Thursday 24 May 2012

Giro Donne 2012

Since the sad demise of the Tour de France Feminin (last held in 2009, problems securing sponsors appear to have finished the race off for good) and the Tour de l'Aude Cycliste Féminin (last held 2010, brought to an end for the same reason) the most important race and the only Grand Tour on the women's calendar has been the Giro Donne (though having said that, the Exergy Tour is well on its way to becoming one). There were some fears that the 2011 edition might be the last after one of the big name jersey sponsors failed to pay up as agreed, but organisers have today announced that the race will go ahead and revealed details of the stages.

It's a nine-stage race that takes in some of the most beautiful scenery, most interesting cities and toughest climbs Italy has to offer, and many of the most famous names in the sport of the last quarter of a century have stood on its podium: Rossner, Canins, Fanini, Luperini, Brändli, Pučinskaitė, Žiliūtė, Cooke, Doppmann, Neben, Arndt, Abbot, Pooley and - of course - Vos, who won half the stages and wore the race leader's jersey for all but one day last year.

It looks as though none of the real monster climbs from 2011 (Stelvio, Mortirolo) put in an appearance this year, but it's by no means an easy race. Stages 8 and 9 are likely to be especially challenging, taking place in the mountains of Lombardy. No itineraries or maps have yet been released, but stage towns and distances allow us to make a guess at which route the riders will take each day.

1 29 June: Napoli - Terracina 139 km
2 30 June: Roma - Roma (individual time trial) 8 km
3 1 July: Montecatini - Montecatini 99 km
4 2 July: Vernio - Castiglione dei Pepoli 126 km
5 3 July: Polesella - Molinella 126 km
6 4 July: Modena - Salsomaggiore 124 km
7 5 July: Salice Terme - Castagnole delle Lanze 120 km
8 6 July: Crugnola di Mornago - Lonate Pozzolo 117 km
9 7 July: Sarnico - Bergamo 108 km

Stage 1
As the name suggests, the Cratere degli Astroni was
created by meteorite impacts - there are several craters
It looks as though Stage 1 will follow the roads along the coast, perhaps dipping inland immediately after Naples to visit the Cratere degli Astroni natural park before taking the SP56 and SS7 to the sea and then proceeding via Castel Volturno, Mondragone, Minturno and Formia, then the SS213 through Gaeta, Sperlongo, Rio Claro and on to Terracina - a fairly flat route to begin the race with only a few small hills to stretch the legs.

Stages 2, 3 and 4
Stages 2 and 3 are virtually impossible to predict with any certainty - however, with Montecatini lying just south of the Northen Apennines, it seems that Stage 3 will be the first to take the race into the mountains, but nothing too high. Stage 4 is also difficult as the two towns lie only 11km apart, so the parcours will take a winding route between them; perhaps going south on the SS325 to Prato and Pistoia, then back north. The riders will now be in the heart of the Northern Apennines, so higher mountains and tougher climbs can be expected.

Stage 5
Polesella and Molinella are 40km apart, so it'll be a roundabout route again. Organisers may choose to go east, in which case the race is going to be as flat as the flattest of the Dutch races; making west (SP255, SS496, SP18, SR6 via Stienta) seem a more likely option, though this also is far from hilly.

Spa at Salsomaggiore
Stage 6
The route might first head south on the SP3 to Maranello, then west along the SP467 to Scandiano and perhaps heading south for some climbs in the hills between Scandiano and Basio, otherwise north to Reggio Emilia and west along the SS9 to Parma. The route may pass through Parma, but the ringroad to the south is as likely; then the SS9 continues to Fidenza where the SP359 leads south-west to Salsomaggiore.

Stage 7
The race may pay homage to Milan-San Remo, perhaps using the same roads around Novi Ligure, but north on the SP1 then west along the E71/A20 past Alessandria followed by the E74 and Via Valle Tanaro south to Castagnole delle Lanze is more probable.

Stage 8
Having taken in Milan-San Remo country, the race now moves into terrain familiar from the Giro di Lombardia. The two stage towns lie only 15km apart, so a route around Lakes Maggiore, Como, and Lugano is as good as guaranteed, and a visit to at least one of the famous lakeside cities (Verbania, Lugano, Como) is almost definite. There are several opportunities for climbs along the way, making this parcours the obvious choice for the Queen Stage.

Stage 9
Having begun in Sarnico on the western banks of Lake Iseo (which has the largest lake island in Southern Europe), the race can head either south into the flat lands or north into the mountains. This being a relatively highly-populated area, there are numerous mountain towns and villages connected by a network of roads of varying size - several possible routes total around 108km, making it all but impossible to plot a likely one. A popular choie with fans would be to head thriugh Foresto Sparso on the SP81, then head to Nembro and north into the mountains towards Selvino - a route that would include the Trevasco San Vito section of the SP36 with its twelve hairpins. From Selvino, the SP28 leads via Algua to the SP33, then the SS470 to Zogno and down through Alme to Bergamo. Alternatively, organisers may be planning a decisive climb of Valcava to finish off the race.

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