The 2011 Giro d'Italia route was recently announced.
I never get very excited about Grand Tour route announcements. There's pro cycling year-round to attract my attention, and fall is when I'm, at the pro level, checking out cyclocross results, while at a personal level doing my best to make the Low-Key Hillclimbs a success. In any case, it's really the riders who make the race, not the course. Whatever the route, there will be climbs, sprint stages, and time trials. The relative weight changes, but the race is really dictated by the teams and individuals who come to play.
The last few years has been particularly interesting, however. For example, in 2010 the Giro visited the Strada Blanca near Siena, while the Tour de France featured a stage on some of the cobbles from Paris-Roubaix. So I admit my interest in these announcements has been perking up a bit lately.
Nevertheless, I didn't think much when I heard the Giro was announcing it's route, as it always does following the Tour de France announcement. But then I started seeing articles like this one... it was clear there was something special about the 2011 Giro.
So I checked it out on CyclingNews.
This is simply the most brutal stage race route, neglecting distance, I've seen. Back in the '80's stages in excess of 250 km were common, and tours regularly had two-stage days which haven't been seen in over a decade now. Similarly, more of the mountain stages exceeded 200 km in those days, whereas now it's far more common mountain stages are close to the 150 km range.
But in the sheer day-after-day relentlessness of mountain-top finishes, this one is hard to match. The Tour can't do this: the terrain of France simply doesn't support it. Italy has mountainous roads over a larger fraction of it's land, allowing for this sort of continuous pummeling of riders with climbs large and small, day after day after day.
I think there were definitely signs this year the anti-doping efforts were working, especially in the Giro and Tour. Riders weren't as strong throughout the three weeks as they had been the previous 15 years or so. They showed signs of fatigue: VAM numbers were less impressive than they had been in all three Grand tours.
Fans love this sort of thing. They love seeing riders tire, struggle with the hills, not crank out climb after climb like a machine on cruise control at 1750 VAM. Rewind back to 1987: Stephen Roche collapsing on the summit of La Plagne (video here), saving his chance at the yellow jersey which he went on to win. Epic stuff.
The Giro wanted a death march: that much is clear. And they'll likely get it. The Giro is unwilling, and never has been willing, to accept a role as a warm-up race for the more popular Tour de France. Instead it embraces Italian's unsurpassed cycling tradition and terrain and serves up a race which is a worthy goal on its own. If it's a race primarily targeted by Italian riders, then so be it. There's plenty of talented Italian riders to make for three weeks of excellent racing. There's more to pro racing than the Tour de France.
If riders want a gentle build to the Tour, well I can recommend a nice little stage race near and dear. But there's nothing gentle about this Giro...
Rudely swiped from CyclingNews, here's profiles of the stages. Each is linked to that stage's page on CyclingNews's excellent coverage of the route.