Giro d'Italia

Inside Cycling with John Wilcockson: Back to the strada bianche at 2011 Giro

Giro d’Italia race director Angelo Zomegnan says Saturday's 2011 route announcement will pay honor to the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy

Giro d’Italia race director Angelo Zomegnan said Friday that next year’s race (that’s to be announced officially on Saturday) will mark the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy by celebrating the nation’s significant history while featuring special time trials, mountaintop finishes and, most likely, a repeat of the 2010 stage across the infamous white roads of Tuscany.

Not pretty in pink
Vincenzo Nibali was among those who suffered on the strada bianche on Stage 7 of this year's Giro

In mentioning the epic strada bianche stage to Montalcino, Zomegnan said in his video message: “Why not do it again?” In earlier snippets released by the organizers, they said that the highest point of the 2011 race will be the Passo Giau in the Dolomites at 2236 meters (7,336 feet), there would be a 75th anniversary of the 1946 stage to Trieste celebrating the liberation after World War II, and other stages honoring the past 50 years of Italy’s industrial, fashion and design achievements.

These facts run contrary to much of the information put out by the Italian newspaper La Stampa, whose course map published this week made no mention of the white roads or Trieste, and put the Giro’s highest point as the Grossglockner in Austria, which is roughly 1,000 feet higher than the Passo Giau.

Besides suggesting six mountaintop finishes (too many), no stage over the Giau and a plethora of long transfers (again, too many), the “probable” route from La Stampa does not fully honor Zomegnan’s plan to mark the Unification of Italy in 1861 — other than the start town of Turin (the first capital) and a stage start in Quatro (a suburb of Genoa), where Garibaldi’s thousand-strong force (the mille in Italian history) set sail for Sicily to do battle with an insurgent army.

One theory among Italian bloggers is that the 2011 Giro route will roughly trace the journey followed by the mille down the Tyrrhenian coast before sailing to the western tip of Sicily. In this scenario, there would be an early rest day for the sea crossing, followed by two stages on the island and a long itinerary up the length of the peninsula to the mountains of the north.

The route from La Stampa suggests a round-trip ferry crossing of the Messina Straits for just one stage in Sicily, followed by a long highway transfer on a later rest day. The course I’ve been working on for a couple of weeks favors the early rest day, similar to what happened this year when the Giro started in the Netherlands before transferring to Italy.

A course for Basso and Nibali

The 2011 Giro d’Italia looks made for defending champion Ivan Basso and his Liquigas teammate, Vincenzo Nibali, whichever direction the course takes. Nibali, a Sicilian native and nicknamed the Shark of the Straits, has already made a video of the climb to the mountaintop finish on his island — to the Refugio Sapienza, just below the summit of Mount Etna.

To reach that climbing stage on the second Sunday of the race (May 15), the Giro will have completed eight days. La Stampa acknowledged opener has to be a short team time trial at Turin (similar to the one at next year’s Tour de France) followed by three likely stages for sprinters (to Parma, Rapallo and Viareggio or Livorno). This is where the two versions diverge, with La Stampa’s version continuing south for four days, including a summit finish at Montevergine, to reach the toe of Italy’s boot.

Given Zomegnan’s Friday talk, the alternative could be a flat time trial, perhaps 42km from Pisa to Empoli, followed by famous strada bianche stage to Montalcino. From here, it is an easy transfer to the coast and an overnight ferry ride from Civitavecchia to Sicily (the riders would be able to fly from the nearby Rome airport to Palermo).

After a rest day on the island, the next stage would start at the famous battlefield of Catalafimi and follow the direction of Garibaldi’s mille along the northern coast before the Etna stage. Four stages would then take the race north, perhaps with two hilltop finishes, and across to the Adriatic coast before a longish highway transfer to Padua. That would be the start point for the historic stage to Trieste before the Giro heads into the mountains.

It’s possible that stage 14 into Austria will include an uphill finish near the Grossglockner but more likely is a regular finish in the town of Lienz — in view of the brutal stages coming up. Stage 15 has been advertised as including four difficult climbs before the savagely steep finish to Monte Zoncolan, where Basso out-dueled Cadel Evans this year, and the 2011 Giro stage will go up an even steeper side of the climb!

A rest day follows and a short transfer, probably to Belluno, where a 15km uphill time trial to Nevegal that will give the climbers another boost. This precedes another tremendous stage, the one crossing the Passo Giau, immediately followed by the almost-as-high Falzarego before an uphill finish — probably at Corvara in Badia.

It’s possible that two more summit finishes will come on stage 18 to San Pellegrino and stage 19 to Macugnaga before what many regard as the ultimate mountain stage: a 242km epic from the shoes of Lake Maggiore at Verbánia, across the foothills of the Alps to make the dirt-road ascension of the Colle di Finestre before an uphill finish at Sestriere.

All that’s left after that is a transfer to Milan and one more time trial — probably a flat one in the streets of the City of Fashion. If all of this comes to pass in Saturday’s announcement then Zomegnan has once again out-done Tour director Christian Prudhomme in the severity of his grand tour’s route.


May 7 — Stage 1: Venaria Reale to Turin TTT — 22km
May 8 — Stage 2: Alba to Parma — 225km
May 9 — Stage 3: Fidenza to Rapallo — 180km
May 10 — Stage 4: Quarto dei Mille to Viareggio — 200km
May 11 — Stage 5: Pisa to Empoli TT — 43km
May 12 — Stage 6: Florence to Montalcino — 150km
May 13 — Rest day / Transfer to Sicily
May 14 — Stage 7: Catalafimi to Cefalu — 150km
May 15 — Stage 8: Milazzo to Refugio Sapienza (Etna) — 180km
May 16 — Stage — 9: Locri to Camigliatello Silano — 175km
May 17 — Stage 10: Paolo to Ascea — 200km
May 18 — Stage 11: Cava di Tirreni to Termoli — 225km
May 19 — Stage 12: Teramo to Riccione — 225km
May 20 — Stage 13: Padua to Trieste — 210km
May 21 — Stage 14: Udine to Lienz — 175km
May 22 — Stage 15: Lienz to Monte Zoncolan — 210km
May 23 — Rest day/transfer
May 24 — Stage 16: Belluno to Nevegal TT — 15km
May 25 — Stage 17: Vittorio Veneto to Corvara — 210km
May 26 — Stage 18: Bolzano to San Pellegrino — 240km
May 27 — Stage 19: Bergamo to Macugnaga — 200km
May 28 — Stage 20: Verbania to Sestriere (via Finestre) —242km
May 29 — Stage 21: Milan TT — 25km