What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ Previews Il Giro’11 Corsa: Stages 16-21

With the second rest day in the books following three incredibly hard days in the mountains leading up to that, the 2011 Giro hits the home stretch, and it gets…easier? Indeed, if easier is a possible description of two time trials and two mountaintop finishes in six days!

At this point, following the second rest day and a dazzling three day stint in the mountains in Stages 13, 14, and 15, the general classification should have a very defined face, but unfortunately for whomever is at the top of the heap, he’ll still have a bunch of work to go, and it will all be centered around two time trials and one of the most spectacular finishes in cycling – the Colle delle Finestre and Sestriere combo in Stage 20.

They went south, then they came north. The final six stages bring the riders west across the northern part of Italy to what should be a thrilling climax with the Finestre on Stage 20 and the final day time trial in Milano on Stage 21.

Stage 16: Belluno-Nevegal 12.7km TT

This is no Plan de Corones/Kronplatz uphill time trial, but it’s not a pushover either. I recently had the chance to ride the route with Ashley and after much deliberation and pondering, all I have is a shrug. We’ll take a closer look at the Belluno-Nevegal TT on Friday, but for now, I’m going to describe it as a time trial that demands everything from the rider, but the time gaps will not be extremely large. I would expect the favorites to be within 30 seconds of each other, nothing more than a minute, that’s for sure.

To summarize the 12.7 kilometers: start in the beautiful town of Belluno, head out on cobbles to a short descent with some technical bits, hit the first uphill section, followed by a gently rising bit before the climb begins in earnest for 4 or so kilometers at about 10%, from there it continues to rise steadily, but not at any sort of extreme gradient.

In short, it makes me think that a rider like Marzio Bruseghin would like this. The little guys like Ricco or Rujano will likely not find it as perfectly suited to their capabilities as normally expected. The powerful climbers will have a bit of an advantage here, as there are some fast sections where you can really get going.

Al isn’t sure either but comments: “an up-hill time trial of 12.67 kilometres from 342 metres up to 1043 meters in Nevegal with a maximum ramp of 14% in the middle. The mountain TT is always a hard race to guess, the out and out climbing goat can’t always gauge his effort on his own, it should suit Mr. Basso though.”

I’m divulging too much! Tune back in on Friday for a more complete look at the climb. I promise, there’s lots more. If you can’t wait til Friday, head over to Flickr for a pictorial journey of the 12.7 kilometers from Belluno to Nevegal.

Roadside Guide
Switchbacks are always great viewing points. On the climb to Nevegal, the switchbacks are in the heart of the route’s most difficult section, so find yourself a good spot and enjoy!

Stage 17: Feltre-Sondrio 246km
There are very few stages along this year’s Giro route where the riders should be thanking Angelo Zomegnan for his generosity, but this is the one stage where they should genuflect. The stage crosses the Passo Tonale and passes through Aprica…without climbing either the Gavia or the Mortirolo. This stage could have easily been another monster, but instead, it will be a tough transition stage as the race heads inexorably to its final showdown on the slopes of the Finestre on Stage 20.

Following the disturbingly difficult trifecta on Stages 13, 14, and 15, the Giro seems to let up a bit for a few days. Sure, the Belluno-Nevegal time trial will be important, Stages 16 and 17 will be tough too, but it’s nothing even remotely close to what the riders will have overcome so far. All signs point to a showdown on the Finestre. The trip through the northeastern mountains will have busted the general classification up, but the hope is that the race will be close and still very much in doubt when we come to Stage 20’s showdown on the Finestre. Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s just that this stage really underlines that goal, because in any other year, this would have been a stage for the Gavia and/or the Mortirolo.

Stage 17 begins in the beautiful foot of the Dolomites town of Feltre, just a few kilometers south of Castelli clothing’s headquarters in Fonzaso. Feltre plays host to Castelli’s famed 24 hour road race in the summer – where teams of twelve compete over a closed circuit – it’s an incredible event with hordes of professionals and ex-pros taking a short break from their schedules to descend upon Feltre for a day of summer fun. Is that a digression? Perhaps it’s my Roadside recommendation – see about getting to Feltre in June for first the Castelli 24 hour race and the following week, the Granfondo Sportful. That’s where we’ll be in June.

From Feltre, it’s an absurdly long 246 kilometers to the finish in Sondrio. I reckon the Mr. Zomegnan figured he’d lash the riders with extra kilometers since they weren’t going to be subjected to steep vertical kilometers on this stage. Note that I didn’t say they wouldn’t be subjected to vertical kilometers, because there’s a bunch of climbing to be taken care of between Feltre and Sondrio. It just won’t be of the decisive sort. This stage has breakaway graffiti spraypainted all over the walls.

Stage 18: Morbegno-San Pellegrino Terme 147km

This is another hard day, but again, it shouldn’t be decisive for the overall conflict. Thankfully, the riders will get about 100 kilometers less on their speedometers, SRMs, and Joules in Stage 18, but they’re still going to have to do battle with a very lumpy parcours capped off with the ascent of the arduous Passo di Ganda. From the top of the Ganda, it’s 30 mostly downhill, but spiked with a lot of little uphills, kilometers to the finish in the world famous town of San Pellegrino Terme.

There’s the possibility for a grand escape on the slopes of the Ganda, but it’s not 1953 anymore, so most likely, you can expect typical late Grand Tour lumpy stage fare: anyone for a big breakaway?

That bottled water you see in fancy restaurants…? Here’s the source.

Roadside Guide
Pez Sez – I lived in Bergamo back in the late 90’s, and I love it when the Giro runs through here – the terrain of the sub-Alpine climbs makes for some exciting racing. Bergamo sits as the hub of several valleys that point in the direction of the big climbs to the north (Stelvio, Gavia, etc), and racing up and down the sides of these valleys is fun to do – and watch. Stefano Garzelli & Gilberto Simoni duked it out back in 2007 with a daring escape on the stage into Bergamo over the nearby La Trinita-Dossena. I got caught in a dark & cold deluge trying to ride over the Passo di San Marco ahead of the race.

Bergamo’s historic Citta Alta is always packed, so make a reservation for dinner.

My flights for 2011 are booked, and I plan to be there roadside once again. There’s a great loop to be ridden from Bergamo, along the final 57km of the race route, taking in the 800m climb to the 1059m summit of the Passo di Ganda before 26km of descending towards the finish. The action will surely happen on the climb, so stake out there or ride ahead of the race and catch the finish on the shallow 5km climb to san Pellegrino. Then ride the mostly downhill 23km back to Bergamo for a nice dinner in the medieval Citta Alta, where you can sleep and catch for tomorrow’s stage start.

Fictional monologue: Isn’t that…no wait, it can’t be, oh it is! That’s the route of the Giro di Lombardia, which reminds me, I’ve never ridden the Ghisallo…

Jered: Alternatively, you can use this stage as an excuse to buzz on over to the Madonna del Ghisallo. The stage starts in Morbegno, heads east, then runs smack dab into the Lago di Como, where it heads south to Lecco, loops over to Bergamo, then heads into the hills north of the walled hilltop city. It’s not a bad dilemma to have – Ganda and thrilling race experience…or a visit to the Ghisallo and some quality time along the route of the Giro di Lombardia. Oh the drama!

On the upper reaches of the Ghisallo, looking down at the route of Stage 18 along the shores of Lago di Como.

Stage 19: Bergamo-Macugnaga 211km

Erm, can I press repeat? Again, this is not an easy stage, but it’s not going to create a lot of separation either. This should be the easiest of the mountaintop finishes in the 2011 Giro d’Italia, but in a way, that’s not saying much. It doesn’t really matter if the gradients aren’t insanely high – when it comes to a mountaintop finish, the gloves come off, the rocket boots and clicked into place, and the favorites do their damndest to beat the living snot out of each other. So even though Macugnaga pales in comparison to something like the Zoncolan, expect there to be some racing going on, because there isn’t much time remaining.

The big question for a stage like this is what the overall classification looks like. If it’s close, there should be a gunfight on the slopes of the Macugnaga, but if a rider has emerged to the fore, you can expect a controlled effort to the top with a fiery pace set by the leader’s team. Well, I think you can expect that either way, but what comes of the fiery pace will be the question. Remember the stage of the Tour that Andy Schleck won this summer to Morzine-Avoriaz? Remember how Contador’s Astana team set a torrid pace and most of the favorites were content, nay, required to enjoy the ride, because there was no way they could ride away? I think that’s something that can be expected on the ascent of the Macugnaga.

The more or less straight road to the finish won’t help the attackers much either.

Of course, this is all just speculation. For all I know, this stage could be the definitive one in the entire Giro. With a race as hard as this, a jours sans can put the previous 18 days of goodness into the recycling bin…please, try again next year.

I think it can be expected that even if things really get boiling, the time gaps won’t be large, but hey, a gap is a gap. This isn’t the 90’s or the 00’s anymore – Grand Tours are won by less than a minute, so Macugnaga should be respected.

In short, I think Al puts it best: Stages 19 and 20 will either be the deciders or the consolidation of earlier efforts. It’s a hard Giro, but then I think we have come to expect it from the Italian race.

I apologize for my opening statement about this stage.

Roadside Guide
Finishing climbs are usually the best bet on days like this, but then again, there’s the Mottarone halfway through the day. The Mottarone is an uber-famous climb in the region and well worth the visit. If you ask me where I’d go though, of course, I’d answer: Macugnaga. You’re here to see the Giro won or lost, right?

Stage 20: Verbania-Sestriere 242km
The Giro organizers must have woken up in a pretty peevish mood the day they concocted this route. I don’t mean that in terms of a sadistic layout (well, it is pretty mean), but rather in the insanely long run-up before anything happens in Stage 20.

Do you see that?! It’s 196 kilometers before the race begins on the Colle delle Finestre. That’s some Spring Classics style stuff. The final 46 kilometers will be the stuff of legend though.

Following what should be about a four hour warm-up, the race hits the climb that has become legend in only its one appearance in the race, back in 2005. The Colle delle Finestre does not sport the debilitating ramps of the Zoncolan or the Mortirolo, but what it doesn’t have in ramps, it makes up for in one gigantic one: 18 kilometers at an average of 9ish% to make for 1700 meters of vertical gain. 1700!

Did I forget to mention that the last eight kilometers are dirt? Sorry, forgot about that.

There’s not much that I need to add in this case, especially when we have pictures like these from the inaugural adventure up the behemoth…

The climb of the Colle delle Finestre is truly one of the greats in cycling. The leader going into Stage 20 will have his hands full on the 18+ kilometer ascent highlighted by the long dirt section at the top. If that’s not hard enough, he’ll have the last bit to Sestriere to deal with. In 2005, that was enough to derail Gilberto Simoni and Danilo Di Luca’s chances. They both threatened on the Finestre, but fell apart on the final climb to Sestriere. Only Jose Rujano remained.

Sestriere will rightly not get top billing on this stage, but it’s likely to be the section of the day where, if the Giro is close, the race will be won or lost. It’s an agonizing run to the finish after many, many kilometers in the saddle on the day, and over the last three weeks.

Roadside Guide
There’s only one place where you can possibly entertain the notion of planting yourself on Stage 20 if you’re following the race: the dirt section of the Colle delle Finestre. It’s a must.

Stage 21: Milano 32.8km TT

If the Giro wasn’t decisively won the day before, you’ll get one more chance at drama in Stage 21! The nearly 33 kilometer final day time trial in Milano is perfectly flat, but chock full of turns, turns, turns.

If we’re lucky (I don’t mean that), we’ll get a cross between the wet Roma time trial from a few years ago, and the Milano circuit race that was called in the same year because of rider complaints about the safety of the circuit.

If it’s wet and those railway lines are unprotected, or even if they are, this could be a stage where just staying upright will be enough to secure a good result. Denis Menchov’s slide in the finale of the time trial in Roma was a good demonstration of just how nutty an in-town circuit can be when it’s wet. I wouldn’t hope for that, but…it does make for nail-biting viewing.

Riders are already talking about this long-ish time trial. Normally, these don’t seem to work out as we’d hope for – a thrilling duo or three-way motorfest between the best, but every once in awhile it does work out, and you get a finish like the 2007 Tour de France, where Contador, Levi, and Cadel all had chances of victory in the final time trial. The possibility for a thrilling finale is there, but it’s also likely that one rider will have separated himself at this point – I mean, just sayin, but there are just a couple of gargantuan climbs and stages in the 20 stages previously.

Personally, I like the sprint finales to Grand Tours. It just seems right. Besides, what sprinter other than one hell bent on the Giro points jersey is going to actually finish this Giro? After the second rest day, there’s pretty much not a single opportunity for the sprinters…which taking a closer look at it, might make the Giro a perfect springboard for the Tour de France for them. Why not be happy with six or so sprint possibilities in the first 15 days? A 15 day stage race is a helluva lot nicer than a 21 day race…and if they tapped out on Stage 12, before the race really heads into the mountains, it would be absolutely ideal…for the sprinters and their preparation for the Tour de France at least, not exactly for the Giro points competition.

Roadside Guide
Anywhere? It’s Milano after all. You’re not going to go too wrong here. The twisty turny nature of the course will allow you the chance to view in more than one place, so bring your bike and a lock or your running shoes!

But What Does It All Mean?
As I said before, in our new world of what appears to be mostly clean racing, the gaps between the world’s best have come down significantly. So even with arguably the hardest route in years, I would expect the gaps to a few of the best to be not terribly significant. With so many big stages, there will be chances aplenty to take time, but also, conversely, to lose it.

The final push from Belluno to Milano should be a lot of shadowboxing highlighted by one all-out brawl on the Finestre and Sestriere. I think the race will very much have a clear path following the rabid three stages leading into the second rest day – after that, the Belluno time trial will likely underline it a bit, and then from there, barring heroic activity or a terrible day, the final showdown will come on Stage 20, with Stage 21 in Milano leftover to be the bonus round if necessary.

Ideally, we’ll have three or four riders within a minute or so on the Finestre, and then they’ll dance. They’ll tango and punch and foxtrot and stab and it’ll be grand.

I’m ready for May. How about you?

For many, many more pictures head on over to Flickr!

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