The top contenders for this year's Giro d'Italia scouted the event's 16th stage yesterday, the Individual Time Trial to Plan de Corones. Defending Giro champion Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes) led the group which included other top riders Gilberto Simoni (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli), Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Scott), Mauricio Soler (Barloworld) and Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre), among others.
"It's a hard climb, that's for sure," said Soler. "It's difficult to say how much it will decide the Giro because when we race here we'll already have two weeks racing in our legs. The race will also be on a better surface than the one we rode today, which has been ruined by the snow."
Organisers started clearing the road in mid-April, however there was still plenty of road-side snow during yesterday's ride. A stage during the 2006 Giro to Plan de Corones was cut short during the final hours at the Passo di Furcia due to snow.
RCS Sport insists that the road will be perfectly prepared for the May 26 stage. "We are extremely pleased to have chosen Plan de Corones where cycling is tied for reasons romantic, emotional and spectacular," said Giro director Angelo Zomegnan.
"It will be a very difficult stage, mainly because after 15 others it will be very tiring," said Simoni. "It will also be a time trial so you give the maximum from the start to finish."
Di Luca, who has been cleared by CAS to contest the Grand Tour (see separate story), believes the stage will be important in this year's outcome. "Certainly the Plan de Corones will be decisive for the Giro and could be of significant postings in the race," said the Italian.
RCS Sport has planned a 13.8-kilometre mountain time trial on the mountain in northeast Italy, which should help see the stage run as programmed. The stage will start in San Vigilio di Marebbe and run 12.6 kilometres before hitting the finale over the sterrato ('gravel road'), which includes sections touching 24 percent gradient. (Read: Plan de Corones cleared for Giro passage