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By The Associated Press
Organizers on Saturday unveiled the course of the 2006 Giro d’Italia, the 89th edition of Italy’s most prestigious cycling race, starting in Belgium to pay homage to the victims of a 1956 mine disaster.
The first of the 21-stage grand tour will be a 6.2km individual time test in Seraing.
The second of four Belgian legs will end in Charleroi-Marcinelle, where 136 Italians were among 262 miners who perished following an explosion and fire in a coal mine.
Paolo Savoldelli, this year’s Giro champion, did not attend the unveiling ceremony in Milan but organizers said he was expected to defend his title next year.
Two-time Giro champion Gilberto Simoni and Damiano Cunego, the Giro winner last year, said they were also likely to start in the race, scheduled May 6-28.
Cunego and Simoni, both good climbers, said they liked the second part of the course including tough mountain stages in the Dolomites and western Alps.
”There are some very tough legs. … I hope it doesn’t rain when we have to climb some non-asphalted sections. I’m looking forward to a successful year after an unlucky 2005 because of health problems,” Cunego said.
Mononucleosis hurt Cunego’s chances in this year’s Giro and prevented him from starting in the Tour de France.
Italy’s top sprinter, Alessandro Petacchi, said it looked like a very tough Giro.
”I can see only five good stages for the sprinters and I will have to decide whether to start in the Giro or in the Tour de France,” Petacchi said.
One of Italy’s top cyclists, Ivan Basso, has already said that he will only take part in the French race next year.
Unusually, the 2006 Giro will feature a time trial for teams in the fifth stage and a last stage split into two legs, which has already drawn criticism from the association of professional cyclists.
Organizers said that the plan to have an 11km individual time trial ending at the Ghisallo hill followed by a 116km ride to Milan on the closing day of the race still must be approved by the International cycling Union.
The Giro is starting outside Italy for the eighth time in its history. Others have included Greece in 1996, France in 1998 and the Netherlands in 2002.
2006 Giro d’Italia
Stage 1, May 6: Seraing (Belgium) Individual time trial (6.2km)
Stage 2, May 7: Mons-Charleroi/Marcinelle (Belgium, 203km)
Stage 3, May 8: Perwez – Namur (Belgium, 202km)
Stage 4 , May 9: Wanze – Hotton (Belgium, 182km)
Rest Day – May 10
Stage 5 , May 11: Piacenza – Cremona team time trial (38km)
Stage 6, May 12: Busseto – Forli (223km)
Stage 7, May 13: Cesena – Saltara (230km)
Stage 8, May 14: Civitanova Marche – Maielletta/Passo Lanciano (171km)
Stage 9, May 15: Francavilla al Mare – Termoli (147km)
Stage 10 – May 16: Termoli – Peschici (190km)
Rest Day – May 17
Stage 11, May 18: Pontedera – Pontedera Individual time trial (50km)
Stage 12, May 19: Livorno – Sestri Levante (165km)
Stage 13, May 20: Alessandria – La Thuile, Switzerland (216km)
Stage 14, May 21: Aosta – Domodossola (224km)
Stage 15, May 22: Mergozzo – Brescia (182km)
Stage 16, May 23: Rovato – Trento/Monte Bondone (180km)
Stage 17, May 24: Termeno – Plan de Corones, Austria (158km)
Stage 18, May 25: Sillian – Gemona del Friuli (227km)
Stage 19, May 26: Pordenone – Passo di San Pellegrino (220km)
Stage 20, May 27: Trento – Aprica (212km)
Stage 21, May 28: 1st semi-stage: Canzo – Ghisallo, Individual time trial(11km); 2nd semi-stage: Lecco – Milano (116km)