Stage 20. Pordenone to Asiago, via the mighty Monte Grappa. It was the end of days for the 2017 Giro, an edition hailed by many as the most exciting race in living memory. Tom Dumoulin had surprised the major players and held onto the pink jersey since Stage 10, only to lose it to Nairo Quintana the prior day when the dogged Dutchman was gapped on the Piancavallo.
Starting in Pordenone in the autonomous region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, the race swept down into Veneto taking on the Monte Grappa before finishing in Asiago, a town in Veneto famous for a crumbly cheese of the same name, produced from the milk of the region’s bounty of dairy cows.
Monte Grappa is one of the most loved and feared climbs in Italy. It has been a regular feature in the Giro during the 70s and 80s, returning in 2010 and then again in 2014 featuring an uphill TT to the Cima Grappa (summit) won by Quintana by 17 seconds.
There are many ways up the Grappa, around 10 in total, with the hardest ascent known to be the “Salita degli Alpini” from Possagno side, which arrives at Cima Grappa. The race wasn’t taken the hardest route, but at 24 km with an average gradient of 5.2% it’s tougher than your average. The Italians in this region know about tough, many of the roads up the mountain were built by the Alpini soldiers in World War I during the Battles for Monte Grappa against the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
So the Venetians must be passionate for this climb? A lot. Taking a ride up the Grappa is the average summer ride for local amateur cyclists. It’s not unusual to see the Italian pro team riders from Wilier Triestina, Team Sky, Quick-Step Floors, Bahrain Merida, Andrioni Giocattoli, Lotto Jumbo, and Wanty training on its slopes.
Local boy Enrico Battaglin from Lotto Jumbo featured in the race this year, he grew up cutting his teeth on this climb before turning pro with Colnago at the young age of 17. An ex-teammate of Palu founder Alberto, they still train together when back home together in Vicenza.
The race itself was an exciting one, with Frenchman Thibaut Pinot winning the sprint ahead of the other GC favourites to take the stage. Despite being gapped on the Foza climb, Dumoulin showed courage and rode within himself to bring back the gap to just 15 seconds from his rivals. It ultimately proved enough to win the Maglia Rosa, with the Dutchman flying on the final day’s time trial and sealing the win after an incredible three weeks of racing. Bravo!