NAPLES, Italy (VN) — The Giro d’Italia is famous for its wild, sometimes over-the-top courses, and this year’s race will deliver its first curve ball to the peloton on Sunday with a technical 17.4km team time trial on the island of Ischia.
The small island is a short ferry ride away from the Port of Naples, and the rolling course is a virtual unknown. The only time the Giro has visited Isola d’Ischia was in 1959, for a 31km time trial stage, and few riders have ever even seen the roads that will be raced upon.
With its potential effect on the general classification, plus a prestigious stage win and the chance to wear the maglia rosa on the line, Sunday’s team time trial will be both important and uncertain.
Time gaps aren’t expected to be significant, but given the unknown course, it’s anyone’s guess how the GC will play out.
The Giro’s official race book — affectionately known as the “Garibaldi,” in homage to the Italian national hero — describes the TTT course as follows: “The stage is mostly restricted to the island’s coast road, with four short, ‘pedal-able’ ascents, each followed by a descent. The stage start is flat, followed by a climb at 4-5%. The route continues along a wide road that divides at Casamicciola Terme (split time point) and at Formio, where the route turns left towards the final climb. There are a number of roundabouts.”
It’s inside the final 3km that the course offers its greatest challenges — and biggest potential dangers — including a lit tunnel inside the final 250 meters.
“At 2,300m a right turn is followed by a sharp descent that ends with a right turn slightly against the camber. There is more descending, then at 1,300m a traffic island that divides and narrows the road. The next stretch is flat; at 250m, a short (well-lit) tunnel leads to the finishing straight. The finishing straight is 200m long, 6m wide, descending slightly, surfaced with asphalt.”
A few teams have sent staff over to video the course; for the rest, they’ll have a chance to ride the course — once — on Sunday morning.
“Tomorrow is the big goal,” BMC Racing’s TT specialist Taylor Phinney said before the start of stage 1 in Naples. “I’ve done a few team time trials with some of the guys here. They did a bit of a camp before Trentino, and we [practiced] some down here just in the past few days in Naples.
“You can’t really preview the course, but we had [team director] Alan Peiper go [to Ischia] with a GoPro [camera] and film it the other day, so we have film. It’s going to be a pretty complicated team time trial, very up and down, left and right. If it was an individual time trial, that’d be one thing, but as a team, it’s going to be a big ask.”
Like BMC, Orica-GreenEdge sent team staff to shoot video of the course, but none of its riders have actually previewed it by bike.
“We’ve just seen the video, and from what we hear, it’s pretty crazy,” said Canadian time-trial champion Svein Tuft. “It’s typical, really small Italian roads, which means you don’t know what the climbs are going to look like.
“Until we really get to be on the course in the morning tomorrow, I really don’t think we can make a final decision for our plan. We have some good ideas at the moment, but you can’t make the decision until you’ve seen it.
“It’s a tough game, because you have the first bit, which is not so technical, and we might have to use up our strong guys, who are just TT specialists, in that section, and save our climbers for the latter half of the race. I think there’s a way to approach it, I just don’t think a lot of people will have a good idea until tomorrow — maybe even until it’s been raced.”
Sky’s Danny Pate, the under-23 world TT champion in 2001, said he hasn’t seen any video of the course, and didn’t know if the team of Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins had done reconnaissance of the course.
“I’ve heard it’s technical. We haven’t seen it, since it’s on the island, and it’s hard to get to it. We get to do one lap before we race it, so that alone is diffcult, along with the difficult roads,” Pate said.
“It could be really important. We’ll see how different the time gaps are. It depends on a lot of things. It’s important, but it’s also short, so maybe the time gaps won’t be that big, as long as you stay in control and don’t make any huge mistakes.”