By Andrew Hood
It’s going to be a climber’s paradise in the 2006 Giro d’Italia, with a return to such hallowed ground as the fearsome Mortirolo, the Gavia and a final-day showdown with a climbing time trial on the Madonna del Ghisallo.
Giro organizers have delivered an innovative, if somewhat controversial course that blends the best of the Giro’s colorful legacy and the novelty of a split stage on the final day.
The 89th edition of the corsa rosa features 21 stages, five summit finishes, a team time trial and three individual time trials in a battleground already being hailed as the most challenging Giro in a generation.
The race opens with four days across the hills of eastern Belgium, paying homage to Italian coal workers who were killed there in a mining accident after World War II. The peloton will fly to Milan on the first rest day and resume the Giro with stage five with a team time trial at Piacenza. From there, the course pushes south along Italy’s eastern coast before another long transfer via plane from Peschici to Pontedra ahead of the flat time trial in stage 11. The route then plows northward toward the climatic final week, with a detour through Switzerland and Austria before hitting Milan on May 28. As some sprinters have already complained, there aren’t many days well-suited for a mass gallop. At first glance at the route profiles, stages 2 and 3 in Belgium, albeit hilly, could be controlled by the collective interests of the teams to set up a sprint. Stage 6 is the only true flat course while stage 15 and the final into Milan could also likely deliver a mass finish. There’s no lacking of hard climbs, with five summit finishes on tap. Stage 8 sees the first summit finish with a steep run up Passo Lanciano. Stages 13 and 14 hit some hard climbs in the Italian Alps, but conclude with fast descents to the tape, ideal for strong descenders and daring stage-hunters.
Back-to-back summit finishes in stages 16-17 at Monte Bondone (17km at 7.9 percent) and Plan de Corones in the Dolomites (17km at 7.5 percent) are sure to thin the field among the contenders.
Another pair of monster climbing stages in stage 19 and 20 will likely prove the king-maker. Stage 19 takes in three major climbs before the summit finish to Dolomiti Stars while stage 20 has epic written all over it, hitting the Passo di Gavia (the Giro’s highest point) and the feared Mortirolo (12.8km at 10.2 percent) before the short summit run up to Aprica. The unconventional final stage is split into two sectors, with a morning 11km climbing time trial on the Madonna del Ghisallo before an afternoon road stage into Milan.
The 2006 Giro d’Italia by the numbers Starts, May 6 in Seraing, Belgium Ends, May 28 in Milan 21 stages (the final stage is split into two sectors) 3553 total kilometers (about 100km longer than the past two editions) 169km average length of each stage 10 flat stages, four medium mountains, four high mountain stages, three individual time trials, one team time trial 67km of individual time trials, 38km of team time trial Two rest days 2618 meters (the Cima Coppi, highest points of the route, at the Passo Gavia) EURO 1.35 million in prizes (about $1.6 million) Starting teams to be announced March 1 (ProTour teams are guaranteed a starting position, with two or three likely “wild card” invitations) Reactions to the 2006 Giro
Here are various reactions from the top players hitting the Italian wires:Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel), 2002 and 2005 champion
It’s obvious that this Giro is very complicated. It’s different than other editions. It has a lot of mountains and they’re concentrated in the final week. It’s a course for the climbers to shine, especially in the final stages.Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Caffita), 2004 champion
According to the profile, it’s a course that the climbers have to mark the course to follow. There are a lot of mountains and the final is explosive. With the Mortirolo and the Gavia, I like it. I don’t think the final climbing time trial will decide much. It will be in the Dolomites where everything is put into its place.Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas-Bianchi), ProTour champion, fourth overall in 2005
It’s a course I like a lot. I am very motivated after the goals I achieved this season. I need a major stage-race victory and that could be the Giro. I am more of an ‘all-terrain’ rider and my best moment of form always arrives in the final week. I consider myself a candidate for the final podium.Gilberto Simoni (Saunier Duval in 2006): 2001 and 2003 champion
The Giro is my goal every year. I’ve raced a lot of them and I’ve won a couple of them. Next year with be a new adventure for me, but from what I’ve seen, this 2006 edition is very hard. There are a lot of mountains and the beginning is very complicated. For me, the key stage will be the Alto de Bondone (stage 16).
Alessandro Petacchi (Milram in 2006), winner of 19 stages in past three Giros
This Giro is very difficult and I don’t see a lot of chances for the sprinters. The way I see it, there will be maybe five stages tailored for the true sprinters. This Giro isn’t one that I like very much at all. At this point, I might have to consider racing the Tour de France instead.Gianni Savio (director of Colombia-Selle Italia)
This is a great course for climbers like our rider (José) Rujano. It’s a very hard course with a lot of climbing, with the most decisive stages coming packed into the final week. It’s a beautiful Giro like from the old days. We’re hoping for an invitation from the organization to be able to take part in the Giro. Our primary objective of the season will be the Giro.Franco Ballerini (Italian national team coach)
To me, it’s a very demanding Giro, especially in the final week. It’s complicated even in the first week and from what I’ve seen of the final week, I believe that Simoni can win this Giro. Di Luca has grown a lot as a rider and he aspire to finish on the podium. There are not a lot of days tailored to the sprinters, maybe six if you count the final stage into Milan.
Pro group wants grand tours reduced
Just moments before the presentation of the 2006 Giro d’Italia, representatives from the professional cyclist’s union (CPA) called for cycling’s grand tours to shorten their respective races by four days and reduce the kilometers of longer stages.
The petition came as many are calling the three-week grand tours and the newly introduced ProTour too demanding on athletes.
“The grand tours should reduce their races by four days and reduce the length of some stages,” the group said in a statement. “To shorten the grand tours would bring the program inline of racing between 80 to 85 days a season, a reasonable measure compatible with psychological-physical possibilities.”
The Italian cyclist’s association had already protested late last week after news leaked about the planned final split-stage, with riders saying it’s too much to ask so late in the hard-fought three weeks.
The CPA also sent a letter to the UCI to protest unsafe conditions during October’s Giro di Lombardi (also organized by Giro-owner RCS) and also criticized Tour de France organizers for its snub of seven-time champion Lance Armstrong during October’s 2006 Tour presentation ceremony in Paris.