There’s no other way to put this one – The PEZ-Crew has always had a different take on things – (that’s how they passed my audition in the first place…), but when I tallied up the number of years we’ve all been following cycling, and then have covered races for PEZ over the last 9 years, I was (and still am) blown away by the fact that together, we’ve got over 51 years of Giro experience under our belts. In my books, this qualifies us for some pretty decent level of “insider” status.
Last week we dialed in Week #1 of the 2012 Giro corsa, which sees the so-called “Fight For Pink” blast off in Denmark, then transfer to the motherland for a TTT, and three days along the Adriatic coast heading south through the Marche region.
Now, here’s the PEZ-look on stages 9 to 15, or as we like to call them… “Week 2”.
Stage 9 May 14, 2012 San Giorgio nel Sannio – Frosinone 171 km
A key part of any “balanced” grand tour is a stage or two for the sprinters – meaning the GC boys can sit in and basically rest up for a day, while the Sprinters’ provide 1000 meters worth of racing action to satisfy the sponsors and television audience. This is one of those days, basically moving the race north form near Napoli to the popular Giro town of Frisinone. Thankfully, in 2012, these stages actually exist, after a 2011 Giro that gave the fastmen a yawning dearth of chances.
Even though Italian weather is pretty great most of the time, it’s still May, and that often means rain…
Ale Sez: I’ve been in Frosinone just once and for a reason. It was 2008 and it was my first day at the Giro. I’d just completed the handover from Pez himself in Rosivindoli, and I was trying to catch a passage of the stage before the big exciting final on the Tivoli hill. It was a warm day and I remember I stopped in Frosinone due to the heavy traffic. It was just after lunch time and from the houses was coming out the radio sound with the live final match of the Italian championship football season. A group of few riders was coming with a couple of minutes gap on the main bunch. The maglia rosa was worn by Visconti and the stage was won by Riccт.
That’s the beauty of Italy, you’re never far from some Roman-era ruins.
Stage 10 May 15, 2012 Civitavecchia – Assisi 187 km
There’s enough bumps along the way to the uphill finish to Assisi to make this an interesting day. The GC boys will likely ride defensively, but a small group could be enticed by the day’s profile to go for stage glory.
The church of St. Francis of Assisi is the big draw here, attracting tour-busses by the … busload.
Pez Sez: Here’s what you don’t know… In 2001 I guided my parents and the then future Mrs. Pez around Italy on a holiday… of sorts. As testament to Mrs. Pez’s loyalty, she decided that even after 3 weeks with my parents she still wanted to be my girlfriend. I took this as a very good sign.
This video gives a pretty good tour of the Rocca, corny voiceover notwithstanding…
On a rainy day trip to Assisi, we decided a lunch of pizza and beer was in order after taking in the famous church. But high above the town is the Rocca – an ancient fort that’s about a half hour hike to reach. It’s open to the public, and my dad and I spent the afternoon exploring the medieval fort, the hilite of which was walking through a vein-like corridor inside the last existing wall, connecting the main fort to a lookout tower. How they built the structure is beyond me, but the inner passageway actually shrunk in height the closer you got to the tower- so while we could stand up at the entrance, we were hunched over at the tower end. For me this was far more interesting than the church, and a must see for anyone
The hike up to the old fortress above Assisi is a must-do, and reveals some stunning views.
Stage 11 May 16, 2012 Assisi – Montecatini Terme 243 km
This is a loooong one – nearly Classic length, but without the desperation for glory that defines the great Classics. This will be a not so lumpy slog, but hilly enough to make for it to tickle. What the stage won’t have in thrilling racing, it’ll more than make up for by being just plain gorgeous. This is the 2012 Giro – it’s beautiful, but the real fun doesn’t start until the final week.
Corey Sez: Assisi is best known for the riches to rags success story of Saint Francis. The splendid cathedral dedicated to him with its frescos from Giotto and Cimabue shouldn’t be missed. However, millions of others also share the same sentiment and flood this small medieval town. It’s best to base your tour from somewhere else. I hereby volunteer a place dear to me: Citta’ della Pieve, a beautiful Umbrian town about 45 minutes due west of Assisi and easily accessible from the A1 autrostrada running between Rome and Florence.
There are a couple of hotels, but a farm-y bed and breakfast thing called agriturismo or even rented apartments are a better way to lodge. Eat at Serenella’s restaurant for rustic, reasonably priced fare. Drink a Sagrantino or perhaps an Orvieto Classico at Saltapicchio Wine Bar. And ask the local police chief, Achille Del Secco (a dedicated cyclist), when the next group ride takes place. They welcome all. But be warned, this nonstop, hill country destroys those that are not fit. Then again, you’ll suffer in the bosom of an incomparably handsome landscape.
Stage 12 May 17, 2012 Seravezza – Sestri Levante 157 km
Pez Sez: The Ligurian coast is one of my favorite regions in all of Italy. After stopping here for a stage finish at the 1994 Giro, I was hooked the region, and have been lucky enough to return a couple times since then, for the Giro TT in 2009, and a family stay in 2010.
The Giro loves this region and visits almost every year. The tough, short (ish) climbs and technical descents are perfect hunting grounds for the daring, the brave and the strong.
This is one stage I’m really looking forward to – it’s a sleeper and a cracker all in one. Stage 11 into Montecatini will be an easy day for the GC boys, and the Stage 13 to Cervere will be the same, plus a great day to recover from a big effort on a stage like #12.
Watch for the action to heat up on this climb that looks back over Levanto.
Hopefully the early-attacking styles set by Schleck & Contador at this year’s Tour to stoke the fires for more wide-open racing ahead. It’s not long at 157km, the first 40km are flat, so we’ve got about a 100km of prime racing territory here.
I’ve done a bunch of rides here on many of the roads this stage will use, and here’s what I can tell you… After knocking out a couple smaller climbs, the race descends into Levanto, will take only about 60 seconds to blasts through town and begin the 10km climb up the other side to Valico Guaitarola. I rode this in 2009 (read about it here) and 2010, and it’s not super steep or long, but is perfect for some hard racing and attacking. Its twists and turns will add some cover to any escape, and if it’s a hot day like my ride in 2009, it’ll be like an oven on the inland climbs.
Here’s the main drag in Levanto, which basically sits as the valley between two climbs.
Over the top are two more climbs before the stage ends – a real steamer of about 10km past a postal address/ hamlet called Carro to the summit at Valico la Mola, followed by a twisty 20km descent almost to the sea before one more jump of about 5km to Villa Tassani, and the 10km drop to home.
This day has all the markings of stage not to be missed.
There’s some nice real estate here – like this cute little starter castle overlooking the sea.
The race runs right through one of my favorite towns too – Levanto – where astute PEZ-fans will recall I drank more than a few negronis at Barolino – hosted by Marco – my favorite barista in all the land.
In fact, here’s Marco pouring a negroni as it should be poured – by a real Italian barista in a real Italian bar:
Stage 13 May 18, 2012 Savona – Cervere 121 km
Pez Sez: Here’s a short day that’s again set up for a bunch finish and a more relaxed pace, giving the group a chance to recover from what I hope was yesterday’s heroic efforts, and tomorrow’s first big summit finish. Although the stage features a climb over the Ligurian coastal mountains, it comes at the front of the stage, and it’s not steep enough, or close enough to the end to cause any excitement. The sprinters’ teams may see their party spoiled by a determined break though.
What You Don’t Know…
Ale Sez: Pesto sauce – The green sauce called ‘pesto’ has born in Liguria on the west Riviera (west of Genova city) where Savona is located. Be careful: you must be very precise when you talk about pesto sauce. The ingredients are very well identified and any deviation is not allowed… well, we will do the best to adhere to the original list.
• Basil: this is the most important. Any true Ligurian will tell you that the correct basil for the pesto is the one cut from the lands running between Genova west (a specific district called Prа) and Savona. That is the right basil, but you can use the one cut from your garden. I have always three or four plants on my balcony ready for the use (in the good season the cut is done every 2 weeks).
• Then prepare the walnuts (three or four are enough)
• Garlic: one or two cloves
• Parmigiano: about 200 g of grated Italian cheese (the “sardo” or the Parmigiano). You can use the fake parmesan one but it’s not the same.
Then prepare the tools – I use a special cutter but you can use a food processor (again a deviation!). You must need a bit of patience but at the end the result is guaranteed.
How to eat the pesto sauce? I love to mix it to the small lasagne I prepare in house but you can use any kind of “pasta”.
Here’s a great idea for Sweet Potato Gnocchi with pesto sauce from our Eat To Compete archives.
Stage 14 May 19, 2012 Cherasco – Cervinia 205 km
Jered Sez: After far too many pretty, but less than decisive days, the Giro hits the final week, and like clockwork, the racing begins in earnest. Stage 14 takes the riders into the far northwestern corner of Italy into the isolated Valle d’Aosta, which dead ends into the tallest mountain in Europe, Mont Blanc.
It’s a two climb day and neither climb is all too terribly brutish. The Col de Joux is 22.4 kilometers long with an average gradient of 5.8% while the finishing climb to the popular ski resort town of Cervinia, which tops out at over 2000m, is quite similar: 27 kilometers at 5.5%.
In short, this shouldn’t be a decisive stage, but coming as it does at the beginning of the final week and after a long drought of big mountains, the GC contenders will be anxious to slam some fists on the table and make a more than likely less than important statement…that is considering the horrors that lie in wait for them just a few days further down the road.
Stage 15 May 20, 2012 Busto Arsizio – Lecco/Pian dei Resinelli 172 km – Jered
Jered Sez: Did I say a few days? Well, I meant one day. Yesterday’s mountaintop finish will still be fresh in the riders’ legs as the Giro takes in a course that could substitute as the Giro di Lombardia later in the year, if only RCS would have included the climb to the Madonna del Ghisallo chapel.
This is a tough one, no questions. Like the 2011 Giro di Lombardia, the stage more or less starts in Milano – in Busto Arsizio, just to the northwest of Milano to be precise. Also like the Giro di Lombardia, the race heads first for the harsh slopes of the Valcava.
After the peevish 11.7k, 8% average climb of the Valcava, two more climbs follow in quick succession: the Forcella di Bura and the Culmine di San Pietro. With three climbs down, the race swoops into the beautiful Lago di Como hugging town of Lecco before heading skyward one more time to Pian dei Resinelli: 7.8 kilometers at 7.8%. It’s nowhere near the length of the climb to Cervinia the day before, but those four climbs in the final 80 kilometers of Stage 15 are really going to bite.
If nothing else (and there is a LOT of else), this should be an extremely well attended stage, with the whole day only a little ways outside of Milano and starting just outside the legendary cycling city of Legnano.
The best part? When you’re done, you can drive the 25 or so kilometers from Lecco to Il Perlo Panorama and spend the night above Bellagio enjoying the sublime views of the wishbone-shaped Lago di Como from Il Perlo’s perfect perch along the climb to the Madonna del Ghisallo.
And with that, we draw our Week #2 preview to a close. As for Week #3 – look for that in the coming days and expect a whole lot of climbing. The final week of the 2012 Giro is going to be heavenly. Well, perhaps not heavenly for the riders, but they’ll certainly get closer to heaven on the massive upward ramping roads of northern Italy.