STAGE 5: MAY 17 (Friday) - Fossano/Limone Piemonte (143 km.):
As the race hits Italian soil, it's also time for the first, serious climbs of the race, and for Overall Standings to change a bit ...
The first ascent (Colletto di Rossana, up to an altitude of 617 metres - Km. 6 of climbing and a gap of 392 meters - an average gradient of 6,76%), already clibed in 1999 during Stage 14, is too far from the end to make any selection. But when the race hits Colletto del Moro (up to an altitude of 949 metres; with 3 Km. of climbing, at an average gradient of 11,60% !!!) things get much harder, and the first real selection begins.
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 use a 39x25 gear 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.
In the following descent riders can go very fast, as the street is broad, but it's also possible that anybody dropped on the ascent might bridge the gap.
The climb to Limone Piemonte (on the Col Du Tende) starts with 12 km. to go, and it's 10-km.-long, with an average gradient of about 4%. Riders will get in front of the French border but, instead of expatriating again, they take a right-hand turn up to the stage finish, with a 1000-meter ascent where the most powerful amongst the riders remained at the front could go for the win. Do not expect a great climber to solo in for the first place.
Riders aiming for the GC won't give it
all now, with 15 stages to go and so many mountains to climb.
STAGE 6: MAY 18 (Saturday) - Cuneo/Varazze(181 km.):
After the canals of Groningen, the hills of Belgium, the rivers in France and the
mountains yesterday, the riders will find the sea in Varazze, a resort not far from Genoa, in the Liguria region. Stage 6 could see a successful breakaway getting to the finish, thanks to the selection made on the Sassello and Bric Berton (773 meters) climbs (the latter was climbed also during the 2001 Milan-San Remo, but didn't prove to be that selective) and the descent going down to Albisola Marina, where they will take the MSR road, but in the opposite direction, this time going eastward.
The Giro gets to Varazze for the third time. In 1997 Giuseppe Di Grande (then a Mapei's promising youngster) outsprinted four breakaway companions (Serrano, Shefer, Piepoli and Axel merckx), while 21 years before legendary Francesco Moser powered to the stage victory with a surprise attack in the last metres, anticipating the sprinters.
After such a precedent, should Andrei Tchmil decide not to hang up his bike, this could be the right stage for him. And Liguria is particularly good for his last-km. attacks (just remember the 1999 "Classica di primavera"...)
STAGE 7: MAY 19 (Sunday) - Versilia Circuit (Viareggio/Lido di Camaiore- 159 km.):
After stage 6, a new transfer, this time by car. Riders will go to Versilia, a coastal area in NW Tuscany, whose beaches are usually frequented by Mario Cipollini. But the Versilia Circuit, starting in Viareggio, a town famous
because of his Carnival (Mardi
Gras) parade, doesn't suit to the "Lion
King", nor to any sprinters. Just like in
2001, the first weekend after the beginning of the "pink race" is dedicated to breakaway-guys, like that Gabriele Missaglia who won a very similar stage (ending in Lido di Camaiore) in 1997, ahead of Vatteroni, Mirko Celestino and Podenzana.
Could Celestino take his revenge today?
Today's stage goes from Viareggio to Forte dei Marmi, then to Camaiore, then back to the coastline in Lido di Camaiore, but only after climbing the Pedona (Km.5,8 of climbing - average gradient 4,91%) for three times. And beware the descents, as in 1997 neopro Paolo Bettini, while going downhill to Viareggio, had a flat tire that stopped him from taking his first stage win.
STAGE 8: MAY 20 (Monday) - Capannori/Orvieto (224 km.):
The longest stage will cover 224 km., from the Tuscan town of Capannori to Orvieto in Umbria, the "green
heart" of Italy, crossing one of the most
known Italian cities: Siena. There are no major difficulties, apart from the uphill finish (with a 4-5 % gradient) and the previous descent (gradient going to 15%), whose wide roads make it relatively easy, though.
Another chance for a successful break, or the ideal stage for Alexia's newcomer Paolo Savoldelli, who could show off his downhill skills
and spend energies in this stage, after he clearly stated he won't go for the GC next year.
Orvieto hosted 4 stage finishes in the past, with stage victory going to big names such as Binda (1929), De Vlaeminck (1975) and Contini in 1980, while the 1971 edition saw spaniard Domingo Perurena on the stage podium.