Coming back home

Coming back home

The Giro d’Italia 2017 is quickly coming to an end. Among past and present challenges, it rediscovers the city that created it, wanted it and inaugurated it: we’re coming back to Milan. Michele Polletta tells us about this final stage.

To truly understand the essence of the last stage of the 100th Giro, you need to go back in time, wear a waistcoat and felt cap, put the watch back in your pocket, hold a pipe between your teeth, and head back to May 1st, 1909, precisely at the Loreto roundabout (now known as Piazzale Loreto). This is the place where this saga, which now reaches its 100th chapter, began, precisely at 2:53 am. Milan is the cradle of the Giro, of its first advocates, and of its godmother – the newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport. Milan has lent some of its most impressive locations to the Giro’s final stage: the riders used to come to the Arena, cheered on by an overflowing crowd, and then head to Teatro Dal Verme to receive their awards.

The bond with the Lombard capital has remained strong throughout the years as it hosted the Giro’s first stage 40 times and the final stage on 73 occasions. To give you an idea, remember that only 15 cities and Passo dello Stelvio have had the honor of hosting the pink race’s final act. Milan is not only the cradle but also the perfect final destination for the Giro – following the example of the Tour de France and the Spanish Vuelta, which always end in Paris and Madrid with a spectacular final sprint. Milan lends its sinuous urban circuit almost every year, locating the finish line next to the Porta Venezia bastions; it is here that all the great sprinters have left their mark.

The last stage of a great Giro is always a story unto itself – part celebratory parade, part real race – which, however, may not really interest those who are obsessed about rankings, since by now the arrival order is basically sealed. Things will be a bit different this year: the organizers decided to shuffle the deck. Milan will host the final stage, as per tradition, but with a peculiar twist. The stage will include a real race – a 30 km time trial from Autodromo Nazionale di Monza to Piazza del Duomo. Nothing will be decided until the last rider crosses the line under the Madonnina.

The Civic Arena of Milan

Anything can happen during a time trial stage. It’s a strange, sometimes cruel discipline. Reflecting this sense of battle, the French call these stages ‘contre-la-montre’ – literally ‘against the clock,’ expressing the lone rider’s challenge against the inexorable ticking of the clock. This is what the Giro is all about: the rider who completes the stage in the shortest time will win. Here, however, every rider runs for himself as he can’t rely on his teammates. The riders start one at a time, with a 2-minute gap between starts, in reverse ranking order and the last one opens the ball (in the past he would’ve worn the legendary black jersey) and the pink jersey closes the series. When the pink jersey cuts the finish line at Piazza Duomo, the Giro d’Italia 2017 will officially end and we finally receive the results. What results? Time results, of course. We will know whether one of the pink jersey’s direct opponents has managed to recover enough time to dethrone him.

An example? The last time that the Giro ended with a time trial – in 2012, always in Milan – it was the end of the world. A Spanish rider named Rodriguez – not exactly a master of this discipline – had worn the pink jersey for six stages and was probably dreaming about having his name engraved on the Endless Trophy. However, his mountain performances hadn’t earned him enough time to protect him from time trial specialists – Ryder Hesiedal in particular. The Canadian rider delivered a brilliant performance and the time difference relegated Rodriguez to a bitter second place: after 21 stages, 3505 kilometers and more than 91 hours of cycling, the two riders were separated by only 16 seconds.

Piazza Duomo in Milan, where the runners of the Tour will cut the finish line

While it is easy to situate this final stage and its host city within the history of the Giro by recalling past events and great figures, it’s way harder to make a prediction about who’s going to win the trial or fight to take the Giro in these final 30 kilometers. What can be surely said is that this stage will weigh heavily on the previous ones, the final high mountain stages. Riders who are less comfortable with time trials will try to use these mountain stages to guard themselves against pure time trial specialists. Focus on Nairo Quintana: time trials are not exactly the Colombian rider’s best asset, and reaching Monza with a short-time cushion against the likes of Thomas and Dumulin may earn him the same fate as Rodriguez. Nibali is in a different position: definitely a mountain rider, he has greatly improved his time trial performances in the past few years, so he can face this final stage with optimism. One thing is certain: if these four gentlemen reach the final stage not too far away from each other, we will definitely have a spectacular time trial. Winning the time trial is a whole different ball game: it will be fought over by a narrow group of super-specialists, probably without pink jersey ambitions.

Last thing: how do you follow a stopwatch race? On the roadside, of course – maybe sitting on top of a kerbstone, as Paolo Conte teaches – but evidently with a few small tricks. Riders will pass very fast, so in order to see them well, it is better to choose a bend carefully and wait for them to put their hands on the handlebar’s long side as they leave the aerodynamic position and slow down while increasing their bicycle action. This way you can see them well and let them see your support. It would be best to place yourself beside two close curves so you can enjoy the exit from the first and the second set. You can find these kinds of scenarios in the last part of the race, between Venice Gate, Piazza San Babila, and the Duomo. They will also be the most crowded locations, but because there are more people there, the atmosphere becomes warm and exciting as the runners pass. Starting from 1:00 pm, this will happen more than a hundred times: it could be worth showing up a little while before so you can find the perfect spot. The sooner you arrive, the more you will be able to see the winner of the day, the stage winner, the final triumph, and all the colorful jerseys. Those who want to try to experience the race from a slightly different perspective can also follow a cyclist during the stopwatch on the official VIP Auto of the Giro d’Italia and be a guest of the Vip Hospitality areas departing from Monza and arriving in Milan.

The Giro d’Italia is coming back home, and Milan welcomes it with open arms and, believe me, if two of those arms are yours, you will never forget it.

Who will win?

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