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The route of the 2009 Giro d'Italia was unveiled in Venice on Saturday and all I can say is what?!?! This is the centenary Giro, remember the centenary Tour back in 2003?, so clearly there has to be some tie-in to the 100 year history of Italy's biggest race, but what the heck? And with Lance Armstrong, Ivan Basso and 2008 Tour Champion Carlos Sastre all scheduled to start, maybe the route is only a secondary concern.
What about the route? Sure it is the customary 2500 miles (4000km) long, but there aren't really any big Dolomite climbs with strategic significance; the hardest climbing day is mostly in France and even though there are a bunch of mountain-top finishes, they just don't have the recognizable names that we have all come to know and love over the past 25-30 years.
That doesn't mean the mountains aren't going to be challenging, it's just that the route doesn't seem to lend itself to any "normal" flow. From the get go, the race is going to be challenging with a 13-mile(20.5km) team time trial on stage 1. Only four days later, Stage 5, the first of three mountain top finishes, the Alpe di Suisi in the Dolomites offers a 5000' climb with the final 6 miles at a very challenging 8%.
The next big test for the riders is a Stage 10 from Cuneo to Pinerolo which includes the Maddelena(Larche), Vars, Izoard, Montegenevre and Sestriere passes on the 150-mile route. This is the queen stage of the Giro and includes 17,000+ feet of climbing. Unfortunately, it is a 33-mile(55km) descent to the finish in Pinerolo so the GC selection may be limited.
A 37-mile(61km) time trial on Stage 12 has some significant climbing and could really break the race wide open. Look for Lance Armstrong to make his move on this stage after hanging with the leaders and conserving on Stage 10.
Stage 17 is only 50 miles in length, but it is all uphill from basically sea level to the 7000' summit of the Blockhaus. This is a pretty darn tough climb and will basically be a time trial between the overall contenders. Here is a photo of the final mile to the top.
A mountain top finish on Stage 19 to the summit of the famous Vesuvius volcano(sorry Pompei) is the final climbing test. The 3300' ascent over 8 miles has the profile to shake up the overall standings.
A final, short, 9-mile(15km) flat time trial in Rome probably isn't long enough for anyone to make a serious move up the standings, but if the gaps are tight, it could provide all the fireworks necessary for a nail-biting finish.
Can Lance win the Giro and become only the second American after Andy Hampsten's 1988 victory? Yes, I don't think there is anything in the route that provides a real danger to any of the Texan's weaknesses. Does he have any weaknesses? Certainly the 37-mile very hilly time trial will be a key stage for Armstrong especially if he can hang with the other contenders on the climbs.
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