This article was produced in associated with Lapierre.
The secret of realizing the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment of existence is: to live dangerously! Build your cities on the slopes of Vesuvius! Send your ships out into uncharted seas! Live in conflict with your equals and with yourselves! — Friederich Nietzsche.
When one looks at this year’s Giro d’Italia, our eyes quickly wander toward the high mountains that riddle the final week of racing. After all that is where the race for the maglia rosa will eventually be won or lost. But to simply focus on the Alps or Dolomites would ignore the many wonderful stages found earlier in the race, stages that often mix great racing with stunning landscapes.
One of those stages comes near the end of the opening week, as stage six starts and finishes in Naples. And as soon as this year’s Giro was announced, Rouleur knew this would be a great stage to explore for anyone looking to ride in this luscious corner of southern Italy. And we quickly found a partner with Lapierre.
On paper, stage six appears relatively straightforward as it starts and finishes in Naples. But while Naples may be a Mecca for football fans, this crowded city – famous for its pizza as well as its infamous drivers – is not ready made for cycling. No, it is what happens in between the start and finish of stage six that is so captivating, as it loops around the truly mythic countryside behind Naples, not to mention some of the most spectacular coastlines in Italy.
Just after the start, the stage laces around the legendary volcano of Mount Vesuvius, passing by Pompeii, the ancient city that was consumed when the volcano erupted in 79 AD. From there, the race then climbs up the Valico di Chiunzi climb before dropping down on the breathtaking Amalfi Coast, through Sorrento and back along the shores of the Tirreno Sea to Naples.
“This is a really complete stage,” say Tommaso Elettrico, Lapierre’s Italian ambassador. A member of a local gran fondo club in Sorrento, these roads are nothing short of his own training ground. “It’s a beautiful stage, but there is some good climbing, and it is really technical. It’s going to be an interesting day.”
As Electtrico peppered his legs on the opening sections of the Vailico di Chiunzi climb, it is impossible to ignore the views over the plains of Vesuvius, even though the volcano itself is spending the day covered in a blanket of clouds.
“This climb is really steady,” says Elettrico. “There a few pitches around 10%, but it's not really steep. Definitely some riders will get dropped, but I don’t think it will affect the GC.”
As the valley fades from view, the upper pitches of the climb quickly become more rustic. Elettrico locks into a steady rhythm on his elegant Lapierre Xelius SL 9.0. It is a climb he clearly masters. “I’ve been riding Lapierre for a couple of years now and the Xelius SL is just ideal. It’s just so light and responsive when you are climbing,” says Electtrico, who averages 25,000 kilometer per year. “But what is really great about the Xelius SL 9.0 is how versatile it is. It’s great on descents, and for someone like me, who rides a lot of gran fondos, it is really comfortable.”
Arriving at the summit, Elettrico points to a well-known vantage point that is worth a stop. After all, if you are going to make the effort to climb, it is worth stopping at least for a moment to take in the views.
The climb has also recently been renamed the Passo Pantani, who crashed on the descent here and was forced out of the 1997 Giro, a year before winning both the Giro and the Tour.
And indeed, the descent is challenging, with its sinuous roads, and ever-changing road conditions. “We’ve had a lot of rain here this spring, and if the roads are wet when the Giro passes, it will really be challenging because this descent is really technical. If the roads are wet on the day of the Giro, riders will be all over the place.”
As Elettrico winds his way down towards the Tirreno Sea, he passes through the mountain-side village of Ravello, known around the world for its classical music festival. But Elettrico has little time to look around, as the road is nothing short of perilous. And just after Ravello, a two-kilometer stretch of road is under heavy construction. We can only hope it is finished by the time the Giro passes in just a few days.
And then suddenly the Amalfi Coast stretches out before us. Elettrico stops before hitting the coastal road. “This is it! This is the Amalfi Coast. Right here, right now, we are in the middle of it. Look you can see the terraced hillsides, the villages. And then there is this amazing coast and the sea. It’s easy to understand why it is so famous.”
Elettrico then attacks the final hairpins of the descent, unmoved by the dizzying drops. “You know, a great climbing bike is only as good as it descends, and that is really one of the strengths of Xelius. It is just really stable on the descents.”
Elettrico then hits Strade Statali 163, the state road that laces along this sumptuous coastline. Passing under one of the many tunnels, the town of Amalfi is one of the first of many villages that make this coastline so magical. And it is a good place to stop before heading to Sorrento and on.
“These roads are just amazing. I love riding here. Look at how these villages just melt into the hillside. And it is going to be a great stage in the Giro. On paper, there is not that much climbing. But I don’t think it will be a sprint. From the descent of Valico di Chiunzi to Naples the roads are really technical. It’s a good day for a breakaway really, as the race will be hard to control. And if it does come down to a sprint, well, I think there will only be 50 or 60 guys,” Elettrico analyses. “It’s going to be a beautiful stage. These are just amazing roads for riding, even when the Giro is not here.”