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PEZ Previews Il Giro’11 Corsa: Stages 10-15

If you thought the first nine stages of next year’s Giro were good, check out this next batch. The northward progression from the stint on Sicily climaxes with a three-day mountain bash in far northern Italy, taking in a bit of Austria, and a slew of uphill meters…then we arrive to the second rest day.

For the middle third of this year’s Giro, we travel of Italy’s Adriatic Coast for Stages 10, 11, and 12, then it’s into the mountains with a vengeance for the next three stages, before a desperately needed final rest day.

Stage 10: Termoli – Teramo 156km
The riders will be breathing a sigh of relief on Stage 10. For once, it seems, a rest day and a long transfer will be followed with an easy day, call it a second day of rest. 156 flat kilometers from Termoli to Teramo. The sprinters won’t let a breakaway ruin their chances in Stage 10. Bet the house on a wild bunch sprint.

Ale, a native of these parts, knows how to enjoy the day’s easy racing. While there might not be stunning mountains to force an immense day’s racing, that’s good for us as race watchers looking for an easy, enjoyable day as well – it can allow a chance to soak up the atmosphere of a relaxed Giro stage start and provide some time for exploration in the day’s departure town of Termoli…and that’s our Roadside Guide pick for Stage 10.

“On the way back to the north we will have three stages on the Adriatic sea. Small size fishes and piadina: this is what to eat on this side. Termoli is a beautiful town on the rock looking into the middle of the Adriatic. The old town in Termoli is fantastic. You’re surrounded by the blue of the sea and, looking north, you will find the Maiella and Gran Sasso mountains looking from their top directly down into the sea. Termoli is very close to Puglia and its white, as you can imagine every Southen Italian town. The fish is eaten raw here but their specialty are cakes.”

Stage 11: Teramo – Castelfidardo 162km

Up, down, up, down, up, down, down, up.

As always, Al the straight shooter, says it simply and hits the nail on the head: Stage 11 could cause surprises, there are no high climbs, but the profile hasn’t got a flat bit of road on the way to Castelfidardo.

Indeed, there isn’t a bit of flat road between Teramo and Castelfidardo, but unlike in previous years, the Giro has opted to not make this stage a death march, preferring to leave it at a rather short, 162 kilometers. The riders will be thankful.

Meanwhile, Ale, knows this area like he knows his hometown, probably because tomorrow’s stage will pass through his hometown.

Coming up the stage to Castelfidardo will be one of the most interesting before the Alps. Very nervous and very difficult too. The Marche hills will be on the scene with their slopes and their green which is the essential part of the landscape. Italy changes every 50 km and, coming up on Adriatic side food, languages and traditions change very fast.

Weary rider to another weary rider: Couldn’t we just stay along the coast again?

The stage has a breakaway written all over it. These types of stages have proved crucial in the past. Remember the year Gilberto Simoni surprised Stefano Garzelli on a hilly, but not mountainous day before the racing hit the crucial stages? If there’s a wily, strong contender in the mix, he could use this stage to his advantage. More than likely, however, we’ll watch a controlled bunch and a breakaway go the distance, with the break falling apart in the final hour.

• Roadside Guide Tough call. The middle section of the stage with its constant up and downs and windy roads should make for great viewing opportunities, and it would likely be easy to watch the race in more than one place as well. If it’s a nice day, why not shoot for a picnic lunch and watch the race as it passes on one of the innumerable climbs?

Stage 12: Castelfidardo-Ravenna 171km
Is it possible? Could it be? The second sprinters stage in three days? Indeed, Angelo Zomegnan was feeling magnanimous with the Adriatic swing. Stage 12 will be the longest day of the trifecta, and it’s still only 171 kilometers long and delightfully straightforward. Look for another bunch gallop before the sprinters head to the rear of the field over the coming three days.

After stage 11’s “all hills” day, stage 12 will be a welcome roll along the flats of the Adriatic coast – which lies just beyond these coastal rollers.

Apart from a nice ride up the Adriatic, this day may be most noted because it passes through Ale’s hometown of Fano – which the Pez himself had the pleasure of visiting earlier this year.

• Roadside Guide This is a stage to be enjoyed in one of Italy’s classic cities, Ravenna. Ale Sez: The third “Adriatic stage” will finish in Ravenna, a “gothic” city full of beautiful mosaics. This is the “piadina country” and the fog country as well. But, in May, fog will be just an old story. Take in the sights in Ravenna and enjoy a day for the sprinters.

Stage 13: Spilimbergo – Grossglockner 159km
Al leads it off as we head into a dazzling three-day swing. Stages 13, 14, and 15 are the start of the end: The next three stages with their finishes on Grossglockner, Monte Zoncolan, and the Gardeccia/Val di Fassa all before the second rest day will be big. If any rider wants to be battling for the overall he will have to be in the top five now!

The stage start in Spilimbergo will follow a transfer northward from the previous day’s projected bunch sprint finish in Ravenna. Riders will likely be whining about that, but unfortunately for them, it’s the Giro, and Zomegnan doesn’t really care about a wee transfer here and there.

Oooh, that doesn’t look easy.

The day will start out flat and lovely…and finish almost one hundred miles later at almost 2000 meters. While many will not see this as an easy stage, compared to the two stages coming up, this will be a nice warm-up, and it could have been a whole lot worse.

I thought I had lost these pictures, but found them hiding in some forgotten external hard drive. This is the view from one of the last switchbacks to the Edelweissspitze – the highest you can climb on Grossglockner…and perfectly outfitted for Grand Tour stage finishes with a substantial parking lot at the top.

No, this isn’t part of next year’s stage on Grossglockner, but it could have been, maybe it could be someday, and for sure, it’s worth looking at.

For some reason, likely snow, the stage will finish at Kasereck on Austria’s tallest mountain, Grossglockner. With a little bit of luck and some plowing, they could have finished the stage on the Edelweissspitze, which is another 600 meters and change higher…and well worth the effort if you’re ever in the area.

• Roadside Guide In fact, that’s my suggestion for Stage 13 – take your bike and watch the stage finish on the slopes of Grossglockner (this will be a good occasion to bring a backpack with a lot of extra clothes), then, following the conclusion of the stage, keep on going, up, up, up. Of course, a lot depends on the weather, but if it’s been a pleasant spring, you could have a perfect road surface all to yourself as you head up to almost 2600 meters.

Or, better yet (I guess this probably makes more sense), get going early, take in the three significant sights on the Grossglockner climb: Franz Josef Hoehe, Hochtor, and the Edelweissspitze, then head back down to the Kasereck area to take in the show. The opportunities are limitless, well, limited of course to how much you like to hurt yourself uphill and the weather.

Returning back to the actual race, the final thirteen kilometers will be all uphill, but the climbing begins in earnest in the beautiful town of Heiligenblut.

Heiligenblut is straight out of a postcard.

From there, the riders will get something a little foreign to them in the Giro – a wide, well-engineered, still Austrian-style steep road to the finish. The road averages mostly in the 9-10% range, with a few little ramps – the steepest hitting up to 14%. It will be a tough test following the previous climbs of the day, and well, there’s never a time when a 10% average final six kilometers is easy. It’s just that, well, Stage 14 will make this look like an appetizer.

Look for some gaps to form of course, but they won’t be too gigantic. Six kilometers isn’t a lot of time to really push out a big gap. I guess this is all relative, because I think Stage 14 is the scariest stage we’ve seen in a long time.

This is an actual view from the part of Grossglockner the race will do next May…unlike the part I fantasized them doing above.

Again though, this keeps nicely with the theme of short, tough stages. That goes out the window tomorrow though, so do the gloves. The Giro lets down her hair and grins a snarling, sneering grin in the morn.

Stage 14: Lienz – Monte Zoncolan 210km

Matt: The Austrian town of Lienz, in Osttirol, is no stranger to cycling or indeed Italians on bikes. The Tour of Austria makes regular passages through the town – normally with a trip over the Grossglockner thrown in for good measure – while the rest of the cycling world concentrates on the Tour de France each July. Also, every day throughout the summer months, hundreds of recreational cyclists make the 25km, gradually down-hill trip, along the Drauradweg from Silian, on the Austrian side of the Italian border.

For the fourteenth stage of the 2011 Giro d’Italia, with the trip over the Grossglockner heavy in the legs from the day before, the peloton will start their 210k trip to the top of the Monte Zoncolan by riding up the hill through the valley along the side of the Drau. Hopefully the road won’t be closed by a minor avalanche like it was in January of this year, and after 50km of steady climbing and following the crossing back onto Italian soil, the riders will hit the first of the stages five categorised climbs, the Passo di Monte Crocce Comelico.

The 2010 trip up the Zoncolan was preceded by three climbs and a fairly flat first 130km run up from Mestre in the south. Next year, riders will race past the foot of the Zoncolan for a loop that takes in the near 20km climb of Monte Crostis (1982m), crested at 40km to go, before dropping back down to Ovaro for the final climb back to nearly the same altitude (1730m), but in around half the number of kilometres.

Oh the sea of humanity.

For a climb as hard as the Zoncolan (and as decisive as it was for Basso in this year’s race) it is somewhat surprising to think it has only hosted a Giro stage finish for the first time in 2003, when it was climbed from the longer, but less difficult Sutrio side. Gilberto Simoni won that day and repeated the feat in 2007 when, like this year and next, the race came from the much steeper western side.

Basso made the climb his own in 2010 and helped seal his second victory in his home grand Tour. In 2011, the approach will be much harder, but with a near 12% average and sections as steep as 22% on the final climb, there isn’t really a lot that could be done to make this killer finish “easier”.

Jered: Any stage finishing with the Zoncolan is going to be a hard one, but what happens when you make a 60 kilometer finishing circuit that finishes with the Zoncolan and adds in a second climb that’s just about as hard as the Zoncolan? So, what I’m saying is, what would it be like to race the Zoncolan, not once, but twice in one day, not only twice in one day, but twice in sixty kilometers?

Welcome to Stage 14!

The Monte Crostis is this year’s big bad newcomer, and it’s BIG. Riders will gain a little over 1400 meters in 14 kilometers, making for a climb that averages right on 10%…for 14 kilometers. Remember, yesterday’s supposedly fearsome finish on Grossglockner averaged about 10% for 6 kilometers.

To make matters worse, riders will climb to a high alpine plateau atop the Crostis, which means the descent back down to the valley from whence they came will not begin immediately, but almost eight kilometers later. This could go a number of different ways, but either a select group will go clear and push their gap open over the eight kilometers of slightly downhill/rolling terrain before the descent, or there will be a regrouping of sorts. I think the delay before the descent could make for an interesting race dynamic though.

If you want to win the Giro in 2011 – you had better be 100% for this final section. You might also want to keep that 100% thing going for Stage 15 as well. Come to think of it, Stage 16 could use 100% too.

Once the descent begins, it’s straight back down via a twisty, curvy, steep road to Ovaro…where riders passed not that long ago when they started the evil final circuit. In Ovaro, there’s only one thing left to do: go up.

There’s tough and sometimes there’s just plain cruel – heading to Ovaro in the Giro is synonymous with pain and suffering, but passing it by to take in an extra climb BEFORE returning for the Zoncolan? Aye carumba.

What the Monte Crostis did in 14 kilometers, the Zoncolan manages to almost pull off in 10. The Zoncolan gains 1200 meters in 10 kilometers to make for a 12% average grade to go along with its notorious middle section: four kilometers at 15.4%.

I’m no math whiz or anything, but in that final sixty kilometer circus loop, riders will do two climbs, totaling 24 kilometers of uphill road 2600 meters of vertical. That’s 2.6 kilometers into the heavens…at over 10% average.

Looking over this insane finale, it seems clear that the Giro has found the limits of steep more or less with the Zoncolan – sure there are steeper elsewhere in Europe, but putting a bike race on those roads would be difficult even for the Giro. Anyhow, so what do you do if you can’t do a climb harder than the Zoncolan? Do another climb very similar to the Zoncolan right before it of course. It makes for a climb like no other on earth: 24k, 2600 meters gain.

I can’t even fathom what the time cut will be on this stage. I can’t imagine what kind of carnage is possible. I don’t want to speak in too big of terms – but have we ever seen a Grand Tour stage finish this objectively difficult? I can’t think of anything. The opportunity is there for a rider to win the Giro on Stage 14. A rider that is minutes behind can make it up here, a rider far ahead can lose it all, anything seems possible.

• Roadside Guide It’s a toss up. The atmosphere atop the Zoncolan is truly special. It’s a scene that’s not to be missed…

BUT! The Monte Crostis could provide one of the more special scenes in this year’s Giro. Best bet? Dive in for the hardest sixty kilometers of your life. Get to Ovaro early, get on your bike, ride the Crostis, soak up the atmosphere, then head up the Zoncolan with time to spare. It’ll be hard, really hard, but hey, just think – you don’t have to race tomorrow’s stage in the Dolomiti…

If you’re not into masochism, there’s no question: it’s Zoncolan or bust. Take your seat in the amphitheater of pain and enjoy the show.

Stage 15: Conegliano – Gardeccia Val di Fassa 230km –

Pez: Without question this is the Queen stage of this Giro. The day starts at 56m above sea level and ends at 1948m, taking a sawtoothed route that includes five serious peaks, gains well over 5322 meters, and runs for 230 km – the 4th longest stage of the race.

Sure, the organizers were kind enough to open the stage with a warm up 21km of flat, and but from there the day will be done in one of two directions – up, or down – but mostly up.

This year’s Cima Coppi at the summit of the Passo Giau is a desolate place.

Look at these climbs:
• The Piancavallo – 13.7km long, climbs from 150m to 1259 m summit
• Focella Cibiana – 26.6km of uphill, gains 1057m by summit at 1530m
• Passo Giau – this year’s Cima Coppi as the highest point in the race, gains 1384m from the official start in Cortina d’Ampezzo, but total uphill from the base of the Cibiana descent is almost 40km.
• Passo Fedaia – 13.4km long, gains 1062, peaks at 2057m.
• Gardeccia val di Fassa – gains 618m over 6km climb to summit at 1948m.

This stage is gonna be hard. Period. And therein lies the problem. Sure, it comes before a rest day, so riders will be encouraged to fire all their guns, and the stage profile lays the perfect base for exploits of daring do. Indeed – watch for a break to go early and see just how far they can get before the gc men turn on the gas. But it also comes as the 3rd successive hard mountain stage = tired legs.

Both the Giau and the Fedaia are hard enough to cause a selection, and the climb to the end at Gardeccia val di Fassa is on a tiny road with some steep stuff to 16% on the low slopes, and the final 3600m averaging over 11% grades, while the final km is almost 14% – ouch!

The town of Caprile signals the end of the Giau descent, and that valley across begins the Passo Fedaia climb.

For some insider knowledge I talked with Keith Neu – owner of NonStopCiclismo.com – purveyors of high end Italian road bikes & gear. Keith loves Italy like I do, and knows the area well from years of taking tour groups to see the Giro, and enjoy some of the best riding the country has to offer.

Keith reckons the stage is so long and so hard, that the bunch will stay together over the first three climbs, then a gc group will separate off the front on the Fedaia. On paper, the Fedaia makes the perfect launch pad for a gc move – text book escape, stay away on the descent and through the slightly descending valley past Canazei before hitting the 6km climb to the finish hard. One problem – wind. It blows hard in the valley – and in the afternoon on race day it’ll be a headwind – strong enough to shut down any attacks, and favor the chase groups. So watch for the gc group to remain intact until the start of the final climb.

Roadside Guide – A stage this epic can not be ingested in one sitting, so plan for 2-3 days in the region, or longer, and pack yer climbing legs.

We both agreed that the Fedaia, bracketed by the unique start in the narrow canyon at Sottoguda, and its scenic switchbacks at the summit, is also so hard in its middle section (14% grades), yet so not rewarding visually, that although it’s a must do ride for any true Giro fan, or fan of ‘beat-your-head-against–the-wall’ style climbs, there’s little to draw you back for repeated floggings, (unlike the Pordoi, Stelvio or Gavia). Keith told me he’s ridden it about 8 times, although once was plenty.

The base of the Fedaia features a run through a tiny canyon at Sottoguda – not much wider than a bike path.

If you’ve got a driver, start ahead of the race in Cortina d’Ampezzo, ride the Giau & Fedaia, then roll into your hotel in Canazei for a shower, a pizza, and watch the race pass by before catching the finale from the comfort of that bar.

Or, start the day in Canazei, ride up the Pordoi, down through Arabba to connect with the race course at the start of the Fedaia, watch the race pass on the Fedaia – then jam into a bar at the top to see the stage end, and descend back to Canazei.

The lowers slopes of the val di Fassa climb could be worth staking out, but higher up and you risk getting stuck for hours in a post-stage traffic jam (Italian-style), there’s no way out other than the way in.

Plus weather can be a factor here too – I’ve seen sunny and cool, and rainy and cold, and nothing beats the warm bar on a crap day.

The middle third of racing in next May’s Giro will start out nice and finish in jaw-dropping fashion. The riders will get a rest day following the Queen stage #15, then it’s back to work for the final six days of racing, which will include an uphill time trial, the legendary ascent of the Colle delle Fenestre, and much more!

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