The Daily Peloton's coverage of the 2004 Giro d'Italia parcours continues with the second part, going from Stage 8 (Giffoni Valle Piana - Policoro, 234 Km.) to Stage 16 (San Vendemiano - Falzes, 215 Km.).
* Part 1 (Prologue to Stage 7): click here
-------- STAGE 8 --------
Stage 8 is scheduled for Sunday, May 16. After yesterday’s demanding ride from Frosinone up to the Montevergine Sanctuary, the Tour of Italy circus will have to tackle another long stage, the longest one in the 2004 edition, a 234-km. effort kicking off at Giffoni Valle Piana, a Salerno province hamlet well-known (in Italy at least) for its Children's Film Festival, which takes place every summer, and was recently able to "cross the pond" and make its way to the U.S. (fans wishing to know more please click here).
And when the peloton reaches Policoro, a town along the Ionian sea in the Basilicata (Lucania) region, and also its southernmost point of the 2004 edition, the main characters of the “stage eight” movie, good for children and adults alike, will no doubt be the sprinters.
-------- STAGE 9 --------
Stage 9 (Monday, May 17): Right before the first rest day, on to the “heel” of the Italian boot, on to Apulia, the predominantly flat - and often windy - region that gave Mario Cipollini so many satisfactions and wins in the past (but not last year), and could do it again this time, as the leg finishing into the town of Carovigno, 10 km. from the Adriatic Sea in the Brindisi province, suits the fastest guys around. Daily advice to Giro participants: ride fast and be careful with the echelons, or you may lose some precious time!
-------- REST DAY / STAGE 10 --------
Tuesday, May 18 will be rest day. Better, transfer day, as the Giro caravan has to do an auto transfer to the Marche are of Central Italy, through northern Apulia, Molise and Danilo Di Luca’s Abruzzo, skipped by the Giro this time. Marche is the region Italian-American cycling personality Fred Mengoni (co-founder of U.S. Pro Cycling, the first governing body of Pro Cycling in the United States, as well as the talent-seeker who “discovered” the skills of both Greg Lemond and George Hincapie) is originally from, and since 2002 it’s used to host the two-race GP Fred Mengoni in mid-August.
But this time, as soon as the Giro resumes on Wednesday, May 19, Le Marche will be hosting a 145-km. leg set to start in Porto Sant’Elpidio and reach the finish line in nearby Ascoli Piceno at the end of quite a difficult ride, that the peloton could make even harder.
Actually Stage 10 is an undulating course, encompassing the Ripatransone ascent (a km. 4.8 climb that peaks at 494m asl, with an average gradient of 4.3%) and covering roads many Italian riders are not new to, as that’s where the final stages of Tirreno-Adriatico usually take place in the month of March. There’s a solid chance that a successful break may seal the end of the first half of the Giro.
-------- STAGE 11 --------
One of the most unusual features of the 2004 Giro route is the presence of a town hosting two consecutive stage starts: after getting on their bikes in Porto San Elpidio on Tuesday, riders will indeed get back to the same place 24 hours later, this time to head due north towards Cesena. Whereas the previous leg was among the shortest, Stage 11 covers 229 km. and is the second longest one in the 2004 Tour of Italy.
But not the easiest for sure. After a first, flat part alongside the Adriatic coast, the peloton has to tackle a km. 5.3 long ascent (whose average gradient hovers around 5.3%) in the San Marino Republic (the most ancient Republic on the planet; legend says it was founded by a Croatian monk more than 1700 years ago), then ride back into Italian territory, and find more up-and-down roads in the last 40 km., just before the final descent on the way to Cesena.
According to race boss Carmine Castellano, this one bears resemblances to last year’s Apennine Mountain stage from Montecatini to Faenza, where Gilberto Simoni surprised everyone as he launched a successful attack where nobody expected him to. So if you think that’s just a day for the stage hunters and second-string riders to go for some glory, facts might (just might, eh!) prove you wrong.
Stage 11 Altimetry Map is available in this link
-------- STAGE 12 --------
Do not expect any big move from any big gun in the following Stage 12, that covers 216 km. between Cesena and Treviso on Friday, May 21. That’s pure sprinter territory: the route is pan flat, and should provide one of the last chances for the flatlanders to take a victory. And with the Fassa Bortolo firm (and squad) headquartered in the area, Alessandro Petacchi should be ultra-determined to pay tribute to his team and give them a well-earned victory on ”home soil”.
-------- STAGE 13 --------
On Saturday, May 22 the race hits the two-week mark. And the going gets tough at last, with the first (and only) long ITT of the Giro. Stage 13 is a 52-km.ride both starting and finishing in the Northeastern town of Trieste. It’s the 18th time that the coastal city hosts a stage finish, but the first one since 1998.
Same as six years before, Trieste will stage a “race of truth”, an Individual Time Trial where climbers have to stay on the defensive and limit the losses, waiting for their own territory to come in the next days. In 1998 the flat and wide roads of the area helped Alex Zuelle to smoke opposition and score a great stage win, that turned the Swiss into the red hot favorite to take the title, even though the (then) Festina leader was going to bonk over the Dolomites in the following mountain stages.
Some food for statistic collectors (which probably Zuelle wasn’t aware of) now: the last time a stage winner in Trieste became overall winner of the race it was 1923 (Costante Girardengo was the man!). And with such “biased towards climbers” route like this year’s, there’s a solid chance that this “negative string” may continue. Indeed today’s winner (Aitor? Gontchar/Honchar? Any other TT specialist?) will hardly be dressed in rosa in Milan.
The 1998 Time Trial was 40-km. long, while this one is a little longer (being the only ITT, we can’t blame organizers for adding a dozen more kilometres) and with a more undulated (better, less flat) profile. The first half rolls through the “Carsic Plateau” near the Italian-Slovenian border, and hits the towns of Prosecco and Rupingrande.
But after going up and down in the inland, the boys will find back the sea at Sistiana, and ride on the flats in the final part of their challenge against the clock, ending in Piazza Unità d’Italia (Italian Unity Square), the proper name for the end of a stage that also intends to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the city’s comeback to Italy after WWII (Trieste was occupied by American and British forces from 1945 to 1954).
Stage 13 Altimetry Map: Please click here
-------- STAGE 14 --------
The next day (Sunday, May 23) the peloton will say arrivederci to Italy in the morning, and move into foreign territory for the only abroad stage finish of the Giro. Stage 14 covers 166 km. between Trieste and the Istrian hamlet of Pula (Croatia), passing through both Slovenian and Croatian territory. A tribute to young nations that are getting closer to become part of the “European Family”, and somehow also a way to remember poor Dennis Zanette, that won the stage the last time Italy's GT hit Slovenian soil (on May 29, 2001: Zanette, then racing for Liquigas, soloed to victory after breaking away from a small bunch with 5k to go).
The first part is quite undulating, and could help any volunteer wishing to have a go at making a break. But as the stage progresses into Croatian soil, in the Istrian inland, and the road gets flatter on the way to Pula (Pola in Italian language, still spoken in an area that was part of Italy until the end of WWII), just to end in a final circuit around this Adriatic seaside town, making it to the line would be hard for any breakaway group or rider.
Stage 14 Altimetry Map: click here
-------- STAGE 15 --------
Stage 15 (Monday, May 24). The quiet before the storm or, in more cycling-related words, the last chance (time) for many sprinters. The ultimate leg before the Giro hits the Dolomites, and before the going gets really tough, kicks off in another Istrian port of Croatia, the seaside resort of Porec (Parenzo) and, after a second, brief visit to Slovenia, gets back to Italy.
Most of this long (229 km.) ride takes place on the flat roads of Friuli Venezia Giulia, just to finish into the Veneto region, more precisely into San Vendemiano, where Petacchi, Cipo (winner in nearby Conegliano Veneto during his stellar Giro in 2002), McEwen and such could make their mark on the race for the last time. Wanna bet on how many of today’s top finishers will figure in the DNFs list tomorrow ?
-------- STAGE 16 --------
Ladies and gentlemen, here come the mountains! Not that the previous stages were just a party for flatlanders, but what looms ahead in the next four days (the last two in particular) is a kind of torture for any five-percent-gradient-climb-fearing rider wishing to make it to Milan. Let the numbers do the talking: on Stage 16, 18 and 19, riders have to cover a total distance of 143.9 km. over uphill roads, much more than in the rest of the Giro (129.5 km.).
A torture for them, a long-awaited chance to show their skills for others, Stage 16 kicks off in San Vendemiano to land into Falzes (Trentino region) 215 km. and four mountains later. There’s no mountain top finish (only Stage 18 into Bormio 2000 has got an uphill finish) here, but if we let the numbers do the talking again, and have a glance at the following climbs …
Forcella Staulanza (m. 1.773) - km. 12.4 - Gradient: 6.8%
Valparola (m. 2.200) - km. 15.4 - Gradient: 5.8%
Passo Furcia (m. 1.759) - km. 12 - Gradient: 6.2%
Terento (m. 1.252) - km. 7 - Gradient: 7.1%
… we may get to know what to expect on Tuesday, May 25.
The two opening ascents (with another climb not mentioned before, Colle di Santa Lucia, in between), come in the first half of the stage. Furcia Pass peaks with a little more than 50 km. to go, And when riders get to the top of the Terento ascent, they’ll have less than 10k (mostly downhill) to cover in order to get to the line.
There’s a chance that overall contenders may make their form and/or intentions clear right today, but it’s also possible that they save their legs for the next challenges, and let any breakaway containing excellent climbers not going for the overall (maybe a tiny Colombian taken out of contention for victory by a combination of Apulian echelons and Trieste ITT) have his day of glory.
* Stage 16 Altimetry Map can be found in this link
* Forcella Staulanza. Climb Profile: click here
* Profiles of the three other climbs can be found in this link
With a tremendous stage over, and three more to come in the next days, the peloton will certainly be glad to take the second rest day in Belluno on Wednesday, May 26.
And so do we: see you later for the third and final part of the 2004 Giro Route Guide!
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