86th GIRO D'ITALIA - An in-depth glance at the route:
Even at first glance, it's not difficult to discover the most outstanding features marking the route of the 2003 Giro: first of all the fact that, besides giving the race an all-Italian flavour, organizers seemingly decided to follow (at least partially) the steps of their Spanish colleagues, and provide fans with something to thrill for even in the ultimate leg of the competition.
What I'm talking about is next year's final stage, which takes the shape of a decisive ITT, instead of the usual "procession" paying tribute to the certain winner. On Sunday, June the 1st, the 86th Tour of Italy will end in a 40-km. long Individual Time-Trial, with the finishing line located not in Corso Sempione, the "anonymous" avenue where several Giros ended in the past years, but in Milan's most picturesque scenery: "Piazza Duomo", the square in front of the city's worldwide famous Cathedral.
But as for other stages against the clock, Giro organizers (the RCS Society and "Gazzetta dello Sport") did not seem to agree with their Vuelta counterparts. First of all, the race will not have any Team Time Trial (according to Giro Boss Carmine Castellano such stages may alter the final outcome of what is meant to be an individual sport after all), and besides that, the race won't start with the usual prologue against the clock either.
Indeed the 86th edition of the Italian Grand Tour will get underway with a 190-km long. stage in the Apulia region of (south-eastern) Italy, a flat and windy area that often brought good luck (under the guise of several winning sprints) to Mario Cipollini, where the current World champion could finally equal Binda's record of Giro stage wins (41). What a perfect way to honour his rainbow jersey it would be ! And a good way to raise more interest in the opening stage too. With due respect to the Verbrugghes and Dominguez, excellent riders and worthy wearers of the first "maglia rosa" in the past, to start with a legendary champion, who happens to be a reigning World Champion too, going for the record of stage wins in the race (and even earinmg the rainbow jersey), is quite a different thing. Kudos to the organizers for making such a choice.
But you'd better not be so sure to hear the Lion King roaring that day. The last time the Giro began with a road stage, in 1999, it was big day for different animals: Cheetas, not Lions, as Ivan Quaranta (quite an unknown rider at the time) denied Cipollini his first win in that edition of the race. And more than once Super Mario has showed that he can find some difficulties in the first stages of a Grand Tour. But should Cipo be outsprinted in Lecce, he'd be given a new chance the following day, with another flat stage so good for the fastest wheels of the bunch, while the slightly uphill finish featuring leg number three is more appropriate to the likes of Bartoli or Di Luca, or anyone able to launch an all-out attack in the end, and go for the stage win.
Stages 4, 6, 7 and 9 might end in bunch (or small bunch) sprints too. We might add stage 16 and 20, but they are good only for those sprinters who can somehow climb, namely those guys the previous, gruelling stages didn't force out of competition.
A further difference from the past year(s) is the "migration" of the first, real. long-distance time-trial from the second to the last week. A change that would hardly help ITT specialists going for the overall win, as they lose the chance to put some time into the climbers before he race hits the mountains. And with a gruelling Dolomitic stage coming the day before, on Sunday May the 24th time-triallists could even pay the price for their recent climbing efforts, thus gaining little time on their rivals. These are just speculations anyway, the road will tell.
Another big news worthy of making headlines is the inclusion of the "Giant of the Dolomites", the lesser-known Monte Zoncolan, placed in the Carnia area of Friuli (north-eastern part of country) and rated as more difficult than the feared Mortirolo. At least if tackled on the Ovaro side anyway: a 10.5 km. ascent featuring an altitude difference of 1210 meters, an average gradient of 11.52%, and a maximum of about 20%.
But as that side, according to Giro organizers, is not safe (and road not good) enough for riders and the rest of the Giro caravan to climb it, the salita"will be tackled (for the first time) by the other side, from the town of Sutrio to the top of the climb: a 13.5-km. long ascent whose average gradient is 8.9%, with the maximum going up to about 17%. Not easy on this side either. And Giro organizers promised that within a few years the race will hit Italy's most difficult ascent on the Ovaro side too.
With several hilly stages and five mountain top finishes, the route looks appropriate for climbers, at least more than in recent years, although the total difference in altitude is a little smaller than in the past edition. Beside the Zoncolan, and proably eben more then the Zoncolan, stage 14 (with 4 different ascents to be tackled, including the final ride up to Alpe di Pampeago) and stage 18 (filled with challenging and exciting climbs as well), can be regarded as the ideal hunt-territory for mountain goats.
But the final time-trial into Milan's most famous square will definitely keep the interest high until the last meter of racing. And, although in the final ITTs, coming after 20 days of demanding rides, time gaps are usually smaller than in races against the clock taking place halfway through the competition, we could see the overall leader's jersey move to different shoulders right in the ultimate day, just the way it happened two times in as many years at La Vuelta (and don't forget the 1989 Tour de France and many other ITTs of the past sealing the end of stage races).
Quite a complete Giro, leaving room to all kinds of riders. Sprinters have several stages at their disposal to show off their skills, climbers would rejoice in the presence of no less than five mountain top finishes while, instead of complaining, time-triallists should be careful not to miss the opportunity a final stage on their "hunt-territory" provides. And there's room for the "serial escapees" too: expect more than a successful breakaway with such a course.
And to know even more about the route of the 86th "Giro d'Italia", let's have a look at the detailed route description provided by the press release "Gazzetta dello Sport" issued on the matter. A glance cast at all stages, from the beginning favourable to sprinters to the final, unusual showdown in Milan's city centre. Here's the text of the Gazzetta's press release:
STAGE 1: On Saturday, May the 10th the Giro starts in Lecce, a fascinating town that offers classic prospects and the vestiges of its ancient glory. Lecce is not only a museum-like place though, but also a lively and energetic center much similar to the countryside around. On the same 10th of May the Giro moves from the provincial capital, directed to the discovery of the beautiful Salento and then back to Lecce where the first pink jersey will be assigned. A perfect lap for sprinters in harmony with the surroundings, after 192 km..
STAGE 2: On the next day the Giro moves from Copertino to Matera. Quiet flat with the sole exception of the Montescaglioso obstacle.
STAGE 3: On Monday 12 the Giro moves from Policoro to Terme Luigiane with a final, almost easy, uphill 11.5 km. slope, with a reasonable gradient (average 3%). A lap that may bring some excitement if a "finisseur", a sudden attacker looms out at the end.
STAGE 4: On Tuesday 13, leaving Terme Luigiane, the race moves in the direction of Vibo Valentia. The menu offers the Zungari crest, painless uphill slope not excluding the possibiilty of some jolts, once more a perfect conclusion for the sprinters.
STAGE 5:After crossing the straits on wednesday, May 14, the Giro proceeds from Messina towards Catania, through the "Mandrazi wicket", a long (almost 25 km.) but not especially steep uphill slope (average gradient 4%). Perfect lap for courageous and creative athletes.
STAGE 6: Transfer and rest day fall on the same date, Thursday May 15, with a re-opening of the hostilities on Friday, May 16 from Maddaloni on the way to Avezzano. A very long lap (218 km.) with no special difficulty, not even the Monte Salviano pass being a problem. Final stretch ending at Piani del Fucino.
STAGE 7: The seventh lap brings racers from Avezzano to Terminillo (Campoforogna) featuring a first skimming among the group. The 16.1 km of uphill climbing will leave space to all ambitions even if the verdict of the reatinian mountains will leave all questions unanswered. Nothing ultimate can be expected after the first uphill arrival, only some variation in the results, probably with two figures outdistancing times.
STAGE 8: On sunday 18 the cyclists move from Rieti to Arezzo through the Forca dell'Arrone. A lap for meditation, along its 217 km., enough to goad the braves.
STAGE 9: The next lap crosses Tuscany and his mellow hills from Arezzo to Montecatini Terme, where the finishing line will greet the sprinters.
STAGE 10: The tenth lap in program for Tuesday 20 is a treacherous one: from Montecatini Terme to Faenza, continuous ups and downs with two remarkable uphill slopes which could induce an attack. i.e. the Casaglia pass, nice obstacle, and 18.3 km. of road (average gradient 4%) followed by an historical mountain in the cycling world: the Trebbio pass (average gradient 6.559, not very far from the finishing line. An exceptional lap from an agonistic point of view, especially if the cyclists will be able to seize the opportunity during these 200 km. full of dangers.
STAGE 11: The point of no return of the Giro, the mid-race, takes place in the course of the Faenza-San Doná di Piave lap on Wednesday, May 21st . Let's say: an easy lap which could be used by finishing line hunters, with or without being pushed towards the arrival by the well-known "small train".
STAGE 12: The most expected uphill arrival lap (departing from San Doná di Piave) is due to take place on Thursday, May 22nd, and will remain an unforgettable event, with the never climbed before Zoncolan. This twelfth lap will surely create big changes in the places. Until then the Giro had only been a scene for various skirmishes, now the time of truth has come for the climbers, along these three mountains: the Fuessa, a considerable obstacle, (10.6 km. of uphill climbing with an average gradient of 8.7 %), then the Sella Valcalda (6.6 km long with an average gradient of 8.7 %) and finally the terrible Mount Zoncolan, which will be responsible of a clean sorting. It is the first time that the Giro is confronted with this slope considered a real bugbear: along its 13.3 km., the average gradient is already important, but reaches stretches with the most impressive 19 and even 22%. On the Zoncolan the categorical imperative for sprinters is to save their legs for the future.
STAGE 13: The next day brings the race from Pordenone to Marostica, a special lap to recover the strength lost in the mountains; a short route (155 km.) with the sole obstacle of la Rosina and a final circuit to be repeated three times in the incredible scenery of the famous animated chess-board. Unfortunately cycling game is very different from the chess game, less strategy and more action.
STAGE 14: Next big lap, actually THE big lap is foreseen on Saturday May 24: departing from Marostica, the Giro proceeds towards the Alpe di Pampeago, again an uphill arrival, which sums a lot of sacred summits in the Giro history, to start with the Rolle pass, (23.1 km., average gradient 5.5%), then the 6.8 km. of the Valles (average gradient of 7.1 %) then 5.8 km. of the San Pellegrino (average gradient 9%) and, to conclude, the last delightful effort on the Alpe di Pampeago summit, after 8.9 km. with an average gradient of 9.6 %. After this stage the final score will undoubtedly be a clear reflection of the actual forces on the ground. And no blames on the ones who will quit at this stage, renouncing to their dream of victory.
STAGE 15: Once in a while the Alto-Adige will see, on Sunday, may 25, a lap against the clock in the region, i.e. from Merano to Bolzano, 42 km. to establish a first classification, with the climbers fighting to defend the minutes they earned. In the mountains, iron nerves are important on the eve of the last week of race.
STAGE 16: From Arco di Trento all at a breath towards Pavia, 207 km., then the sorrounding countryside and especially Salice Terme will be the scenery of a one-day break. A necessary rest on Tuesday, May 27, in preparation to the big efforts awaiting the athletes during the last five days of the race.
STAGE 17: On Wednesday, May 28, departure from Salice Terme directed to Asti, for a 130-km. ride. An easy anticipation for the demanding lap ...
STAGE 18: ... which will take the racers from the Vicoforte Sanctuary to Chianale on Thursday, May 29: 175 km. of uphill road including the Esischie pass (20.6 km. with a 7.5 % average gradient), the Sampeyre Pass (16.4 km. at 8%) and the final slope up to Chianale, last obstacle at 4.14% along the last 20 kms. of the lap.
STAGE 19: Nineteenth lap on friday, May 30, from Canelli to the Toce Cascade.The lap is the longest one, 236 km., with a never seen before finishing-line south of and close to the Swiss border. This is the last uphill arrival, over a 18.3 km distance that will make further selection among the already tired racers.
STAGE 20: A last blaze especially made for sprinters on the health trail from Cannobbio to Cantú on Saturday, May 31, in a 122-km. ride through a green and hilly countryside.
STAGE 21: A final high note on Sunday, June 1st, with the lap against the clock from the Idroscalo to Milan, or better from the suburbs to the historical downtown, fighting for 42 km. of ambushes against the clock.
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