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87th Giro d'Italia - Grand Tour

Italy, May 8-30, 2004

Map    Stages    Past winners    Simoni's reactions

2004 Giro d'Italia stage by stage

With the Giro about to start, Tim Maloney and Paul Mirtschin take a look at what's in store for the riders on the first of the year's three-week epics.

Simoni in 2003
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The 2004 Giro d'Italia, the 87th running of Italy's grand tour, kicks off in Genoa on May 8 and winds 3,435km around Italy until the 30th. The prologue and 20 stages of the Giro consist of 12 flat stages, one individual time-trial, 3 medium mountain stages and 4 mountain stages, three of which have mountain top stage finishes.

The 87th Giro will kick off on May 8 with a fast, flat and winding prologue 6.9km time trial to determine the first Maglia Rosa. The 6.9km course winds through the centro storico of the Ligurian port city of Genoa where Cristoforo Colombo set sail for America 513 years prior. Starting in the Piazza della Vittoria, the 15 turn course will favour a specialist like '03 TdF prologue winner Brad McGee (FDJeux.Com) or a young gun like Colnago's Tomas Vaitkus, but watch our for massive Magnus Backstedt (Alessio-Bianchi) of Paris-Roubaix glory, Lampre powerhouse Rubens Bertogliati, Chocolate Jacques' Flo Brard or even Mr. Mario Cipollini, who's no slouch in these short, fast prologues.

The Giro's first road stage heads west along the coast from Genoa, and then climbs up into the Ligurian and Langhe hinterlands before the finish in the truffle and wine capital of Alba. This stage is a dangerous one for the Giro favourites because a break could go away early. The 143km first stage finishes with four 5km finishing circuits in Alba.

A 184km second stage offers more tough racing across the narrow, twisting backroads of Liguria, where a dangerous break could get away early. Stage 2 crosses the famous mushroom growing woods of Val di Taro before the crucial final 11km ascent of the Passo del Brattello 20km before the finish in Pontremoli.

Rush to the line
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Stage three gives the riders another dangerous day, winding 191km through the mountain of northern Tuscany from Pontremoli, before the Giro's first mountaintop stage finish atop the steep Corno alle Scale. With Saeco's HQ just down the road in Gaggio Montano, Gibo Simoni and his red Saeco train will be looking for an early stage win here. Watch Saeco to play recent Trentino winner Damiano Cunego's card here to put pressure on Gibo's rivals like Garzelli and Popovych.

May 12's fourth stage looks like one for the sprinters, as the Giro continues to head south across the Appenine mountains from Porretta Terme and into Civitella Val di Chiana, the home of the famous costate fiorentina steaks from Chianina steers. Cipo and Petacchi will be looking to renew their sprint rivalry on Tuscan home turf, but a small break may make it home free to Arezzo on the small, winding roads if they can hang on for the two 11.4km finishing circuits.

Simoni vs the mountain
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The Giro's fifth stage heads south from Tuscany into Umbria, and is the first real sprinters stage of the race. Finishing in Spoleto, home of the world famous classical music festival, 177km later, the fifth stage has three 11.3km finishing circuits to race.

Stage 6 is another sprinters' stage, with a climb at the beginning that may break things up a bit, but the sprinters' teams should pull things together before the wide-open finish in Valmontone, 45km south of Rome, 164km later.

After a week of racing, Stage 7 is the Giro's first over 200km and it's a tough one from the ancient city of Frosinone through Campania east of Napol to another mountaintop finish in Montevergine, where Danilo Di Luca won the stage in 2001 ahead of Simoni and Garzelli. Watch for Garzelli and Popovych to try and turn the tables on '03 Giro winner Simoni on the long but rideable ascent up Montevergine.

One of the the Giro's longest stages at 214km, stage eight heads south from Giffoni across the provinces of Reggio Calabaria and Basilicata to finish at the instep of the Italian boot in Policoro on the Ionian Sea, where sprinters should rule the roost.

May 17 and stage 9 will be a short, fast day from Policoro to Carovigno, near Brindisi in the Salentino region, where Alessandro Petacchi took the stage and the Maglia Rosa in 2003. Petacchi will be looking for another win in the deep south of Italy at the end of this 142km stage, which finishes with three 4.3km circuits, before we pack up camp and head off for a three hour, 350km transfer to Porto Sant'Elpidio and the May 18 rest day.

May 19's tenth stage should be a short, difficult stage, starting in Sant'Elpidio before heading out on tight, twisty roads through the hinterlands of the southern Marche region to the home of the tasty antipasto olive ascolani. With the Ripatransone climb halfway along the 146km stage, look for a small group to get away and try and foil the sprinters, but with 56km to the finish from the GPM, speedsters should rule in Ascoli Piceno.

The late Marco Pantani in the 2003 Giro
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The 228km stage 11 heads due north from Porto Sant'Elpidio along the flat, windy Adriatic seacoast, then turns inland in Cattolica through the steep hills of Romagna to the world's oldest republic, San Marino. The course then crosses the Rubicon at Sogliano and winds along small, hilly roads before dropping down to finish in Cesena. This is Pantani country on the late climbers training roads, where an attacking rider like Alessio's Cristian Moreni will feel right at home on this stage.

It's a 210km long, flat and likely windy slog from Cesena for stage 12, up to Treviso where Ale Petacchi will be looking to notch the stage win for his hometown Fassa Bortolo team. Weather could be the decider, with late afternoon thunderstorms anticipated that could sweep across the peloton and disrupt the sprinters' party.

Half a century ago, Trieste was returned to Italy after WWII and the Giro returns once again to the former window on the Hapsburg Empire for stage 13. Similar to the Giro stage where Alex Zulle won six years ago, this 52km time-trial is an up and down, out and back affair through Prosecco and Sistiana, ending in the historic Piazza dell'Unita d'Italia that should be best for power riders like De Nardi's Serhiy Hontchar. Garzelli and especially Popovych will be looking to put key seconds into climbers like Simoni here.

The 14th stage of the Giro d'Italia finds nostalgia once again with a 175km ride south of Trieste through the Istria Peninsula. Now part of Croatia, this was once Italian territory, but local lads like Croatian national champion Radoslav Roagina (Tenax) will be defending national pride and seeking the honours in Pola.

Back up through Istria from Porec/Parenzo, then due west into the headwind on on the longest day of the 2004 Giro, a six-hour sprinters stage to San Vendemiano, a suburb of Conegliano, where Cipo won in the rain in 2002. With the mountains looming the next day, Stage 15 will be the last chance for the sprinters until Milano.

Gilberto Simoni
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The next four stages will decide the Giro d'Italia, starting with the 217km long and difficult mountain stage from San Vendemiano to Falzes. It's the first day of truth, heading north past Belluno, the stage then turns west at Longarone and into the heart of the Dolomiti and over the steep Forcella Staulanza south of Cortina. Then it's the Valparola, part of Passo di Falzarego and up the Val Badia to the cut off at that leads to Passo Furcia, Val Pusteria and Brunico, but not before the final tough 7km climb up Terento and finishes in Falzes. Stage 16 should finally separate the contenders from the pretenders in the 2004 Giro d'Italia.

Although there is only one climb on the 153km Stage 17, this transitional mountain stage heads out of the Dolomiti and down through Bolzano, then up the long, steep Passo della Mendola and into Maurizio Fondriest's home territory of Val di Non. The final 54km circuit from the summit of the Mendola could cause problems, especially on the final circuit up to Fondo Sarnonico.

Short but not at all sweet, May 28's Stage 18 is the queen stage of the 2004 Giro. This 118km stage is so short that no one can afford any tactical errors, but so hard that a natural selection of only the best riders will be made. After the long climb up the Tonale, it's up the long, steep Gavia at 2.618 meters, or Cima Coppi, the highest point in the Giro. Simoni will send his key lieutenants Cunego and Mazzoleni on the attack here to isolate his rivals on the terrible slopes of the Gavia. Stage 18 then plunges down to Val Furva and Bormio, cliLa Motta, then back up to the mountaintop finish at the Bormio 2000 ski resort. A perfect day out for Gilberto Simoni to take command of the Giro and grab the Maglia Rosa.

Saturday's penultimate stage of the Giro d'Italia doesn't leave much to the imagination when it comes to climbing. With Simoni probably in the Maglia Rosa and his solid Saeco team defending, it will be difficult for Gibo's rivals to challenge him on this brutal 122km stage. After a 30km descent from Bormio to Valltelina, the parcours turns right and it's the terrible ascent of the super-steep Mortirolo. After 4km of climbing, the steepest section ramps up at 18 percent; and then the hard part begins. The middle section of Mortirolo has an average grade of 12.4 percent.

Simoni attacks
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Certainly Mortirolo will make an dramatic early selection on the stage, but then it's south down Val Camonica and west into the Alpi Orobie and the ascent of the seldom climbed Vivione. This climb is a monster, with almost 20km of climbing at an average grade of 6.9 percent, with the final 4.7km at an average grade of 9.7 percent.

After a 20km descent off Vivione, the final climb of the 2004 Giro awaits; a steep 7.9km climb up to Passo Presolana, then back down to the finish in Presolana. With Friday and Saturday's back to back stages, this may be the two toughest days of back to back road racing on the 2004 calendar!

The 144km long final stage of the Giro will be a final romp down from the mountain town of Clusone to the finish of Milano's Corso Venezia, where sprinters Cipollini and Petacchi will try and settle any scores remaining from the 2004 Giro d'Italia on the ten 4.8km final laps.