Liguria can't lay claim to a Giro winner, but it's nurtured some exceptional riders. The best of them all, without question, was the great Giuseppe Olmo. Though no great climber, he won Olympic gold, helped himself to two editions of Milan-Sanremo and broke the hour record. Arguably his finest hour, though, came at the 1936 Giro.
Cycling was in transition, a new breed of rider coming to the fore. These were the velocisti, the specialist sprinters, and Italy had more than its fair share. The splendidly named Olimpio Bizzi and Raffaele Di Paco were amongst the best, but they need reckon with "Gepin" Olmo's coruscating strength. He'd already hoovered up nine legs in the three previous editions, and here he was simply immense. He won no less than ten stages, a feat which remains – and will likely do so for all time – unparalleled in Giro history. When he packed it in he built a bike factory, and at nearby Celle Ligure they still produce racing frames bearing his name. Well worth a visit…
SEE, HEAR, FEEL...
Ligurian cucina is rightly famous, and no self-respecting Italian would pass through here without indulging in a slice of focaccia. Most typical of all though is the extent to which they use ceci, chickpeas to you and I. You won't find ceci dishes like Panelle, Panissa and Farinata in Roman or Bolognese restaurants, and that's as it should be because it's this regional diversity which is the hallmark of Italian cooking. The French – we're only 120 kilometres from the border here – often deride Italian food for its simplicity, but of course that simplicity is its greatest virtue. Here, as everywhere on the peninsula, it's not the intricacy but the quality of ingredients that counts. And the moral is? Before you start, be sure to buy yourself some very, very good extra-virgin olive oil.
MOMENT IN TIME
Savona has been a frequent host to the Giro. The infamous 1969 "Savona affair" which saw Eddy Merckx expelled from the race is almost ubiquitous, so we'll pass over it just for once.
Instead we'll concern ourselves with the much more recent past, specifically 2002. By now Mario ("Lion King") Cipollini was the undisputed king of the sprinters. His Acqua & Sapone team had perfected the new-fangled "leadout train", and the best in the business was Giovanni Lombardi. A brilliant sprinter in his own right, he's subjugated his own talent to become Cipo's pilot fish, and in so doing had earned the respect of the cycling community. When, therefore, he got in the right break on the road to nearby Varazze, most everyone hoped he'd prevail in the sprint. He did just that; just reward for his endeavour, professionalism and altruism.
If I were to bet on a break staying away, this would be it. In fact it's a near certainty, and I'll explain why…
The first 60 kilometres are either uphill or false flat, and the Passo Cento Croci is quite a long, hard drag. Then you have to bear in mind that there's a massive stage the following day. The maglia rosa contenders aren't going to want to lift a finger, and that means that their gregari won't be interested in racing. The sprinters aren't going to get over the climb, so there are a lot of people who don't stand to gain anything by chasing it down.
If I were to guess I'd say that the winner will be a really good finisher who's no threat whatsoever on GC, and who can get over that last climb.