It has been no secret that in some countries, funds for many public activities including cycling have been on the short side because of massive austerity measures and collapsing economies. Italy has seen the noose tighten with many races shuttering while others having to scale back. Among those scaling back has been the Giro della Valle d'Aosta, which at its height was 6 full road stages plus a time trial and was a showcase of the scenic mountains in Aosta, which lies in the northwest and is the smallest and least populated province of Italy. This year, the race is just 3 full road stages with a prologue and culminating in an uphill TT. Half of the race isn't even in Aosta as the French city of Chatel, which has been a popular race destination in recent years, will be the base for the final two stages. It has become so French that they even had to add Les Savoie to the name.
It would pretty pretentious for the race to launch a Kickstarter or what have you to try and fund the race so it can stay in Aosta but it is a shame that the race is having to go outside the region just to stay afloat, even when it is the only major Italian stage race for U23s left after the GiroBio and Toscana Terra di Ciclismo went to their untimely demises. In any case, let us take a look at the route and the (long) list of teams that will be toeing the line.
HistoryThis stage race is also a stalwart of the U23 cycling calendar because of its longevity. The race is celebrating its 51st edition, nearly all of which have been consecutive. First raced in 1962, the race has a slew of big names in its illustrious palmares. The 2nd edition in 1963 was won by Gianni Motta, a poor boy from Lombardia who used the bike as an escape. The next year he was 5th in the Giro and won the Giro di Lombardia. 2 years later, he won the Giro out right. Ennio Vanotti, uncle of Astana's Alessandro, won it in 1977 and went on to win a Tour du Suisse stage and rode the Tour a bunch. Pierfranco Vianelli won the overall on the way to winning the Olympic Road Race in 1968.
The 90s signaled a step up in the races competition. Ivan Gotti won twice. Wladimir Belli. Gilberto Simoni. Yaroslav Popovych won twice during his reign of terror on the Italian U23 ranks where he seemingly could do no wrong. Popovych even beat Cunego mano-a-mano in 2001. A bunch of fucking dopers won a bunch including Marco Manzano winning twice in 2002 & 2003. Sella won 3 stages in 2003 while going 2nd overall. We can't forget about Nikita 'The Terminator" Novikov in more recent years.
Dan Martin won a couple stages here. Seeldraeyers climbed to glory here. Thibaut Pinot won the overall in 2009 in the same year Egor Silin, Dom Nerz, Alex Geniez and Kristjan Koren took stage wins. Fabio Aru won two consecutive overalls while Joe Dombrowski and Lachlan Morton took their gangly masses to stage wins.
Davide Villella dominated last year while his now-teammate Davide Formolo finished 2nd overall ahead of Clement Chevrier, new BCS Louis Vervaeke and Alexander Foliforov.
The prologue begins from Planaval, which is a small hamlet of the commune of Arvier, which is the birthplace of Maurice Garin, who later became French and won the first Tour de France. It is a short test at just 5.1 kilometers but it does gain over 100 meters in elevation, which comes mainly in the final half of the course.
Still waiting on final list of starters but this should still be one for the time trial specialists as the course isn't crazy steep.
The only actual road stage in the Aosta Valley is a pretty tough test that culminates in the shadow of the Matterhorn. The stage starts with a descent and for over the first 100 kilometers it is pretty flat; good territory for a breakaway. Then the race gets wicked. From the village of Chambave at 487 meters, the race goes upward for the next 16 kilometers on the Col St. Pantaleon, which averages a pretty stiff 7.2%. Luckily the climb is pretty steady with only a few points where it levels out so the riders that can settle into a rhythm will do fine. They descend 10 kilometers before hitting the last uphill, an 18 kilometer stretch to Breuil-Cervinia that gains 1000 meters in altitude and summits at 2004 meters, with a spectacular view of the Matterhorn. The climb has ramps in it to and will go from 3-4% up to 10% for a stretch and so on. It should be a fun day...at least for those following the race.
Race goes into Switzerland to do a nice loop around the Rhône Valley. When I say valley, only the first half is flat as the race goes into the Swiss Alps to hit the Col du Lein, the Col des Planches before descending back into Martigny to tackle a summit finish at Les Marécottes. The race heads north up the valley towards Aigle but they hit the forcefield around the UCI and bounce back, heading south and then east towards Saillon. They take in two small climbs on the early "flat" portion that are both short but steep, averaging nearly 9% for a kilometer.
The climbs kick in with the the Col du Lein. The climb is nearly 13.5 kilometers and averaged roughly 8.8% (according to climbbybike) and for the most part it is steady while there is a ramp that averages 12% for over a kilometer. Legs sizzling and nearly medium rare. Just 2 more climbs now...
The Col des Planches will take those medium rare legs and turn them into medium well. Over 9 kilometers, the climb also averages 8.8% across 9 switchbacks. Descending back into Martigny, the race will culminate with a summit finish at Les Marécottes. The climb itself is nearly 9 kilometers and while not as steep as the other two climbs, its steepest ramps come at the end where it goes into double digits for a little bit.
A short albeit brutal stage.
The race heads from Suisse to Savoie, where the race will once again take in Châtel as a race city, which has been a popular spot for seemingly any UCI race that hits the area. Valle d'Aosta, l'Avenir, Pays de Savoie, Valle d'Aosta again all in the past year. The stage isn't necessarily hard in that the climbs are brutally tough but there are 5 climbs and while the final climb to Les Esserts is only 3 kilometers, it is a steep ramp that Davide Villella was able to secure his overall victory on last year.
The first of the climbs, the Col du Ranfolly, is the most difficult on the day with the 8+ kilometer road averaging 7.7% gradient. Following that, the race takes in 4 smaller climbs that will certainly thin the pack out but aren't too difficult themselves. The final ramp to Les Esserts will probably had a fairly large group but any favorites should be able to distance themselves from the pretenders.
This stage is a true transitional stage in that the overall leader will need to be attentive not to lose time or possibly take time but not waste too much because of the upcoming mountain TT, which should be the ultimate decider for the GC.
This is it. Ground Zero. This is where the race will be won or lost. This stage doesn't feel right to me. I feel like there needs to be another full road stage before we talk about this uphill TT. The course in itself if fairly straightforward as it goes from Morillon to Les Esserts (technically still Morillon), which is 5.4 kilometers and gaining 367 meters in altitude, which is an average gradient of 6.7%. So not crazy steep but nothing easy either. An explosive rider would benefit here because of the short distance while the climb could also allow a tank to roll a big gear.
The race website has all of the stages listed with an interactive map, altitude and time table for the stages. I give the race organizers an A on the website. Click here to check it out. They probably want more than just me as there traffic.
TeamsItalian teams include:
Team Pala Fenice
Foreign squad include:
4-72 Colombia (Colombia)
Astana Continental (Kazakhstan)
Etixx (Czech Republic)
BMC Development (Switzerland)
Lotto-Belisol U23 (Belgium)
VL Technics-Abutriek (Belgium)
Haute Savoie Region (France)
Valais Region (France)
UCI Cycling Centre
No startlists have been released at this time but if the favorites are invited the start list could look like Vervake, Filosi, Senni, Herklotz, Foliforov, Teuns, Muhlberger, Benoot, Suaza, Ochoa, Ciccone, etc. It isn't the course that makes the race but the riders so this race, while dissapointing in some ways in terms of the course, could be some of the best racing of the year.