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GIRO ’06: BallBuster, Bravissima, Or Both?

The stage layout for the ’06 Giro d’Italia is more confusing than Italian lovers’ quarrel: on the one hand it’s a perfect setting for epic battles and the most deserving winner, on the other, the tough corsa could destroy the fighting spirit before it even starts – creating a dull race indeed. But anything can happen, so here’s our best guess at what to expect…

When entering such uncharted territory as predicting a grand tour, we prefer to enlist professional help – or in this case – “ex-professional” help in the form of 1988 Giro Winner Andy Hampsten, who told me today: “No matter what, they’re gonna have a great race… They’ve come up with crazy climbs to add some suspense, and of course sell newspapers from now until the Giro… It’s the Giro – it’s all drama, it’s gonna be awesome…”


Any way you slice it – the Giro is a great race to see.

”That first Week Is Just Brutal” – Andy Hampsten
The annual ‘festa di maggio’ known as the Giro d’Italia kicks off May 6th in Seraing Belgium, with 6.2km prologue, followed by hilly 3 days through the Ardennes. Forget about an easy intro, just check out the profiles below – serious gc contenders will need to be near the front to avoid crashes, but also with so many hills, they can forget about sitting in – it’s gonna be “all eyes front” if they hope to be in contention for the racing in Italia.

The first “rest day” is scheduled only four stages in, which after the flight down from Belgium will be anything but restful. As Italian Liquigas pro Dario Cioni told us, as rest day after 4 days of racing “is useless.” Follow that up with the Team Time Trial, and it could be riders who bring their own pillows and get the best sleeps will have the edge.


The opening 4 stages in Belgium are anything but flat, and no time to snooze. Andy Sez: “Italians hate being out of their country – I know they can race internationally now, … but the leaders could really get annihilated in those early stages especially. A clever rider, a very well prepared rider could stick it to some of the climbers in those early stages. Someone could blow it a lose 10 minutes.”

The TTT runs 38 km over a fairly flat profile, and while the Italian teams are not known for their mastery of this decidedly “one for all” event, time gaps from winners to losers could be anywhere from 1 – 3 minutes – and that ain’t chump change.
Andy starts laughing: “That is sooo cruel” It is THE most nerve-wracking stage for every rider [the TTT] – because it’s your peers that are gonna clobber you. It’s the worst. It’s hard on a team leader because he wants to make up a much time as possible… But he’s a little nervous because he doesn’t want to get dropped or …It’s a whole lotta nerves and ends up being just minutes between everyone.

Week 1 closes with a long rolling day to Tirrenean town of Saltara. Look at that profile… and listen to what Andy says….

Stage 7: Cesena – Saltara
Andy Sez: “That stage 7 through the Marches is really hard – if it’s on small roads along the spine [of the Appenines] – it’s really hard. A classic stage will be not a sinlge bit of flat all day – just curving, uphill downhill. If you stay in the top 10, top 20 it’s great, I’ve had some beautiful days through that area when I was really sharp, staying at the front – where it’s easier to go with surges than be at the back and have to reaccelerate – it could be just a HUGE accordian effect for 230kms!

Get Some Rest
The two “rest days” are likely to be anything but. Instead of actually “resting”, the entire Giro will be transferring – first from Belgium to Piacenza, then across the shin of the boot from Peschici on the east to Pontedera on the west. The riders will fly, which means transfers to airports, while the mechanics will drive hundreds of kms through the night. Hardly a recipe for recovery.


“Leg warmers? I don’t need no stinking leg warmers!” Andy Hampsten took over the race lead on a fearsome day in 1988 while battling freezing temps on the epic Gavia.

BRING ON THE MOUNTAINS
Once the riders escape Belgium, there’s no respite at home, as the corsa gets harder as the days go by, right until the penultimate day’s epic 210km death march over the Tonale, the Gavia, and the Mortirolo on the way to Aprica. This is legendary stuff, but it’s anyone’s guess as to who’ll be standing by the time they get there…

If Stage 7 opens the door for sneak attack or breakaway, then Stage 8 should see a much clearer definition of GC as the day’s only obstacle is a 10km climb gaining 1000m to the summit finish.


By the end of the Stage 8, GC will start to shape up, but expect a few surprise names after the tough first week.

Let’s Ask An Italian
When I got through to Dario Cioni, he was harvesting olives from his trees at his home near Florence. The weather is good, and he’s planning on getting back to training next week before his Liquigas team’s winter camp in early December. I asked him flat out – is the course going to be too hard?

Dario sez: “A rider who loses only a minute every day could win the Giro. I would have rather seen, not just for me but everyone, a few more middle stages with ups and downs where a break could go. There are 5 uphill finishes and 7-8 mountain stages – it’s never easy for a break to stay away in the mountains, especially in a gc battle.”

The last 5 stages are going to be very hard – and no one can have an off day… you could lose 5-6 minutes.


The climbs around the Passo del Erbe are some of the most spectacular anywhere.

If the Tour routes are getting a bit sleepy, then the Giro routes are getting more exciting – this can only be a good thing as Andy replies: “yeah it is. They loooove flip-flopping when I was racing it – you know we’d go through the tunnel on the Grand St Bernard – it was as boring as they could make it… so now they’re loving the fireworks of bring all these wacky things in. Look at the success the Vuelta has had with the shorter stages and brutal climbs. They [RCS] hit such a homerun this year with that Finestre stage – that was sooo cool – and the fans love it.

How’s this for a climber’s wet dream… Stages 16 through 21a (the goofy split stage on the final Sunday) are all climbing days – and most of ‘em BIG climbing days – no flat stages, no days off… just day after day of big, steep Italian climbs. And don’t forget the weather – sun-zero and snow storms are a regular part of life in the Dolomites in May.


• Andy Sez – on Stage 16: “They’re probably going to go tempo. Just because it’s a bunch of climbs doesn’t mean it’s so hard. When there are sooo many wicked stages, it’s just not gonna be the fireworks that the Finestre was. A lot of it will be neutralized…”

Corones Cajones
Stage 17 will be another cracker. It’s only 160km long, but features 3 big climbs and many kms over 10% grade, capped off with the final 5.5km on unpaved roads. For sure it should make for great racing.

Dario Sez: “No one knows how Plan de Corones finish will be, especially being off-road. I’m not afraid of the off-road, but of the gradient – if it’s 24% reported max grade- ed.] off road this can be a big issue – I don’t know if you can use normal tires and a normal bike.”


• In 1993, Hampsten led the break over the Passo del Erbe – “Cool – that’s where my teammates set a hard tempo and I attacked… had a good little break with one of Ferrari’s boys just sitting on the whole time…” But the real kick in the crotch will be the unpaved final 8kms of the Plan de Coronoes. Spurred on the by wild and wooly 2005 stage over the Finestre, the RCS are onto something big with these dirt roads.

If the leaders are anywhere within 5 minutes of each other by Stage 20, don’t place any bets. The climbs up here are among the steepest and nastiest in pro cycling. The Tonale, gavia, and Mortirolo are all Giro faves, and have played host to some of the biggest battles the race has known. Andy Hampsten survived rain, snow, and frozen shnerbs on the Gavia to set up his 1988 Giro win. Marco Pantani exploded onto the pro scene in 1994 dropping Indurain (twice!) on his way to a stage win in Aprica via the Mortirolo.

Our own Jered Gruber knows the climbs of stage 20 personally, having had his own religious experience there in 2004:

The Gavia The Gavia measures a dainty 17.3km at an average grade of a little over 7%. It starts out very nicely indeed, actually with a slight downhill and then a very mild grade. I gawked at the views, and then a few k’s into the climb, that most famous of famous signs popped up — 16%, the road narrows drastically, and that was where Andy Hampsten did his thing in a raging blizzard in 88, it was really cool to see.

The road gets insanely narrow at this point, not much wider than a small bike path, and barely wide enough for a car. It climbs steeply for a while, switchbacks all over the place — meaning there’s always a different view of the perfect mountains around. The views and road were so utterly perfect, it made all other climbs that I have ever done or thought beautiful, look average at best. After climbing steeply out of the valley, the climb settles into a nice steady grade as you traverse across the open mountainside towards the pass far, far in the distance.

Towards the end we went through this wicked tunnel, it wasn’t overly long, but it climbed the whole way through, and at about the middle of it, there was only a tiny speck of light to be seen at the end of it. The light always seemed to recede further and further away, and I looked down and I couldn’t see anything, I couldn’t see my hands or my legs. It was the eeriest feeling, but like everything on the climb, it was wonderful.

After the tunnel the snow banks really started to grow, and the road kicks hard over the last few kilometers, along with the reemergence of some sweet switchbacks. The top of the pass lies at a sickly high 2621 meters, and will be cold, cold, cold. The descent is nothing to write home about, but it is permanently cold and fairly uncomfortable.

The Mortirolo is a pure brute, but it’s beautiful in its own little sadistic way. The road is not much wider than a car, and it just twists and turns and winds and writhes its way up to about 1800 meters. The numbers say the Mortirolo averages a little over 10% over about 12 km. That’s a bit unfair though, as the first and final kilometer feel almost flat compared to the relentless attack of this nasty, nasty road. There are 11 straight kilometers that average 11.3%, and nine which measure in at an absurb 12.7%. There are four very gnarly ramps which run in excess of 18%. It’s a very tough climb, and even harder when you take into account the fact that it will come after two both the Tonale and the Gavia…and between you and me, the Gavia might as well count as twenty climbs.
** See More cool pics of these climbs at JeredGruber.com


Climbing the Mortirolo – where legends are made, and heaven meets hell.

WHO’S GONNA WIN?
The race is so popular among the talent-deep Italian bunch that organizers don’t need to cater the race to any particular rider – everyone except Petacchi is likely to show up. Italians took 6 of the top 10 spots in ’05, while 4 other countries picked up the rest – indicating a reasonable international challenge coming as well – so don’t expect an Italian “passagiata”.

Everyone is looking to the climbers to take this race:
• Simoni knows how to win and knows how to peak for May,
• Cunego has won it, but has yet to confirm his “vintage”
• everyone’s yelling Basso Basso Basso – but finishing on the podium in a Grand Tour is NOT the same as winning one –
• Savoldelli – this year’s 2-time winner will be expected to perform,
• this year’s 3rd place Rujano – the next Pantani or just a pretender?

• And what about Danilo DiLuca who’s coming out to win it – at least that’s what he says… The ProTour champ is on paper at least – no mountain goat – but his legs proved otherwise as he figured in many big climbs this year – and drove the break over the brutal Finestre. But as a tough Classics man who can also ride big Tours – he may have a nice advantage next year getting through Belgium, and then some of the hillier stage in between mountains.

Andy agrees: “DiLuca could be a good choice, because with sooo many mountain days, it’s not like the same climbers can go away and do damage on all of those days or even half of those days…” Good point – Remember this year’s star of the Dolomites – Ivan Parra (win two mtn stages) was virtually a no-show in the Alps a week later.

One Thing We Do Know
A race like the Giro tends to be more open than the Tour and even moreso next year, but one thing’s for sure – with such a tough parcours, riders will be choosing just one: either the Giro OR the Tour.

PEZ Travel Picks
I’ve always said the Giro is the best Grand Tour to see live – gorgeous countryside, delicious food & wine, friendly people, excellent racing and top rides… you gotta see this race. For the best Italian and European cycling trips, check out our travel partners:

• Andy Hampsten’s Tours at Cinghiale.com His first tour starts up just as the Giro ends, with the “Hidden Treasures Wine Tour” – where he’s “taking cycling-wine geeks like me” to some of his favorite wine areas in Tuscany, and his season-ender in early October – the Eroica Classic – a largely dirt road ride through Chianti alongside riders on historic bikes – “it’s not timed, but there’s style points” for bikes older than 30 years. Cool stuff.

NonStopCiclismo.com

VeloClassic.com


Stages and numbers
• Total 21 stages (two stages in the last day) for more than 3553 km,
• 5 final climbs (one time trial),
• total 3 ITT (67,200 km) and one TTT (38 km),
• 4 mountain stages,
• 5 medium difficult stages.
• The total amount will be of 1.350.000,00 euro.

Ale’s Pics My personal comments + difficult index from * to *****

Stage Date Details
1. 6-May • Seraing (TT) km 6 (***):
– it’s the beginning of the voyage. Last 300 meters are on a climb.

2. 7-May • Mons – Charleroy/Marcinelle, km 203 (*):
– the first stage will be in Belgium. It will be the classic high speed final for the sprinters.

3. 8-May • Perwez – Namur, km 202 (**):
– the last two kilometres are difficult. The Giro will reach the old part of Namur on the hill.

4. 9-May • Wanze – Hotton, km 182 (*):
– another stage for the sprinters.

Rest 10-May • Riposo – but the riders will have no chance to rest. They transfer from Germany to Italy – travel is never easy – and the next day a team time trial is waiting for them…

5. 11-May • Piacenza – Cremona, km 38 (TTT team time trial) (****):
– a flat team time trial inside the Italian borders. Who has to look to the general standing must be ready.

6. 12-May • Busseto – Forlм km 223 (*):
– the jet-men will find their chance to show their great sprints as the Giro approaches to the Adriatic sea side of Italy.

7. 13-May • Cesena – Saltara, km 230 (with 1460 Monte Catria) (***):
– the first taste of the Appennino mountains will wait the riders on this Saturday. It will be not a “key day” but the show will be great. The finish line will be on a small climb of 600m.

8. 14-May • Civitanova Marche – Maielletta, km 171 (****):
– the second stage in the Appennino will be the most difficult in this first half of the Giro. The final climb is important… so fast your seatbelt.

9. 15-May • Francavilla a Mare – Termoli km 147 (*):
– Italian people don’t like a difficult Monday so… a quiet day for our heroes.

10. 16-May • Termoli-Peschici, km 190 (with 790m Monte S. Angelo) (**):
– again back to the Appennino, this southern-most stage could be one for the glory-seekers. The last kilometre is on a climb. It’s the same final from 2000 when Di Luca won.

Rest 17-May • Riposo – another one. But also this one will be used to transfer the whole Giro back to the North, in the beautiful Toscana.

11. 18-May • Pontedera – Pontedera (TT) km 50 (****):
– it will not be a “walk around” visiting the beautiful farms tasting the Chianti. But it is a completely flat time trial. Good for a specialist.

12 19-May • Livorno – Sestri Levante, km 165 (***):
– short and nervous. The stage follows the Tirrenean Sea from start to finish, along some spectacular roads – but watch out for some tricky and narrow descents along the way.

13 20-May • Alessandria – La Thuile, km 216 (with 1951m Colle san Carlo 10Km at 10% in the final (****):
– the riders will be able, in a clear day, to see Monte Bianco (the highest peak in Europe at 4810 m) from the start. The finish is fixed on its foot. The last climb is serious, a big test for the best legs.

14 21-May • Aosta – Domodossola, km 224 (with GSBernardo and passo Sempione over 2000mt (***):
– The stage through Switzerland features two high mountains far from the finish, a day of attrition and a surprise breakaway.

15 22-May • Mergozzo-Brescia km 182 (*):
– this is really flat and really relax one – for Petacchi!

16 23-May • Rovato – Monte Bondone, km 180 (with Maniva pass and final at legendary 1650m Monte Bondone) (*****):
– fifty years after Charly Gauls’s exploits the Giro will come back on this mountain. It’s a TDF-style 20km climb -regular, long, long, long.

17 24-May • Termeno – Plan de Corones, km 158 (*****):
– another difficult stage with Passo delle Erbe and the final climb. This one is a new entry for the Giro with an upaved 7km climb to the final summit – remember last year’s Finestre?

18 25-May • Dobbiaco (Sillian) – Gemona, km 227 (with some short but steep climbs) (***):
– it will be difficult because it’s long and is almost never flat.

19 26-May • Pordenone – Passo San Pellegrino, km 220 (*****): – maybe the worst one… maybe. There is the Forcella Staulanza, the terrible Fedaia, the Pordoi and the last climb with slopes over 18%.

20 27-May • Trento – Aprica, km 212 (*****): 1883m Tonale and 2618m Gavia enough to make a brutal day, but add in the 1854m Mortirolo, plus the last stinger up to Aprica, and this will be EPIC.

21a 28-May • semitappa: Canzo – Ghisallo (TT), km 11 (*****): it’s the easiest side of the Ghisallo but this stage can give the last chance to the contenders
21b 2^ semitappa: Cambiago – Milano, km 116 (*): the traditional show in Milano.

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