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This Saturday the 94th edition of the Giro d’Italia will roll out of Turin signalling the start of twenty-one days of top notch racing through Italy’s beautiful towns and countryside and the much anticipated start of the Grand Tour season.  The 2011 route celebrates 150 years since the unification of Italy.  Starting in Turin, it takes in all 17 Italian states and goes as far south as Sicily before heading north for what will be a brutal final ten days of mountain stages.

The Route.

The 2011 Giro route.

The 2011 Giro has been said by some, to be too hard for those wanting to ride both the Giro and the Tour, but race director Angelo Zomegnan has refuted claims it would be too hard, saying instead that it provides the challenge that the sport and spectators demand from the Giro.

The 2011 Giro profile, rather them than me!

Lava crosses the road in Mt. Etna's 2002 eruption. Let's hope Contador et al aren't having to scoot round this, might get a little warm...

Hard it certainly will be, this years race includes of four flat stages, fourteen mountain stages, three time trials, no less than eight mountain top finishes and twenty-one categorised climbs some of which, like Mount Etna, will be climbed twice (just for good measure!).  The riders will cover a staggering 3525km, the most since 2006 and they’ll do 45km of individual TT’ing and 21.5km of Team TT’ing.

The route has been carefully designed so that every stage has significance.  The first stage is an individual time trial from Turin – Turin was the first capital of Italy in 1861.  One stage will start from Reggio Emilia where the Italian flag was first shown.  The Sicilian stage starts in Messina, the birthplace of Vincent Nibali, the city was devastated by Italy’s worst earthquake in 1908 when around 60,000 people died and the city was largely levelled.  This Sicilian stage will also climb Mount Etna – a live volcano – twice, during the stage and at the finish.

The Marmolada with the road twisting up it, let's hope the weather is like this.

The Giro will also remember the First World War, visiting the mountain of Marmolada, originally the border between Italy and Austria, it formed part of the front line and was the scene of fierce fighting.  The Giro will venture into Austria, marking Italy’s independence from Austria with a mountain finish on the Grossglockner.  Riders will also have to tackle Monte Zoncolan for the fourth time in Giro history, a 1210 metre climb it’s not for the faint hearted and is reckoned by many to be one of the hardest climbs in professional cycling.  Despite the Zoncolan’s fearsome reputation, it’s the new climb of Monte Crostis which has the riders knees trembling.  Climbing 1417m in just 14km there are sections of 18%, the final 2.5km of the climb are on dirt roads and reach the altitude of 1982m.  Let’s hope it doesn’t snow.

PBK Wine Recommendation.

Now with twenty-one days of racing ahead, you’ll need a couple of bottles to enjoy whilst watching the action unfold.  Italy is one of the worlds foremost wine producers so this is quite a task, to make it easier we thought we’d choose a red and a white:

  • Look at these lovely grapes ready to be turned in to wine!

    For our red wine we’re heading to Tuscany, Chianti is one of the best known of Italian wines thanks to its flexibility, medium bodied it has a light flavour and medium-high acidity, perfect while sitting down to watch the racing.  Comprised predominantly of the Sangiovese grape, Chianti’s often have fruity notes of cherry, plum and raspberry, if you splash out on a Chianti Classico expect a slightly more spicy bouquet combined with aromas of tobacco and leather.  The wine goes beautifully with beef, lamb and wild game, just the job for a steak and salad!

  • For our white wine we head to the North west of Italy and the town of Gavi.  Cortese di Gavi (or just Gavi) is a dry, delicate wine with pronounced acidity.  Both delicate and complex, it has aromas of grapefruit, honey, flowers and minerals.  Best drunk within three or four years, it goes beautifully with fish, perfect when you’re on your summer racing diet!

The Riders.

Last year Ivan Basso took the top spot, with Nibali taking third and Cadel Evans in fifth.  But this year they’ve got Contador to worry about and on such a hilly route he has to be in a strong position.  Currently the bookies favourite, Contador has been checking out the route and preparing, he’ll have plenty to prove this year and he has good form in the Giro, winning on the only previous occasion he took part.

Cadel ‘Cuddles’ Evans is not racing, nor are brothers Schleck or Ivan Basso.  Vincent Nibali is definitely a rider to watch, currently the bookies second favourite, the Shark is leader of the Liquigas team and will be racing in his home town which should provide added incentive (if needed). 

Team Radioshack are putting their faith in relative rookie Tiago Machado to lead the team.  Although young, this year he’s never been outside the top ten and he could be a strong GC rider.  With a team including the talents of the two Robbie’s (Hunter and McEwen), Popovych and Philip Deignan it seems reasonable to expect RadioShack will continue their strong season and maybe even get some stage wins.

Russ Downing on his Grand Tour debut.

Mark Cavendish is also due to start the Giro, although it remains to be seen how long he’ll stay in it.  His form this season has been less than impressive, but the Giro could provide the time in the saddle and venue for him to find some form in time for the Tour.  Russell Downing is finally getting his chance at a Grand Tour with Team Sky, at the grand age of 32 he has finally been given the ride he so richly deserves.  Although he’ll be working for team leader Thomas Lofkvist there will be opportunities for Downing to get that Grand Tour stage win he so deserves.

All in all it is looking like a pretty close race, if all the Grand Tours have taught us anything, it must be that anything can happen over three weeks of racing.  Who would you put your money on?  Anyone out there who you think could cause an upset?  What beverage will you be sitting down with?

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