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May 15, 2014 - Sassano - Montecassino, 247 km
Stage six is a 247 kilometre north-westerly to Cassino, a stone's throw away from Frosinone. Here resides little Franco Vona, mountain domestique par excellence.
How good was Vona? The truth is we don't know, simply because he spent his best years working for Gianni Bugno and Franco Chioccioli, Giro winners in 1990 and 1991 respectively. What we do know is that on his day he was capable of inspirational wins. At the 1992 Giro Miguel Indurain was so dominant the rest were riding for second, and his team gave him some freedom to ride. He won splendidly in Abruzzo, but it was merely an antipasto. On the Dolomite behemoth over the passes Giau and Falzarego he dropped Indurain and Claudio Chiappucci for a magnificent win. He finished sixth that year, and would complete each of his ten giri he started.
SEE, HEAR, FEEL...
The Giro is remitted to inform Italians of their shared heritage, and last year the race paid its respects to the victims of the Vajont dam tragedy. Continuing the theme, today's stage is in homage to the Battle of Montecassino, one of the pivotal moments of WWII.
When the allies landed at Salerno and Calabria in September 1943, they began the drive north towards Rome. By February early 1944 they had had advanced to within 100 miles of the capital, but the 20 kilometre Gustav Line proved difficult to penetrate. On 15 February they deployed 1400 tons of bombs on the town of Cassino, destroying both it and its hilltop abbey. The strike would presage the first of four major battles for the line, and four months of carnage. The Allies finally broke through on 25 May, but casualties on both sides are estimated at 75,000.
MOMENT IN TIME
By 1953 Fausto Coppi was arguably the greatest cyclist the world had ever seen. Fausto was a very nice guy, but he so dominated the Italian peloton that any gregario fancying his fifteen minutes of fame needed his permission, tacit or otherwise. Those who didn't have it – and those who crossed him – risked their very careers.
Only one rider refused to be brought to heel. Guido De Santi would detonate the race at every opportunity, but he was so good – and so popular – that he got away with it. Coppi didn't much like it, but he couldn't fail to respect De Santi's talent and audacity. Moreover he knew that the escapes were good for business, if not for his gregari's legs. And it was here, on the stage to Rome, that De Santi had his reward. He didn't win the stage, but the attack he initiated here saw him wear pink in Rome.
It's a big stage in the sense that it's one of the longest of the race. It doesn't look hard at all, but I think the last half-hour or so could be really absorbing. The climb to Montecassino is a real tester, so you're going to see a really good finisseur win this.
One of the most interesting things about this Giro is the variety. That's important, because it means that lots of different teams will believe that they have a rider for lots of different stages. This is a case in point, and I guarantee that pretty much all the direttore sportivi will be wanting to get their teeth into it. What's important here is not to get carried away, and to get it right tactically. We'll try to there with someone like Ponzi, but of course everyone will be thinking along the same lines…