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Aru’s Sardinia, Nibali’s Sicily feature in 100th Giro route

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Sardinia for Fabio Aru. Sicily for Vincenzo Nibali.

The 100th edition of the Giro d’Italia will pay homage to the country’s two top riders with a start that will include stages on both of Italy’s largest islands.

Revealed Tuesday in Milan, the May 5-28 race will start with three stages in Sardinia to honor Aru, followed by two legs in Sicily for Nibali.

Aru last year became the first Sardinian to wear the Giro leader’s pink jersey, when he finished second to Alberto Contador, while Nibali, a Sicilian, won in 2013 and 2016.

Aru and Nibali were teammates at Astana the past four years but Nibali recently left to lead the new Bahrain-Merida team, setting up a duel in the Giro.

After crossing the Strait of Messina by boat, the race will climb north through Calabria and Puglia and eventually visit all but four of Italy’s 20 regions.

“To celebrate the 100th edition we have to celebrate all of Italy,” race director Mauro Vegni said.

Next year’s race will also include many of the legendary climbs from the Giro’s history, including a finish at Oropa in the northwest region of Piedmont, where Marco Pantani won in 1999, and two ascents in a single stage of the high-altitude Stelvio Pass, near the Swiss border.

There are two time trials – a 39.2-kilometer (24-mile) route through the Umbrian winemaking region of Sagrantino in Stage 10 and a 28-kilometer (17.4 mile) concluding leg from Monza’s Formula One track to Milan’s cathedral.

With four mountain-top finishes and a total of 67.2 kilometers (42 miles) of time trialing, the route could be more challenging than the recently announced 2017 Tour de France, which has only three mountain-top finishes and 36 kilometers (22 miles) of time trialing

Still, Tour winner Chris Froome, 2014 Giro champion Nairo Quintana and two-time Giro winner Alberto Contador have all indicated they plan to focus on the Tour next year.

But the time trials could attract rising Dutch rider Tom Dumoulin, who is a specialist at racing against the clock.

Here are some aspects of the 2017 race:

VOLCANIC SLOPES:

After a rest day to transfer from Sardinia, Stage 4 on May 9 starts in the coastal town of Cefalu and features the race’s first uphill finish on the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna – where Contador won in 2011.

Stage 10 sets up for sprinters with the finish line in Messina, Nibali’s birthplace, having started in Pedara on the slopes of Etna.

“The finish is really tough, and there’s little vegetation so it can be windy,” Nibali said of the Etna stage. “Getting the pink jersey going into my hometown would be great, but let’s take it step by step.”

Organizers had already announced details of the three stages in Sardinia.

The Giro will set off from the port town of Alghero on an undulating 203-kilometer (126-mile) route along the island’s northern coast to Olbia.

Stage two is a hilly 208-kilometer (129-mile) leg from Olbia to Tortoli, which could also end in a sprint, while the final day in Sardinia is a mainly flat 148 kilometers (92 miles) from Tortoli to Cagliari.

IN VINO VERITAS: For the third consecutive year, the Giro will feature a time trial dedicated to one of Italy’s top winemaking regions.

This year it’s Stage 10 from Foligno to Montefalco through the Umbrian vineyards where the bold, red variety Sagrantino is produced.

Nearly 40 kilometers (25 miles) in length, the undulating stage could have a big impact on the overall standings.

Along the same lines, a 2015 stage from Barbaresco to Barolo celebrated Piedmont’s top wines and a rainy leg this year from Radda to Greve in Chianti traversed the heart of the Tuscan red winemaking region.

HEROES AND LEGENDS

Italian cycling icons Gino Bartali, Ercole Baldini, Fausto Coppi, Marco Pantani and others will be remembered with stages in their honor.

Stage 11 runs through the Appenine Mountains after beginning in Pont a Ema, where Bartali was born – directly in front of the museum dedicated to the 1936, `37 and `46 winner.

The next day’s stage starts in Forli, where 1958 champion Baldini was born.

Stages 13 and 14 are dedicated to five-time winner Fausto Coppi. The 13th leg ends in Tortona, where the “Campionissimo” died in 1960 and the next leg starts in Castellania, where Coppi was born in 1919.

Stage 14 concludes with a climb to Oropa, where Pantani posted one of his more memorable victories in 1999.

DECISIVE DOLOMITES

The race will likely be decided in the Dolomites Range in the final week.

Stage 16 figures to be one of the race’s toughest challenges. The stage begins with an ascent of the steep and narrow Mortirolo then the Stelvio is climbed both from the Italian and Swiss sides before a final descent into Bormio. At an altitude of 2,758 meters (9,050 feet), the Stelvio’s peak will represent the race’s highest point – traditionally known as the “Cima Coppi” (Coppi peak).

Stage 18 could be even tougher. While only 137 kilometers (85 miles) long, the race’s showcase stage will take the peloton over four major mountain passes – Pordoi, Valparola, Gardena and Pinei.

The next day features the fourth summit finish at Piancavallo, while the penultimate leg from Pordenone to Asiago includes a difficult climb to Monte Grappa – the scene of fighting in both world wars.

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After Giro win, Froome quickly changes focus to Tour

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ROME (AP) Now that Chris Froome has wrapped up the Giro d’Italia title, his focus will quickly switch to matching the record with a fifth Tour de France title – unless a doping case gets in the way.

Froome is racing under the cloud of a potential ban after a urine sample he provided at the Spanish Vuelta in September showed a concentration of the asthma drug salbutamol that was twice the permitted level.

Froome maintains he has long struggled with asthma.

“I know I’ve done nothing wrong,” he said after lifting the Giro trophy Sunday .

“Obviously the next challenge for me has got to be the Tour de France,” Froome added. “I’m already thinking about it.”

Still, it remains unclear when the International Cycling Union will rule on the case, which could result in a lengthy ban.

“We’ve been focused on the race here and we’ll look at that in the weeks to come,” Team Sky director Dave Brailsford told The Associated Press.

No rider has achieved the Giro-Tour double since Marco Pantani in 1998.

“I’ve got to celebrate what an amazing victory this was but I’m definitely going to keep things tidy tonight thinking about recovering from this,” Froome said. “I really think it’s possible.”

There are six weeks between the Giro and Tour, so Froome will need to carefully calibrate the balance between rest, recovery and training.

“There’s a difference between physical and mental rest and switching off completely,” Brailsford said. “The trick here is to stay in the same gear but obviously you got to recover and then get fresh enough to be able to go again. Switching off totally and relaxing totally is not the way to do it.”

With one more Tour title, Froome will match the record held by Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain.

Lance Armstrong had won seven Tour titles but was stripped of them all for doping.

With the Tour starting a week later than usual because of the soccer World Cup in Russia, Froome has the luxury of extra time to prepare.

Sky sporting director Nicolas Portal said Froome would likely follow the Giro with one week of rest, then a training camp at altitude followed by high-intensity training.

The Tour runs July 7-29 and Froome plans to inspect some of the course before it starts.

“We’ve got a few more (stages) to do, then obviously we want to work a little bit on the team time trial and we’re probably going to go through the cobbles again,” Brailsford said. “There’s a bit of work to be done.”

Besides the usual mountain stages, this year’s Tour features a team time trial in Stage 3, a 35-kilometer (22-mile) route starting and ending in Cholet in western France.

Stage 9 could also be tricky, with 15 treacherous cobblestone sections: the highest number since the 1980 Tour, with nearly 22 kilometers (13.6 miles) altogether.

“He’s pretty confident about it, actually,” Brailsford said. “He’s happy on the dirt, he’s happy on a mountain bike and I think he’ll be happy on the cobbles.”

 

Froome effectively seals Giro title in penultimate stage

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CERVINIA, Italy (AP) Chris Froome effectively sealed victory in the Giro d’Italia on Saturday by holding his only remaining challenger in check up the final climb of the three-week race.

The four-time Tour de France champion takes a 40-second lead over Tom Dumoulin into Sunday’s mostly ceremonial finish in Rome and is poised to win his third consecutive Grand Tour, matching the achievements of cycling greats Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault.

Dumoulin attacked Froome multiple times on the finishing climb of the 214-kilometer (133-mile) leg from Susa to Cervinia but in five attempts wasn’t able to gain any ground. After Dumoulin’s fifth attack, Froome responded with an acceleration of his own and dropped Dumoulin briefly.

Spanish rider Mikel Nieve of the Mitchelton-Scott team won the stage with a long, solo breakaway to celebrate his 34th birthday.

The concluding stage is a flat 115-kilometer (71-mile) leg of 10 laps around a circuit through the center of Rome.