Mixed reactions to mountainous Giro

The unveiling yesterday of the route of the 2006 Giro d'Italia has brought mixed reactions from top Italian riders and their managers. The route is tailored for climbers, with several brutal days in the mountains in the final week, an arrangement that's reminiscent of the route of next year's Tour de France, announced recently.

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Caffita) won the 2004 Giro d'Italia and is looking forward to trying to repeat that feat in 2006. Cunego's 2005 season was marred by mononucleosis - it's a year he wants to forget and move on.

"It is a great Giro, very hard, especially in the last week," said Cunego. "I hope to be like in 2004, also better. Now I don't want to think anymore about my 2005 season. I'm calm and optimistic, I'll try to make this Giro as a protagonist."

Cunego will be targeting stage 17, a 158km battle from Termeno to Plan de Corones that takes in 50km of climbing and finishes at 2273m. The last 5.5km of the stage go up an unpaved gravel road next to a ski slope with sections that have a 24 percent grade. "I particularly like the Plan de Corones stage," said Cunego. "It will make selection and I'll be there."

Cunego's team manager Giuseppe Saronni was also happy with the Giro route. "It is a beautiful Giro," he said, "a Giro for the climbers, excellent for Damiano's characteristics."

Gianni Savio also likes the route. Savio is directeur sportif of the Colombia-Selle Italia squad whose diminutive Venezuelan climber Jose' Rujano took the third podium spot in the 2005 Giro and blitzed the mountains classification.

"It's a great Giro," Savio told Datasport, "that evokes the glamour of bike racing of old, and the winner will certainly be a climber. We have a lot of them in the team, besides Rujano there are other South Americans and Italians. There is Missaglia, Barbero and especially Wladimir Belli who hopes to improve on the results of the last few years."

However, as Colombia - Selle Italia is not a ProTour team, Savio's squad will need a wild-card invitation to ride the Giro, though that seems unlikely to be withheld after the way it animated the 2005 edition. "I hope we will be invited by the organisation," added Savio," because we can do well. Our main objective for the season will obviously be the Giro."

Sprinter Alessandro Petacchi is less impressed. While there are ten flat or rolling stages in total, Petacchi sees only a few opportunities for a pure sprinter to take stage wins.

"There are only five flat stages that suit sprinters and I think they've put in too many mountain stages and too many hills on other stages," Petacchi said."I can't understand it. The organisers obviously didn't like me winning 19 stages in the last three years."

This year's Giro runner-up Gilberto Simoni doesn't see this as a perfect route for him, despite his strength as a climber. "I am not in pole position," he said. "Am I the number one favourite? No, I am number two! I know that I can still do great things but that doesn't change the fact that this is a very hard Giro."

Simoni said the big surprise of the 2005 race had been Jose' Rujano, and that he expected Rujano would reconfirm his climbing talent, especially in the final week. Looking at the number of flat stages, Simoni compared the Giro with the Tour de France. With the Tour's eleven intermediate stages, "You are not always in full flight; you do not need lots of climbing stages to make a hard race."

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