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Giro’09 Preview: Stage 5 Alpe di Siusi
Since this year's Giro d'Italia starts in Venice and finishes in Rome, those famously decisive climbs of the Dolomites occur in the first week. Stage 5 finishes with a 25 kilometer, 6% climb up the Alpe di Siusi. Pez rides it (twice) and enjoys it (once).

A very cool, semi-transparent billboard announces the Alpe di Siusi stage on May 13th.

Conspiracy theorists have suggested that the 100th Giro d'Italia has been crafted to suit a certain rider who has until now preferred yellow jerseys to pink ones. How so? This year's race features lots of time trial kilometers and mountain stages that are easier than usual and aren't concentrated in the final week.

Since the Giro runs from North to South (more or less), those majestic mountains of the Dolomites happen in the first week... except they left off the legendary climbs like the Stelvio or Pordoi or a dozen others that easily come to mind. Instead, the organizers have given us...

Stage 5: 125km from San Martino di Castrozza through Bolzano and finishing atop the Alpe di Siusi. The stage opens with an 8km climb which should be enough for the all-too-predictable break to form. I'll wager it's got someone from a French team, a Continental Italian and maybe a Garmin guy. Then the riders pass through the beautiful Adige valley and will most likely reel in the fugitives on the decisive climb to the finish.

This sign-sculpture proclaims the start of the Art Bike Path from Bolzano to Schlern.

A bike path with appropriate graffiti heads north to Blumau. The PRO's will take the main road below.

What do December 25th and May 1st have in common? Aside from being holidays, they also mark the two times I've ridden up the Alpe di Siusi. The Alto Adige region is blessed with great climbs that are all easily accessible. The Siusi doesn't get a lot of attention, so I pretty much ignored it until the Giro presentation revealed its inclusion for this year.

The 24km climb starts in Blumau or Prato all'Isarco in Italian. The first 7km average about 7%. Note the condition of the pavement in December.

Now May, the lower parts of the climb have all been re-paved. And it's a lot greener (and warmer).

It wasn't a very bright idea tackling the Siusi on Christmas day, even though it was sunny and (relatively) warm. Crappy pavement and patches of ice stood in stark conflict with a funny desire I have to see my children (and not from a hospital bed). I returned today, May 1st. All of the lower parts of the climb have been pleasantly re-paved (the upper parts are roughed up which made for a bumpy descent). I'm assuming that the rest of the road will be finished by May 13th.

Who's up for a detour through Presule? Jered's game, anyone else?

Just about the time one starts to feel that 7% is a bit steeper than it should be, the quaint town of Fie allo Sciliar presents itself and the road pretty much flattens out.

Fie allo Sciliar. Pretty.

The next seven kilometers are a wonderfully easy 2%. The views are beautiful and traffic is sparse. Maybe there's something to be said about traveling un-epic roads.



Just as one starts to think that climbing should hurt a little more, according to The 'No Pain, No Gain' Logic, there's a turn off for the last 10km. Now the hard climbing starts. Everything until now has merely been a long appetizer to warm up the muscles (hope there's plenty left in the tank). The road narrows and the air thickens with floral smells. There's a 4km stretch that averages about 9% with a maximum of 11% (my map claims a 14% stretch).

Now it gets serious.

The best views are in the first few kilometers.

It seems most likely that here is where the fatal attacks will fall. The GC aspirants like Simoni, DiLuca and Cunego will have to put the hurt on and gain time here, 'cause they're gonna lose it on their TT bikes. Even though this is the first week and this climb won't be decisive, I'm betting that the Italians will stick together to hurt the foreign favorites (just ask Mr. Kloeden about this year's Tirreno Adriatico).

Eight more to go.

Here's an interesting thing about this whole climb: despite some tough parts and it's length, there are many moments of respite. The first 7km are hard but constant, the next 7 are a breeze and the last 10km hurt, but could be much worse. The switchbacks are gentle sweeps that let one catch their breath. And every time the road pitches up hard, it eases back after a couple hundred meters. Make no mistake, we're in the Dolomites, but it's not THAT brutal (unless you're traveling at PRO speeds). The road engineer must have been a cyclist.

Nice, sweeping switchbacks are your friends.

Here's another charming thing about being an Un-Epic Dolomite Climb: no eyesore infrastructure. No ugly hotels at the top (there are a few ski chalets though). No souvenir shops. Very little annoyingly, dangerous traffic. However, there are two gravel parking lots that look freshly leveled. Though I'm not sure where the climb officially ends because the road keeps meandering off past small Tyrolean farms.

There are 9 switchbacks in total.

While the road engineer must have been a cyclist, the motives of the Giro organizers have certainly piqued interesting rumors. To celebrate 100 years of racing, almost all of the major cities - Venice, Milan, Turin, Florence, Naples and Rome - are featured. Yet, of all of the legendary climbs available in this region for the centennial, why choose the Alpe di Siusi? I'm not sure, but after riding it (especially in warm, sunny May with freshly paved roads), I can attest to its enjoyable-ness.

This sign indicates that you've made it, but there are 3 more switchbacks to get you a bit higher!

Also, if ridden hard enough (forced by a Liquigas-LPR-Diquigiovanni cartel), some unprepared GC hopeful could lose serious time on the other contenders. Armstrong or Sastre or Menchov down 20 seconds? Very possible. In that case, Stage 5 will have left its mark on the 100th Giro d'Italia. Anyhow, for whatever glory this climb lacks as a Giro stage, it certainly makes up for it as a Pez Top Ride.

Corey Sar Fox lives in Bolzano, Italy. Alarming Fact no.8: oh Davide, why! WHY! [tears on keyboard]


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