GIRO’16: The PEZ Preview
Race Preview: The first Grand Tour of the 2016 season, the Giro d’Italia, starts on Friday with a 9.8 kilometer individual time trial and two sprinter stages in Apeldoorn, Holland. The race then flies down to the toe of Italy to begin the battle north to the finish in Torino. Ed Hood casts his eye over the Italian race; the history, course and the possible victor in three weeks time.
It’s hard to believe but it’s that time again – yes, the 2016 Giro d’Italia is upon us. This will be edition 99 of the world’s pinkest race with 22 nine man teams battling for glory over 21 stages and 3383 kilometers.
First, let’s look at those all important stats; first held in 1909 when Luigi Ganna won; the ‘record-men’ each on five wins are Alfredo Binda, Fausto Coppi (both Italy) and Eddy Merckx (Belgium). Binda is second to Mario Cipollini (Italy) on stage wins, 41 to Super Mario’s 42; of current riders, Mark Cavendish is most successful on 17 stage wins – albeit ‘Cav’ doesn’t ride this year. Binda won 12 stages in the 1927 race; with Ale Jet Petacchi’s (Italy) nine wins in the 2004 Giro the most in recent history. Coppi is also the youngest winner at 20 years and eight months whilst Merckx has the record for days in pink with 77 (although some sources say 78). Merckx, Binda, Constante Girardengo and Gianni Bugno (both Italy) have all lead the race from start to finish.
Coppi and Bartali fight over the Giro
The oldest winner was Fiorenzo Magni (Italy) in 1955 at 35 years and five months; this year Matteo Tosatto (Italy) competes at 42 years-of-age. Italy is the most successful nation with 67 wins by 41 different riders, their last success coming in 2013 from Vincenzo Nibali (Italy). Belgium is second on seven wins by three riders with the most recent way back in 1978 when Johan de Muynck won.
In all 12 nationalities including Sweden, Ireland, USA, Canada and Colombia have won the Giro whilst 23 nations have worn pink.
The longest Giro was in 1954 when Carlo Clerici (Italy) won over 4337 kilometers. The longest stage was in 1914 when Constante Girardengo won over 430 kilometers; Lauro Bordin (Italy) was away solo for 350 of those kilometers – that year there were eight finishers.
The record number of starts is by Wladimiro Panizza (Italy) on 18, finishing in 16 of those occasions which is also the record. Of participants this year we have four previous winners in Damiano Cunego, Vincenzo Nibali, Michele Scarponi (all Italy) and Ryder Hesjedal (Canada).
I could go on but let’s flash through the percorso before we look at the men who’ll top that podium in Torino in one month.
There’s a 9.8K FRIDAY chrono in Apeldoorn – home to a nice velodrome – to kick things off followed by two sprinter stages with the Stage Two start/finish towns of Nijmegen and Arnhem reversing on Stage Three. Arnhem being the scene of the World War Two’s most glorious failures/utter disasters – it’s still debated – by the Allies.
Next up there’s the dreaded ‘early rest day’ where riders are just beginning to find their legs then get stuck on a plane for their muscles to fill up with fluid and for them to try and find some fluency all over again. The early rest day means there are three rest days and the race lasts for 24 days, not 23 as is the norm. And for the support staff it’s a horror; all the way to Catanzaro in the ‘toe’ of Italia – about as far away as you can get from The Netherlands in Europe. But it’s the start of a symbolic long march northwards through la Bella Italia to the arrivo in Torino via the Apennines and every mountain range that Italy – and some that France – can offer.
Stage Four is ‘medium mountain’ – what’s that? ‘wouldn’t it have been better to have a sprinter stage and let the guys find their legs?’ No! You don’t want to be doing human stuff like that – make them suffer!
Stage Five is one for the sprinters, shunning the coast to finish in Benevento.
With Stage Six the first foray into the high mountains, 165K with no flat, three GPM’s and a finish at 1572 meters on Roccaroso – ‘gruppetto!’
Stage Seven is another for the fast men albeit there are two GPM’s along the way and the squabbles for points will be savage – but the finish in Foligno after 210K with the last 40K downhill or flat make is one for the fast twitch boys.
It’s back into the mountains for Stage Eight with two GPM’s but a downhill finish into Arezzo after 169K – this will be one for the Italian Pro Conti teams as the big guns keep their powder dry for what comes on the morrow. . .
Stage Nine is a chrono through the beautiful vineyards of Chianti – it’s no ‘boulevard blast’ and offers plenty in the way of drags and corners so it’ll be an exhausting 25 miles of work for the men setting out to get close to 50 minutes. But the next day is rest day number two, a gentle potter with a coffee stop or spend the day in bed, just getting up to eat – or maybe use room service?
It’s a real saw tooth job for Stage 10, not an inch of flat, four GPM’s and a mountain top finish into Sestola after 216K with the sprinters way, way down.
Stage 11 is classified ‘medium mountain’ but is actually pan flat – until the last 20K into Asolo when one of those nasty GPM’s spoils the sprinters’ fun – damn it !
It’s beautifully, seductively flat into Bibione next day for Stage 12 though with the highest spot on the percorso just 38 meters above sea level – Super Mario may come out of retirement for this one.
‘Medium mountains’ for Stage 13 and a breakaway day over four GPM and 100 miles into Cividale del Friuli.
‘Horrific,’ there’s no other word for Stage 14 with six GPM and an uphill finish within it’s 210K; the Passes of the Pordoi and Giau are in there – this is the ‘Queen Stage’ and will see riders miss the time cut as well as the ‘Bigs’ chances of victory cemented or depth charged. Or maybe it will be a damp squib with everyone paralyzed by fear and leaving it to the last ascents – let’s hope not.
A distance of 10.8 kilometers out of a percorso of some 3383K doesn’t seem like much; but when it’s a mountain time trial with an average grade of 8.3% with maximums of 11% it makes Tappa 15 crucial. Not the day for a ‘giornato no.’
The third and final rest day gives opportunity to lick wounds or finalize the grand scheme to make the podium.
Stage 16 is short but sharp, just 133K from Brixen to Andolo but three GPM’s and a mountain top finish.
Start at 840 meters in Molveno, finish at Cassano D’Adda at 133 meters after 196K just one GPM and the last 100K downhill or flat – those sprinters still standing will be buoyed by the percorso of Stage 17.
The initial kilometers of this breakaway Stage 18 are flat but the ‘sting in the tail’ in these 234K to Pinerolo means the sprinters have to be patient.
Stage 19 in a nutshell? Up, up, up from Pinerolo to the Cima Coppi – the race’s highest point – atop the Colle dell’Agnello at 2744 meters, down then up to a mountain top finish at Risoul after 100 miles – simple but savage.
The Franco-Italian penultimate Stage 20 is short on horizontal distance but monstrous on the vertical axis, cramming the Col de Vars (2108 meters), Col de la Bonnette (2715 meters), Col de la Lombarda (2350 meters) and a mountain top finish at Sant Anna di Vinadio into just 134 kilometers – it just may all come down to this day. . .
But there’s a happy ending for the sprinters in Stage 21; a gentle drop of 300 meters from Cuneo to Torino over 150K – that’s if they haven’t all gone home. . .
And the Protaganisti?
We’ll start with Italian previous winners – Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Vini Fantini) whilst still hugely popular is way past his best and Michele Scarponi (Astana) is there solely to back Vincenzo Nibali.
Ryder Hesjedal (Trek-Segafredo & Canada) has done nothing this year, most recently DNF in the Tour of Romandie but the Giro is ‘his’ race, he won in 2012 and last year rode a brilliant second half of the Giro to take fifth on GC. He’s been a pro since 2002 so knows how the jigsaw comes together – watch for him after that third rest day.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana & Italy) won in Oman and we can’t read too much into sixth in Tirreno where the Queen Stage was knocked on the head due to the weather. Nor can we take too much from his showing in Trentino; it’s merely part of his Giro build up – this is his 12th professional season and he has a win in every Grand Tour under his belt. It’s hard to believe he won’t be bang on where he wants to be come Friday – and with a team which includes Agnoli, Scarponi, Fuglsang and Kangert behind him. . . And I read somewhere that his 2015 season was a ‘disaster’ despite the winning the national Champs, a Tour stage and a Monument – that’s the expectation that’s upon a champion.
Third last year was Mikel Landa (Sky & Spain) so with no 2015 winner, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff & Spain) or second placed Fabio Aru (Astana & Italy) the logical progression is to the top of the podium – and it’s possible. Despite a late start to the season he’s in shape; top 12 in Coppi Bartali and Pais Vasco, with a stage win in the latter he won Trentino and will have a good Sky team to back him with names like Deignan, Knees and Roche at his service. The big question is; ‘are Sky as strong as Astana?’ we’ll know soon enough.
Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale & Colombia) hasn’t given us too many clues about his form; top 10 in Catalonia but two below par chronos in Romandie make it difficult to form an opinion. He’s been runner-up in the Giro twice before, won the long time trial in the race and it was just last autumn he won in Quebec – the man is no dud.
On the ‘up’ – witness two stage wins, time in red and top five in the Vuelta last autumn; Johan Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE & Colombia) hasn’t been over-raced by the team this year and whilst there’s little to indicate condition he’s not in Apeldoorn to check out the bulb fields and those monstrous mountains are where he’s most at home.
Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin & The Netherlands) may falter in the high mountains but he learned a lot about himself and his capabilities in the Vuelta before he fell victim to Aru and his ruthless Astana assassins. Fourth in Oman, 12th in Paris-Nice, second in both the Romandie chronos, the big chap is in shape.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar & Spain) is always in shape, always ready to win, he’s won the Vuelta, been on the Tour podium – he needs a podium here to complete his set. This season he’s won a stage and the GC in the Ruta del Sol, two stages and the GC in Castilla y Leon and won his fourth Flèche Wallonne – enough said – and that’s before we mention that tough as boot leather team of his. But, if he should falter team mate Andrey Amador (Costa Rica) was fourth last year, albeit he’s another man giving few clues as to his 2016 form.
Rafal Majka (Tinkoff & Poland) gets a clear run at the GC here with no Alberto to chaperone; those mega mountains should suit him – his 2016 started well with seventh in San Luis, fifth in the Ruta del Sol but wasn’t so hot in Paris-Nice and is just ‘there’ in Romandie. But remember that this is a man who can win a Tour mountain stage, the Tour of Poland and finish on the Vuelta podium.
And another one for the Dutch fans, maybe – Steven Kruiswijk (LottoNl-Jumbo & The Netherlands) again no clues from his 2016 palmarès but he was seventh in the Pink Race last year and with a home start will be highly motivated.
It looks to us like a very evenly matched race but Nibali’s experience and team should swing it for him.
Just don’t forget; ‘All the World is Pink!’
Everything Giro in PEZ over the next three weeks with Race Reports, PEZ Roadside, Lowdown and video up-dates in EuroTrash. Live coverage in Steephill TV.
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,400 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.