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Giro’12 Week #3: This Is Gonna Be Good!

After a well deserved giorno della riposa in Limone sul Garda (on the shores of beautiful lago di Garda), the Giro begins its final week and 6 stages that should decide the race. The week offers up 3 mountain days with 2 summit finishes, and three flat days including the individual time trial to close the show in Milano.

Week # 3 of the 2012 Giro d’Italia criss-crosses the northern mountains enroute to the flat TT in Milano.

Stage 16 May 22, 2012 Limone sul Garda – Falzes/Pfalzen 174 km

Corey Sez: This stage will see riders slowly climb from the plains of Veneto to the high mountains of South Tyrol. Since the next day will be pretty hard, this stage screams breakaway. Oh yeah! I know these roads well as I live in Bolzano. I’d recommend that fans head straight to Brixen to watch the winner pass by first and stay for a bit. It’s a lovely town, like a smaller Bozen without the industrial zone. Also it’s a good base for taking in some great cycling.

Most importantly, Pez wants you to eat right. While there is enough quality pizza and pasta here to keep you on your Italian diet, this region features great Austro-Tyrolean fare. Speck is smoked/cured pork, a must. Knoedel (kah NUR dull) are those bread balls that can come with cheese, spinach or speck. Sausages (wurst) include the Meraner (a beef and smoked beef long thing), Weiss (veal with parsley and a mild flavor, just remove the casing) and the classic Frankfurter.

Beer is pretty much Forst, while wines offer plenty of wonders. For whites, go for a Gewurztraminer or a Sauvignon. For reds, go heavy with a Lagrein or light with a St. Magdalener. Enjoy Brixen, enjoy the food and cheer for hometown hero, BMC’s Manuel Quinziato to pick up a stage win.

Stage 17 May 23, 2012 Falzes/Pfalzen – Cortina d’Ampezzo 187 km
The 2011 Tour de France stood out as an oasis of exploits and heroic efforts after the half-decade long drought that followed Floyd’s last blast of glory in 2006. Both Andy Schleck & Alberto Contador bid some big bones attempting to take cycling’s top prize. The 2012 Giro corsa looks set to provide a springboard for similar quests, and stage 17 could be the perfect day.

PezSez: There’s no two ways about it – this’ll be a knacker-cracker. I tackled the last three climbs of this brutish stage at the 2011 Giro when riding with Thomson Tours – for me it was two days of riding: first I climbed the Giau from Cortina (reverse of the 2012 direction), and the next day I rode the Duran/ Staulanza double. Those 3 significant climbs all come in just 68km of racing – now throw in 20km going uphill to the 2197m Passo Valparola as a warm up, and there’s great looking stage.

The Passo Valparola is the first climb on the docket for this immense day in the Dolomiti. Unlike many of its Dolomiti brethren, there’s an impressively desolate feeling at the top of this rocky pass.

The Passo Duran is 12.2km long, gains almost 1000m, and ramps to over 9% for 7.5 km, getting as steep as 14% in places. I’m no pro, but I’ve always found a notable difference when the climb goes above 8% – as Spinal Tap might say: “It’s one … harder”, but it feels to me like 3, 4, or 5 harder. 12km is along way to climb, and the grade will start thinning the field. Don’t be surprised to see a break go here – even with a couple of top10-20 placed gc guys who are looking to make a big jump up the standings.

This view of the Giau climb is typical of the geography and views throughout the region.

The Forcella Staulanza is about the same distance (12.3km), but not as steep averaging just under 7% and maxing at 11% grades. Like all the climbs around here, it has stunning views most of the way up. There’s a short flat about half way up, but after the previous two climbs, it’ll be all hands on deck when the race rolls through. The break will be wondering whether they throw more coals on the fire, or save something for the….

The climb to the Forcella Staulanza is like everything in the Dolomiti: tough and beautiful.

The final showdown of the day over the Passo Giau. Watch the gc boys treat this like a summit finish – any amount of daylight over the top will come in handy on the almost 16km descent to Cortina. The climb runs 9.9km at a pretty steady grade of 9.3%. By now the relentless series of climbs and descents will have thinned the front group, and I’d expect to see all the heads of state and their elite grimpeurs amassing for a good battle.

The descents all day are technical – good bike handlers will use them to either gain time or catch back on, and crashes are not out of the question.

The other factor will be weather – which you can count on being unpredictable here in May. The 2011 edition saw sunny mornings and cold rainy finishes when the race passed through. Travellers note: always bring cold and wet gear to the Dolomites in May.

Stage 18 May 24, 2012 San Vito di Cadore – Vedelago 139 km
Jered Sz: After a ferocious Stage 17, riders will get a veritable rest day on the road to Vedelago. The race will leave the Dolomiti (for a day) and head to the pleasant, warm flatness of the Veneto.

At only 139 kilometers, the stage will be mercifully short and about as good of a guarantee for a bunch sprint as you’ll ever see. It’s also the last chance the fastmen will get in the 2012 Giro.

Belluno hosted the uphill time trial to Nevegal in the 2011 Giro. It’ll receive the Giro once again in 2012.

Looking for a good time in Feltre? Come back in June for the Castelli 24 Hour Race.

The road out of the Dolomiti is surprisingly flat and unsurprisingly beautiful. The route will take the riders through the towns of Belluno and Feltre (which will welcome the race again the next day), before hitting the wide open plains that lead to the ocean only a little ways to the south.

If ever there was a drink that suited its region more perfectly, I can’t think of it. Prosecco is perfect for those hot spring and summer days the Veneto is known for.

Other than that, there’s not much to mention here – this is a day for the sprinters, and this is a day to drink prosecco. The race will pass the prosecco capital of Valdobiaddene, and if you’re around, you should do your duty once the stage finishes – head north a bit to the prosecco heaven around Valdobiaddene and enjoy the goodness at any one of countless small restaurants that dot the countryside. Rest up, because tomorrow is going to be huge.

Grapes. Lots and lots of grapes.

Stage 19 May 25, 2012 Treviso – Alpe di Pampeago 197 km
Jered Sz: I know most all attention is rightly focused on the Dolomiti and Mortirolo/Stelvio days, but this could well be the hardest stage of the Giro. It’s nasty.

Starting in the heart of the Veneto in the cycling mad city of Treviso – the home of Pinarello. The race heads straight for the mountains. On the way north, it passes by a number of Veneto cycling cycling gems – the Montello and Mostaccin for instance – but that’s probably a good thing, because there is a whole lot of climbing just a few kilometers down the road.

Treviso will see the race off – you might have noticed this picture in Monday’s article on La Pinarello.

Instead of touring the Veneto for a bit and taking in some of its amazing topography, the Giro will head straight for the main course: the big mountains. Hard to find fault in that decision.

Riders will leave the flat, open, probably quite warm expanse of the Veneto plain and head first into a tight, high-walled valley on the road to Feltre. Riders will have the Piave River to the right and neck hurting views skyward. On a typical day, this road isn’t a lot of fun to ride, but for the Giro – they’ll have a special experience. The valley is beautiful.

Next up the beautiful town of Feltre, at the foot of Monte Grappa to the south, and the Dolomiti to the north. Up next: the home of Castelli – Fonzaso. We spent a large part of our year in Fonzaso and can’t help but feel like it’s home. For both Feltre and Fonzaso, you can bet that both towns will be in full attendance to watch the race pass by.

The view of Feltre at sunrise.

If you happen to end up in the area, you can do much worse than spending your evening eating an amazing pizza and sipping prosecco at the pizzeria in Agana. I digress.

After Fonzaso, however, the race gets going as it heads into Valcismon. A break will likely be established at this point, and it’s at this point that the fun begins.

Fonzaso at sunset…from my bike. Hey, the views don’t always have to be of the road, do they?

Immediately after Fonzaso, there’s a big tunnel that riders never, ever use. To the right of it is a perfect little road that hugs a canyon wall and meets up with the main road a kilometer or so later. I’m not sure, which road the Giro will use, but I hope it’s the canyon one.

At this point, it’s all uphill. Riders will make a left turn after crossing an eternally freezing bridge over the Cismon river and then it’s up to a turn off that will take the riders to the first main climb of the day to Roa and beyond (passing within a kilometer of Lamon – home of QuickStep’s Davide Malacarne and the famous Lamon beans). This area heading toward Castello Tesino is one of the quietest I’ve ever had the chance to ride in. There are three big climbs: Le Ei, Arina, and Roa in this little dead end valley, and they’re all excellent. Roa is the most basic of the three, in fact, it’s nowhere near as cool as the other two, but that’s not being fair, because it’s a great climb…it’s just up against two of my favorite climbs ever.

The climb to Roa is in the middle left-ish part of this panorama, whilst the Manghen is far in the distance somewhere at the far left. It’s quiet. It’s beautiful

The climb to Roa is simple: about 7 kilometers at a little over 6%. Nothing too tough. It would be wholly unremarkable if it weren’t for the truly special little nook of a tiny, seemingly forgotten valley where it resides.

Once the climb is crested, riders get a little descent into another fantastic valley, where the town of Castello Tesino lies. The town seems improbably placed, high in the mountains, all by itself.

Beautiful Valsugana. The Passo Manghen is just down the valley a bit and to the right…plus a whole bunch of up.

Part of the difficulty in this section will be the lack of an earnest descent. There’s a whole bunch of downhill to take in before getting to the base of the day’s monster: Passo Manghen, but it comes in small doses with hills and bumps all along the way down.

The tiny road that is the upper, difficult section of the Passo Manghen.

My detail here is just personal love for the area. It won’t be important, but hopefully it underlines that even this opening section will be tough. From the base of the Manghen forward, however, there’s no doubting: this is a mean, evil finale.

The Passo Manghen is huge. It’s 20 kilometers long and gains 1500 meters to make for an average gradient of 7.5%. That only tells part of the story though, as the final six kilometers average a knee grinding 10%. There’s not a climb in the world that gains 1500 meters that isn’t worthy of mention, but this deserves special mention, because it’s the true epitome of the Hors Categorie climb.

Giovanni – a man that knows no vertical limit.

I rode the Manghen once with a friend from Feltre, Giovanni. The man rides more than I sleep I think. He routinely heads into the Dolomites for 200+ kilometer days with 5000 meters of climbing. Crazy stuff. He knows the roads like I know my bed. On that day, which involved me cracking massively around the 4200 meter vertical gain mark, he warned me: the Manghen is ok, but as soon as you cross the creek and head up the right side of the valley – pay attention!

Sure enough, the road went from pleasant ascent, to, oh wait, what just happened?

The sign you long to see.

Luckily, you do get one little bit of a gift from the mountain – the road narrows to almost silly proportions, barely a car-wide. I figure, if it has to be steep, at least make the road small and twisty. Check that off for the Manghen.

Over the top, it’ll likely be a bit chilly at over 2000 meters. Riders will have been climbing for at least an hour just to crest the Manghen.

There’s no respite on the descent either – it’s steep, technical, and narrow.

Once they’ve survived the descent, they’ll arrive into the Val di Fiemme, and there will be a massive refueling ahead of the final three climbs of the day: Pampeago, Lavazze, and the Pampeago again…for good measure.

I admit, I didn’t even know the Pampeago was a pass. It has been the scene of a number of great Giro showdowns, but to my knowledge, it has never been used as a pass.

Yep, they’re linked. Riders will be disappointed to see that sign the first time through.

It’s not all that long, but it bites extremely hard. The finishing climb section is 7.7 kilometers long at just under 10% – 9.8. That’s a misleading number though, because the final five kilometers average 11.8. It’s a wide road, no switchbacks, no scenery, just the rider and a fight against gravity.

The Passo Pampeago adds a bonus three kilometers at just under 10%. How generous. That’s 1000 more vertical meters to add to the day’s tally.

Attacks could already be going at this point. There’s not a piece of flat road from here to the finish – it’s either up or down, so if a rider wishes to seek big time glory, they won’t have to deal with a long headwind-y valley a la Andy Schleck. This is a finishing circuit that begs for an attack.

Once through this tunnel, the finish is only a few hundred meters distant. Hopefully, it won’t snow like it did on this April day back in 2009 for the Giro del Trentino.

After the first encounter with the Pampeago, the Passo Lavaze steps up to the bar to hand over the goods to ailing riders. 6.3 kilometers at 8.6%! Not a long one, but if you’re in any way feeling bad, it’s just going to get worse and worse and worse.

Tired yet? Don’t worry, just one more climb to go. The Alpe di Pampeago. Scene of triumphs from both Marco Pantani and Gilberto Simoni amongst others.

Stage 20 May 26, 2012 Caldes/Val di Sole – Passo dello Stelvio 218 km

Although the Passo Stelvio is considered one of the ‘mythical’ climbs in all of cycling, and its 48 switchbacks are truly the stuff of legend – even if the climb has figured in the overall standings just a couple of times – there been a summit finish here. It’s usually placed too far from the end of the stage to be decisive, but ever since Coppi clamoured over the top the first time in the early 1950’s, fans have loved it.

At over 2700 meters elevation, the summit is always snowbound in May, and the roads often don’t get cleared for the race until the night before. The other problem has been logistics of encamping (and de-camping) the entire race entourage to a space where space is pretty tight.

But new race director Michele Acquarone should enjoy some of the credit, for giving fans a finish we’ve wanted for basically ever. The ascent from Bormio (the south) isn’t quite as famous as the northerly path, but it is a big climb.

This is gonna be a long day with a lot of altitude gained –
• Passo Tonale – right from the gun – 32k of climbing to 1883m – just get warmed.
• Aprica – not a tough climb by any stretch, but 17km up going uphill
• Teglio – only 6km long, but gains over 450m
• Mortirolo – Ouch. Although not the traditional (and harder ascent), it gains 1200m over 14km – that’s over 10.5% average grade.
• After descending back to the valley floor, it’s 41km to the stage finish atop the Stelvio – ALL uphill.

We’ve made a lot of chatter about the Mortirolo in previouso editions, and it really is a game changer, but it’s hard to guess how it will play out here, simply because it’s so far from the end. It riders are inspired, it’ll be a perfect launch pad for a “Schlepic” escape.

Regardless, it will be a great stage to watch.

What You Don’t Know: In 2005 I mounted my first and only attempt to ride the Stelvio, planning to ascend from Bormio to the intersection of the Umbrail Pass, where I was to descend into Switzerland before looping around to climb the more famous northern face of the Stelvio, and its 48 switchbacks. It took me 2-1/2 hours to make the first climb – by which time the thin air and my thin fitness forced an execution of Plan B – scrap the big loop, get a coffee at the top, and descend back to Bormio for lunch and to write the story. You can read that one here.

Yep – expect lots of snow at the Stelvio summit – hey it could even get snowed out…

Stage 21 May 27, 2012 Milan 31.5 km
Pez Sez: I count myself lucky to have seen a handful of Giri end in Milan, and it’s a stage I always look forward to – not only because I’m dog-tired from a good week’s worth of race chasing to get here, but also because as I’ve come to know my way around Italy’s industrial capital, a much needed riposa amongst the fashionisti
serve as my own reward, while scouring the shops for Mrs. Pez usually ensures I’ll be back next year.

The flat TT course is identical to the 2011 version, but this being Italy, nothing is certain until it’s happened – ie: the course could change again at the last minute, depending on various labor strikes, local elections, or any other number of reasons. Regardless of design, it’ll still be pancake flat and provide a level test for whoever’s close on gc.

There’s always a great sense of relief and accomplishment on this day, and the circuitous TT means a less hectic travel day for team personnel – who’ll be busy packing up shop even while the riders roll to the start house. As much as I look forward to a celebratory negroni, plate of risotto Milanese, and tagliatta di manzo, most of the teams want to make a fast escape and get back to home and families asap.

I can taste this bad boy already…

As much as this looks like a corsa full of great stages, and while it’s still the riders who’ll make it fun to watch, hats off to the RCS who’ve offered up a corsa that provide plenty of entertainment.

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