land bursting with ideas and commentary. In the coming weeks we’ll take closer looks at key stages (and there are many), but let’s get started with a look at:

What’s Cool about the 2009 Giro Route

Move Over Le Tour
Giro Boss Angelo Zomegnan talked about this centenary Giro being really a new beginning – his keynote addressed ethics, quality, and globality – as their strategy to grow the Giro into the world’s premiere Grand Tour. Look out Tour de France? I know it seems crazy, and nothing can or will ever be what the Tour already is… but the Giro has been picking up speed for several years, and has now pulled out of the draft and gone 53×11 in terms of staging an epic race – one that could truly redefine its importance with riders and fans alike.

Two key ingredients are thrown together in a bidon, like gasoline and a lit match – and there’s only one result…

Dave Sez: PRETTY – Come on? A prologue in the fabled city of Venice? Talk about picturesque. Not only will it give us our field being seeded, but it will provide one hell of a backdrop. If you are a cycling fan and need to woo your lady friend come May, take her to Venice and put your moves on there. Not only will you wow the lady and earn mega-points, you’ll also get your cycling fix in, too.

Observation 1: The Best Riders – The proposed start list for next May includes the hottest line-up of cycling stars to quite possibly appear at any Grand Tour – ever. Zomegnan himself listed “Armstrong, Sastre, Evans, Leipheimer, Menchov, Garzelli, Simoni, Cunego, Di Luca, Basso, Petacchi, Cavendish, Hushovd, Pellizotti, Vande Velde, the world champion Ballan…” as participants.

While the Tour’s ‘selective invitation’ process continues to disappoint fans and restrain the quality of their race, the RCS embraced the idea that the best rider roster is tantamount to a great race. They’re actually giving us fans what we want – !

Observation 2: The Best Corsa – Sure it’s the riders who make the race, but giving them a stage to make the race great is surely the best way to encourage the kind human exploits that write history, and send the sporting status of the riders to new heights.

Just like the Tour, the 2009 Giro says ‘buon viaggio’ to it’s traditional southern start and finish in Milan. And just like Le Tour, the race starts in an exotic and fabled seaside city – and a more beautiful place than Venice cannot be imagined for this. The finish in the Eternal City of Rome is naturally fitting as a replacement for the erstwhile eternal finishes in Milano.

But like every journey worth taking, it’s not where you start, or end up – but how you get there that makes the difference. And the direction of the race, stage choice, placement of mountains, time trials, hilly and flat stages are so unexpected and interesting, that I’m smiling even as I write this…

Stages 1-9 – see the pointy bits in the middle?

PART Ia: Stages 1-3
As PEz-Man Matt Conn reminds us from his home in Udine: “The first four stages will be special for me as they are all close to home. In fact that left hand turn about 1/3 of the way through stage 3 is home! The views of Venice from The Lido during the TTT, the run along the Adriatic to Trieste on Stage 2, the aerial views we’ll get of Palmanova on the way to Udine on stage 3 and the magnificent Prato della Valle and San Antonio’s in Padova for stage 4’s start, will be fantastic highlights to open what will surely be a magnificent race.”

PART Ib: Stages 4-9 – These Days of the Contador?
Well not exactly, unless Alberto rethinks his program… but after seeing what’s on tap for the climbers in Week 1 (on onwards), you know the topic has been discussed back at Astana. Unlike previous editions that wholloped riders with supertough mountain days in the final week, this route serves up gc-changing climbing days every single week. Things get busy on stages 4 – 6 that start in Padova and carry the race north to Austria.

Stage 5’s mountaintop finish at the Alpe de Siusi will see the riders pick up 1500m of elevation gain in the final 25k.

It’s 3 days with 6 climbs over 1000 meters, 2 summit finishes, then followed by stage 7 out of Innsbruck which climbs for over 200km to 1800 meters. The weather will be sketchy at best, and anyone thinking of waiting for someone else to attack will have already lost the race. BUT, as Ivan Basso points out – the Dolomites are mainly and largely overlooked. There will be no epic ascents of the Giau, Marmolada, Tre Cime, Sella, etc etc.

Stage 8: The gorgeous Lombard town of Bergamo hosts a hard-man finish over the cobbled climb to its Citta Alta.

Stage 8 from Morbegno to Bergamo is an rugged transition that requires full attention. There’s enough climbing to encourage the breaks, and a tough finish over Bergamo’s cobbled climb through the Citta Alta to keep everyone on their toes.

Morbegno to Bergamo: rugged transition.

And the way the course lays out from here – biding time to make a move could be fatal.

Stage 9 in Milano is a circuit style road race through the streets of downtown that starts at the Duomo – bellissima! It’s only 100km, and likely won’t figure on gc, but the spectacle will be amazing.

Stage 9: The 100km circuit race through the streets of Milano starts at the majestic and awe-inspiring Duomo.

Then “Phew” – a well deserved giorno di riposo is the reward for surviving these first 9 days, but the fun is just getting started…

PART II – Stages 10 – 16
Stage 10 is an epic 250km of mountains in the high Alps with 5 huge climbs over the Maddalena, Vars, Izoard (the hard way), the Montgenevre, and Sestriere (where Chiappucci secured his status at the ‘92 Tour. Coming between a rest day and a transition stage, this one is perfectly placed to be raced, and will certainly be the demise of someone’s hopes. If you don’t get over the final summit at Sestriere with the right group, the 50km descent to Pinerolo will make closing gaps difficult, if not impossible. Jered thinks the stage is a dream, but has succumbed to the lore of the mountaintop finish and wishes there was one on Sestriere to cap off this incredible stage through the Alps.

The Alps get the treatment that the Dolomites don’t in 2009 – a gigantic, epic, insanely hard day of 250km and bajillions of meters of climbing.

Ale Sez: The stage of the memory. This is the same route of the famous stage of the Giro 1949 when Coppi won with over 10 minutes on the second (Bartali). He attacked on the first climb (Maddalena) and rode alone the whole day. That day the radio commentator approached with the most famous incipit for the Italian cycling: “a man alone ahead… his jersey is white and sky (the Bianchi jersey)… his name is Fausto Coppi.

Stage 10: 250km over 5 huge climbs – including the fearsome Izoard – this is gonna hurt, and either scare the gc boys into letting a group go, or set the stage for an exploit a la Coppi – who set the race on fire on this same route in 1949.

Stage 11 from Torino to Arenzano signals arrivaderci to the high mountains… for now, taking the race south to the Mediterranean and Stage 12’s HUGE time trial of 62km from Sestri Levante to Riomaggoire in the Cinque Terra.

61.5k with TWO big climbs of 500+ meters, and not a straight stretch in sight.

Even at 62km, this ain’t your Tour variety long TT – this corsa is almost never straight, and serves up two significant climbs to 614 and 548 meters – from sea level. Saying the course favors Armstrong only applies if he’s got the strength, stamina, and superior bike handling (I counted over 100 turns) – that go on top of being able to roll a huge gear for miles. I’d tip a strong classics rider here – a Jens Voigt, or Cancellara – guys who can handle a bike AND sit on the front for hours.

Stage 12 TT – that is a whole lotta turns.

Stage 12: The technical, twisty, up and down TT course arrives in Riomaggiorre in the Cinque Terra. If the finish is actually down in the town proper, that’s gonna be one scary descent – and you better hope your brakes work cuz the Mediterranean is the last thing you’ll hit.

The 4th guaranteed sprinters’ day comes on Stage 13 from Lido di Camaiore to Firenze, but the next three days could determine the race and generated a lot of talk from riders at the presentation.

The glorious Duomo in Firenze – are we sight seeing or bike racing?

Stages 14, 15, 16 all read like tough hilly Classics – stage 14 (after 174km and 4 rated climbs, finishes with the grunt to San Luca used in the Giro dell’Emilia. Stage 15 from Forli to Faenza is ‘only’ 160km, but looks a like a saw blade with 6 medium height climbs.

Stage 16: the hardest looking of the three:
Ale Sez: The queen stage at few minutes of my home. These are my roads, my climbs. Nerone, Catria and Petrano, looking at them now from the window they’re white. Covered with fresh snow on the top. But in May they’ll be green. It’s an over 240 km stage and, believe me, there’s not a meter of flat. But, most important, at any corner you can eat some fantastic pork or rabbit cooked in the oven and small chappels are hidden under big oaks on the roads margin.

It’s rest day, so take a break – cuz there’s 5 more days to go –

Part III – Stages 17-21- The Finale!
Stage 17, Chieti – Blockhaus – Another reason why this route is so cool is this stage of only 79km, of which 50+ go uphill in one fell swoop, including a 25km grunt to 2064 meters at the summit.

The Stage 17 climb to Blockhaus. Note to self – book room at Hotel Mamma Rosa.

Gord Sez: Let’s pray it turns into a 79km firestorm, with the riders kicking lumps out of each other. There’s every chance Basso will want to redeem himself with a big show … this is the ideal place to start. After all, it’s where Eddy Merckx won a mountain top stage for the first time. Stage profile looks like someone had a seizure trying to lift the pen off the paper!

Stage 19 must be noted not only because of the sheer beauty and pageantry of the summit finish atop Mount Vesuvius – the active volcano that destroyed Pompeii, and still makes the Napolitani nervous- it’s 13km more for gc hopefuls to do the deed.

Even stage 20 from Naples to Anagni must be considered. It’s likely the gc boys will ride together the two finish lap climbs to the town, but this finish reminds me of the 2008 stage 2 finish in Agrigento with it’s similar profile. Forget the break – it was the cream leading the way and duking it out for seconds…

The final showdown starts in the shadow of the Coloseum – site of so many fighting expositions back in the day… that’s waaaaay back.

No Roman holiday would be complete without a visit to the Vatican, even if it’s a ride-by at 60kph.

Here’s the view down Via del Corso – it’ll be cordoned off on race day, even to those A-Style adorned buses.

And finally- the cherry on top of the icing on this cake – the stage 21 TT. if Sr. Zomegnan’s plan comes together with the leaders all too close to call, there’s the final day TT through the streets of old Rome to settle matters.

Starting in the shadow of the famous Coloseum, this will be the fastest guided tour in Roman history, taking in hot spots like the Forum, Piazza Venezia, via Veneto (though no time for a negroni here), piazza del Popolo, crossing the Tiber and zooming past the Vatican before returning down the very cobbled via del Corso and speeding past the old chariot speedway of Circus Maximus… all at 60+ kph.

As Gord sez:
Final TT around Rome is a photographer’s wet dream. All the great landmarks of the Roman capital as the backdrop to what could be a breathtaking finish. If Lance and Basso are still in the mix … it’s going to be sport+politics+polemics+hope+ frustration+beauty = GIRO!

For those of us not in contention for the maglia rosa, a negroni at one of the fashionable bars on Via Veneto should be a fine reward.

Indeed it’s gonna be a cracker and I’ve already booked my flights to take on stages 8-14 (I’ve been itchin’ to tackle the Izoard again since my last visit in 1994). I suggest you do the same – this is gonna be good.

Giro 2009: Stages
1, May 9: Venice Lido (team time trial, 20.5km)
2, May 10: Jesolo to Trieste (156km)
3, May 11: Grado to Valdobbiadene (200km)
4, May 12: Padova to San Martino di Castrozza (165km)
5, May 13: San Martino di Castrozza to Alpe di Siusi (125km)
6, May 14: Bressanone to Brixen Mayrhofen (Austria) (242km)
7, May 15: Innsbruck (Austria) to Chiavenna (244km)
8, May 16: Morbegno to Bergamo (208km)
9, May 17: Milan-Milan Milano Show (100km)
R. May 18 – Rest day
10, May 19: Cuneo to Pinerolo (250km)
11, May 20: Turin v Arenzano (206km)
12, May 21: Sestri Levante to Riomaggiore (individual time-trial, 61.7km)
13, May 22: Lido di Camaiore to Florence (150km)
14, May 23: Campi Bisenzio to Bologna-San Luca (174km)
15, May 24: Forli to Faenza (159km)
16, May 25: Pergola to Monte Petrano-Cagli (237km)
R. May 26 – Rest day
17, May 27: Chieti to Blockhaus (79km)
18, May 28: Sulmona to Benevento (181km)
19, May 29: Avellino to Vesuvius (164km)
20, May 30: Naples to Anagni (203km)
21, May 31: Rome to Rome (individual time trial, 15.3km)

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