This year, the Giro strives for triumph of sport over scandal

By Andrew Hood

Photo: Graham Watson

This story appears in the current issue of VeloNewsAFTER A COUPLE of rough-and-tumble years that included doping scandals, challenges from the Vuelta a España and snubs from Tour de France stars, the Giro d’Italia seems poised toreclaim its rightful position as one of cycling’s legendary events.


Following an exciting 2003 edition that saw Gilberto Simoni return todominance over a strong field, the 87th Giro will cover a balanced 20-stage,3435km route that has only three summit finishes during its May 8-30 run,yet contains more climbing than last year’s race (61,000 feet versus 57,000).And with just one individual time trial other than the prologue, this year’sGiro could be a real nail-biter.

Tension has been a mainstay of Italy’s national tour in recent years,but not always for the right reasons. Some of the sport’s stars includingLance Armstrong have skipped the Giro, calling it too demanding given itsproximity to the more important Tour de France. And the Vuelta a Españahas occasionally stolen some of the Giro’s thunder by attracting a moreinternational field.

A string of doping scandals has also caused the once-proud Giro to loseits balance. In 1999, the race was reeling following the controversialejection of race leader Marco Pantani with just two days to go after ablood test found his hematocrit level too high. Two years later, a policeraid on team hotels in San Remo sent some riders scrambling out of hotelwindows and found others in possession of illegal drugs.

The bad news continued in 2002. Race leader Stefano Garzelli was foundwith traces of a masking agent, and Simoni tested positive for cocaine.Both were ejected, and before it was all over, Francesco Casagrande waskicked out for forcing a Colombian rider into the fences after chasingmountain points on a relatively minor Category 3 climb.

In 2003, the Giro desperately needed a good race — and that’s just whatit got. Simoni and Garzelli were both back in top form, dueling for threeweeks to give the race a muchneeded dose of sporting drama. AlessandroPetacchi won an incredible six stages and held the race leader’s magliarosa (pink jersey) for nearly a week as he upstaged Mario Cipollini,who tied and then broke Alfredo Binda’s record of 41 career stage winsbefore dropping out of the race.

As the 2004 edition approached, Pantani’s death in February remainsa reminder of grim days gone by, but so far this year the Giro seems unaffectedby the Cofidis scandal looming over the Tour de France. In the meantime,everyone is ready for what most expect to be a hard-fought battle intothe final week.

SPRINTS, AND THEN MOUNTAINS
The race opens with a 7km prologue in the narrow streets of Genova,a historical city designated as a European City of Culture. Stage 1 shouldgive Petacchi and Cipollini a chance to thrash one another in the bunchsprint. The Giro has never been shy about adding mountains to the mix earlyon, and this year is no exception, with the third stage finishing atopthe Corno alle Scale in the Apennines. The final 3.2km of that 12km climbcomes at a painful 14-percent grade.

The next week pushes south toward the heel of Italy’s “boot,” with somedeceptively difficult stages featuring rollercoaster profiles ideal forbreakaways. Stage 7 to Montevergine Di Mercogliano presents the Giro’ssecond summit finish, finishing with 17.1km at an average grade of 5 percent,while stage 8 at 234km is the Giro’s longest. Stage 9 brings the Giro toItaly’s east coast and the race then pushes north toward the lone timetrial, stage 13 in Trieste, to celebrate control of the city being returnedto Italy 50 years ago following World War II. The course swoops into Croatiafor stage 14, and stage 15 brings the peloton to the base of the Dolomitiand what’s sure to be the decisive final week.

A LEG-CRACKING FINALE
Stage 16 begins four punishing days in the mountains of northern Italy.The course into Falzes hits four rated climbs before a quick plunging finish.The final rest day allows the peloton to gather its nerve for three shortbut very hard days of climbing. The 158km stage 17 hits the long climbup the Passo della Mendola before a final ascent and another downhill finishinto Fondo Sarnonico. The Passo del Tonale, Passo di Gavia (the Cima Coppias the Giro’s highest point at 2618m) and the summit finish to Bormio 2000(9.9km at 7.6 percent) are packed into the 120km 18th stage.The 121km 19th stage tackles the feared Mortirolo (12.8km at 10.2 percent)early on before the Passo del Vivione and the Passo della Presolana, justa few kilometers before a rolling finish. Finally, the survivors will rollinto Milan for the flat 144km finale on May 30.

87th Giro d'Italia: Back in the Pink

87th Giro d’Italia: Back in the Pink

Photo:

PROLOGUE May 8
Prologue ITT 7KM
STAGE 1 May 9
Genoa to Alba 149KM
STAGE 2 May 10
Novi Ligure to Pontremoli 183KM
STAGE 3 May 11
Pontremoli to Corno Alle Scale 190KM
STAGE 4 May 12
Porretta Terme to Civitella in Val Di Chiana 187KM
STAGE 5 May 13
Civitella in Val Di Chiana to Spoleto 174KM
STAGE 6 May 14
Spoleto to Valmontone 163KM
STAGE 7 May 15
Frosinone to Montevergine Di Mercogliano 211KM
STAGE 8 May 16
Giffoni Valle Piana to Policoro 234KM
STAGE 9 May 17
Policoro to Carovigno 142KMMAY 18 REST DAYSTAGE 10 May 19
Porto Sant Elpidio to Ascoli Piceno 145KM
STAGE 11 May 20
Porto Sant Elpidio to Cesena 229KM
STAGE 12 May 21
Cesena to Treviso 216KM
STAGE 13 May 22
Trieste to Altopiano Carsico ITT 52KM
STAGE 14 May 23
Trieste to Pula (Croatia) 166KM
STAGE 15 May 24
Porec (Croatia) to San Vendemiano 229KM
STAGE 16 May 25
San Vendemiano to Falzes 215KMMAY 26 REST DAYSTAGE 17 May 27
Brunico to Fondo Sarnonico 158KM
STAGE 18 May 28
Cles to Bormio 2000 120KM
STAGE 19 May 29
Bormio to Presolana 121KM
STAGE 20 May 30
Clusone to Milan 144KMTOTAL DISTANCE 3435KM

Photo Gallery