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Giro’08: La Corsa Up Close!

A few days have passed since the always innovative Giro organizers released the route for the 2008 edition of my favorite Grand Tour (there, I said it) – and once again it was evident WHY it’s arguably one of the most entertaining races of the year – rarely a dull stage, big mountains, and do mine eyes deceive me? Lots of time trials. Indeed. Read on as PEZ peers a bit closer at the coming travails.

Just a few weeks ago the Tour de France left us all feeling a bit disenchanted with the magical possibilities of a Grand Tour, but as we’ve all come to expect and NEED, the Giro has rejuvenated. The only people who shouldn’t be out and out intrigued by this route are the sprinters. Then again, maybe even they are happy – after all, they can go home after Stage 13, but only after what seem to be about five stages tailor made for bunch sprints.

Like last year’s Giro, the race starts in the far south and will take in just about every bit of Italy. The first three stages will be on the lumpy roads of Sicily (Stage 2 looks like a profile sent straight from the Ardennes) and then it’s onward and upward, I mean northward. In fact, the Giro organizers were so thorough they managed to take in the home regions of the five former champions that will most likely be participating in next year’s race: DiLuca, Savoldelli, Cunego, Simoni, and Garzelli.

Happy riders ready to visit their happy training roads.

They even threw a stage finish in Toscana oh so close to Bettini’s home, which left Il Grillo with nothing but praise for the organizers: “I would like to thank the RCS for organizing a stage near my town. I speak about the Tuscan stage finishing in San Vincenzo. Those roads are the ones I ride everyday. It will be a stage for people who aren’t afraid to attack. A stage for me.” If home roads don’t get you pumped up for some good racing, it might be time to move on to a new profession.

Race director Angelo Zomegnan puts it well: “The truth is that I always thought that a route everybody likes is probably a bad route. This Giro is not designed for anybody but for everybody. There are mountains, less in number but very well located, time trials of all types, stages for those who like to attack, and for the sprinters (ehhhh, I think some might argue that).”

In my humble opinion, the race can be divided into three sections: the time trials, the decisive mountain stages, and the stages with the possibility for destruction.

Let’s Start With The Time Trials
The race does in fact start with a time trial, a team time trial for the second straight year. The big news all over the media for this year’s Giro are the time trials, but I’m not too certain that’s where this race will be won. Look at it, the two ‘fast’ TTs, add up to 59k (36 and 23), that’s only 6k longer than the Tour’s penultimate stage TT in ’07 – what is that, a little more than an hour against the clock? Consider that the final 23k TT at this year’s Giro is non-technical and loses elevation: it should be insanely fast with average speeds upwards of 55kph…and time differentials between the favorites around half a minute, tops! True, if the race is close, that could be telling for sure, but…

If you don’t believe me, look back at the 2005 Tour which started with a 19k flat, fast TT (the fastest ever) – besides Lance and Zabriskie who were in a class by themselves (seriously, Lance should not be figured in these types of equations), the rest of the ‘favorites’ were all within 30 seconds of each other. Mark my words, that’s how it will be on the final day. Again, if GC is that close on the final day, then great, but I think Stage 20 (with the Gavia and Mortirolo and almost 230k of hell) should take care of THAT.

The Stage 10 TT should open the door wide for a capable time triallist to take some time away from the Piepolis and Simonis of the field.

So in terms of these big time TTs, I figure there are three important TTs, with the final day as a Joker. The 36k ITT will provide some solid grounds for time gains or losses, especially considering the upward tilt of the latter half of the route.

Here’s how it looked enroute to the Corones in 2006… the rain and sleet turned to snow.

I don’t think I need to note how tough the Plan de Corones TT will be – we all remember the horror stories from two years ago about 24% grades…oh wait, they didn’t end up actually riding the hard part, but that was still enough for Piepoli and Basso to take out some decent time on their rivals – again, without the help of the part of the climb that actually makes it notable. A pure climber will surely win here. Riccardo Ricco isn’t so sure about how much time the Corones will grant: “It will be spectacular, but not decisive.” Now, not to be dismissive, but methinks Ricco hasn’t tasted this here Corona, I mean ridden the Corones. Simoni speaks in terms of MOUNTAIN bikes when he talks of it, nuff said.

Leaving the Team Time Trial. I think the TTT was the unsung big deal in last year’s Giro. It instantly put a top flight candidate like Gilberto Simoni back a solid 90 ticks to eventual winner, Danilo DiLuca. The same should hold true this year with the 28k TTT – 3k more for riders with weak teams like Simoni to lose even more time.

Riders are already hiring sherpas to help them over the greater than vertical walls they’ll encounter on the Corones.

The iffy at best decisiveness of the final TT and the Plan De Corones event really makes the whole time trial emphasis take on a different aspect though – if a rider like Simoni loses 90 seconds in the opening TTT, another 90 in the Urbino TT, and then say another 30 in the final TT, he’s down a total of 3 minutes. A couple minutes to the good on the Corones will be doable – if he’s going well over that final 5.25k of dirt and ramps hitting near vertical – and if one of the purest of the pure climbers like Simoni can’t make a significant difference on a climb with almost 3500 feet of elevation gain and sections that require ladders, then he’s obviously not climbing all that well, no?

The Big, Bad Mountains
Oh my the mountains. Now that we have those pesky time trials out of the way, let’s look into the mountains, because the mountains tell the story of the Giro…it seems they always do. I see three stages here that will be paramount in their importance, and I’ll start with what I think is the doozy:

Stage 15: You’ve Got To Be Kidding
Five BIG climbs, five of the narstiest climbs in the Dolomiti, I mean, this is like some kind of Dolomiti Greatest Hits album. The stage starts immediately with the climb of the Pordoi followed by the Pellegrino, Falzarego, Giau, and finishing on the Fedaia (Marmolada). Our fearless leader went ‘mano-a-Pezo’ with the Marmolada & Pordoi in 2006 – read it here. It’s obnoxious, and it’s crammed into a stage less than 100 miles long. Talk of time trials and aero wheels and time spent in wind tunnels will be quickly forgotten somewhere around the middle of the Giau I suspect, and if not then, certainly somewhere on the slopes of the finishing climb, weighing in at 13.3k and 8% average gradient.

A quick little count puts the climbing kilometers on this stage around the SIXTY FIVE kilometer mark.

Don’t be fooled by the ‘shallow’ average grade… the last 5km are over 10%, with looong pitches at over 14%. Damn hard.

Stage 20: The Deadly Duo
Only in a year like 2008 is this stage sent to the second spot, and I have some reservations for that. If you have any doubts on just how horrible the Gavia/Mortirolo combo is, take a look see at the results from 2006:

1 Ivan Basso (Ita) Team CSC 6.51.15 (30.784 km/h)
2 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Saunier Duval-Prodir 1.17
3 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Fondital 2.51
4 Josй E. Gutierrez Cataluna (Spa) Phonak Hearing Systems
5 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team 6.03
6 Leonardo Piepoli (Ita) Saunier Duval-Prodir
7 Sandy Casar (Fra) Franзaise des Jeux 7.26

Note, this year’s stage is longer. The rider’s will be looking at 7+ hours in the saddle and the Mortirolo coming at around 100 miles into the stage again. Following the indescribable (though we often try HERE and HERE) Mortirolo, the riders tackle the climb to the 06 finish of Aprica, but this time continue past in the downward direction to Tirano. Big time is here for the taking, come and get it!

This is also one of the few stages in the Grand Tour rota of routes that manages to be hugely important WITHOUT finishing on top of a mountain – the Izoard and the Joux Plane are two other climbs that come to mind that manage this type of high quality selection, though even those two don’t compare to the destruction the Mortirolo manages to inflict.

The stage to the Pampeago gets a horrible trifecta started: Pampeago, Dolomiti Greatest Hits, and then get out your pick axe and crampons: Plan De Corones.

Stage 14: Pampeago Pageantry
Gilberto Simoni is a one-time runner-up and a one-time winner on the Pampeago, and he’s already professed a longing to make a twofer of this summit finish – and I doubt he means a two-time runner-up. In the same breath, these are Damiano Cunego’s home stomping grounds – that alone should guarantee some kind of high-quality bike race. Compared to the other two stages though, the possibility for big time gaps seems to be lacking at first – it looks like a typical Grand Tour mountain stage with a big climb leading into a tough finishing climb, but then a certain fact was presented to me from the good folks at PodiumCafe: the monolithic Alpe d’Huez measures in at a heady 11.9km and 7.9% average. The climb that PRECEDES the Pampeago, the Manghin, looks like this:

23.45 km
1658 meters climbing (that’s almost 5500 feet in one climb friends)
7.1 % average gradient
15 percent max.

Of course you’ve already put this together, but that’s like doing Alpe D’Huez TWICE, and THEN doing it a THIRD time, but steeper (Pampeago: 8.9k, 9.5%) to finish off the day. Poor bike racers.

The Dangerous Stages
With the four time trials and three crucial stages in the high mountains, you’ve got a Grand Tour made in heaven already. The funny thing about the Giro though is that the race keeps crunching through gobs of potentially critical stages almost from Day 1!

Let’s look at it mathematically:

21 stages total minus the 7 big time five star critical stages, leaves 14 stages, minus another 5 sprinter stages – that leaves 9 more stages that aren’t simple trots to the finish. In fact, TWO of these nine stages are summit finishes and I didn’t even mention them as important mountain stages. If this was an audio article, you would have heard some kind of crashing drums for effect on that last sentence.

Stage 7 is the first uphill finish, and it just so happens to be in Danilo DiLuca’s home region of Abruzzo, and unsurprisingly, DiLuca has a hankerin to take the stage and Maglia Rosa there. I foresee a small group sprint here with most of the favorites present, and probably one maybe two glaring absentees, and everyone will begin to mutter, oh no, X and Y are just not going good this year…it’s the same way every year.

The other uphill finish I neglected to mention is the ultimate penultimate day, in my mind that means 2 days before the final day, making it Stage 19. Stage 19 covers Il Falco’s home roads and finishes on the Presolana/Monte Pora. The final climb is actually two climbs – a 4.5k climb with a descent followed by a 7k climb to the finish, but again, compared to the big, bad three, this provides a pittance to the potential time loss jar.

So back to the mathematics: we were at 9 stages, and now we take away the two mountaintop finishes and we’re down to seven stages remaining. Seven possibilities to be aggressive, seven chances to upset a leader.

Stages 2, 11, 17, and 18 all seem to be stages designed for the attacking rider, or the rider with nothing to lose. Stages 17 and 18 begin to take on some particular interest when put into the context of the final stages, check it out:

If a rider (or team) is diligent in his aggressiveness and recovers well from day to day, some kind of nice reward could be the fruits of attacking – a hard day’s work on Stages 17 and 18, could make the decisive 19-20-21st stages all the more difficult to get through, and woe to the rider who does not have a good day on the Gavia/Mortirolo Celebration Day of Stage 20.

I see the effects of this Giro as being cumulative (of course that’s the recipe for every Grand Tour), and the final horrible final exam as Stage 20 over the Gavia and Mortirolo. No lead will be safe going into that stage.

Looking for a Dark Horse? If it has to do with climbing and attacking, Leonardo Piepoli springs instantly to mind.

For your consideration as I leave you to get excited about the Giro…some selected names and their final finishing spot in last year’s Giro:

1 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas 92.59.39
2 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team CSC 1.55
4 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Saunier Duval – Prodir 3.15
5 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre – Fondital 3.49
6 Riccardo Ricco (Ita) Saunier Duval – Prodir 7.00
12 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Astana 13.30
14 Leonardo Piepoli (Ita) Saunier Duval – Prodir 17.40

The 2008 Giro Stage By Stage
May 10: Stage 1, 28.5km around Palermo TTT
May 11: Stage 2, 207km from Cefalu to Agrigento
May 12: Stage 3, 208km from Catania to Milazzo
May 13: Stage 4, 187km from Pizzo Calabro to Catanzaro
May 14: Stage 5, 170km from Belvedere to Contursi Terme
May 15: Stage 6, 247km from Potenza to Peschici
May 16: Stage 7, 179km from Vasto to Pescocostanzo
May 17: Stage 8, 200km from Rivisondoli to Tivoli
May 18: Stage 9, 194km from Civitavecchia to San Vincenzo
May 19: first rest day
May 20: Stage 10, 36km from Pesaro to Urbino ITT
May 21: Stage 11, 193km from Urbania to Cesena
May 22: Stage 12, 171km from Forli to Carpi
May 23: Stage 13, 192km from Modena to Cittadella
May 24: Stage 14, 195km from Verona to Alpe Pampeago
May 25: Stage 15, 153km from Arabba to PassoFedaia/Marmolada
May 26: Stage 16, 13.8km Plan de Corones Mountain TT
May 27: second rest day
May 28: Stage 17, 192km from Sondrio to Locarno
May 29: Stage 18, 182km from Mendrisio to Varese
May 30: Stage 19, 228km from Legnano to Presolana/Monte Pora
May 31: Stage 20, 224km from Rovetta to Tirano
June 1: Stage 21, 23.5km from Cesano Maderno to Milano ITT

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