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REPORT BY FABIO
All climb names are listed in green.
The fourth and final part of our not-about-the-bike-only journey goes from the Milan suburb of Lissone to ... downtown Milan. But instead of a few miles only, it covers no less than 743 km., as we first take a ride through the planes of SW Lombardy and the hills of Fausto Coppi area just to end up on the Ligurian coastline. Then, after a last short seaside ride, we step into Piedmontese territory for a tremendous stage up and down the Western Alps, taking the peloton all the way to the French border at Col di Tenda, then challenge the clock into Turin and eventually get back to the mountains for very final, Herculean efforts of the deciding stage into Sestriere, also featuring the Colle delle Finestre mountain monster and its partially unpaved roads.
After all of the above we pay homage to Fabio Casartelli, a decade after his tragic accident on Tour de France descents, in his home town and eventually make it to Milan in order to give sprinters (if there’s any left) a last chance to show off, and especially celebrate the winner of the 88th Giro Ciclistico d’Italia. But here are all stages in details …
Stage 16 (Wednesday - May 25, 2005)
Lissone to Varazze (207 km.)
"So following the rest day the riders have a comparatively easy day to get back into the racing rhythm". That’s what Podfodonny wrote while presenting a stage of the 2003 Tour de France. But such words suit also today’s Giro leg, as the Corsa Rosa resumes with quite an easy ride from the plains around Milan to the Ligurian seaside town of Varazze. Which is not new to the race, as this resort in the Savona province, 25 km. west of Genoa, played host to a Giro stage in 2002, when a successful breakaway made it to the line with Cipollini’s überdomestique Giovanni Lombardi finally getting some personal glory as he took the honors in a small bunch sprint, while Yaroslav Popovych, who was part of the same breakway group, took sixth and German veteran Jens Heppner captured the "Maglia Rosa".
The great Giovanni Lombardi,
latest stage winner at Varazze.
Riders are going to see nothing but flat roads in the first part, while winding through the Lombard provinces of Milan and Pavia, and also as the peloton enters Fausto Coppi’s Alessandria province. But when we get closer to Campionissimo territory, in between Tortona and Novi Ligure, we can finally find some hilly landscapes, with the small hills turning into a real climb as they reach Bric Berton
(length: 13 km., average grade: 3%, elevation: 773m ASL according to Gazzetta dello Sport; profile here
), situated on the border of Piedmont and Liguria, with some 30k to go.
Many in the pack could know this ascent quite well, as it figured in the Milan-San Remo parcours (bearing resemblances to today’s course) more than once in recent editions, after the more famous Turchino Pass was not used due to the effect of mudslides and torrential rain in 2001. This climb could represent an excellent launch pad for anyone wishing to go for some daily glory, the way Giovanni Lombardi, as well as Giuseppe di Grande (stage winner at Varazze in the 1997 edition, when he still was a very promising youngster) did. This hamlet in the north-west of the country can boast another prestigious winner, Francesco Moser, who took line honors when the Corsa Rosa first came to town back in the days in 1976 (stage 14: Il Ciocco-Varazze, 227 km).
Or for anyone wishing to improve his overall position, because even if all main GC contenders are expected to save their legs for the three tremendous stages to come, we’d better not underestimate the impact this stage may have on the GC, in particular after the 2002 showing: the last time the race got to Varazze (when the route was similar to today's only in the closing kilometres anyway) Paolo Savoldelli attacked the chasing bunch in the last part of the stage, and managed to put more than 40 seconds into Hamilton and the others main rivals, a gap that played its part in the Falcon’s eventual GC win. But it’s not about Discovery Channel’s most recent addition only, as one of the twelve brave guys in the aforementioned winning breakaway, who managed to finish close to five minutes clear of the bunch, was Alessio’s Pietro Caucchioli, whose huge stage gains was of fundamental help the man from Veneto in his bid for his only (thus far) Grand Tour podium finish. Complete live ticker of that stage available here.
Back to the Italian coast. But for the last time. Photo Courtesy APT Genoa
Varazze 2002 - A Fan’s View
: By the way, the stage won by Giovanni Lombardi was also of inspiration to our reader and great cycling fan Francesco Grandi from Italy, who watched it live on the spot on that cloudy (and not due to the weather only, but also because of the Stefano Garzelli affair
, that broke out earlier in the morning) Saturday, and wrote a very nice piece about the event, which earned him one of the top prizes in our 2002 Giro Jersey Competition. Please click here
to read Francesco’s article ("A day in Varazze").
Stage 17 (Thursday - May 26, 2005)
Varazze to Limone Piemonte/Colle di Tenda (194 km.)
Or the Mountain Man Festival, Part 4. With this stage, featuring the second uphill finish of the event at Colle di Tenda on the Italian-French border, which makes its Giro d’Italia debut (although it was well-known to Fausto Coppi, who "trained" there … carrying orders from Limone Piemonte to the top of the ascent and vice versa while doing military service during WWII) and comes after a couple more difficult ascents, we get into the "trilogy" of terrible stages - two legs of pure, hard climbing and a "race of the truth" in the middle -, that are going to decide the whole race. If there is some uncertainty as the stage sets off from the Ligurian Riviera today, things won’t be the same two days and 415 kilometres (many of which uphill) later, at the finish line in Sestriere, when we may finally know the name of the winner (barring a catastrophe) of the 88th Giro d’Italia.
But we’d better take one step at a time. And the first steps - er, pedal strokes – are given on the flat roads of the Riviera, taking the peloton to Savona and Lavagnola for the last dozen kilometres of seaside riding in the whole race. Then the road swings inland and gradually climbs up the first difficulty of the day, the neither too short nor too steep Colle di Cadibona (14 km. of climbing at an average gradient of 3.2%, taking the bunch to 436 m ASL, Gazzetta says. Profile in the links below), which is not expected to have a big impact, although efforts there could take some toll on the legs of overall contenders later, as they hit the next, tougher climbs.
The upper town of Mondovi. The one in Piedmont, not Wisconsin.
Courtesy Comune di Mondoví
A breakaway group might form on that first ascent, and perhaps even stay clear throughout the next 100 km. of riding up and the town the undulating roads of the Ligurian (until they reach Tetti di Montezemolo - elevation 711m ASL) inland first and the Piedmontese province of Cunego later, winding through the Vicoforte Sanctuary area that hosted several stage finishes in recent editions. But not this time, as the stage goes on and, after making its way through the streets, broad and narrow, of Mondoví
, Cuneo and (self-appointed) snail-breeding capital Borgo San Dalmazzo, meets the first really tough ascent - not to the delight of any possible breakaway group - at Festiona Sottana (lower Festiona), with about 65 km. to go. That’s where the riders confront the gruelling Madonna del Colletto
, and where it all gets tough for real, because of 6.7 km. of uphill riding at an average gradient of 8,25%..
The steep slopes on the way to the summit (1304m ASL), have the potential to cause some serious splits in the "Gruppo Maglia Rosa", but some riders unable to stay with the best ones might regain the group either on the fast downhill into Valdieri or the 17-km. flat section afterwards, where legs are given a (very) small break before the second big difficulty of the day, Colletto del Moro.
This short (about 4 km.) but damn steep (average gradient 8.9%, max. gradient 21%, more details in the relative profile below) is back to the race after it was first climbed in a early stage of the 2002 Giro (another comeback from the edition won by Savoldelli, il Falco must be very pleased …) when we used the following words to explain how hard it is: "The Colletto del Moro is something new to the Giro, as it was climbed during the 1979 Tour of Piedmont only. As the street gets narrow at the beginning of the ascent (3-meter wide only !) expect a big fight among riders wishing to start the climb in the front of the peloton. But even if they get it, many of them won't keep in the front for long as, after the first 1000 metres at about 4-5%, the slope goes up to almost 15%, and the remaining 2 kilometres will be the first place for the main riders to tell us whether they are serious candidates for the final podium or not. Former Pro and Italian TV commentator Davide Cassani had to climb on 39x25 over there, and I guess the Giro participants, despite being younger and in a (presumably) better shape, will be forced to use at least a 39x23" (one may grasp the difficulty also looking at the altimetry in the relative link at the bottom of the stage preview of course).
All main difficulties are in the Cuneo province today.
Or should we say Cunego province?
Photo Courtesy Lampre-Caffitta
Stefano Garzelli came first across the line
that day (live ticker and results here
), although he was later stripped of that victory as he tested positive
for a banned diuretic (although it might sound a bit ironic now, the stage success was awarded to … Santiago Pérez); and it was a small breakaway group not containing “Garzo” that crested the Colletto del Moro hill first anyway. With the Colletto proving very selective in such an early stage (it was the first really demanding climb in the event), you can figure out what could happen today, after riders put thousands of kilometers and dozens of climbs on their legs.
And also what’s going to happen in the rest of this stage, because their efforts continue, and after a short descent into Robilante and a small section going slightly uphill on the way to Vernante, riders tackle the final ascent to the line (in fact partially climbed also in 2002, but the line was located 6 km. earlier, not at the top), the Colle di Tenda: a 13.5km, 6.1% difficulty taking, (switchback after switchback) the bunch to an altitude of 1795m., just a very little step inside French territory, at the very end of the Italian province of Cuneo. Which, considering the toughness of the parcours and the amount of uphill riding over there, could turn into province of Cunego for one day. It will be up to Damiano’s rivals, from Ivan to Stefano Garzelli to Il Falco and other GC contenders (Gibo and Popo included?) to prevent such name change …
Detailed profiles of today’s ascents (and descents)
Stage 18 (Friday - May 27, 2005)
Chieri to Torino - ITT (31 km.)
The finishing line is getting closer and closer, but the parcours has plenty of difficulties looming ahead for those still in contention. Difficulties like today’s unusual feature: an Individual TT coming sandwiched between two tough mountain stages. The 31-km. journey from Chieri to Piedmont’s main town Turin suits the specialists against the clock, the mighty guys able to push their 53x13 for dozens and dozens of miles, and could help improve the overall situation of the likes of Stefano Garzelli and Joseba Beloki, better TTists than other presumed GC contenders. But not that much perhaps, first as the gaps in late ITTs are usually narrower than in earlier rides of the same kind: at such a stage of the race, factors like current condition and the amount of kilometres raced thus far can prove as decisive as anyone’s own ability against the clock, not to the advantage of "race of the truth" specialists. And also due to the Colle di Superga
climb, coming halfway through the stage, and arguably favouring the Cunegos and Simonis of the bunch rather than the Honchars, Zubeldias and Belokis.
The name of Colle di Superga (length: 7.5 km. Av. Gradient: 4.85%.) and its sanctuary (Basilica) at the top of the hill are well-known in Italian history (details here), although when it comes to sport, and football in particular, they are associated with a tragedy; the tragedy of the “Grande Torino” (“Great Turin”) the local football team, and Italy’s undisputed best squad of the 1940s, when they claimed five national championships. On May the 4th, 1949, the plane taking the team (in fact 18 players, 3 executives, 2 trainers, 3 journalists and an interpreter) back in town after a match played in Portugal hit a wall of the church - reportedly because of a fatal mix of poor weather with low clouds, poor radio aids and an error in navigation - and got completely destroyed, making this one of the worst international football tragedies ever. But it’s a whole different thing today: it’s not about accidents and tragedy, it’s about sport at its best, with a helluva competition (presumably), riders giving it all in order not to lose precious time to their rivals, and thousands, thousands, thousands of fans certainly packing the road up to Superga. In other words, it’s about the pure essence of cycling.
"Il Grande Torino", Turin and Italy’s best football team of the 1940s.
The whole team was victim of a plane accident at Superga in May 1949.
Pic courtesy Panathlon Terni
After cresting the climb, riders embark on a difficult and steep descent into Turin (profile here
), where even Marco Pantani fell during the 1995 edition of the Milan-Turin (a race whose last part strictly resembles today’s parcours), along with his colleagues Secchiari and Dall’Olio, and had a broken tibia and fibula, so riders should be very attentive there. The closing kilometers of this stage are a matter of pure flat riding through the streets - and squares, and turns, and corners - of downtown Turin, but some significant gaps could be made also there.
Stage 19 (Saturday - May 28, 2005)
Savigliano to Sestriere/Olympic Valleys (190 km.)
Or the Mountain Man Festival, Fifth and Final Part. Ladies and Gentleman, here’s THE STAGE! At the end of this 190-km. ride from Savigliano to the ski resort climb of Sestriere we’ll know the name of the winner of the 88th Giro d’Italia (again - barring a catastrophe). But before stamping his authority on the race, Mr. Maglia Rosa Wearer has to put in some Herculean efforts on some 60 km. of pure uphill riding which the stage has in store, and are scattered over the last three ascents of the whole 2005 contest. The roads tilts upward only
thrice today (and twice on the same ascent, Sestriere, to be climbed both halfway through the stage and at the end), but when it does, it’s damn serious about it. As we wrote in our route presentation
, Sestriére is where many of the Turin 2006 Winter Olympic Games
skiing competitions are set to take place. And, needless to say, this stage is the best way to pay tribute (and give exposure) to the event. But if Hermann Maier, Bode Miller and their colleagues will go downhill
come February 2006, the Corsa Rosa crew is going to be involved in some uphill riding instead …
It all begins in the town of Savigliano; the first 40-50 km. - about half of which on Cuneo province soil, then the peloton gets back into provincia di Torino -, are good for the flatlanders, and perhaps some reckless guy might broke away of the field so early. After traversing the villages of Pinerolo and Villar Perosa (hometown of what is often referred to as “Italy's most powerful clan”, the Agnellis, founders and owners of the nation’s biggest manufacturer and car firm FIAT), the road gets slightly but steadily steeper.
The Waldensian Temple at Pinerolo in an early 20th Century postcard.
Although Italy is an overwhelmingly Catholic nation, there’s also a protestant
minority called Valdesi (Waldensians), mainly based on the hills of western
Piedmont. Courtesy Italo Rossi & Comune di Pinerolo. Click for complete gallery
As the peloton reaches Perosa Argentina, at the beginning of the magnificent Valchisone (Chisone Valley), the gradient goes up to 3-4% for a dozen kilometres, but it’s just after Fenestrelle
(elevation 1154m) and its 18th century fortress
that the going gets difficult and the real Sestriere
climb starts, with three km. at more than 7.5%. Then comes a relatively easier section of some 10 km., but the last 8-10 km. are challenging enough, with the gradient hovering around 5-6%. The Gazzetta dello Sport numbers say it‘s a 22-km., 4.3% difficulty, although after looking at the Salite.ch profile at the bottom of the stage preview, one could think the climb length is much more than this.
Once in the tourist resort of Sestriere for the first time, riders start the descent into Cesana Torinese, difficult and steep, although shorter (11.5 km), than the climb they just crested. Then swing north and continue their downhill riding (at a minor gradient now) into Oulx, Salbeltrand, Susa and Meana di Susa, e.g. until about 45k to the line. But also at the foot of the ascent that might determine the outcome of the whole event, the much talked-about (in Italy, in recent days) Colle delle Finestre
, another Giro d’Italia "debutant".
Who’s gonna start the fireworks today? Pic courtesy Sestriere.it.
It’s a tremendous difficulty of 18.5 km., with a difference in elevation of 1694m; and the average gradient around 9.20%, but the maximum gradient going up to 13-14% in the very first part. And in case such numbers and a look at the climb altimetry in the relative link below were not enough to explain how much of a challenge this mountain monster is, we just could add that, as we explained in our route presentation
, part of the ascent is still stranger to the word "asphalt".
Someone said the road will be paved before May, but despite such rumors we think it’s going to stay like this over the next months, thus providing riders and fans with the opportunity of enjoying an incredible hour of epic cycling. As Damiano Cunego pointed out the day the route was unveiled: "We are accustomed to riding on asphalted roads, and rightly so as we are in the 2000s after all, but on that graveled section it would be like getting back to the days of Coppi and Bartali. A very good novelty, that will certainly prove extremely selective". Perhaps he was also influenced by what some of his Lampre-Caffitta teammates, who tested it in the past weeks and were absolutely impressed by its toughness, subsequently told him. And one should take into account the role played by the climatic conditions, that also could be a factor both on the climb and the 10-km. descent afterwards (whose roads are 100% paved anyway).
The climb gets off to a steep start, with just the first kilometre after Susa at a gradient of less than 5%. But then we go up to the maximum gradient section, and soon later to a good 8-9%; from that point to the top of this 33-switchback monster, located in the Orsiera Natural Park, things are not going to change at all, giving riders and their legs no break at all. When at the summit, with still 25k to the line, the girini are not given the opportunity to stop and contemplate the marvelous Alpine landscape either, as they have to tackle the next downhill section, the aforementioned descent into Pourriéres and the "2006 Olympic Town" of Pragelato in the Chisone Valley. And when in town, they have to get ready for the last fireworks of the 88th Tour of Italy, the ascent to the line at Sestriere.
Colle delle Finestre. Courtesy Comune di Fenestrelle. More pics here and here
This second ascent to Sestriere (2034m asl), starting at Pourrieres, is shorter (14.0 km.) than the first, and just a little bit steeper (average grade: 4.5%), but with so many efforts in the legs of the athletes, it could make bigger gaps than the previous one. And write a new page in the saga of epic cycling, which would be added to others written here both in the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France books, although most of them on the other side of the climb.
As for the "Corsa Rosa", Eduardo Chozas was the first stage winner in 1991 (stage 13 of the edition later won by Franco "Little Coppi" Chioccioli), when the leg covered a similar route, starting in the same Savigliano, while fellow Spaniard Miguel Indurain wrote his name in the Sestriere winners list in 1993, and Pascal Richard claimed the same accomplishment twelve months later.
1991: The Giro makes its way to Sestriere,
and Eduardo Chozas enters the history books.
Courtesy Eduardo Chozas website.
As for Le Tour de France, a race with a better Italian record here, Fausto Coppi put in one of his legendary performances in the 1952 stage kicking off on French soil (Bourg d’Oisans), and put more than 7 minutes into the stage runner-up, and 10 minutes into Bartali; Chiappucci took line honors after a very impressive breakaway four decades later, while Bjarne Riis attacked in the shortened (due to snow on other climbs) stage of the 1996 edition and captured the yellow jersey, destroying Eugeni Berzin’s overall hopes. And last but not least, in 1999 a certain US rider came and dropped all of his rivals by his wheel on the way to Sestriere, scoring his first mountain stage victory. The first of an extraordinary string of triumphs that were going to earn that certain US rider something like six straight GC wins in the French race …
Detailed profiles of today’s ascents (and descents)
Stage 20 (Sunday - May 29, 2005)
Albese con Cassano to Milan (121 km.)
Or the closing leg of the 88th Tour of Italy. Usually a ceremonial stage, with the name of the GC winner, and those of the other podium finishers as well as the minor competition champions, well-known since the previous evening. The 2003 leg was the only recent exception to the rule, with the ITT finishing in front of Duomo di Milano
, the city’s Cathedral, but the 2005 edition makes no exception and the stage ends in the traditional urban circuit inside Milan.
Barcelona 1992. Fabio in the brightest moment of his career.
Courtesy GS Albese Cycling Team. More on this rider here.
If the finish town of the stage (and whole race) is known to everyone, the start town is a newcomer to the Tour of Italy. Not a random one though, as the stage commences at Albese con Cassano, a tiny hamlet on the hills between Erba and Como. And also the hometwon of Fabio Casartelli, the 1992 Olympic Road Race Champion, and former teammate of Lance Armstrong at Motorola, victim of a fatal accident on the Portet d’Aspet descent of the Pyrenees during the 1995 Tour de France.
As everyone knows, Armstrong paid a very special hommage to Fabio as he captured a stage a few days later, and pointed his fingers at the sky with the same goal also after most recent Tour de France wins. Many other riders paid similar tributes to the memory of Fabio Casartelli too, and with the tenth anniversary of the tragedy nearing it’s the turn of the Giro to render homage to the little big champion from Albese; and they couldn’t have found a better way than this. Albese town councilor Pietro Masciadri agrees: "We are grateful to RCS, and happy at a choice that shows how much they believe in the work of a group of persons who have been working hard for two years, with the sole goal of paying the best possible tribute to Fabio Casartelli". Mr. Masciadri added that the stage should get underway near the Casartelli monument, behind the local church.
Fabio Casartelli (R) with Lance Armstrong and two more members
of the Motorola staff in 1995. Courtesy GS Albese Cycling Team.
Then the peloton, who might be back in town the very next day for the first post-Giro criterum, assuming its 2005 edition can actually take place, moves southward into Lombardia’s capital, just to wind through the area of the Fiera
(Milan's worldwide famous trade exhibition center) and successively get into downtown Milan, where sprinters able to hold on over all those nasty climbs, from Stelvio and Pordoi to Sestriere and Colle delle Finestre, get a well-deserved prize, the last opportunity to raise their fist in triumph over the line, situated in Corso Venezia for the second time in a row. Italy’s second main city (but home to the Gazzetta dello Sport and RCS HQs, and this factor - someone said along with Rome’s perennial traffic jams, that a final stage there would make even worse - should explain why the race traditionally ends here and not in la capitale
) hosts the Giro finishing line for the 79th time, with Mario Cipollini as top winner (5 triumphs) followed by Alfredo Binda. The Lion King might roar again and improve his record today, although a second seal by Mister Master of the Sprints, Alessandro Petacchi, looks much more likely.
Courtesy Comune di Milano.
But after celebrating the stage winner, and the boys conquering the minor Maglia Sisters (our "Queen of Columns" Tick told us everything about the "four sisters" here. A must read for any true cycling fans!) the crowd applause will be all for the champion of the 88th Giro Ciclistico d’Italia, whoever this guy may be.
After all of the above, it will be time for the traditional "thank you so much and see ya in 2006" thingy. Well, at least in the (hopefully) sunny and hot late spring day when the real Tour of Italy comes to end. ‘Cause while we are writing the last words of this virtual journey through the Peninsula, its roads and seas, plains and mountains, poets, monuments and football teams, and bike legends of the past and present times, it’s just a damn cold evening in late January, with some 100 days to go, and huge temperature gains to be made, before the rosa peloton may line up at "Il più bel chilometro d’Italia" for the prologue …
Hope you enjoyed the trip, and see ya at the (real) startline come Saturday, May 07th, 2005!
That’s the end of the road, folks…
Photo by Fabio. © All Rights Reserved.