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By John Wilcockson
The Italian cycling community is big on traditions, and the Giro d’Italia organizer’s choice to repeat one of the most famous stages in the event’s 100-year history was greeted with enthusiasm when it was announced in the winter.
At 254-kilometer, stage 10 from Cuneo to Pinerolo through the high Alps was identical to the one in 1949, when campionissimo Fausto Coppi destroyed the opposition with a massive 200km-plus solo breakaway that saw him finish almost 12 minutes ahead of the runner-up, his national rival Gino Bartali, and more than 19 minutes ahead of the rest.
That was perhaps Coppi’s most famous demonstration of his all-around skills, conquering five giant climbs with more than 5,000 meters (16,500 feet) of actual climbing and surviving more than nine hours of racing over generally unpaved roads. The roads are smoother and better engineered today, but riding the same course over the Maddalena, Vars, Izoard, Montgenèvre and Sestrière mountains would still have been one of the 2009 Giro’s most grueling and potentially spectacular stages.
But it’s not going to happen. RCS Sport, the Giro promoter, regrettably announced Wednesday that road diversions due to rock falls on the first climb — the same reason a stage of last year’s Tour de France was modified — forced race organizer Angelo Zomegnan to look for alternatives for a stage slated for Tuesday, May 19.
He could have opted to cross the even higher Agnello before the long part of the stage through French territory; but not doing the same course as Coppi and Bartali did 60 years ago, already weakened the original concept. And when RCS found that there would be radio communication problems for the race when it was in France, it decided to create a new stage, with the same start and finish, but entirely within Italy.
The new version of stage 10 is even longer, at 260km, which puts it in the eight-hour time range, an unheard-of concept in modern pro racing. However, the new stage is perhaps better suited to racing in the 21st century.
The opening 75km are almost completely flat, with the race passing through the stage finish town of Pinerolo after only 61km before the riders take a 200km loop through the Alps. There are only three mountains on this gigantic circuit, including the Cat. 1 climbs of Mont Cenis and Sestriere; but instead of a single downhill run from the Sestrière summit to the finish at Pinerolo, the new course adds the Cat. 2 Pramartino only 8km from the finish.
Race organizers like climactic endings, and the Pramartino could certainly supply that at the end of such a long, long day. And if the incomparable Coppi were still around he would no doubt win such a stage, just as he did six decades ago — maybe not by 12 minutes, but at least 12 seconds.