2013 Giro d’Italia route – the best balanced Grand Tour of recent years?

The parcours for the 96th edition of the Giro d’Italia was unveiled this morning, and if first impressions are anything to go by we will be in for a treat come the start in Naples next May. There is something for everyone on this balanced route, whether it is the specialist climbers or time-trialists among the overall contenders, the puncheurs or even the sprinters, for whom there is just enough to keep them interested.

Race director Michele Acquarone introduced the route, saying:

Our guiding line is that the great champions must be respected, and every champion must be given space to express himself. I think that we’ve put together a very balanced route.

A quiet opening week for the GC men

The initial nine-day stint contains few major obstacles for the maglia rosa contenders, although there are a number of opportunities for pockets of time to be gained or conceded. It is, however, more of a showcase for the sprinters and Classics specialists.

The first stage – ten laps of a circuit around Naples – should yield an early battle for supremacy between the top sprinters. Mark Cavendish has spoken of there being five probable and two other possible sprints in the race: stage three to Marina di Ascia features medium climbs about 65km and 30km from the finish and looks to be a ‘possible’, while stage six is a flat transitional stage and therefore a virtual dead cert to finish in a bunch sprint. In between, the second day sees a 17.4km team time trial on the island of Ischia which will open up some small gaps, but nothing too significant.

Meanwhile a trio of stages – four, five and seven – will favour Classics rouleurs and puncheurs. The first two of these feature late medium climbs followed by a flattish run to the finish – think of them as larger versions of this year’s Road World Championships finish on the Cauberg – while the last features a series of smallish climbs throughout a lumpy stage, the last just over 6km from the line and leading into a downhill-into-flat finish reminiscent of Milan-San Remo. Watch out for world champion Philippe Gilbert and 2012 WorldTour leader Joaquim Rodriguez on these stages.

The 2013 Giro offers plenty of opportunities for one-day specialists such as new world champion Philippe Gilbert – stage four, for instance

Stage eight sees the first true test for the big guns, a 55.5km individual time trial which could easily see some big names losing four or five minutes. It’s a technical course, in parts twisty and hilly, but it will certainly strongly favour the likes of Bradley Wiggins over, say, Rodriguez.

The opening series ends with a medium mountain stage to Florence. With the toughest climbs early in the stage this should not unduly trouble the GC men, although with many weary legs in the peloton this may just be a day for a breakaway to succeed, with the sprinters likely to be parking up in the gruppetto.

Let the climbing commence

There’s no doubt that the jewel in the crown of the middle week is that Sunday’s 15th stage, which crosses into France to finish at the summit of the Col du Galibier. However, the previous day’s test is just as likely to shake the order up, taking in Sestriere en route to the Jatferau climb, a 7.2km stinger with a 9% average gradient.

The race passes briefly into France for the finale of stage 15 – not quite a leisurely Sunday afternoon ride!

Before that, there is potential peril immediately after the rest day too, which will catch out anyone who has not recovered properly. The first proper summit finish at Altopiano del Montasio is no match for Jatferau or the Galibier, but at 11km and 8.1% it is not to be underestimated. Someone will get caught out here and give away a minute or two.

The three days in between should be relatively tranquillo in terms of the GC battle, with stage 11 being yet another punchy climb-into-plateau finish and the following two days likely to end in sprints. And stage 16, the final day before the second rest day, has some significant climbing to tackle early on before a nasty medium summit 16km from the finish. If any stage is going to favour the breakaway artists, it’s this one.

The final showdown

By the start of the final week the top of the GC should be taking shape, but without any decisive gaps between the main contenders, and the last five-day stretch starts with a relatively benign run to Vicenza. It would be a straightforward sprinters’ finish, but the organisers have thrown in a hill 16km from the end to make life interesting. A breakaway, a sprinter or a Classics-style attack? It could be any of the three.

It is on the following three days where the race will be won and lost. Stage 18 sees the second individual time trial, a 19.4km climb containing a vertical gain of 1,008 metres (an average of 5.2%) from Mori to Polsa. There is a big opportunity for time gains here, but not as big as on the next two days.

The first of this pair of decisive stages is only 138km long, but takes in the legendary Passo Gavia (2,618m) and the Stelvio (2,758m) – this year’s Cima Coppi as the highest point of the race – before a finish at the summit of Val Martello (a ‘mere’ 2,051m).

The pain on stage 19 does not end on the Stelvio – there’s more to come

And the penultimate stage 20 takes in five major climbs, the last three in the final 40km and including the Passo Giau before the final summit finish on the Tre Cime (Three Peaks) di Lavaredo.

We can expect the contenders to give everything on a brutal penultimate stage which is likely to decide the race

Whoever is in red at the summit of this climb will succeed Ryder Hesjedal as champion, after completing the formality of the final criterium bunch sprint in Brescia.

The 2012 Tour on steroids?

Without seeing the detail, this looks to be an evenly balanced route which will give the time-trialling all-rounders every chance to compete on a level playing field with the pure climbers. To me it looks like a route perfectly tailored for Alberto Contador, although Bradley Wiggins will fancy his chances too if he can recapture his 2012 form and defending champion Ryder Hesjedal will not be too upset at the parcours either. However, this year’s runner-up Joaquim Rodriguez may find the long time trial too much for him.

Indeed, the balanced nature of the 3,405km course is reminiscent of this year’s Tour de France, but one which has feasted on a diet of steroids first: slightly fewer time trial kilometres and more tricky mountain finishes. This will make it nigh on impossible for one team to control the race with the kind of iron grip Sky exerted in July. We may well see the top contenders keeping their – and their teammates’ – powder dry until as late as stage 14 or 15 before unleashing hell. This could in turn lead to an unexpected face in the maglia rosa during the first two weeks, providing us with the kind of romantic B-plot the best Grand Tours always possess.

Will the race be as good as it looks? That’s for the riders themselves to determine, but it looks like the organisers have certainly given them a suitable battleground to fight on.

2013 Giro d’Italia stages

May 4th: Stage 1 — Naples to Naples, 156km

May 5th: Stage 2 — Iscia to Forio, 17.4km team time trial

May 6th: Stage 3 — Sorrente to Marina di Ascea, 212km

May 7th: Stage 4 — Policastro to Bussentino, 244km

May 8th: Stage 5 — Cosenza to Matera, 199km

May 9th: Stage 6 — Mola di Bari to Margherita di Savoia, 154km

May 10th: Stage 7 — San Salvio to Pescara, 162km

May 11th: Stage 8 — Gabbicce Mare to Saltara, 55.5km individual time trial

May 12th: Stage 9 — San Sepolcro to Florence, 181km

May 13th: Rest day

May 14th: Stage 10 — Cordenons to Altopiano del Montasio, 167km

May 15th: Stage 11 — Tarvisio to Vajont, 184km

May 16th: Stage 12 — Longarone to Treviso, 127km

May 17th: Stage 13 — Busseto to Cherasco, 242km

May 18th: Stage 14 — Cervere to Bardonecchia, 156km

May 19th: Stage 15 — Cesana Torinese to Col du Galibier, 150km

May 20th: Rest day

May 21st: Stage 16 — Valloire to Ivrea, 237km

May 22nd: Stage 17 — Caravaggio to Vicenza, 203km

May 23rd: Stage 18 — Mori to Polsa, 19.4km individual time trial

May 24th: Stage 19 — Val Martello to Martelltal, 138km

May 25th: Stage 20 — Silandro to Tre Cime di Lavaredo, 202km

May 26th: Stage 21 — Riese Pie X to Brescia, 199km

Fan Feature: The Lyme RC Three meet Brad and Cav

The 2012 Tour of Britain might be done and dusted but it was a race that one set of youngsters will never forget! VeloVoices Twitter favourite John Curtis tells us about the day that his son got to meet British cycling heroes, Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish, when the Tour of Britain came to Stoke-on-Trent. (All photographs courtesy of Sue Jones, Lyme RC.)

The lead out

Our cycling club, Lyme Racing Club, was asked by Stoke-on-Trent council to provide a group of youngsters to lead the professional peloton out prior to the start of stage five of the Tour of Britain – a big honour for the 21 youngsters who participated. Three young riders were also selected to make a special presentation to Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish prior to the start: Paige Millward and Sally Birchall, two talented teenagers, and my son, Izaak Curtis.

(l-r) Bradley Wiggins, Paige Millward, Sallie Birchall and Izaak Curtis

Paige Millward and Sallie Birchall are both 15 and have been members of Lyme RC for about six years. Cycling runs in their family, with Sallie following her older brother Sam into the sport. Paige’s uncle is a Masters mountain bike downhiller, who was third in the World Championships a few years ago. She has been invited several times to ride in the Revolution series at the Manchester Velodrome. Both young women have had success on the track . They were recently invited to the selection squad for the GB talent teams and are hoping to pursue a career in cycling.

Sallie Birchall and Paige Millward – the future of women’s cycling

My son Izaak, who is six, is known around the club as The Human Dynamo or Mighty Atom. He loves riding – everything from roller racing to mountain biking, road racing and BMX at the National Cycling Centre indoor track – and says he wants to be a pro cyclist when he grows up. Cav is his idol because he’s a sprinter [good choice – Ed] – and Izaak likes to go fast! His roller exploits are known throughout the club – he regularly comes with me to Watt bike racing and he is up for racing anyone and everyone on the rollers. The rollers are modified so his front forks are fixed and the rear wheel sits on the roller and he spins very quickly, and just goes on and on and on. It’s rather galling to have him shout to me, “Pedal faster, Daddy!”

He’s also involved with dustbin training to help with riding in a peloton. The course is narrow and twisty and his great skill is keeping the same line at speed (yep, he’ll be a sprinter). He rides with teenagers and adults and the pace he sets has many of us struggling to stay close to him – one of the reasons why he was selected with the girls to make the presentation. That and the fact that Sue Jones, who is the membership secretary and involved in getting the council to invited the club, loves him to bits. [As do I! He’s my little darling – Kitty.]

Izaak Curtis – the Human Dynamo and future Champs-Elysees stage winner

The presentation

None of the three knew about the presentation until half an hour before it happened so it was a huge surprise to all of them. Of course, there was a bit of hero-worship going on and they were very excited to meet both riders – but they were too shocked to say much! Although Izaak seemed unfazed by the whole thing, he did clam up a little, which is amazing as he’s a little motor-mouth at home! Brad tried to draw him out by asking,”Aren’t you talking to me?” but Izaak was just a little shy. But everyone was wonderful to them and we have some pictures that sit in pride of place in our house!

“Honest, Brad, he’s never this quiet when he’s at home!”

In one photo with Cav, Izaak is handing him an application form for Lyme RC. Hmmmm, Cav is leaving Sky – is this coincidence or is this the biggest cycling scoop of the year? ‘Cav goes to Lyme RC!’ I wonder if he could follow Izaak through the dustbin training! Both Cav and Brad were polite and charming, as were all the riders that day. All the guys in the peloton took time to sign autographs, pose for pictures and have a chat with the thousands of fans who came out for the stage start. It was a special day for everyone.

Izaak handing Cav an application to his club …

Wiggo was happy to sign autographs for the crowd …

… As was Samu Sanchez

But the riders weren’t the only ones who got attention from the crowd! After the presentation, Paige, Sally and Izaak were interviewed by the local radio and press and even signed autographs for the local schoolchildren. With such bright futures in cycling, anyone who did get an autograph from the Lyme RC Three might want to hang onto it … it might be the first autograph from a future world champion! All three of them would look great in the rainbow jersey …

Paige doing some press

Izaak signing some autographs

Finally, here’s the video recap of a memorable day:

Lyme Racing Club is one of the biggest clubs in the area and is the only go-ride club – as such it has a decent junior membership. Many ride the track or get involved with club runs regularly. We’re lucky to have several dedicated and knowledgeable members who enjoy passing on their knowledge.

Il Lombardia review

Pocket rocket Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) soloed to a historic win in today’s race – the last of the five monuments. He threw caution to the wind in the pouring rain, attacked on the final climb and held on to become the first ever Spaniard to win this race. The points from his victory all but ensured he will take the top spot in the UCI’s year-end WorldTour ranking, replicating his 2010 triumph. Indeed it was an all-Spanish speaking podium with runner-up (again) Samu Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Gran Piemonte winner, Colombian Rigoberto Uran in third.

First Spanish Il Lombardia victor: Joaquim Rodriguez (image courtesy of official race website)

Initial breakaway and several wantaways

The 251km race started out from Bergamo, on the occasion of Felice Gimondi’s 70th birthday, in wet conditions which combined with damp misty fog to cloak much of the race in mystery. A group of 11 riders – Emanuele Sella and Miguel Chavez (both Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela), Alberto Losada (Katusha), Frederico Rocchetti (Utensilnord Named), Tom Jelte Slagter (Rabobank), Romain Bardet and Julien Berard (both AG2R), Christian Salerno (Liquigas), Stefano Locatelli (Colnago), Nicki Sorensen (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) and Steve Morabito (BMC) – formed the early break after around 60km, although they never built too much of an advantage.

The group fell apart and were down to just Bardet, Losado, Salerno and Morabito with 88km remaining. Bardet was the last to be caught having enjoyed [not sure that’s the right word in those weather conditions – Ed] a solo ride over the summit of the feared Muro di Sormano, only to be caught on the Ghisallo. A number of riders unfortunately came to grief on the treacherous descents including former world champion Alessandro Ballan (BMC) and his team leader, current world champion Philippe Gilbert, both of whom climbed off their bikes. Others fell too, including Rodriguez’s wing man Dani Moreno and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), but they remounted and returned to the fray.

Multiple attacks – war of attrition

With everyone back in the rapidly dwindling field, Kevin De Weert (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) attacked, not once but twice and enjoyed a spell out front on his lonesome. He too took a tumble on the descent of the Ghisallo and was caught although he hadn’t been given  much leeway by the Katusha-directed peloton, now down to 30 or so riders, and including all of the main contenders bar Gilbert.

Rui Costa (Movistar) was next to go on the offensive only to be followed by Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) but the latter sat up once the peloton was within sniffing distance, and all too soon they were both back in the pack before the final climb. Now it was the turn of Sky and Lampre to try to control what was left of the field. Defending champion Oliver Zaugg (BMC) was on the shoulder of Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank), the rider many, including Gilbert, had cited as the man to watch after his recent victory in Milano-Torino.

Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM), no doubt keen to give the team’s special edition jersey in the traditional duck egg-blue of Bianchi a bit of a showing was next to try his hand in the company of Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha) and Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel-Euskadi) on the early slopes of the final climb but they were brought back by Giro d’Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp).

Bianchi sweater to commemorate Fausto Coppi’s five victories (image courtesy of Vacansoleil-DCM)

Many thought the final climb might prove too short and insufficiently steep to launch a winning attack. Exactly what happened was literally shrouded in mist but Rodriguez was first off the mountain and rapidly built an unassailable lead, despite the deluge. Or indeed because of it, as the treacherous conditions effectively negated the numerical superiority of his pursuers. The initial chasing group of Uran, his Sky teammate Sergio Henao, Contador and Nairo Quintano (Movistar) swelled as they reached the foot of the descent and although they combined their efforts it just wasn’t enough to bring back Rodriguez. Indeed, Purito had just enough time in hand to celebrate his win by exuberantly throwing his water bottle over his head.

Il Lombardia podium (l-r): Samuel Sanchez, Joaquim Rodriguez, Rigoberto Uran (image courtesy of Euskaltel-Euskadi)

A few bons mots from the victor

After the race, Rodriguez confirmed:

I have to thank Igor Makarov and ITERA for putting me in the best condition to have this perfect season. This is the most important triumph of my whole career.

Today I was feeling in great shape. In fact I made my teammates work during all the crucial moments of the race. When I saw that all my rivals were tired and I felt so great, I realised I had a great chance to win.

The Villa Vergano climb suited me well. I managed to make the difference. To tell the truth I thought that somebody could join me in that attack, but instead nobody could answer and that makes this victory even greater. I think I was one of the favourite riders from the beginning. I was fighting for a double goal: to win this prestigious competition and to take the lead of UCI WorldTour ranking, and I managed to, so I’m really happy.

I think it’s safe to assume that Rodriguez’s increased demands have been met by team management and he’ll stay with Katusha. Indeed, they would be foolish to let him go.

Closing thoughts

Yesterday Gilbert had said that he was fired up by the challenge and thoughts of being in the rainbow jersey. Sadly that enthusiasm was extinguished by a fall in the appalling weather conditions, but I don’t think they were that much worse than 2010 when he last won here.

However, he’d rather tempted fate I feel by claiming that he wasn’t put off by the forecasts of bad weather:

It is very good for me as I am very good in the descents, and I have the best tyres in the market. Continentals will help me tomorrow. [Clearly not! – Ed.] The legs also. But we have a strong team. I still had a good week of training behind me. I think the condition will still be there. We will see in the final.

Crucially, Gilbert admitted that he had no idea what the gruelling Muro di Sormano was like and had instead watched the final two hours of last year’s race yesterday as a form of reconnaissance, relying on the guidance of his team mates for today’s unknown.

By contrast, Contador had done some pre-race reconnaissance on Thursday – and Rodriguez probably did too – which, in the weather conditions, would have been helpful in getting a feel for the major difficulties, in this case the descents rather than the climbs:

Interestingly, there were seven Colombians in the leading group capping off a truly splendid season for them which will see a number, such as the baby-faced Carlos Betancur (Acqua & Sapone), move up to WorldTour teams. They are without a doubt, this year’s must-have.


1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) 6:36:27

2. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +0:09

3. Rigoberto (Sky) same time

4. Mauro Santambrogio (BMC) s/t

5. Sergio Henao (Sky) s/t

6. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) s/t

7. Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) s/t

8. Oliver Zaugg (RadioShack-Nissan) s/t

9. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) s/t

10. Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana) s/t

Links: Preview, Official race website