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REPORT BY FABIO
Our not-about-the-bike-only journey on Giro d'Italia roads goes on, and meets the legend of the Dolomites, from Pordoi to Passo dello Stelvio, "Cima Coppi" of the race. Then, after plenty of hard climbing, we take a small trip into Switzerland but are soon back into Lombard flatlands to contest a sprint in Coppa Agostoni territory, in the outskirts of Milan. And then there is the second, weeeeeeeell-earned rest day.
Stage 11 (Thursday - May 19, 2005)
Marostica to Zoldo Alto/Dolomiti Stars (150 km)
Or the Mountain Man Festival, Part 1. The Reggio Calabria lungomare
, the small hills of Parco dell'Abruzzo, the streets of Florence, the plains around Rossano Veneto … all of them are a thing of the past. This is the stage the "real" Giro gets underway, the first of several (on theory) spectacular rides that are going to determine the final outcome of the event. Just like it happened twelve months before, when Yaroslav Popovych hit the Dolomites with the overall leader's mantle on his shoulders, but came down with all of his overall hopes destroyed, those climbs are likely to become a deciding factor in the race. And if uphill riding is what you need, the parcours is not going to disappoint you today, with the last 60 km. peppered with ascents - and descents, and with the first mountain top finish in the race.
Riders line up for the start at Marostica's Piazza degli Scacchi (see pic above), well-known nationwide (and abroad) for the human chess game, dating back to 1454 AD, played every second Friday, Saturday and Sunday of September of the even years (there's a typical all-medieval tale behind the game, and you can find all the details here and here). But it's just May now, and the Giro d'Italia pawns are here to play a different game. Some of them might play the "early breakaway" game (with few or no chances to succeed though) in the first, relatively flat (in spite of La Rosina climb in the opening kilometres) half. After the downhill into Bassano del Grappa, the Giro steps into the Trentino-Alto Adige region, home to dozens of epic mountain stages throughout the race history, but the route is initially flat or goes steadily but slightly uphill.
There's a lady, the magnificent Lionora, behind the first human chess match
played at Marostica. Women rule the world, don't they?
Picture courtesy Comune di Marostica
At least until the peloton reaches the town of Fiera di Primiero, making its appereance for the umpteenth time in the race history, and meets the first real tough ascent of the day, Passo di Cereda, an 8.4-km. difficulty whose average gradient is no less than 7.8%, with the maximum gradient up to about 15%, although for some 100 metres only. From km. 2 to km. 3.5 of the climb, the gradient is constantly above 11% anyway. And even if there's tons of uphill riding to come, that's where we can start to know if any of the favourites is not going to win the Giro.
And that's just the beginning, ‘cause a few kilometres later, after the descent into Gosaldo takes us back to the Belluno province of Veneto, the peloton hits the second ascent of the stage, the relatively easier (3.6 km. of climbing at an average gradient of 5%, 1299m ASL) Forcella Aurine (some pictures available here). But that's half of the effort only: after the following descent into Agordo (detailed profile in the links below), where some riders previously dropped should make contact with the front group again, there's the third and penultimate uphill thingy of the day, the tough (as the name itself suggests: duro = Italian word for "hard, tough") Passo Duran, a climb of nearly 13 kilometres averaging a gradient of 7.62% according to the Gazzetta website (the difference in altitude is a little less than 1000m), but up to a maximum gradient of about 13.5% in some points, and the highest mountain (1601m ASL) thus far in the race. A climb that really has the potential to break the field (better, what is left of that) apart.
Zoldo as winter wonderland. Hopefully it won't be that white come May 19.
Photo courtesy Zoldo online
After cresting this climb, the peloton can't afford to contemplate the wonderful landscapes (if you can, all you gotta do is click on this link
and this one too
), because they have to go downhill and get to the town of Dont (downhill details in the profile below), eight-and-something kilometres later. But … Dont even think it's over: the fireworks are about to light up the Giro sky again on the 8-km. ascent (the average gradient? 7.3%) to the line, situated at an altitude of 1514m ASL, in a place called Zoldo Alto
, a small town of some 1,200 inhabitants hosting a Giro stage finish - and possibly also hit by the race - for the first time. The "clash of giants" should start - or have its deciding moments - here.
This short but difficult first crucial stage is likely to see the first all-out battle of mountain men and GC threats, and although it provides no certainty of having a solo winner over the line, and the gaps among the top contenders shouldn't be that wide, the mountain goats are supposed to make some significant gains in the overall, and the leaderboard is supposed to get closer to its eventual version; plus, this stage has the potential to put some presumed big guns out of contention so early in the race. And with more mountain monsters looming ahead, today's efforts are more than likely to take their tolls on the legs of more than one ciclista.
Detailed profiles of most of today's ascents (and descents)
Stage 12 (Friday - May 20, 2005)
Alleghe To Rovereto (178 km)
No uphill finish today, but an "easier" leg (some called it a "transition stage"), a warm-up thingy that nevertheless features the difficult Passo San Pellegrino (profile here): a dozen kilometres of climbing (according to the Gazzetta dello Sport at least, a few more according to the Salite.ch website), at an average gradient of 7.85%, with 3 km. steadily above 10%, that lead up to an altitude of 1918m ASL. With the first slopes less than 20 km. into the stage, it comes far too early for having a significant impact on the GC but, as Francesco Moser - who knows this route well - said after the parcours was unveiled, it might have a devastating impact on the hopes for stage victory of many fastmen, although some pundits picked fast guys who can somehow climb well as possible winners. Don't write off a successful breakaway though, or perhaps even a small bunch sprint with the main overall contenders in the front group. Gilberto Simoni gets to his own area of Trentino, but we wouldn't bet on him taking line honors today.
Today's Regional de l'Etape,
Trentino's own Gilberto Simoni,
and his "Aussie" saddle. Courtesy fi'zi:k.
Click for larger image.
Some food for the statistic-addicts: the Belluno province town of Alleghe (where the most popular sport is ice hockey) plays host to a Giro stage start for the second time (the first being in 1975: Alleghe-Stelvio Pass, 186 km. with lots of uphill riding and Spain's Francisco Galdos as winner), while the finish line is no stranger to Rovereto at all: stage winners there were Belgian legend Rik Van Looy in 1959 and future Olympic Champion Pascal Richard of Switzerland just a decade ago.
Stage 13 (Saturday - May 21, 2005)
Mezzocorona to Orisei/St. Ulrich (217 km.)
Or the Mountain Man Festival, Part 2. The first tappone
in the race, and the longest stage of the whole event. The first "queen stage" in a Giro that has actually more "queen stages", but all of them coming on week-ends, to the delight of cycling fans and TV broadcasters alike. If the gaps may have been relatively small in Thursday's four-hill ride into Zoldo Alto, and overall contenders might have saved their legs yesterday, there's no room for anyone to play poker today. All "big guns" have to show who they are and what they can aim for.
It all gets started at "wine town" Mezzocorona, a tiny hamlet in the northern part of the Trento province, making its debut as Giro start town, in the morning hours, and comes to end in the multilingual area of Alto Adige/South Tyrol, where Italian, German and also a minority language named Ladin are spoken. The finish town has got three different names indeed: Ortisei (Italian), Urtijei (Ladin) and, in its German way … Sankt Ulrich. One could joke about organizers picking a place with such a name as (queen) stage finish town as an attempt to bring Jan to the roads of Italy, but we are sure that the T-Mobile superstar, too busy with his build-up for the Tour de France (where he's certainly gonna be a protagonist as always), will not be inside the Corsa Rosa field come May. With so many mountains, and mountain goats of course, rockin' the stage today, only few or no-one should miss him though.
That's what this stage is all about, no? Photographer
Flatlanders may have a easy time for the first 20-25 kilometres, but as the race enters epic rides territory South Tyrol and gets to Ora/Auer (after winding through the streets of Salorno and Egna/Neumarkt), the peloton takes a right-hand turn, and the sprinters torture kicks off, with the ascent into Aldino and Monte San Pietro/Petersberg. With so much uphill riding ahead, the bunch should not ride too hard over there, and even if any teams with decent climbers and no overall ambitions might go for an early attack and some TV exposure (the main suspects are the little big fighters from Colombia and surroundings, often protagonists in similar circumstances. But Selle Italia gotta get that wild-card first …) just the very worst climbers are supposed to lose contact. After the descent into Ponte Nova and Nova Levante (Welschnofen for the German speakers there), things should take a well different turn though. That's where the peloton meets the first "real" difficulty, going under the name of Passo di Costa Lunga (Karerpass). And difficult it is: a 13 km. climb averaging a gradient of 6.71%. (altitude: 1745m).
This is a just an early climb, cresting at some 140 km. from the finish, so most riders should still be inside the Gruppo Maglia Rosa at the top. But if Passo Costalunga didn't split the field enough, then it's the upcoming Passo Pordoi that might took up the task. One of the mythical climbs of the race, where the likes of Fausto Coppi, Gino Bartali, Pantani and … Julio Alberto Pérez Cuapio (in the 2002 edition), just to name a few, have made the history of this event, this 12.1-km. climb (average gradient 6.40%, max. gradient about 10%) sets off at Canazei (winter picture gallery of the town in this page), in the same pure Ladin-speaking territory also hosting a nationwide famous MTB contest around mid-September, the Rampilonga (website), and takes the peloton from 1465m up to an altitude of 2239m ASL, making it one of the highest points in the whole race.
Back into Veneto for nine km., but once into Arabba, with some 100km still left, the sprinters ordeal resume with the next ascent, the short but quite difficult Passo di Campolongo, taking the pack from 1602m to 1875m ASL in the space of just 4 kilometres. Another frequent feature of the Tour of Italy, the climb returns to the race for the first time since the day of the "Pérez Cuapio show" in 2002, when the stage ended at nearby Corvara Val Badia, and the Mexican took line honors while Cadel Evans, then riding with the Mapei outfit, stole the Maglia Rosa from veteran Jens Heppner (you can read the live ticker of the stage here).
Marco Pantani 1970-2004
But as riders make their way back to South Tyrol and reach Corvara, they are still about 90 km. away from today's finish line. And have to continue their (slightly) downhill ride for some 18 more km., traversing the Badia Valley until they get to San Martino/Sankt Martin, then swing westward to the last ascent of the day, Passo delle Erbe. And to the tribute the Giro pays to Italy's number one rider of the past decade, and one of the greatest climbers (if not THE greatest) ever: as we wrote in one of our route introduction reports, in 2004 Giro organizers made the decision to honor the memory of Marco Pantani by giving his name to one of the most difficult race climbs in each edition of the race. And the "Montagna Pantani" of the 88th Giro d'Italia is nothing else but Passo delle Erbe (Würzjoch), one of the many climbs that played host to Pantani's great uphill rides. It's a very, very tough ascent, covering 15.2 km. with an average gradient of about 9%. (see all climb details and profiles in the links below), which can really make the gap and prove fundamental in determining both the stage and - to a lesser extent - final overall classifications.
When at the top of the climb, there's still a good 50 km. or so to the line, and the stage goes on with a few more kilometres of riding up and down (more down than up) the Dolomites on the way to the Eores Pass, followed by a difficult descent - whose details can be found in the profile links below - of more than 16 km. into Bressanone/Brixen, one of South Tyrol's main cities. Then come 16-17 km. of riding on the flats along the Isarco river, but when the peloton see a road sign with the inscription "Ponte Gardena" (and/or Waldbruck), it's time to swing to the east and tackle the last uphill ride, about 14.5-15 km. on the way to Ortisei. There's no real mountain top finish today, but nevertheless the chances of having either a solo winner adding his name to that of Gino Bartali (first across the line the only other time the finish was here, back in 1940) or a sprint of an extremely limited number of great climbers are more than we had in the Zoldo Alto stage.
A "view" of Ortisei and the nearby mountains dating back to the late 19th century,
when it was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Courtesy Comune di Ortisei.
Detailed profiles of most of today's ascents (and descents)
Stage 14 (Sunday - May 22, 2005)
Egna/Neumarkt to Livigno (210 km.)
Or the Mountain Man Festival, Part 3. Were you thinking that, after yesterday's high drama, the peloton was going to get a well-earned break, with the kind of easy ride that always helps them all recover energies? Hmmm ..sorry, but you must not know the Giro too well then. Sure riders will be given all the time for such an easy ride, but only tomorrow, on the plains of Lombardy, as today is the day of the second "queen" stage running. Perhaps a little less "queen-esque" than the climbing festival into Ortisei, but nevertheless featuring the "Cima Coppi" (highest peak) of the race, the legendary Stelvio Pass (2758m ASL), back to the Giro for the first time since 1994, and the tough Passo di Foscagno, which crests at about 15 km from the line. And also a "minor" ascent which comes earlier in the stage.
Egna's nice Coat of Arms. Courtesy Enrosadira.
Egna/Neumarkt, a small town some 15km. to the south of Bozen, is the next addition to the list of "rookies" in the Start Town category. The first 30-35 km. have no major difficulties, but then comes the opening climb from Terlano (248m ASL) up to a bunch of buildings going under the name of Frassineto/Verschneid (1104m ASL) first and Meltina (1140m) later. As you can see in the "climb profile" links at the end of this stage preview, that's a very challenging one, with the potential to break the field apart, or help a breakaway group go clear, although many a good riders getting dropped here will possibly regain the Gruppo Maglia Rosa. Perhaps not in the very next kilometres on undulating roads, but either in the steep descent from Avelengo to South Tyrol's second city Meran, or the next nearly 50 km. of flat/slightly uphill riding, traversing the Venosta Valley (Vinschgau), from Meran (325m ASL) to Spondigna (887m ASL), at the foot of the Stelvio. Then they all leave the National Road 38 behind, on the way to Prato allo Stelvio, where they start tackling Its Climbing Majesty, the Cima Coppi 2005.
Photo Courtesy www.valtline.it
A Belgian website
couldn't have said it better: "The Stelvio is one of the most scenic passes in the Alps with those hairpins, nearly overlapping like a big intestine (nice !). The road seems perfectly surfaced and very wide. The difficulty of the slope is probably corresponding to the beauty of the scenery. It is absolutely a must to try climbing this pass …
". But it's not about the slopes and scenery only. It's about the essence and history of this race and cycling in general. It's about the Tour of Italy lore. 'Cause if the Pordoi is certainly steeped in Giro tradition, the same can be said, and even louder, for the Stelvio Pass (Stilfser Joch)
, that saw Fausto Coppi here
is a pic of the Campionissimo on the slopes of the … future Cima Coppi), Gino Bartali and others Greats write more and more and more epic pages of that endless novel called Giro d'Italia.
The last time the Stelvio was proud part of the parcours, in early June 1994, one of those epic pages was actually written, with Marco Pantani powering his way into cycling history for the first time with his attacks doing big damage to the legs of Miguel Indurain and future Giro winner Eugeni Berzin. All of the above actually happened on other climbs (like the Mortirolo) though, as it was less-known breakaway machine Franco Vona, that soloed across the top of the "Cima Coppi", with the field 04'05" back. Quite a surprise "winner", although not too much of a surprise as the man, who can boast three Giro stage wins in his career, wasn't new to going away solo on steep ascents, and the stage was still in its early part after all. But you can bet we are not going to have a similar surprise winner today.
The first slopes after Prato allo Stelvio are not that difficult, and they can be a kind of warm-up ride before the going gets really tough. "The road is lined with a thick forest and a rushing river roars by the side of the road", the guys at Torelli.com wrote in their fantastic " Stelvio Report" (a must read for anyone wishing to know more about the climb and its legend) after experiencing the route between Prato and Trafoi. In the first half the gradient hovers around 5-6% or even less, but when riders can get to see two switchbacks like these (they are going to meet 46 more, all of them numbered, before they can get to the top) welcoming them into the town of Trafoi, situated in the valley bearing the same name, and the picturesque church, they know that's the sign things are gonna change soon, and not for the better, for their legs.
Hundreds of riders sneaking their way onto the Stelvio unique hairpins
(there's no less than 48 tornanti between Prato allo Stelvio and the summit).
Photo Courtesy www.valtline.it
The next 14 or 15 kilometres leading up to the top are quite tough indeed, with the gradient steadily over 7%, although seldom going above 9% (the maximum gradient is reportedly about 14%). Riders have no time to visit the museum
dedicated to Carlo Donegani, the civil engineer who built this street in the early nineteenth century, neither to stop and pay homage to one of the several Fausto Coppi monuments
you can find on Italian - and French - climbs, as after they crest the summit and leave multilingual Alto Adige/South Tyrol behind, Italian-speaking only (one million two hundred thousands local dialects aside…) Lombardia welcomes them with an endless, difficult descent into Bormio (see profile below).
Once in town (the town hosting the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships from January 28-February 13, 2005) riders swing towards the ski resort of Valdidentro, and start a new uphill adventure on the slopes of Passo di Foscagno, whose summit is at 2,291m ASL. According to the Gazzetta numbers, it's just another challenging thing, covering 15 km. and averaging a gradient of 6.3%. And once at the top of this last climb, there's fifteen more kilometres and the final downhill into Livigno in between riders (at least those not forced out of the event by three days of hard climbing, hard climbing and more hard climbing) and the coveted finish line. That's where we can get to know who's gonna write his name besides the name of a cycling legend for the second straight day: if yesterday it was Gino Bartali, now it's Eddy Merckx, stage winner as the Giro stage finished at Livigno in one of the Cannibal's most successful seasons (Stage 16: Parabiago-Livigno, June 07, 1972).
Detailed profiles of today's ascents (and descents)
Stelvio Webcam: yes, you can even open your "virtual window" and have a look at the present situation at the top of one of Europe highest ascents by clicking here.
Stage 15 (Monday - May 23, 2005)
Livigno to Lissone (207 km.)
Leo Bertagnolli wins Coppa Agostoni 2004. Courtesy Saeco.
Some riding on the flats at last! Yes, no Mountain Man Festival today, but a stage for the sprinters, those with their legs still intact after all the Stelvios and Pordois of the past days at least. Okay, the stage length is once more above 200 km., and there's the Forcola di Livigno ascent (9 km. at an average gradient of 5% accoring to Gazzetta.it, profile here by Salite.ch), taking the bunch, certainly thinned by the Dolomites, into Swiss territory. But it comes in the first 15 km. of the stage, and no major difficulties are reported after that. And when the race steps back into the "homeland" after about 50 km. inside Switzerland (the only "foreign" moment in one of the most domestique editions of the last two-three decades), it will be time for the flatlanders to make the headlines again, either through a winning bunch sprint or a successful breakaway (the former is more likely) into the city of Lissone, situated a few kilometres north of Milan, in the Brianza area home to several top riders and especially former riders (including Gianni Bugno, who is from nearby Monza).
And home to the well-known Coppa Agostoni, one of three races of the so-called "Trittico Lombardo" (Lombard Trilogy), taking place in the northwest of Lombardy in the second half of every month of August. The 2004 edition was won by Leonardo Bertagnolli, former top domestique of Gibo Simoni at Saeco, now to France's own Cofidis team (race report here), while Francesco Casagrande powered to victory twelve months before (Podofdonny's report here) and Laurent Jalabert wrote his name in the winners list back in 2002 (race report)
With so many kilometres in their legs, and several more to come in the difficult and deciding stages of the last week, riders can't help but taking another well-earned rest day. And we take a new break too! See you later for the fourth and final part of our Giro d'Italia 2005 stage-by-stage - and not-about-the-bike-only, guide.