Giro d’Italia Virtuale 2021

From time to time, FulGaz invites users to share with us their own creations, musings, and insights of the app. Here’s one such account from Pike Talbert.

I had not given much thought to a 2021 Giro d’Italia Virtuale until I was contacted out of the blue via LinkedIn the week before the real Giro started. “Are you the Pike Talbert who created the FulGaz Giro d’Italia Virtuale last year at” his note began. “If so, I’m wondering if you were going to curate a version 2.0 for the 2021 Giro?”

That was all the inspiration I needed! A week later: Tahdah! An initial draft was complete: 21 stages utilising 20 FulGaz rides, 14 of which were new this year—either recently released by FulGaz, or recently discovered by moi.

Several iterations later the final version was complete. The Table below provides a comparative Summary. A couple of background comments are worth highlighting:

  • My Giro last year was mostly about climbing as many of the famous and iconic mountain passes as possible. I have discovered the hard way that this is actually boring (not to mention painful). It turns out that flatter, rolling stages usually contain better scenery—a “smell the roses” approach that favours vistas of Italy’s natural beauty over elevation gain and degree of difficulty. Thus, I have inserted more flat stages this year.
  • Most of the rides I have replaced were the longer climbs (i.e., greater than 90 minutes based on videographer time and 3 of the 4 Stelvio-related ascents) with greater degrees of difficulty (Line 6). It is for this reason that the total time (as measured by FulGaz’s videographers is nearly an hour less than last year. Therefore, a design feature of this year’s Giro Vituale (GV21) is it should take less time (Line 4) and is somewhat easier (Line 5).
  • Three of this year’s climbs—Monte Zoncolan, Passo Pordoi and Passo Giau—are included in the real Giro’s 44 categorised climbs. I have tried where possible to schedule them so that they coincide virtually with the real Giro.
  • Finally, I have tried to geographically link the rides together in a more logical and sequential route, which has resulted in 13 stages combining to form 4 geographical sequences:
  1. Stages 2 and 3 in the Dolomites,
  2. Stages 5 and 6 also in the Dolomites,
  3. Stages 8 and 9, which is the Sella Ronda in the Dolomites, and
  4. Stages14 through 20 that transition from the Dolomites to the SudTyrol.

A Summary of this year’s Giro, and a comparison to last years is provided below:

This Ride Report will focus on the Tour as a whole with an emphasis on the new rides (Stages in Red). As a practical matter the only thing different about the 7 rides retained from last year is my view: I traded my garage (and a street view) for a terrace (with a view of Sydney Harbour and a Large Screen TV).

Overview: The first 2 Stages of this 2021 Giro Virtuale are located in the Piedmont Region in Italy’s northwest. The next 8 Stages before the first Rest Day are in the Dolomites and concentrate on the 7 climbs that make up the Maratona dles Dolomites.

The 6 Stages that comprise the week between the two Rest days are predominately in the Southern Tyrol region. The climb of Monte Zoncolan is the exception. Located in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region, it is inserted in the middle of this sequence so as to coincide with the real Giro’s ascent of the same climb. That is the beauty of virtuality: transportation is not an issue!

The final week contains only 5 Stages, although Stage 17 has an A and a B segment. This Stage serves as a transition from the SudTyrol west to the Lombardia region where a tryptic of neighbouring climbs capstone the week: the Passo Foscagno (el. 2291m), the Passo Gavia (2621m) and the Passo Stelvio (2757m).

In contrast to the real Giro’s conclusion in Milan, I will finish in the beautiful town of Trieste in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region of Italy’s east.

Stage 1: Col du Mont Cenis

My Grande Partenza reprised the Col du Mont Cenis from last year. This is a scenic ride that starts in the Piedmont region of Italy and climbs into France. Beginning with an ascent of La Grande Croix, most of the ride is alongside a damned lake until the Col du Mont Cenis is reached at the very end. Mont Cenis is a massif and a pass in the Savoie region of France. It was once again a very attractive and not too demanding parcours on which to start.

Stage 2: Colle delle Finestre

The first new ride of the Tour and it was a completely different experience from the preceding Stage. There was nothing benign about this parcours. Tucked away in the top-left-hand corner of Italy, just over the border from France in the region of Piedmont, Colle delle Finestre is in the Cottian Alps. About 50km west of Turin, it’s an area of lush greenery and orderly vineyards, peppered with pretty farms and elegant towns.

The Giro has visited these slopes on three occasions. The first time was in 2005 on Stage 10 when the first man over the summit was the Italian, Danilo Di Luca. Six years later, in 2011, the summit leader was the Belarusian rider Vasil Kiryienka. The latest inclusion was in 2015 when Spain’s Mikel Landa managed to drop Alberto Contador on the climb to cross the summit at the head of the field. The Finestre is often paired with the ascent to the ski resort of Sestriere.

The gradient on the Finestre barely wavered during its 18.2 kms, hovering between 9% and 10% all the way. The first section of the climb wandered past fields and stone farmhouses, winding its way through Meana di Susa where a large billboard celebrates the occasions that the Giro d’Italia has blasted through the village.

Farther along, the road was hemmed in by the dense forest. These woods cover the lower slopes, which made it difficult to get any sense of the progress I was making or where the road was heading. Every corner simply revealed another short stretch of tarmac leading inexorably upwards to another, strikingly similar corner.

The most visible feature differentiating Finestre from rides last year is the road surface. Although the first 11km of the climb take place on pristine tarmac, the final 8ks are on rough gravel. Therefore, it is the closest I will get to experiencing the real Giro’s strade sterrate sections in Tuscany.

Eventually I emerged from the tree line and was greeted with expansive views back towards the snow-brushed mountains on the other side of the Susa Valley and across to a towering peak, the Roche Melon that guards the border with France. As rewarding as this view was, the summit was an interminably 10 long minutes away.

The scene at the summit had a surreal yet ethereal beauty of the clouds shrouding the top of Finestre and the lone cyclist waiting by the summit’s monument was an amazing conclusion to an awesome climb.

Preview of The Dolomites

The remainder of this first section of the GV21—Stages 3 through 10—take place in the Dolomites, one of the world’s iconic sporting playgrounds.

Located in the northeastern part of Italy (in the Trentino Alto Adige Region north of Veneto, Venice), the Dolomites, like many ski resorts around the world, are a year-round mecca featuring skiing in the winter months and cycling of many descriptions during the warmer weather.

The Dolomites are home to two major amateur cycling events held every summer: the shorter Sella Ronda (comprised of 4 climbs which are also skied in winter: Pordoi, Sella, Gardena and Campolongo), and the longer, all-encompassing Maratona dles Dolomites, comprised of the Sella Ronda plus 3 additional climbs—Giau, Valparolo and Falzarego) and a sting in the tail: the Mur dl Giat.

The proverbial “sting in the Maratona’s tail” is the Mur dl Giat. Located just east of La Villa and approximately 5ks from the finish, it’s a short, steep climb, which is made all the more challenging coming as it does after 130ks are already in the legs.

This week’s stages focussed on the 7 climbs that form the Maratona dles Dolomites (during which the Passo Campolongo is climbed twice). Stages 3 through 7 were all a part of last year’s Giro Virtuale: Giau, Valparola, Falzega, Campolongo and Sella. This year, FulGaz added a new ride of the Sella Ronda in its entirety. Because of its length, I separated it into two stages: 8 and 9.

Stages 3 and 4

Ridden together, form a 50.8km loop. This circuit is not ridden as such in either the Sella Ronda or the Maratona, although both Passes—the Campolongo and Valparola—are a part of the Maratona. FulGaz rides them from the opposite direction they are ridden in the Maratona.

Stage 5: Passo di Giau

This ride ascended the Passo Giau from Pocol in the northeast (near Cortina d’Ampezzo). The same route will serve as the closing descent for Stage 16 of the real Giro. Stage 16 will also ascend the Passo Pordoi as its penultimate climb (and this Giro’s Cima Coppi).

The GV21’s Cima Coppi will be the Passo Stelvio (2757m), which I climb in the third week.

Stage 6: Falzarego

The penultimate climb in the Maratona, the Falzarego’s summit is a mere 2.4ks east of (and 50m lower than) Passo Valparola, the Maratona’s final summit. The FulGaz ascent to Passo Falzarego is from Carpile in the south. Therefore, this ride ascends rough roughly 10ks of the same road I descended from the Passo Valparola on Stage 4.

Stage 7: Passo Sella from Canazei

A beautiful ride with great vistas of the Sella Massif.

Stages 8 and 9:

The famous Sella Ronda is a new ride this year on FulGaz. Unlike most of FulGaz’s high-mount climbs, the video contains both ascents as well as descents. Last year I completed it by riding four different rides, not all of which were in the same direction. This new version is clockwise, beginning and ending in the little ski town of Selva Val Gardena.

While they aren’t the toughest individual climbs on this tour, taken together it was a long two days in the saddle: 2020 vertical metres over 62.4ks beginning in and returning to Val Gardena. The third climb of the Sella Ronda was over the Passo Pordoi (2239m), which is the penultimate climb and Cima Coppi on Stage 16 of this year’s Giro.

Geographical Note: The Sella is a plateau-shaped massif in the Dolomites mountains of northern Italy. The highest peak is Piz Boè at 3,151 m above sea level. The Sella lies between the four Ladin valleys of Badia, Gherdëina, Fascia, and Fodom and is divided between the provinces of South Tyrol, Trentino and Belluno. It can be driven (and cycled) around by car crossing the Campolongo Pass, Pordoi Pass, Sella Pass, and Gardena Pass. In winter it is possible to ski around the entire massif by using the Sella Ronda ski lift carousel. The photo of the Sella above right is taken on the south en route to the summit of the Sella Pass.

This was one of the best rides I have ridden on FulGaz.

Stage 10: Seiser Alm (Alpe di Suisi)

A new ride this year, this was my last in the Dolomites as I will transitionto the Southern Tyrol for the first rest day. As the crow flies, the start of this ride near Castelrotto is only 19km away from Selva di Val Gardena, the start/finish of the Sella Ronda.

The route over the Alpe di Suise was in an easterly direction so a view of the Sella massif and the Dolomites was always in the distance. The ascent was difficult because of its length, but there were lots of distractions on the way up through many snowfields (although it was a beautiful sunny day in the video). The conclusion of the ride was a brief but picturesque descent before a U-turn and a short climb back to the summit from which I had just descended.

Stage 11: Passo Mortirolo

I climbed this brute last year. With an average gradient of nearly 11% (and a maximum of 18%) over its 12ks to an elevation of 1852m, it is one of the hardest climbs there is. It started life as a goat track—and remains not much more than that—through dense forests only occasionally broken by pastures. Unfortunately, there was no letup of the gradient. What can I say: I am glad to have it behind me.

Stage 12: Rasen to Antholzer See

A new ride this year, Rasen, its start, is within site of the Dolomites. I am pleased to say that its parcours was as stunningly beautiful as the Mortirolo was unrelentingly steep. Heading northeast through the Antholz Valley, the ride climbs 650m over its 18.7ks to Lake Anterselva (el. 1642m) in the Province of Trentino near the Austrian border.

The other aspect of this ride that contrasts sharply with some of the other rides in this Giro was the rolling ascent to the Lake. The ride was broken up into three relatively short climbs of increasing difficulty followed by three false flats. FulGaz classifies the ride as Hilly but it was only gently so. I really enjoyed everything about it and will certainly return again in the future.

Stage 13: Monte Zoncolan

Another new ride, it is located in the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. I have left the SudTyrol for the day (because I can do so virtually) in order duplicate the Tour’s ascent from the same side.

At an elevation of 1,750 metres, the Zoncolan is one of the most demanding climbs in professional road racing. There are two main ascents: one from Ovaro to the west; the other from Sutrio in the east. The Giro d’Italia has utilised the climb from Ovaro 5 times previously (in 2007, 2010, 2011, 2014 and 2018) and from Sutrio twice (in 2003 and 2021). FulGaz has videoed both rides.

The western approach is steeper averaging 12 percent for its 10-kilometer distance. This year’s Giro is up the “easier” eastern approach. Calling it easier is relative, of course. It’s slightly longer at 13.4 kilometers and rises 1,197 meters in three distinct sections:

  1. The first 8.8 kilometres at an average of 8.3 percent;
  2. This is followed by 1.5 kilometres at less than 5 percent, and finally
  3. The coup de grâce: the final 3.1 kilometres at 13 percent, with the steepest pitch of 27 percent with 500 meters to go.

My feelings about this climb were summed up in one word: Aaaaargh!! Luckily, I watched a replay of the Peloton’s ascent, which took my mind off the pain. I did notice that the surface they climbed was newly paved for their ascent. The road surface that my videographer and I passed over was extremely weather-beaten and potholed. I am sure it hadn’t been touched since its last use by the Giro in 2003.

An Introduction to Stages 14 through 20

After my brief virtual interlude in the East, I returned to the Southern Tyrol.

Stages 14 through 17, represented by 5 different rides, are a “linked transition” along and above the Adige river. Starting in Merano, the route heads sout before looping back and eventually arriving at Prato allo Stelvio, at the base of the Passo Stelvio climb.

Stages 18, 19 and 20 are the three finishing climbs of the Passi Foscagno, Gavia and Stelvio.

Stage 14: Merano to Terlano Cycle Path (ITT)

This is a new ride, which I am riding as an ITT. After the herculean effort of Monte Zoncolan, the slightly downhill parcours and length was a welcome relief. The parcours embraced environmental sustainability: a cycle path, which started in the little town of Merano (German: Meran) and finished in Terlano (Terlan), just northwest of Balzano.

Local Geography: The cycle path runs parallel to the the Adige river (or Etsch in German), which is the second-longest in Italy after the Po. The river’s source is close to the borders with Austria and Switzerland above the Inn valley, and subsequently flows 410 kilometres through most of north-eastern Italy to the Adriatic Sea.

The section between Merano and Bolzano, where I am riding, is called Etschtal, meaning Adige Valley. South of Bolzano, the river turns south through a valley which has always been one of the major routes through the Alps, connecting the Reschen and the Brenner passes, which at 1,370 metres is considered the easiest of the main Alpine passes.

Stages 15: Climb Out of Etsch Valley

A new ride that departed from Terlano where the previous Stage finished. The beginning of the Stage looked innocent enough until I realised the first 8ks rose at a consistent 10% gradient. Nevertheless, the climb was worth it because of the vistas across the valley and the Adige.

Stage 16: High Above the Etsch Valley

Stage 15 morphed into Stage 16 north along the ridge along the top of the valley. The descent into Merano (from where I had departed two days ago) was worth the 30ks (and 2+ hours) to get to it. At an average gradient of –8.4%, I plummeted down the 10ks down in a little over 11 minutes.

Stage 17: Merano to Prato allo Stelvio

The final week begins with a Stage that consists of two new rides—the first is a long one, the second much shorter. Both follow a continuation of the cycle path that I had previously taken to Terlano. Following the Adige in a westerly direction toward its source, these rides start in Merano and continue on to Prato allo Stelvio at the base of the Stelvio. Once again, the cycle path offered magnificent and panoramic views of the valley and surrounding mountains.

  1. Merano to Vinschgau—29.4ks. This ride was a little more undulating than Part B. However, nothing very taxing.
  2. Vinschgau to Prato—8.5ks. Aside from a little bump in the middle of the parcours and a slight gradient towards the finish, this too was a peaceful adventure. Upon arriving in Prato, I could see the foothills en route to the Passo Stelvio in the distance.

And so endeth the calm before the storm. During the next three stages I ascended the three highest passes on this Tour Virtuale: climbing 3523m over 53.7ks., an average gradient of 6.5%.

Stage 18: Passo Foscagno from Livigno

This is a new climb this year. With an elevation of 2291m, the pass is located on the main alpine watershed: water on the north side flows down into the Inn and Danube, whereas water on the south side flows down into the Adige and Po. FulGaz offers two ascents of Passo Foscagno: one from Livigno in the west, which is the one I took, and one from Bormio in the east.

I selected the ascent from Livigno because of its rolling parcours instead of the constant climb from Bormio on the other side. This route climbs to a ski field before a brief descent and then climbs again to the summit. Thus, its average gradient is deceiving and significantly less than its effective gradient (i.e., eliminating the downhill portion) is 5.7%.

I enjoyed this ride very much. The scenery and vistas were spectacular, and there was enough activity on the road—both cars and cyclists—to suggest that it was a very popular route. Perhaps too popular in the real world. However, I will ride it again virtually in the future.

Stage 19: Passo di Gavia from Bormio

This is a new ride this year. At an elevation of 2621m, this pass is the second highest in my Giro Virtuale this year. The ascent is 18.7ks in length and climbs 1140 vertical metres for an average gradient of 6.1%.

Background: Located in the Italian Alps, the Passo di Gavia is the tenth highest paved road in the Alps. The pass lies in the Lombardy region and divides the province of Sondrio to the north and the province of Brescia to the south. The road over the pass (SS 300) connects Bormio to the northwest with Ponte di Legno to the south. The Gavia Pass has appeared in the Giro d’Italia 9 times, most recently in 2014. It has frequently been designated the Cima Coppi.

I selected the photo above of the top of the Pass for several reasons. First and foremost was its Ansel Adams-like feel#. Although a colour image, it looks almost black and white, Adams’s favourite medium.

The other reason is the contrast between the top as pictured above and the snow-covered landscape that my videographer and I rode through during my ride (below). The road looked like it at only recently been cleared of snow, which was eerily prescient of the landscape the real Peloton in the Giro was similarly experiencing on Stage 19.

The Passo di Gavia was a great ride because of the views and degree of difficulty: tough but enjoyably so.

Stage 20: Passo Stelvio from Prato

The penultimate and Queen Stage# to my GV21. It was one of three ascents of the Stelvio I completed during last year’s Giro. This one, while not the most difficult, is certainly the most iconic. At an elevation of 2757m, it is the Cima Cappi of my 2021 Giro Virtuale. The route from Prato is 24.7ks long with an elevation gain of 1785m, resulting in a mind-boggling average gradient of 7.2%.

Health Advisory: You know you’re getting older when you injure yourself sleeping. I woke up this morning with a niggle in my knee. I could have taken the day off and, as this is virtual, no one would have known. But this is also the Giro, so I persevered. The ascent’s 48 hairpins and vistas back down the valley were magical; I didn’t feel any pain in my knee—I felt it everywhere.

Stage 21: Costiera Trieste

The final ride of my Giro Virtuale is a new ride released last year by FulGaz. Trieste# is the capital of the North-eastern Italian region of Friuli Venezia Giulia. Situated at the end of a narrow strip of Italian territory, the city lies at the head of the Gulf of Trieste with a very long coastline between the Adriatic Sea and Slovenia. Croatia is some 30 km to the south.

Trieste has frequently hosted stages of the Giro d’Italia and, most recently, served as the Giro’s finish for the 2014 edition. It was also the scene of a dramatic episode of violence in the Giro’s history.

Historical Note: The 1946 edition was much anticipated as it was the first since 1938 because of the intervening war. Additionally, it would host the sporting renewal of the much-anticipated rivalry between the two best cyclists in the world—two Italians—Gino Bartoli and Fausto Coppi. When the route was announced in early 1946, the selection of Trieste as the finish of Stage 14 was viewed controversially. The city had been under British and US administration since May 1945; and in 1946, it remained a chaotic and volatile territory claimed by both Italy and Yugoslavia amid post-war reprisals and massacres.#

As the Peloton neared Trieste, Yugoslavs blocked the way with barbed wire and started throwing stones. In return, the armed guards who had accompanied the race opened fire. Chaos ensued.#

While the race continued the next day from Udine, riots raged in Trieste for days. For the next nine years, Trieste was under a British and U.S. military government, and remained a sore point until 1954 when it was officially made part of Italy.

The competition between Bartoli, “il Vecchio” (the “old man”), and Coppi, the newcomer, did not disappoint. 30,000 Tifosi filled the Milan Arena to witness Bartoli win the Giro by 47 seconds, revenge for Coppi’s 147km solo breakaway win in La Primavera in the Spring.

My FulGaz ride departed from Trieste’s picturesque waterfront, with the parcours following the coast of the Gulf of Trieste north before ascending a gentle climb of the Strada Costiera. The profile looks like a boa constrictor that’s swallowed an elephant. After reaching the summit near the little town of Sistiana, I U-turned and returned to Trieste.

I rode it full gas as an impromptu time-trial.

My Giro Virtuale 2021 Summary:

I think this year’s GV21 route was better structured than last year’s in terms of

  1. Length—both time and distance have been reduced;
  2. Difficulty—in light of the above, the degree of difficulty, the Effective Flat Distance, is lower;
  3. Variety—there are more flat and hilly rides and fewer mountain climbs.
  4. New Rides—variety has also been improved by the addition of 14 new rides.
  5. Transitions—I have also been able to create more geographic linkages between stages. FulGaz’s new releases also added to the improvement.

I would especially highlight the Sella Ronda. In particular the combination of ascents and descents. I would personally like to see more descents (or at least the option to incorporate them) of major climbs, particularly when the Giro itself uses them as transitions instead of only summit finishes.

The Exhibit on the following page shows the daily grind. It is summarized in the Table below. And for those interested, the accompanying Appendix A contains a brief discussion about relative and comparative performance.


What’s next? The FulGaz French Tour 2021 of course!

Rhyming Reflections

During a post-Giro ride last night, I was listening to the Cycling Podcast and some reflections by the hosts Richard Moore and Brian Nygaard. The observation that struck a chord for me was the comparison between last year’s pandemic-affected, spectator-less edition to this year’s Giro, where cities, towns, villages and climbs were once again lined with happy, cheering spectators. It was as if Italy had been reborn and the Peloton, feeling the emotion, rose to the occasion. The echoes of the 1946 edition—European cycling’s rebirth after the War—are striking.

Times per Period:

As the rest days were moved to Tuesday this year, the number of rides per period are different and not comparable with last year’s Giro Virtuale.

Times by Ride Type:

Core Rides refers to ones retained from last year. Their Benchmark is the actual time I achieved last year. There are 7 of these rides. New Rides refers to ones replacing rides from last year. These New Rides can either be (a) newly released by FulGaz or (b) previously released but not used last year. There are 14 of these. In most cases (11) the Benchmark for New Rides is a Ride with GPS (RWGPS) estimated based on my past performance. However, 4 of these rides I had previously ridden for pleasure. In these cases, the Benchmark is Actual time.

A Note on My Performance

I wasn’t sure what my performance would be in this year’s GV21 as I had not been training like last year. I was therefore surprised (and pleased) to see that most of my Stage times were better than Benchmark: either vis a vis previous actuals or Ride with GPS estimates. I am sure that this had something to do with this year’s overall lower degree of difficulty of the route (Lines 3 and 4).

However, several metrics suggest that my performance may also have had something to do with my general level of fitness (and form) today versus a year ago.

In summary I was surprised by but pleased with my performance. I will certainly do it again. If anyone is interested in the details, please see the accompanying pdf.

I am very pleased with the result.

About the author – Pike Talbert

Hailing from Sydney Australia, Pike is a very keen FulGaz rider, and has ridden 400+ different rides on the app.
This Giro overview has been modified from it’s original format, to see the original in .pdf form, hit the link below.


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