5 – 27 May 2012. The route was leaked but unlike the Tour de France people were not talking about the Giro as much last week, perhaps because fewer details emerged via the leak and also because RCS, the Giro organisers, had already printed some information the Gazzetta dello Sport, their house journal.
Yesterday saw the route unveiled in a TV-friendly format. There was a tribute to Wouter Weylandt and news that the race number 108 is retired from the competition in memory of the Belgian rider who passed away on the Passo del Bocco.
We had an audience of officials, journalists and riders and, being Italian TV, two models in pink dresses accompanying the ribbon-shaped Trofeo Senza Fine, the “trophy without end”. And to top this a giant mirrorball was lowered on to the stage and Alberto Contador stepped out from the dazzling cage to perform Sylvester’s “You Make me Feel Reel”. Actually, I’m joking… but only about the song as the defending champion did emerge from a mirrorball.
The word used most yesterday was “human”, the idea being that RCS have reset the clock on what I’ve called stage race inflation in the past, the tendency to make each year’s race bigger and better than the last. The clever point is that rather than saying “2012 will be much easier than the last few years”, RCS are making a virtue of the simplified route with fewer giant mountain stages and reduced transfers between stages. Riders have been told they’ll almost always arrive at their hotel by 8.00pm.
As for the route itself, it features more sprint stages. 2011 saw many sprinters leave the race mid-way but this time there’s enough to tempt many to stay on and the final week contains the key mountain stages. Here’s a more detailed summary…
The opening two stages are in Herning, Denmark, the home town of Bjarne Riis. We start with a prologue time trial and then the next two days feature an open road stage for the sprinters. Then comes an early rest day for the transfer to Verona and a pan-flat team time trial in Stage 4. Stage 5 is for sprinters and then Stage 6 features Montelupone, the hilltop town with steep ramps that’s infamous from Tirreno Adriatico. Then it’s all change for Stage 7 and the uphill finish to Rocca di Cambio and then Stage 8 is hilly with another summit finish to Lago Laceno.
The second week looks great, a mixture of hilly stages that allow for a variety of attacking racing that will favour the adventurous, for example Stage 10 to Assisi to Stage 12 to Sestri Levante that uses the stunning coastal roads of the Cinque Terre region with roads that twist so much mechanics might want to re-grease headsets before and after. Stage 14 sees the first ski-station summit finish in Cervinia in the former mountain of Aoste and if the riders need reminding what’s ahead, they’ll spend the night at the foot of the Matterhorn, the peak that thwarted climbers for so long.
The final week has four mountain stages, plus two more stages that borrow valley roads to entice the sprinters into . Stage 15 features the Pian de Resinelli and Stage 17 uses the Passo Giau (“joo”) before finishing at the plush ski resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo. Then 19 and 20 will provide the ultimate showdown with more Alpine climbing in these two days than the entire (leaked) 2012 Tour de France, with 20 using a “new” ascent of the Mortirolo that’s currently unpaved but works are promised. Finally there’s a 31.5km time trial in Milan to settle the result.
A classic route, despite the start in Denmark. The race heads south, borrowing the plains for sprint finishes and the Appenine spine of the country for some uphill finishes. Then it’s off to the Alps for the showdown and if the race is “easier” than past editions, it’s still the Giro with steep mountain passes, narrow roads and stunning scenery.
Current wisdom says the Giro-Tour double is out of reach so many riders are forced to pick one. As a result the Giro could well be an Italo-Italian affaire that suits Basso or Nibali, Scarponi, Garzelli and others. But we’ll see others coming, notably Brajkovic, Fuglsang, Cobo and others who will profit from the climbing and can hold their own in the time trials. Plus I wonder if one of the Schleck brothers will think twice about the Tour de France given its relative lack of vertical metres. In addition Andrea Guardini of the ISD team was at the presentation and I’d expect them to get a wildcard, the same for the Colnago-ISF team for Modolo and Pozzovivo; and Rujano could be back with the Androni-Cipi team.
All the ingredients are there for a great race. Some might want the Zoncolan or some strade bianche but these are delicacies to be enjoyed from time to time and not annual staples. For Europeans right now summer is more of a memory than a prospect but the 2012 Giro gives plenty to look forward to.