Wow. If your read this blog, you’ll know that we are big fans of the Giro D’Italia. I really never want to get into a big comparison between the Grand Tours, because they all have their aspects that cannot be trumped by one of the others. For the Giro and Vuelta, their respective countries have geography France just doesn’t have. To clarify, France has great geography, but from a planning standpoint, the mountains are primarily in the South and Southeast, so, if you want to avoid insane transfers, the mountains will usually come all at once, and usually only in the last week, making the first week or more, a sprinters game.
The Giro usually hits hard right off the bat, with mountains in the first 3 or 4 days and a big climb before the first rest day. Simply because of geography, the Italian organizers have numerous mountain regions from the Alps, to the Dolomites, to the Apennines to choose from, with each region potentially for differing weeks of the race. Each of these ranges has it’s star climbs as well, which are amongst the hardest in Europe.
In the Western Alps (bordering France in the North West of Italy) it’s the Colle del Sestriere (37.9km, 4.0%, 2075m) and recently, the lesser known Colle delle Finestre (19km, 9.1%, 2178m).
The Southern Limestone Alps (bordering Austria, Slovenia and Switzerland in the North, North East of Italy) have Monte Zoncolan (10.1km, 11.9%, 1750m), Passo Gavia (17.3km, 7.9%, 2621m) and the Plan de Corones TT site.
The Dolomites have the Passo Giau (9.9km, 9.3%, 2236m), Passo Pordoi and Passo Rolle.
Lastly the Apennines, bisecting the peninsula of Italy from North to South have Blockhus (28km, 7.3%, 2142m) and, in southernmost Sicily, Mt. Etna (18km, 7.2%, 1921m).
This year’s race nearly has them all. There is a Finestre-Sestriere double, in the same day, which features Finestre’s 8km of gravel road at the top, and the easiest side of Sestriere. There is the brutal Zoncolan and the Passo Giau, this year’s Cima Coppi. And on the 9th day, there is Mt. Etna to shake things up early on.
The Italians are very fortunate to have such diversity and breadth in mountain ranges, which, quite often, makes for the most challenging and entertaining Grand Tour of the year. 2011 looks to be no different, with an insane 8 mountain top finishes this year. But, we’ll have to see what the always dynamic Vuelta has planned.
The video is from the 2005 Giro D’Italia, which was the first and only time the Colle delle Finestre has been used. This was the final mountain stage and penultimate stage of the race. Gilberto Simoni trailed Paolo Salvodelli by 2:09 and launched a massive attack. This is about half way up the Finestre, and the Simoni group already has about 50 seconds on the pink jersey, and with the final stage being a sprinters stage, the race came down to this day. The Simoni group is just about to enter the sterrato (gravel section) of the race.