Another day, another stage that sweeps along the coast before heading inland with some climbing to spice up the finish. But each day is subtly different and instead of long drags, Stage 5 includes a short, sharp climb near the end followed by the climb into the unique town of Matera.
These climbs could be just enough to ruin the day for some sprinters… but not all of them. Here’s a preview of the day plus a look at the phenomenon of the thousands of unfinished construction projects, from simple houses to giant bridges, that blight Italy, especially the south.
Yesterday’s Stage: the Stage 4 preview named Battaglin as one of the potential winners but he’s no surprise, he was climbing well on Stage 3 only for a late crash on the descent to stop him from contesting the sprint for second place behind Paolini. Now he got his revenge.
It was symbolic too as the ageing Danilo Di Luca was caught in the final kilometre only for a 23 year-old hope of Italian cycling to win. It suggests teams like Bardiani-CSF can invest in the future, in contrast to Vini Fantini’s policy of hiring ghosts from the past. Talking of the past, Enrico is no direct relation to Giovanni Battaglin, the framebuilder and winner of the 1981 Vuelta and Giro, only a distant cousin it seems.
There was also a moment when Wiggins was delayed by a crash but despite the three kilometre rule, lost time. For more on the three kilometre rule see the piece from February but here’s the rule itself (my emphasis):
2.6.027 In the case of a duly noted fall, puncture or mechanical incident in the last three kilometers of a road race stage, the rider or riders involved shall be credited with the time of the rider or riders in whose company they were riding at the moment of the accident. His or their placing shall be determined by the order in which he or they actually cross the finishing line.
The Route: the race sweeps around the Gulf of Taranto, the arch of Italy’s boot. The early climb of Cipolletto shouldn’t bring a tear to anyone’s eye and then it’s back to the coast where the race passes through Sibari, once Sybaris, the Greek city famed for its hedonism. Tarantino describes someone from Taranto but for most of the day the race has nothing of Hollywood’s Tarantino, instead it promises a long predictable procession with few changes in pace, cutaway climbs or violent descents.
Even the climb to Montescaglioso with 25km to go is linear but it’s here the plot could change. Once upon a time the road snaked up the hill but they’ve built a new road straight up which slices across the old sections of road to make a long ramp that is shorter but significantly steeper. It’s listed at 4km at 6.3% but actually has two kilometres at solid 9%. Vehicles descending the other way get a warning sign for the gradient and how it’s dangerous for trucks.
The Finish: the profile above shows the final 4.5km but this only comes after a climb into the town of Matera. This climb is ok, it’s about 4-5% most of the way which is suitable for an-inform sprinter who is well sheltered on the wheel of others but could see some ejected, especially as they’ll be tired from the previous climb.
The race rides anti-clockwise through Matera, descending to a left turn before the flamme rouge, then another left turn and then it’s slightly uphill to the finish line, although don’t let the profile fool you, it’s almost flat.
The Scenario: Katusha have every interest to defend Paolini’s lead again so a sprint finish is possible but only for those able to sit tight on wheels as the race rushes over the climbs. The climb to Montescaglioso is steep and long enough to cause trouble for the sprinters but not enough for the GC riders to try.
So far we’ve seen Mark Cavendish ejected as soon as the road rises, his red points jersey stylishly matching the commissaire’s red Skoda. Perhaps he’s been pacing himself but we’ll see if the sprinters can fight the gradient as the finish suits them if only they can cope with the climb. Matthew Goss and John Degenkolb could have an edge given the climbing? This is a test for the sprinters, after all the finish is on the via Dante Alighieri so it’s fitting that the winner goes through hell and purgatory before reaching the podium paradise.
Poets aside, I suspect the sprinters will be thinking of tomorrow and the pizza-pan flat finish to Margherita di Savoia. Battaglin could strike again today whilst Radioshack’s Danilo Hondo has been climbing well, the same for Movistar’s Fran Ventoso who got stuck on the final climb yesterday by accident.
TV: if you can’t find it on TV, cyclingfans.com and steephill.tv are the go-to sites. The live feed starts at 3.10pm Euro time, but the action is probably only for the last 45 minutes. The finish is expected around 5.15pm although this only indicative.
Weather: sunshine and showers but with the temperatures picking up, at least to 21°C (70°F) although it’ll drop when it rains. There will be a slight crosswind on the final section between Montescaglioso and Matera where there are exposed roads but it’s not forecast to be strong enough to split up the field.
Word of the Day: incompiuto meaning incomplete or unfinished. The finish town of Matera is famous for its sassi or stones, which are cave-like homes cut into the rock and often fronted with a plastered façade complete with a door and arched window, a modern touch on caves that have apparently been inhabited for 9,000 years. This area had become dilapidated but is being protected and improved as part of a heritage effort. The look is unique and the town was used for the filming of Mel Gibson’s “Passion of Christ” film.
But the sassi are not the only crumbling buildings. The further south you go in Italy you go, the more you find unfinished buildings, empty shells where rusting steel reinforcements poke out from poured concrete. Nature struggles to reclaim these places and you’ll see many incomplete houses along the route, often without a roof, windows or doors but also incompiuto hospitals, schools, bridges and roads.
The film clip from Sicily but it applies to today’s regions of Calabria and Basilicata too where they are especially prevalent too. Why so many unfinished buildings in Italy? There explanations are as inconclusive as the constructions themselves. Maybe the owners ran out of cash or with larger projects that promised subsidy never came through? Sometimes it’s organised crime, the ndrangheta pocketing the contracts and funds for big schemes before the job is done. Or just general lawlessness where people begin building the shell on land reserved for agriculture, knowing the local authorities probably won’t act. Either way these incomplete buildings are a feature of the landscape, some are even landmarks.
In Sicily the town of Giarre has even started a festival to celebrate these barren buildings, celebrating its 20,000 seat polo stadium – nobody plays polo in Italy – and its 49 metre swimming pool, where construction was halted because the regulation 50 metre pool was found to be a metre short. At least the Giro is sure to complete the 203km route today.