Stage seven features the first serious uphill finish of the 2011 Giro d’Italia: the Montevergine di Mercogliano, a 17km long climb with an average gradient of 5% and the steepest part at 10%. It’ll be the fourth time in ten years that the summit is used in the race - Danilo Di Luca imposed himself twice (in 2001 and 2007) and Damiano Cunego once previously (in 2004 ahead of Bradley McGee and Franco Pellizotti).
Returning to the Giro with Katusha after a suspension following a positive dope test in 2009, Di Luca told Cyclingnews at the start of stage six in Orvieto: "Montevergine isn’t where everything started for me because I won my first stage of the Giro in Peschici the year before, but for sure I have great memory of this uphill finish."
In 2007, it was the first climb of the race after three opening days in Sardinia. Montevergine showcased a young climber in his first appearance at a Grand Tour: Andy Schleck. The Luxembourg revelation eventually finished second overall to Di Luca and was crowned best young rider. On that day in 2007 he came fourth behind Di Luca, Ricardo Ricco and Damiano Cunego. Had he believed more in his chances, he might have attacked earlier.
"Schleck didn’t make any mistake", Di Luca remembered. "Montevergine is a climb where it’s impossible to make real differences. He wouldn’t have dropped us off that day." Di Luca won with an uphill lead out by Franco Pellizotti, both racing for Liquigas at the time.
"Tomorrow, again, there won’t be any significant gap between the GC contenders", Di Luca predicted. "Thirty riders will be sprinting for the win at the top." Alberto Contador divided that number by two while Vincenzo Nibali reduced the prediction to "seven or eight riders" to contest the stage win.
Di Luca himself is expected to ride at the service of Joaquim Rodriguez. The Italian has been noticed in the past two stages for finishing in Orvieto with no saddle after an incident on the strade bianche and for opening the sprint from far out in Fiuggi with the hope to anticipate the sprint.