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Giro 2010 Up Close: The Hellacious Final Week

The first fourteen stages of the 2010 Giro d’Italia are going to be the standard, delicious Giro fare. The final final seven days are going to be the stuff of exquisite cuisine, of the likes we’ll be making mention of for years to come. PEZ takes a closer look at the decisive final week centered around the northern reaches of Italy.

We rolled out this piece of preview over the winter, but it’s time to take a closer look again. We’re just over a week away from the Giro! Ah the happiness. It’s about time.

There’s much to consider with the Giro’s final week, so why not grab yourself one of these, or your closest facsimile, and settle in for a good Friday read…

When one looks at the entirety of the 2010 Giro, sure, there will be opportunities to set the foundation for overall success over the first 14 stages, but the real theme will be just keeping the overall lead within reach, because the final week will serve up opportunities, chances, possibilities, galore. Nearly every stage is a chance for the fleet-footed mountain goat to storm to seconds, nay, minutes even.

The altimetry for the final seven stages puts that whole sawblade thing into perspective. Normally we say that for a stage full of climbs – this is a whole week of climbs.

Without further ado, I present to you, the first, evil day of the final week:

Stage 15: Mestre – Monte Zoncolan, 218km
Coming after Stage 14’s rude introduction to the northern Italian mountains with the legendary Monte Grappa, the race heads north in earnest to the brutish Monte Zoncolan. The day will start just outside of Venice at 0 sea level in Mestre before heading to the northeast into the Friuli region and the diabolically steep slopes of the Zoncolan.

Before the Zoncolan, the racers will have three climbs to master – none of them are big, bad, evil things, but they’ll tickle nonetheless. In fact, the three climbs together produce about 1200 meters of vertical gain (seriously: approximately). How much does the Zoncolan provide to its pilgrims? 1200. That should put it into perspective.

Once they hit the Zoncolan, if anyone has thoughts of Giro glory, it’s here they’ll have to stand up and show their cards. The first couple of kilometers are a nice 9% introduction, a warm-up if you will, then it’s 5.9k at an AVERAGE of 14.9% with sections of 20 and 22%. It’s mind-boggling. The final 2k ease off a bit to a measly 8% average with only an 18% bump.

It’s impossible to think Monte Zoncolan without Gilberto Simoni’s image popping up. The Giro has covered the Zoncolan twice in its history, and it was the little Trentino climber’s privilege to gain the finish line first on both occasions – once from the easier side and the last time in 2007 from the much tougher Ovaro side – from whence they’ll climb in 2010. Simoni will most likely be racing his final year in 2010 – I wonder if he can go out with a perfect record on his climb.

Here’s Pez somewhere near the top of the Zoncolan in ’07. Can you see the desperation in his eyes? But fear not – we’ll be back roadside for all the gnarliness of this most jagged Giro!

Pez Sez: It’s the only climb I’ve actually witnessed someone barfing on their way up- and that was just a guy walking! (Although I’m sure this is also a regular occurrence at Dutch Corner on Alpe d’Huez.) Just saying the name conjures all kinds of muscle spasms as I recall my battle with this killer climb in 2007.

It’s gonna be standing room only atop the Zoncolan.

Don’t get me wrong – this is a must-do ride for any PEZ-Fan, just not the kind you need to do twice. This year’s stage is even harder, with four smaller climbs coming ahead to ‘soften’ the legs. Yeah, right.

After 8kms of climbing the insanely steep grades, one is finally rewarded with a view, from the valley whence ye came.

In conclusion: this is a day for the compacts. Expect to find a fair number of 34x28s in use that day. Contador used a 34×28 on both the Angliru and the Kronplatz in his 2008 Giro-Vuelta double.

Al sums it up nicely: Stage 15 has four great climbs in the last 100 kilometres, finishing with the Monte Zoncolan at nearly 2000 metres altitude, this could be “The Stage” the Tifosi will be out in there thousands to see the action, any rider who wants the Maglia Rosa will have to at the front on this decisive day.

Rest Day #2
Whew! Talk about a hard-earned day of rest. This time the racers actually will get a real rest with only a couple hour transfer to the Dolomiti proper. 12 straight days of racing will have many thankful for the one day pause, but nary a soul will be resting peacefully – the next day promises another GC defining mountain exploit: the Kronplatz uphill time trial.

Al looks ahead to Stages 16 and 17: After the last rest day we have the ultra hard time trial to the mountain top of the Plan de Corones Kronplatz with a maximum slope of 24%. The next day to Pejo Terme will make the already sore legs even sorer over the Passo delle Palade.

Stage 16: San Vigilio Di Marebbe – Plan De Corones TT, 12.9km
Good morning! Buon giorno! I hope your rest day was restful, because there’s a big, bad (there’s a lot of big and bad in this final week if you haven’t noticed already) dirt climb on the menu for today. The climb to Kronplatz returns for the third time in 2010, and for the second time as an uphill time trial.

Franco Pellizotti was the fastest man up the climb in 2008. He posted a time just over 40 minutes. He had a cadre of challengers right behind him though: six riders managed to stay within 50 seconds of Pello.

In these times of what seems to be a more level playing field, the huge time gaps we became accustomed to seeing even only a few years ago, are starting to fade away. I love it. It just goes to show how closely matched the world’s best are. On a climb as terribly difficult as Kronplatz, to have six riders all within a minute is impressive, it’s exciting.

Pez Sez: I got close to riding this bad boy in 2006 – as close as the bottom of the climb. Only problem was the weather – a few degrees above freezing, and a wet slush pelting from the low hanging clouds. Cold – wet – the kind of conditions that push one straight to the bar for a brewski to watch the shortened stage in comfort. Sure this is May, but the weather in the Dolomites is as indecisive as an Italian man at a supermodel convention.

Jered: I tried to ride the climb this summer, but had to turn around due to the horrible road condition. It’s sometimes hard to remember that this is a ski resort access road. It’s under snow for a large chunk of the year, so it is not one of those finely groomed dirt roads that you can enjoy all the time. When it’s not a Giro year, this climb is almost better on foot. Well, that’s what my riding companion said that day. I think it was doable, but he was having none of it.

I did find the first part of the climb, the part that’s actually the Passo Furcia (Furkelpass), to be a stiff climb. I mean like titanium stiff. It’s hard! We don’t give much credit to the Furcia with the final 5k of dirt and 20+% grades to compare it to, but on its own, it’s hard.

Stage 17: Brunico – Pejo Terme, 173km
This is almost an exact duplicate of Stage 4 of the 2009 Giro del Trentino, which started in Sillan, Austria, traveled through the Puster Valley, then turned south to Bolzano, climbed the famous Passo Mendola, then finished in Pejo Fonti. Danilo Di Luca won that day in a five-up sprint. Ivan Basso drove the pace for much of the seemingly innocuous final climb and cemented his first GC win since returning from his suspension.

The stage isn’t exactly the same, but it’s pretty damn similar. Instead of climbing the Mendola, they’ll climb the Gampen, I mean, Palade. The Palade is an easier climb in general, but they’re both fairly similar and both are very closely situated. After that, they head in the same direction – Trentino’s stage finished in Pejo Fonti, the Giro’s stage will finish in Pejo Terme. In other words, it’s pretty much the same place, give or take a few meters.

The only reason I’m harping on this so much is that in the Giro del Trentino, some seconds were actually cashed in. Ivan Basso took the overall win on the strength of his final stage ride. He went into the day 8 seconds behind Janez Brajkovic. I’m not implying that race defining time can be gained in this finish, but I do think a few riders will be caught out to the tune of 10-30 seconds. Nothing major by any means, but who knows how close this Giro will end up being. Since we’re in speculation mode, it seems pretty relevant to make note, no?

Pez Sez: This is kind of a sleeper stage set among giants. The chief obstacle of the Passo delle Palade is almost 20km long – and for most club riders that’s well over an hour to climb – you just try averaging 15kmh for 19km at 6.6 average. Too bad it comes so far from the end, but it’ll serve a break well, who’ll hang on to duke it out on the final grind to the finish. The gc guys will stick together – no changes.

Stage 18: Levico Terme – Brescia, 151km
After three rough days in the mountains, the Giro doles out a routine transfer day that will bring back the fun question of break or bunch sprint. This is definitely the last chance for the sprinters in 2010. The cool thing about this Giro transfer stage? They’ll be traveling the western shores of Lago di Garda for a nice chunk of the day. Transfer stages are a lot more enjoyable when they’re beautiful – this day will surely be a visual stunner.

Stage 18 should be a bunch gallop into Brescia, which last hosted a stage finish in 2006, won in a bunch gallop by one Paolo Bettini. We miss you, Paolo. You can stage your comeback now. Please.

Pez Sez: When I lived in Bergamo (about 13 years ago), I had a friend named Gigi – a cool cat in his 60’s (yeah – he was a him) that I’d gotten to know through the agent who helped find my apartment. His mother lived down the road in Brescia, about a half hour away, and every Sunday he’d drive back home for a family dinner. His mother, who was around 80 years old, had a small plot of land and raised chickens, so every Sunday they’d have fresh chicken for dinner.

This has little to do with the Giro, other than it’s my earliest memory of Brescia… although I never actually went there till 2006 for the Giro.

Beautiful Brescia.

Al gets us started with the wicked 19-20 combo: Stage 19 between Brescia and Aprica is a stage of historical proportions. The climbs of Trivigno and the Mortirolo are legendary and will end the hopes of many a rider, but stage 20 will be the last straw. From Bormio to the up hill finish on the Passo del Tonale the race crosses the Forcola di Livigno, Foscagno, Eira and the giant Gavia. It could be where the race is won, lost or consolidated.

Stage 19: Brescia – Aprica, 195km
Pez Sez: This stage recalls that brutal day in the ’94 when Pantani exploded on the scene with his second huge win of the race. That stage started with a climb over the Stelvio, led by lone attacker Franco Vona who was hoping for one last spark from the embers of his career.

The epic day also featured two passes through Aprica, sandwiching an ascent of the Mortirolo, where Pantani and Berzin both dropped the mighty Miguel Indurain, and Vona almost came to a stand still on the near vertical slopes.

It’s gonna be ugly – that’s the only way to describe the Mortirolo. I rode it in ’06, after first summiting the Gavia, on one of my personal Top Rides. I’d never encountered anything as steep, for so long, and although I knew it would hurt, I had no idea of just how much. Even in my 34×25 climbing gear, there was no way I could beat the slopes, and was forced to stop many times to catch my breath on the way up. The last 5km took f o r e v e r.

In my opinion, this climb is tougher than the Zoncolan – possibly because it’s still 2000 meters longer, but also because I rode the Zoncolan after I had the Mortirolo under my belt, so I had some idea of what to expect from 10km at well over 10% grades.

Taking a look at the whole day though – there’s more on offer than just the Mortirolo, the centerpiece. On paper, the climb from Edolo to Aprica looks like something but in fact it’s a big ring hammerfest where Basso rode Simoni off his wheel in ’06. But it’s between the two stops in Aprica – once at 112 km, and then again 83km later to finish the stage – where the race gets mofugly (ie: mofo ugly).

After a preview of the finish, the riders will get a far too short 7k descent to the base of the mean climb to Trivigno. It gains just over 800m in 11k with the first 6.8k at nearly 10%.

After THAT, the racers have to deal with the technical descent off the Trivigno before meeting up with the equivalent of Muhammad Ali: the Mortirolo.

A stage along these same lines was the story in 2006 – Basso and Simoni rode away on the Mortirolo, then Basso rode Simoni off of his wheel en route to Aprica. Simoni coughed up his legendary ‘extraterrestrial’ comment after that one, and it appears that he wasn’t too far off the truth. The point being – the Mortirolo will be decisive on this stage. A selection will be made on its fierce slopes, then it will be a horrible time trial home to Aprica in bits and pieces to consolidate gains or losses. That day in 2006 was a slaughter of the most magnificent proportions. Gobs of minutes were lost by riders of all calibers that day. If we get even a piece of that in 2010, it’ll be a great day for the Giro.

Stage 20: Bormio – Passo Del Tonale, 178km
Where to even begin? There’s just so much climbing in this stage. One day to go till Verona and the race could be thrown into complete disarray if a brave rider pulls off a legendary ride. The thing with legendary rides though, is that they’re often instigated by legendary routes – this is one of those routes.

Starting in Bormio, the race heads due south with 37km of a gentle but fast descent down a long valley, before turning north at Tirano to begin the day’s 55km of climbs, the first of which is the Forcola Livigno, weighing in at a solid 18k, 7%. The race will then take in two easier climbs before dropping back down to Bormio and setting about dealing with the 2010 Cima Coppi, the Gavia.

They will be descending in this direction in 2010.

The Gavia in all its glory is truly a climb known for its southern approach. In 2010, they’ll be climbing it from the much easier northern side. I’m not saying it’s anywhere close to the neighborhood of easy, but 25k at 5.6% isn’t exactly compact crank inducing. That doesn’t quite tell the whole story though – the middle 11k averages a firm 7%.

I can’t imagine there being too much opportunity for a rider to get away alone on this climb, just taking into account the sheer speed which they’ll most likely race the climb. There will certainly be a break far up the road, whilst the leader’s team will be doing their damndest to keep things under control over the top of the Cima Coppi.

The summit of the Passo Gavia – here’s race day at the ’06 Giro, 23km above the valley floor in Bormio – see that snow, see those clouds? That’s May weather here on a good day – and it’s epic stuff in the making.

Near the top of the Gavia as the field climbs from the southern side – again, next year’s descent.

From the summit of the Gavia, I’d be a bit nervous. That descent down to Ponte di Legno could be murderous. I mean, it’s a bit nerve wracking from time to time when you’re climbing UP it. The road is so tiny, the drop-offs so gigantic. Yikes. This could be a decisive descent. It’s not quite as insane as the Civiglio, but it’s going to test the mettle of all of the contenders.

Once they bring their bodies down off of the gigantic climb, there’s still one climb to go. There has to be something to be said for the brutal wake-up call to the body after such a huge descent. If the weather is anything but perfectly pristine, the riders will most likely be more than a bit chilled as they make the turn to the final uphill finish of 2010 – the Passo Tonale.

The Tonale is no grand and huge climb, but coming at the end of such a tough day and immediately after what could be a rough descent, it should have everything it needs to bring out the best in the remaining GC hopefuls. It’s such an interesting stage in that the Giro goes against its time honored traits of steeper is better with a day of comparatively mild grades. I think this could well be the day the race is decided. Maybe. Probably not. It never seems to work out that way, does it?

Pez Sez: On paper this could be a real barn burner – so much climbing on the penultimate day – 55km of climbing, 3308m of elevation gain, a summit finish… whoa. Problem is, by now everyone is very tired, and the time gaps are established. The GC guys will watch each other and hope they don’t have a jour sans. The climb to the finish will be tough after all that’s come before it, but is probably not steep enough to break up a group, so look for the real action on the Gavia, with the fastest descender having a nice advantage.

Could we call ourselves real tifosi if we didn’t include a picture of THAT day?

Stage 21: Verona TT, 15.3km
Al introduces Stage 21: The finalй is not in Milano for reason of dispute, but Verona is a beautiful place to finish any race, it might just be a lap of honour, but will be a spectacle none the less. A good Giro with all the action at the end, but will there be many with the legs for it though?

Jered: It’s an interesting time trial to say the least. It’s only 15 kilometers long, it’s definitely not a time trial for the specialists as it mainly consists of a 5k, 200m ascent, followed by a rapid 5k descent back into the town proper. This is the reverse of the famous Torricelle Worlds course, which a certain Oscar Freire has found decidedly to his liking – both times.

At least you can say that the Giro organizers have taken the advantage from any time trial specialists. Even the most brutally disadvantaged climbers who can’t TT should be able to fake it on this course. Will the race be decided here? Of course it’s possible, but I can’t imagine time gaps being much more than 30 seconds between the top 10 at the absolute maximum. Well, that assuming Fabian Cancellara isn’t there. If Fabian is racing, it’ll be 30 seconds between 2nd and 10th place, and THEN whatever Cancellara drubs second place by (probably 30 seconds).

Verona hosted the penultimate stage TT in 2007.

It could be an entertaining finale if the race is close, or it can be a celebratory jaunt through beautiful Verona for a worthy winner. We’ll have to wait till nearly June to find out! I can’t wait.

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