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GIRO ’07 Preview: La Corsa Up Close

I wish I was in the Giro this year” said Max Sciandri when PEZ asked him about the 2007 corsa. The route looks like a good one… nobody’s crying, everybody’s happy – for now anyway. The nicely balanced route offers stages for everyone, but promises a showdown of epic-ally Giro proportions when the the pink flag drops next May. Here’s the official PEZ-take…

First off, the good news is that Alessandro Petacchi isn’t threatening to boycott the Giro for lack of sprinter’s stages in 2007. It seems the organizers went with an incredible well-rounded route, which Mr. Sciandri confirms with a glowing review of the course:

“The first thing when I opened La Gazzetta this morning…I thought, I wish I was in the Giro this next year. I like it, it will be a nice Giro. …it looks well spread out in a way, four days in the dolomites, start with a TTT, hill finish right away (Stg 4), then Stage 6 goes to Spoleto (over the Terminillo), that’ll be a hard day. I think it’ll be really spread out, someone needs to go good the whole time, not something you can start in less than great condition.”

PEZ enlisted Italian former-pro Max Sciandri to give up the rider’s view on the 2007 corsa.

Here’s the basic info:
• Total Distance: 3,442 km.
• Flat/Easy Stages: 8
• Mid Mountain Stages: 5
• High Mountain Stages: 5 (4 Mountain Top Finishes)
• Individual TTs: 2 (1 Uphill IT)
• Team TTs: 1
• Cumulative Distance against the Clock: 105 km.
• Rest Days: 2
• Mountains: 30

How Many GC Days?
By my count, there are 8 stages that will have a real possibility of shaking up the GC: Stages 1, 4, 10, 12, 13(TT), 15, 17, 20(TT). If you’ll notice, there’s only one back to back day in there of severe GC challenge. That’s a good move by the Giro organizers – challenge the riders, don’t kill them. Also notice that leaves 13 days of racing for the everyone else – sprinters, rouleurs, escapers and opportunists.

The eight crucial stages will be judged on their potential for GC meltdown – 1 star being not very influential and 5 stars – put your Giro on it.

Stage 1: TTT * * *
Max takes up the commentary: “[Going to Sardinia] is good for the show, not as good for the riders, with all these transfers and such. The Giro was Sardinia the last time in 93 or 94, I don’t really know when it was, but that’s good that they touch all of Italy, but the south part of the island – it will be the hardest. First few days will be hardest with TTT on the first day, there will be a lot of prep for that.

In the TTT you could lose a fair amount of time. It’s the first day. You could lose a little bit or gain a bit. I think today’s cycling gives more importance to the TT’s. I remember when I used to race for Motorola before the Tour and 5-6 days before we’d prepare for it. And it is important, and it is the first day.”

But still, put the TTT next to the Zoncolan? Time gaps will be measured in seconds.

Stage 4: Mountaintop Finish * * *
After three stages in Sardinia and a whole mess of riders probably all within a minute of each other – it’s on to the first mountaintop finish of the 2007 Giro, immediately following the first rest/transfer-back-from-the-island day.

The last time the Giro visited Montevergine Di Mercogliano? It was 2004 and Damiano Cunego plucked the win out of a small group sprint and got his first taste of Pink. He’d get a lot more and even got to take it home when all was said and done.

The Saeco Chaingang took care of business for Kid Cunego the last time the Giro visited MdM.

The point? It’ll be a good finish, but none of the contenders will lose more than a minute on this first mountaintop finish. In 2004, everyone that mattered was within 15 seconds (top 14 on the day). Plan on nothing too crazy, and definitely not like anything still to come.

Stage 10: Mountaintop Finish #2 * * * *

After Stage 4, the race settles down a bit and heads northward for five relatively uneventful stages, true, the solid Terminillo climb sits right smack in the middle of one of those stages, but it really shouldn’t shake anything up amongst the riders that matter. Stage 10 will present the Giro’s second mountaintop finish after a REALLY long day in the saddle, 230 km! The finish at the Santuario Nostra Signora Della Guardia will be the first in Giro history, and already the second finish at the 2007 Giro at a holy sanctuary (the first coming at the first mountaintop finish). The finish here could really start to open up the gaps.

Stage 12: Briancon * *
• SCALENGHE – BRIANЗON (Francia) 163km

The stage to Briancon is a huge one, and almighty tough, but this sort of stage would probably only favor a rider down on GC going for the gusto in a break, or of course the Savoldelli’s of the world that descend like rocks tossed from a bridge. Point is – time gaps will most likely be measured in seconds, not the minutes and hours that they’ll soon be measured in. Still an absolutely beautiful stage that has been run regularly at the Giro. The last time the Giro went to Briancon, Pantani ushered his teammate Garzelli over the Izoard and to his eventual overall win.

Max remembers this stage too: “I won a stage in 95 of the Giro. Towards the end that year, we did this exact same stage, and I abandoned. That day I stopped on the Colle dell’Agnello – it’s a pretty high mountain (this year’s Cima Coppi at 2744 meters) and it’s a pretty tough stage.”

Hot on the back of the Cima Coppi (highest point) Agnello, comes the feared and famed climb over the Col d’Izoard to Briancon (Europe’s highest city):

View at the 1994 Giro looking back to the base of the Izoard climb. The lower slopes are long and straight – and way steeper than this pic shows – often with a big headwind.

Peter Easton of Velo Classic Tours has ridden the climb many times and offered his comments:

“The Izoard is definitely a climb that will put a few riders ahead by the top, and if they have maybe a minute, they can cover the descent to the finish alone. The climb is moderate for the first 3 km, and doesn’t really get aggressive until 5 km in. After that, the next 3 km are pretty stiff. The road just climbs straight up, which is brutal, hitting 12% in some spots before leveling off a bit for the next km. At this point, the switchbacks start, and then from here up it gets really nasty. The shallowest grade along here is 9% or so, and its ramps up to 12-14% in a few spots. There’s a brief descent, before it ramps up again to 10% plus for a km. At this height-2360 meters- and the time of year the race will be climbing this, weather is most likely to be a big factor. Its usually windy on the upper stretches, with no protection, and there should still be plenty of snow, so it will be cold as well.

View from the top of the Izoard, looking back to where the riders will approach. It’s steep, cold and nasty – but epic all the way.

Stage 13: Uphill TT * * * * *
• BIELLA – SANTUARIO DI OROPA (cronometro individuale) 13km

The uphill TT will be the most important stage of the Giro up until this point – this is the race against the truth times 10. Max agrees: “A hill TT tells the truth, you can’t lie much in TT’s anyhow, but especially with a hill one.” Watch for a serious sorting on GC here, and the end to some pretenders’ hopes.

After the TT, it’s the next two important stages that will determine the winner of the Giro.

Stage 15: La Tappa Regina * * * * *

This year’s Queen stage features 3 tough long climbs and a summit finish after 70+km of climbs. The day starts with a 40km flat warmup, and then it’s up and down all day as they cross the Passo San Pellegrino, Passo Giau, and Tre Cime Lavaredo.

For a closer look at the Passo Giau, we asked the guys at NonStopCiclismo.com to share their expert knowledge…

“The riders will be tackling the Giau from the more difficult side. It’s 10 km long and starts with a tough section of 10% grade, an indication of what lies ahead. There is temporary reprise of 7% but after crossing a small bridge, the climb gets steep again maintains 9%+ all the way to the top. Between switchbacks there are long straight stretches of steady steep grade and the switchbacks do not provide any space for recovery. 2.5 km from the top there are a couple of well-lit tunnels above 10% grade. After the second tunnel there is the sign “2 km” and might think it’s almost over but with 8 km of this gradient in your legs the last 2 km go on forever. The scenery opens up to a spectacular view of rugged peaks but the 10% grade will stay with you all the way. You can see the“rifugio” at the top…you keep staring at it, but it just seems to float in space always ahead of you! The Giau is critical climb because anyone that blows here can lose a lot of time and will have a really hard time recovering lost ground.”

Tre Cime is definitely hard on the eyes.

The finishing climb to Tre Cime is only 7k long, but it’s a horrendously tough climb at the end of a really long, tough day – we’re talking pitches from 15%-19% as the finale approaches at 2333 meters! Ugh…. Stage 15 will foreshadow the real fireworks to come on the hardest climb in all of humanity – the Zoncolan.

Stage 17: Zoncolan * * * * *
• LIENZ (Austria) – MONTE ZONCOLAN 146km

This is it, the big one. If gc isn’t decided by now it will be after this stage. Last time the Giro visited here, Simoni had the Giro in a death grip and he merely re-asserted his dominance, which would probably seem to be the logical conclusion for 2007.

There was no stopping Simoni in 2003 when the Giro hit the Zoncolan for the first time.

Marco Pantani held tough with Simoni for awhile on the Zoncolan in an absolutely beautiful display of defiance and courage in 2003. He faded late, but it was a fantastic ride, but also one of his last.

Then again, who knows, the best Grand Tours are the ones without a dominant player, and as of today, it’s a wide open race. But expect a much tighter race by Stage 17.

PEZ diarist Dario Cioni recently rode the Zoncolan, and agrees it’s reputation as the hardest climb in Italy is well-earned – and marketed.

Stage 20: Flat TT * * * *
• BARDOLINO – VERONA (cronometro individuale) 42km
A mostly flat and non-technical route running east from the amusement park at Gardaland to Verona, it’s likely that gc gaps will change according to who’s already done what in the mountains. Of course, it IS a TT, and things can always change in the race of truth – especially over 42km.

Whosa Gonna Win
Sciandri Sez:
“A guy like Simoni has to be up for it right away. I like Gibo a lot. Gibo has a lot of experience on his side, I don’t think he’s as strong as usual, but he’s got experience…I was with Simoni at Manchester for the Revolution. He’s really still up for it, he’s got nothing to lose and when it’s time to go, he goes, and that’s it.”

With Basso out of the picture, the stage could be set for Simoni’s best – and last – shot at the title.

2007 Giro d’Italia Stages – (Presented In Italian of course)
12 Sabato 1Є tappa CAPRERA – LA MADDALENA (cronometro a squadre) 24km
13 Domenica 2Є tappa TEMPIO PAUSANIA – BOSA 203
14 Lunedм 3Є tappa BARUMINI – CAGLIARI 195
15 Martedм riposo
17 Giovedм 5Є tappa TEANO – FRASCATI 172
18 Venerdм 6Є tappa TIVOLI – SPOLETO 181
19 Sabato 7Є tappa SPOLETO – SCARPERIA 239
23 Mercoledм 11Є tappa SERRAVALLE SCRIVIA – PINEROLO 192
24 Giovedм 12Є tappa SCALENGHE – BRIANЗON (Francia) 163
25 Venerdм 13Є tappa BIELLA – SANTUARIO DI OROPA (cronometro individuale) 13
26 Sabato 14Є tappa CANTU’ – BERGAMO 181
27 Domenica 15Є tappa TRENTO – TRE CIME DI LAVAREDO 190
28 Lunedм riposo
29 Martedм 16Є tappa AGORDO (Dolomiti Stars) – LIENZ (Austria) 196
30 Mercoledм 17Є tappa LIENZ (Austria) – MONTE ZONCOLAN 146
31 Giovedм 18Є tappa UDINE – RIESE PIO X 182
1 Venerdм 19Є tappa TREVISO – COMANO TERME 178
2 Sabato 20Є tappa BARDOLINO – VERONA (cronometro individuale) 42
3 Domenica 21Є tappa VESTONE – MILANO 181
3.442 Totale km

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