Giro visits Merckx's first: Block Haus

Riders to face challenging Giro climb – 2100m top of the Block Haus.

Riders to face challenging Giro climb – 2100m top of the Block Haus. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

By Gregor Brown

The 2009 Giro d'Italia, May 9 to 31, will feature the seldom-used climb of Block Haus in Abruzzo, Italy. The climb, at over 2100 metres, was the spot where cycling legend Eddy Merckx launched his career as a stage racer in 1967.

Race organiser RCS Sport will present the official route of the centenarian Giro d'Italia on Saturday, in Venice. In October it announced that the three-week race will begin with a 21-kilometres team time trial in Venice. Block Haus will likely appear in the race, May 27, before a 15-kilometres time trial finish in Rome.

Merckx won the Giro d'Italia five times, including 25 stage wins and 78 days – the record – in the maglia rosa. The 220-kilometre Block Haus stage in the 1967 edition was the first time organisers used the climb and it was the first time Merckx won a mountaintop finish in any race. He finished ninth in that year's Giro, but came back to take his first Grand Tour win the following year. He also went on to win five editions of the Tour de France.

It will be the fifth visit to Block Haus in Giro history and it will be one of the shortest at an expected 80 kilometres. The stage will likely depart from Chieti and head west to Lettomanoppello and the base of the 23-kilometre climb. The final six kilometres features gradients mostly above nine percent.

The climb appeared three more times after 1967.In 1968, Franco Bitossi won the 198-kilometre stage; in 1972, José Manuel Fuente topped a 48-kilometre half-stage in the morning; and in 1984, Moreno Argentin won a 194-kilometre run from Numana.

The 2009 Giro is becoming one of the most anticipated editions in years thanks to the growing list of participants. Seven-time Tour champion Lance Armstrong will race the Giro for the first time in his career as part of his comeback to cycling. His rivals for the overall classification will include Ivan Basso, Carlos Sastre, Cadel Evans and Gilberto Simoni.

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