Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Stage 12: Sestri Levante - Riomaggiore, ITT 60.6 Km

Thursday, 21 May, 2009, Stage 12 official description:
A long and difficult individual time trial, with a tough altitude profile involving two King of the Mountains. All riders, whether leading lights or members of the supporting cast, are faced with a relentless test that offers no respite or breaks. Concentration is the key. This is also the common opinion of those that will lead the way here who, fully aware of the effort required, will have viewed and tested out the route beforehand.

The difficulty of the route contrasts completely with the extraordinary beauty of the environment, places that are universally recognised and appreciated for their aesthetics.

The stage begins in Sestri Levante, in the province of Genoa, a well-known tourist and health resort on the Riviera di Levante, located opposite two characteristic and beautiful gulfs equipped with appropriately evocative names: the Baia delle Favole (‘the Bay of Fairytales’) to the west and the Baia del Silenzio (‘Bay of Silence’) to the east. The town centre sits at the foot of a picturesque rocky promontory that acts as a gulf between the two bays, with a splendid park that covers the high ground. As well as its numerous valuable buildings and cultural and traditional activities, Sestri Levante also offers gorgeous beaches and seaside strolls with breathtaking landscapes.

There have been three Giro d’Italia stage finishes here over the years: in 1960 Gastone Nencini came in ahead of Van Looy, in ’62 Graziano Battistini, cycling practically in his hometown and, most recently, in 2006 with Spaniard Horrach taking the honours.

The time trial heads towards Bracco before entering the province of La Spezia and going through the Bracco Pass and the Guaitarola Pass. It is then downhill, a ‘technical descent’ as it is known, towards the sea in the attractive centre of Levanto. From here the road – the ‘Panoramica delle Cinque Terre’ (never has a name been so appropriate) – begins to rise again towards the Termine Pass. There follows another downhill stretch, requiring maximum attention, passing through the Vernazza crossroads, towards Volastra, the crossroads at Manarola and, after the tunnel, arrival in the splendid Riomaggiore. Sixty kilometres, or just over, among the fairytale scenery of the Levante Ligure where the riders are required to give it their all. A key exam that all those with an eye on the final crown will need to pass with flying colours.

The sea, the beaches, the hills covered with vineyards, the characteristic terracing given over to fruit production and olive groves, the fishing towns that have been frozen in time, the peculiar architecture of the Genoa-style sacred buildings, the calm, the nigh-on absence of vehicular traffic, the air, the environment: all these elements contribute to making Riomaggiore, and the entire Cinque Terre area, a truly unique and charming territory. The culinary delicacies found here are also of the highest calibre with top quality wines (the excellent dry white and the well-known sciacchetrà, also white but strong and sweet with a high alcohol content), the delicate oil and other local products.

The Cinque Terre are made up of five villages (originally called ‘terre’ or ‘lands’, hence the name) between Punta Mesco to the west and Punta Monesteroli, or Punta Monte Nero, to the east. The five ‘lands’ are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. The magnificent walk through the rocks that connects Riomaggiore and Manarola, universally known as the Via dell’Amore, is very famous.

The creation of the Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre, the Marine Reserve and UNESCO recognition as a World Heritage Site should represent a guarantee for the Cinque Terre, as well as an incentive to maintain and preserve this splendid balance between nature and culture.

After the Giro we'll get back to "regular programming": everything from A to Z about Italian cycling. Stories, including cycling trip stories, for the Italian Cycling Journal welcome; contact