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Giro 2010 Up Close: Weeks 1 & 2 Preview!

While the Tour is so much about the racing, the Giro offers bike fans three weeks of racing, but also so much more. Sure, the first two weeks of the 2010 Giro d’Italia may seem uneventful on paper, designed to funnel a bunch of GC hopefuls into the final week all within shouting distance of the Maglia Rosa, but there’s always lots to look forward to come May.

After all – a Giro roadside adventure is a veritable treasure trove of the best things in life – at least as we see it. Beautiful countryside, warm and welcoming people, hot-blooded women, pasta, pizza, food, wine – and negronis – like nobody’s business.

The route of the 2010 Giro d’Italia.

In this first installment, we’ll take a look at the much maligned first two weeks of racing at the 2010 Giro. While the words legendary, mythical, and epic won’t necessarily be the words used most regularly, the first 14 stages offer up some serious goodies and will provide for great bike racing from Amsterdam all the way south to Salerno…and back up.

We’ll be focusing on the first 14 stages today.

The Netherlands’ Three Stage Opener
Pez gets us started: I can only guess that Tourism Holland got a massive dose of euros to promote their country, with three straight Grand Tours starting here: this May’s Giro, the Tour in July, and then finally Fall’s Vuelta – those guys don’t show up for free – cycling is big biz after all. But when you think about the pan flat stages and goofy rest/ transfer day coming after stage 3, there seems to be little ‘sporting’ value in this long weekend opener. I’m pretty sure the riders didn’t petition the RCS for this send-off, but early reports are that millions of Dutch fans will enjoy 3 days of roadside bbqs, without the inconvenience of driving all the way to Alpe d’Huez.

The atmosphere should be surreal, although I suspect that could be the moon brownies and space cakes at the Bulldog Cafй.

My last visit to Amsterdam was 24 years ago – and the world was a different place, it’s true. But as I recall, the rainy season along the North Sea lasts about 11 months of the year… including May. It’s gonna rain for sure, and that Italian peloton is gonna be darn happy to get back home.

Al sums it up nicely: Yet another Grand Tour starts in Holland! Nothing much will happen on these stages, great for the sprinters and the cycling mad Dutch fans.

Stage 1: Amsterdam, 8km
Jered: Pez mentioned Amsterdam’s image as a city of ill-repute. In recent years though, the city has shown itself anxious to cast aside its reputation as a Sin City. The all too familiar red neon windows of the Red Light District and the ubiquitous pot haze are being cast aside, scaled back, and more tightly controlled. The city, known as a free-thinking, progressive port for centuries, is looking to reinvent itself. Bringing a race like the Giro d’Italia to show off its incredible sites is one of the best ways to do it.

Amsterdam: you can’t experience the city without a healthy dose of bikes and canals.

The opening time trial in Amsterdam will be a, wait for it, wait for it: ‘dam fine one. The gorgeous 8km circuit will start outside of the Van Gogh Museum and finish just across the way at the Rijksmuseum. The loop is anything but technical considering what it could have resembled had Zomegnan been feeling particularly diabolical. A first look appears to favor the pure all-out power of, oh I don’t know, Fabian Cancellara? This shouldn’t take much longer than 8 minutes to complete. Calling Fabian Cancellara, calling Fabian Cancellara.

The following two stages will both be flat, but together, should form two very different experiences for the racers.

Stage 2: Amsterdam – Utrecht, 209km
Stage 2 from Amsterdam to the ancient Rhine River town of Utrecht will be the typical Dutch circus: twisty, turny, technical, full of road furniture, and fear for your life bike racing. As Pez pointed out, woe to the wet day, especially in the opening stages of a Grand Tour. Just as we hope for some sort of peace for the first week of the Tour de France, we can only hope for the best for the racers as they do battle with two road stages in Holland.

Oh, and if this one doesn’t end in a sprint, I’ll eat a tubular.

Stage 3: Amsterdam – Middelburg, 209km
Stage 3, though identical in length to the day before, will have about a hundredth of the turns. The race heads straight down the Dutch seaside from Amsterdam to the very Amsterdam-esque town of Middelburg complete with canals, moats, and pristine old town.

The town is placed firmly in the middle of a large peninsula jutting its way in the direction of the United Kingdom. The approach to the nearly island is complete with an almost 5km long bridge. Lord help the boys if there’s a hard wind a’blowin that day. I mean, really, that could turn out to be harder than the Zoncolan if the mighty wind blows.

How will it finish? There’s no telling. One would assume a bunch sprint would be in the offing on a stage with absolutely NO vertical meters of upward movement, but again, funny things happen when the wind blows. Still, a sprint will be the order of the day, the only question is how many will be a part of it and if any of the GC favorites get left behind or blown into the North Sea.

Rest Day #1
The first rest day will be a disappointing one for the riders. They’ll just be getting going only to hop on a plane and jet down to Milano for a trip to the Piedmont. The poor, poor team personnel will have a long drive from Amsterdam to Stage 4’s start in Savigliano. Google Maps tells me it is 1226 kilometers. Whatever the racers get in the ease and convenience of a quick flight, they’ll more than make up for with the upcoming block of TWELVE straight days of racing. That should be great fun.

Stage 4: Savigliano – Cuneo, 32.5km
The Giro isn’t too terribly keen on easing into racing post-Rest Day. The first rest day will see a 32.5km TTT from Savigliano to Cunego, whilst the second rest day will be followed with the bastardly uphill TT to Kronplatz. First things first, however – this team time trial. 32.5km from Savigliano to Cunego with nary a turn and virtually flat. I think we can expect average speeds to head skyward in the direction of 60kph.

Italians everywhere will rejoice upon the Giro’s return to the motherland, the first stop being the stage 4 TT finish in Cuneo.

Stage 5: Novara – Novi Ligure, 168km
A simple, flat stage for the most part, but as with all things Giro it seems, the fun starts in the latter third of the day as the route gets technical and the road gets lumpier. It shouldn’t in anyway dissuade a bunch gallop, but it won’t be a simple run-in to the line. Again, this isn’t new, we’re talking about the Giro here. Nothing is ever a foregone conclusion in this race. That’s what makes it magical.

Fausto Coppi.

To leave it at that would be criminal though. This is the Giro’s tip of the hat to the late Fausto Coppi, who died 50 years ago from mis-diagnosed malaria. The route will pass near the Campionissimo’s birthplace of Castellania, then finish in the town where he got his start on the bike working as an errand boy for the local butcher. These were his training roads.

Il Campionissimo.

Novi Ligure isn’t just about the Coppi myth though – two-time Giro d’Italia winner, Costante Girardengo, is also from the town. The Museo dei Campionissimi is a museum devoted to the two famous bike racers. We love bike racing museums here at PEZ.

Stage 6: Fidenza – Carrara, 166km
This will be the first day where the sprinters aren’t the prohibitive favorites. A sprint is possible, but the hilly final 30km with two 300m elevation gain climbs, with the line only 10k from the top of the final, and the finale uphill? Pause, must breathe. You get my point. It could be a pretty spectacular finale.

The run from Passo del Brattello to Passo del Cucco is 60km downhill – and right down that valley in the lower foreground above (running right to left). The city of La Spezia is in the bay at top, but the cut marble cliffs of Carrara beckon. There’s a good chance that slab of Italian marble you paid a fortune for on your kitchen countertop is from here.

It could be a break on the line, it could be a small group of favorites, or it could more likely be a bit of both: successful break makes it to the line with the group from the race’s first small vertical selection a short ways behind.

Pez sez: Stage 6 from Fidenza to Carrara has some sparks of life in it. Crossing the Appenines from the flats to the sea is both inspirational, and challenging, but the profile favors a breakaway, so expect lots of gorgeous scenery, but no GC action.

Stage 7: Carrara – Montalcino, 215km
The Tour has its Stage 3 to satisfy the hardman types that dream of cobbles and nails and granite – the Giro has Stage 7 to satisfy this primal longing. The Giro will visit the Monte Paschi l’Eroica’s strada bianca in Stage 7, and they’ll do it in the crucial waning moments of the day.

The first 105km will be a simple affair, but as they head ever further southward into the heart of Toscana, the hills grow larger, the roads grow smaller and angrier, and eventually the paved roads end all together as the race runs smack dab into the infamous gravel roads. The gravel sections won’t be too long or out of this world, but their presence could and should provoke some entertaining racing.

Pez sez: Stage 7 from Carrara to Montalcino is gonna be fun – like a one day Classic. The 10km climb to Volterra at the midway point will surely launch a break, and the final 35kms feature enough tough (but short) climbs to set up some potential GC gauntlet throwing.

Stage 7 throws up 100kms of classic Tuscan hills from Volterra to the finish.

Jered: This isn’t a stage just for the white roads and Tuscan glory, however. The Giro gives another nod to one of its greats, Coppi’s archrival, Gino Bartali. It will be 10 years since the great Tuscan’s death come next year’s Giro, and the route will trace the route of many of his home roads and training grounds. Seems fair, doesn’t it? A stage for Coppi, a stage for Bartali.

The great, Gino Bartali.

Al concludes the first week with a fair summation: The first appointment with destiny will be the 32 kilometre Team Time Trial between Savigliano and Cuneo. This will show who has the team and has the determination. The stages to and from Carrara could be interesting as there are a few little climbs, the one to Montalcino (stage 7) should see off the sprinters. Apart from the TTT there shouldn’t be too many pointers to the final overall outcome.

Stage 8: Chianciano Terme – Terminillo, 184km
I originally wrote this stage off as a crappy second rate mountaintop finish. Then I took a closer look:

I don’t have my calculator or anything, but that looks about like 8ish% for 15km. That’s a big, bad evil climb, and that’s where the Giro d’Italia will begin in earnest. I don’t recall exactly, but didn’t we just write a story about a certain climb in the Pyrenees that will decide the Tour de France, Tourmalet, no? It’s 19km at 7.4%.

That just goes to show you what kind of lofty mountain standards the Giro has set when a gigantic climb like the Terminillo almost gets tossed aside. Compared to what is to come in the final week it is almost just the little brother that just didn’t keep up. But then again, we’re talking about the Titans here, and the little brother of a Titan is still a big, bad, angry climb. There will be some serious bike racing to be had on Stage 8.

Remember when Garzelli and Simoni rode away in 2003?

Al’s take: Stage 8 to the summit finish of Monte Terminillo should show some real action, a climber like Alberto Contador would dance away to the finish here, but then it is probably unlikely that Bert will be here, so look for a light weight anti-gravity specialist.

Back to the sprinters for the next two days, before a hard-mans stage to L’Aquila with an either up or down profile.

Stage 9: Frosinone – Cava De’ Tirreni, 188km
Go South, young man! The theme of the day is south, south, south. The race heads downward past Vesuvio, past Napoli and Sorrento to the coastal town of Cava de’ Tirreni.

This one will be a bit lumpy, but nothing crazy. The sprinters and breakaway boys will both have their chances – the only question is whether the sprinter teams are up for a day of chasing or not. If they are, there will assuredly be a sprint.

Stage 10: Avellino – Bitonto, 220km
This will be another nice geographical transfer day. The race will head from the Tyrrhenian side of things to the Adriatic, with a mild crossing of the Apennines. There’ll be a better day in the Apennines tomorrow. Just you wait.

At the moment, I’m not feeling too terribly creative with my stage prediction – I can’t see much beyond a bunch gallop here. Can you?

The run to stage 10’s finish in Bitonto crosses this huge plain. Aside from another sprint finish, it’ll be the southernmost point of this Giro.

Stage 11: Lucera – L’Aquila, 256 km
How about a nice one-day Classic thrown into the middle of your Giro? They did it last year with the vastly weakened Coppi tribute stage, why not do it again this year, but for the earthquake victims in L’Aquila. This one will be a minimum of 6 hours long. 7 hours is not out of the question.

This is beautiful, mountainous country. If Di Luca hadn’t gone the way of, well, never racing again, I’d put everything on Di Luca showing his fans who the homeboy was with another victory in the Abruzzo. Of course, the Killer has been killed, and we’re left with 256k with no one really to hype. Unfortunate.

Never fear, this is a tough stage, and if anyone wants to do some bike racing, they’ll have the opportunity. This isn’t the old days though, so I’m inclined to think that the final relatively easy 40k will discourage any favorites from making any bold moves. If ever a stage screamed breakaway…

Don’t you hear it? Breakaway! Breakaway! Those poor saps in the break that day. They’ll be feeling that effort well into July.

The hilly day to earthquake stricken L’Aquila has more than enough hills to shake up the bunch, and peaks with a run across this high valley above 1200m between Roccaraso and Plan della Cinque Miglia. DiLuca won the last visit here in 2005.

Stage 12: Cittа Sant’Angelo – Porto Recanati, 191km
Not too much going on here – due north along the Adriatic with a quick, hilly jaunt inland before the final circuit. This is another day for the sprinters. This could be the last stop on the Sprinter Express for a long while, so you can be assured that they’ll not be messing about.

Stage 13: Porto Recanati – Cesenatico, 222km
It’s impossible to say Cesenatico without thinking of Cesenatico’s prodigal, fallen son: Marco Pantani. This stage won’t be nearly as tough as some of the stages in the area have been in the past, but the closing section turns inland for a hilly Pantani commemorative finale after another long, boring coastal ride northward.

Along with hollering Marco Pantani, this stage rolls right through PEZ-man Ale Federico’s hometown of Fano. There shouldn’t be any crazy moves on the day. Dollars to donuts there’s a break to be had, and it’s going the distance. The final 100k should hurt the legs of the break plenty, but the last 30k are pretty much downhill. Small break sprint? You betcha.

It’s a bit lumpy, but nothing like what we’ve seen in the past from this area.

Stage 14: Ferrara – Asolo, 202km
Stage 14’s imposing mountain, the Monte Grappa, defines the stage. The legendary mountain in the Veneto stands tall above all other mountains in the area. Apart from being a huge brute of a climb, it is a climb with much meaning to the Italians.

World War I saw the Monte Grappa as a crucial point on the Italian front. The three battles on the mountain in 1917-1918. The Germans and Austrians saw, correctly, that the conquest of the Monte Grappa could turn the tide of the war in the South and cut the Italian forces in half. The Italians knew the same, and fought with that knowledge. The Italians managed to hold off a much superior force. It is now sometimes called Italy’s Thermopylae.

Want a better idea? From WorldWar1.com:

In snowstorm or cloudbank, close quarters combat was both unavoidable and instantaneous. Thrashed, often hastily regrouped Italian units faced continued attacks by the best units of the German and Austrian army. On Monte Grappa the Italian Army did not breakdown. Outnumbered, outgunned, with their backs to the abyss and their faces to onrushing enemy and winter weather, they found a renewed spirit that would carry on until victory the following year. They opposed German flamethrower and gas with rifle and bayonet counterattacks. Against torrents of artillery and trench mortars, these soldati hurled hand grenades and finally without ammunition, the mountain’s stones.

In the end, total casualties were 24,000 Italians, over 4,000 English and French, and 10,000 Austrian. A mausoleum just below the mountaintop holds the remains of 25,000 Italian and Austrian soldiers who died in the battle.

That kind of puts the day into perspective, no? This mountain has a little bit more going for it than the normal, oh that’s a steep road, we should have a race on it! It’s kind of like going to the Kemmelberg. If your hair doesn’t prickle a bit when you realize what happened there almost a hundred years ago, you’re an inert mineral.

Al: Saturday’s Stage 14 will be a ‘belter!’ The Monte Grappa climb is a monster, but it is the only climb on stage 14 with a down hill finish in Asolo, a good stage for a lesser light to slip off the front and for a leader to show his strengths.

The climbers and GC riders will be forced to race and race hard on this tough weekend. They won’t finish atop the Monte Grappa, but the climb could well shake out some of rotten fruit from the lush tree of favorites. It will be Stage 15’s Monte Zoncolan that will demand everything…

It’s still too early for cocktail hour, but refill your coffee and let all this info sink in. We’ll be back soon with our take on the jagged, ragged, final week. Ciao!

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