Even though there's a long way - close to six months - to go before the race kick-off, it's the right time for us to talk of the Giro d'Italia 2006. Why? For no other reason than the fact the route of the opening Grand Tour of the next cycling year, set to run in the month of May as usual, has been officially unveiled at Milan's own Mazda Palace this afternoon.
Riders vying for the coveted Maglia Rosa, and/or going for another precious jersey and/or a top overall finish, will be battling it out from Saturday, May 6th through Sunday, May 28th, over 20 stages (plus a small ITT Prologue) and 3553 kilometres. To call it Giro d'Italia would be a bit of an oversimplification this time, as the first crime scene of the event is located far from Italy: riders will start challenging each other, and the clock, in a comparatively short (6 km.) ITT Prologue through the streets of Belgium's own Seraing town, and stay on Benelux soil for three more days, while the Corsa Rosa will be living up to tradition when it comes to the finish line, once more located in downtown Milan, and for the third straight time situated in the Corso Venezia street.
Our site set up (and works are still in progress!) a special report on next season's first GT, with the complete list of all stages and their difficulties, a first overview of the route, some rider reactions to the presentation, a big historical database with lots of data and tidbits (and the statistic addicts amongst you can also enjoy all lists of all jersey winners thus far) and more numbers.
Straight below you can find a first explanation of the 2006 route, with an overall map, altimetries, and a first route overview. And scrolling down to the bottom of the page you can find all links to all other sections (Climbs, Historical etc.) currently online.
Rest Days: 2
And here's a first overview of the parcours. A more detailed one will come later though, along with more news, interviews, and a bit of Giro history.
As we wrote above, the race is going to get underway in the Walloon area of Belgium, in what is meant to be a tribute to both the European Coal and Steel Community (founded in the early 1950s and later evolved into the European Economic Community, and later on into the current European Union) and the Italian migration to Belgium (some 200,000 people of Italian heritage currently dwell in French-speaking Wallonia). A migration that - just like in several other similar circumstances - was much of help to the host country's economic growth. But was also marred by a tragic event such as the Marcinelle mine disaster, an explosion that claimed more than 260 victims - most of whom were Italian workers - back in the days of August 1956. And certainly the 50th anniversary of the disaster was no stranger to the decision to place the finishing line of stage one (starting at Mons-Charleroi) at the same town of Marcinelle, a suburb of Charleroi.
After paying hommage to the memory of their fallen compatriots, the Italian Giro crew (and the non-Italian one too) will be ready to take on the next leg, which takes the bunch from the Wallon-Brabant province town of Perwez to the region's main city Namur, on a Classic-type route (the fact one of the most famous Classics of the north, the Fleche Wallone, runs in this area is no fluke ...). So it cannot be regarded as as an average "sprinter's stage". Whereas the following effort, a 182-km. hourney from Wanze, in the outskirts of Liege, to Hotton, a town in the Belgian Ardennes famous because of both its caves and a WWII battle, is supposed to be one for the fastest wheels around.
The first rest day comes earlier than usual. But more than a "rest" day we can call it "transfer day", as after four challenges on Belgian soil the Girini make their way back to the Corsa Rosa "homeland" on Wednesday, May 10th. The contest resumes the following day, with the leg going from Piacenza to Cremona. Two northern Italian towns divided by a deep rivalry between their respective football teams (and fans), but linked by the nation's main river, the Po river, whose waters grace both cities. And which riders will be crossing while taking on the Giro 2006 biggest novelty: the 38-km Team TT. Perhaps as an attempt to draw Italy's best Grand Tour prospect Ivan Basso to the startline (but as you sure know the CSC rider is expected to skip this race and focus on the first Grande Boucle of the post-Armstrong era) organizers introduced this kind of challenge against the clock - basically stranger to the Italian Peninsula's cycling lore - in the Corsa Rosa history, for the first time since 1989. Curiously while better-known "TTT-addicted" such as Tour de France organizers made the decision to exclude the event from the World's #1 cycling thing for the first time in so many editions.
On Friday, May 12th we'll be back to individual efforts, courtesy of the 223-km. leg from Busseto (home to Italy's greatest opera composer of all time, 19th century's own Giuseppe Verdi) to Forlě. A flat trip through the Emilia-Romagna region, probably coming down to a bunch sprint, with many a good chances for Alessandro Petacchi to score again after his 2005 triumph in nearby Ravenna. The very next day, as the 2006 Tour of Italy completes its first week, riders get back in the saddle in another nearby place, Cesena, in pure "Marco Pantani territory", for the second longest stage in the race: a southward move of 230 km. on the way to Saltara. According to rumors, Forlí and Cesena should be part of the Giro d'Italia landscape also in the 2007 edition, albeit trading places, with the latter hosting a stage finish, and Forlí stealing the show as start town of the following stage (less than) 24 hours later. Saltara is not new to top-class bike racing either, as it's nothing short of the battlefield that saw Paolo Bettini claim the Italian Pro Road Title back in the days of 2003. Will The Cricket celebrate his comeback to town with a new victory? The parcours might well suit his skills.
Certainly the reigning Olympic Champion is not expected to be a factor on Sunday, May 14th. Ze day of the first real uphill challenge, a 144-km. leg from Civitanova Marche to Manoppello, whose daily parcours encompasses the Blockhaus, a steepy, demanding ascent perhaps unknown to many, but well-known to the Italian (and arguably not just Italian) amateur cycling scene hardline fans, as it yearly hosts the final kilometres of the Casalincontrada-Blockhaus race.
But how comes that such an ascent is not part of the Giro tradition? Maybe we can find an answer in the following words, taken all the way from an English-speaking website: "The eastern side of the climb to the Blockhaus starts from the seaside in Francavilla ending up on the 2150 mt summit less than 50 km away. But it's the southern side, thru Roccamorice, 33 km with an elevation gain of 2000 mt, that earned a real bad reputation when, during an early stage at the '72 Giro d'Italia, Eddy Merckx, the Cannibal, had one of the worst day of his career, ending up humiliated by the featherweight Spaniard grimpeur Fuente that also snatched his pink jersey. That day many celebrated pros didn't make it under the time cut and they were excluded from the race. The Giro never ventured on that route again ...".
Despite of its name, the Blockhaus is not a place lost somewhere in German-speaking South Tyrol, but it's nested in the Maiella mountains of the central Italian region of Abruzzo. Which happens to be the home region of Danilo Di Luca, whose Maglia Rosa ambitions (he repeatedly told that he'll be going for the overall come May 2006) might undergo a first significant test today.
After this first selective day, two easier legs come: stage eight (Francavilla at Mare to the seaside town of Termoli over 147 km.) and nine (Termoli to another Adriatic sea place, the Apulian town of Peschici, over 190 kms. It's the southernomst stage in a Giro not paying proper tribute to the South of Italy this time) should be good for the - presumably many - sprinters left to make further additions to their tallies. Then it will be time for the second rest/transfer day (happening to be Wednesday, May 17th), and for everyone to move to Tuscany and get ready for the second, tougher half of the race.
That will start with a crucial stage: an Individual TT of 50 km., both kicking off and finishing at Pontedera near Pisa, and taking the cumulative distance against the clock up to more than a hundred kilometres. Tuscany hosts such a challenge for the second time running, after the 2005 Florence ITT won by Zabriskie. Will the riding machine from Utah be there and stamp his authority on the race the way he did twelve months earlier? Or shall he save his legs for helping his Italian team leader, as well as go for some well-earned personal glory, at Le Tour? And how about defending champion Paolo Savoldelli giving one more display of his mettle and TTing power?
Everything the mountain goats are supposed to do in Pontedera-land is limit their losses. But the time for those guys to storm into spotlight is about to come. Perhaps not on Friday, May 19, the day of a 165-km stage into the Ligurian seaside town of Sestri Levante, a few miles east of Genoa: that should be another one for the Petacchis (Alessandro is the regional de l'etape as he's from the Liguria city of La Spezia) in this case and McEwens around, though the Passo del Bocco ascent coming not far from the line might help a breakaway with some stage-hunters succeed.
But certainly on the third and penultimate Saturday of racing on Giro roads, as the Corsa Rosa makes it back to the nation's north-western corner, the bilingual (Italian and French, though a Germanish dialect called Walser is also spoken in some remote areas there) mountainland called Valle d'Aosta (Aosta Valley). It's the 216-km. ride from Alessandria - the home province of Fausto Coppi, Costante Girardengo and other Italian cycling legends of the past - to La Thuile, via the undulating roads of Piedmont, and the Colle San Carlo as main difficulty. The Girini cross the border into Switzerland, and later get back to Italy's Piedmont region, the next day, Sunday May 21, while taking on stage 13, from Aosta to Domodossola. Long, but not excessively though climbs are on the menu today.
Perfectly living up to Giro d'Italia traditions, the going gets tougher as we step into the final week. Well, not the very first day of the week as, in a further hommage to tradition, sprinters and/or riders aiming for some daily glory will be given a last-before-Milano chance after taking the start at the Piedmontese lakeside town of Mergozzo and winding through the Lombard flatlands before making it to the (stage) end in Lombardia's second main city Brescia.
But Tuesday, May 23, will be the opening day of the 2006 Mountain Men Festival. Part One (or stage 15 if you prefer) is a 206-km. effort from the Brescia area town of Rovato - where both cycling and rugby are very popular sports, to Trento, with the Monte Bondone, coming not far from the line, as main difficulty. Similarly to the Blockahus, the Bondone has not been a frequent protagonist of the Giro history, but when it had to rock the race, it certainly did, and as a result it can keep memories of epic battles dating back to ancient editions of Italy's Grand Tour. I'm referring in particular to a stage held in early June 1956, in a Dantesque scenario featuring a temperatures going down to 10°C below zero, a snowstorm on the road, and the climb coming as the last of five ascents. And also featuring a showdown by the Luxembourgian Charlie "Ange De La Montagne" Gaul, arguably the best climber of all time, who wrote an epic page in the history books of this race, as well as the book of his own legend, as he dominated the 240-km. ride (which started at Meran) and captured the Maglia Rosa, blowing the field apart while his chief rival Fiorenzo Magni got to the line (with a broken shoulder) more than a dozen minutes behind, and half of the peloton gave up the fight and pulled out of the race. We're not going to see another stage like that (and thankfully so) these days, but still the parcours would make for a helluva battle in the 2006 Giro too.
A first helluva battle, possibly followed by more of the same in stages to come. Maybe on Wednesday, May 24, as gaps can be made and more victims can be claimed by the tough stage sixteen, taking the bunch from Termeno to Plan de Corones over 158 kilometres, while stage 17 (Dobbiaco/Sillian to Gemona del Friuli, with some riding on Austrian roads too) has he potential to make significant gaps also due to the distance (with 227 km. to be covered, it's one of the longest legs of the whole contest). But sure you can expect even more epic cycling on Friday, May 27 & Saturday, May 28. The days of two extraordinary mountain stages. First comes a terrible effort of 220 kilometres, finishing atop the San Pellegrino Pass/Dolomiti Stars after tackling fifficulties like Forcella Staulanza and Fedaia.
And later comes the penultimate day of racing, when we'll be graced with a stellar ride of 212 km. between Trento and the Aprica resort (back to the Giro maps for the umpteeenth time); and in between these two places stands (tall) three little thingies going under the respective names of Gavia, Tonale and notably the mighty Mortirolo. Yes, the Mortirolo. One of Europe's toughest ascents - if not the toughest -, with an average grade of 12.4% that speaks for itself. And no place for the rider legs to take a break. Most if not all cycling fans know well what the Mortirolo is about, and keep memories of the great bikefights we enjoyed each time the race hit this climb located at the border between the Brescia and Sondrio provinces of Lombardy, even if it has happened only six times to date. Fantastic climbers like Marco Pantani (in 1994) and Roberto Heras (half a decade later) made history here, albeit the first time the Mortirolo name was written on the Giro map it was a mountain goat from the Andean hamlet of Santa Cruz de Mora, Venezuela, who stole the show: Leonardo Sierra. Now we have another mountain goat from the same Venezuelan village, a little tiny big climber who rules the hills the same way, or even better. And will José Rujano prove capable of following in his fellow townsman's steps, smoking the field on the Mortirolo - just like Rujano himself did on the western Alps on the penultimate day of the 2005 Giro - and making one last gift to the man who led him to the world-class cycling scene, Selle Italia-Colombia's manager Gianni Savio, before the Venezuelan moves to the ranks of UCI Pro Tour team Quick Step-Innergetic?
We'll get the answer at the end of the stage. But this could be the only thing we're sure of that Saturday, because when it comes to the Giro overall winner's name, unlike most previous seasons we might have to wait until the day afterwards. Sure the race is going to end in a ceremonial stage with a likely massive sprint into Milan (Corso Venezia, as we wrote earlier) as usual, but, well, we'd better call it a "ceremonial half-stage". 'Cause the last day efforts are split in two halves this time, and the Milan parade comes after what might be the decisive event of the whole contest, an 11-km. uphill ITT to the top of the Ghisallo, the "queen mountain" of the Tour of Lombardy, another ascent that wrote many pages in the history books of this sport, will be the third legendary ascent unusually making its appearance in the next Corsa Rosa. Its slopes, whose gradient is constantly up to about 9%, will see the last "clash of giants" between the wannabe Maglia Rosa wearer and anyone still able to put his win in jeopardy. And after the ascent dedicated to the Saint Patroness of Cycling makes this hard Tour of Italy even harder, it will be time for a fastman to seal it all with a superb sprint (or more unlikely a winning breakaway effort) at Milan ... and for us to take pictures at the award ceremony!
But we'd better take one step at a time, so ... see ya at the startline come Saturday, May 6th, 2006.
Giro 2006 Route: All Difficulties
Giro 2006 Route Presentation: Rider Comments
Giro d'Italia - A Bit of History and More Details
Overall Winners: Full List
Points Competition: Palmares
Mountains Competition: Palmares
Stay tuned for more details!