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Watch: The Giro's last visit to the Sanctuary of San Luca

The last time the Giro visited the Sanctuary of San Luca, an unknown Chris Froome found himself fighting for stage honours

Joe Robinson
10 May 2019

The 102nd Giro d'Italia starts on Saturday with an 8km individual time-trial in the Emilia-Romagna city of Bologna. Any other day and an 8km time trial would be just a formality. The race's strongest testers would compete for pink while, barring a crash or mechanical, the race's General Classification men would all finish within a handful of seconds of one another, keeping it cagey knowing three weeks of tough racing lie ahead.

However, Stage 1 of this Giro will be slightly different.

After weaving through the old streets of Bologna for 6km on Saturday, each and every rider will take a sharp right turn of almost 180 degrees from the Via Porrenttana onto the Via San Luca.

For the final 2km, the race will climb a wall: 2,000m at an average of 10%, each rider will begin the climb to the Santuario di San Luca, the baroque-style Roman Catholic sanctuary that sits proudly above the city of Bologna.

Conversation has already begun about bike changes. Should riders opt for their road bikes at the base of the climb? Is the 16% max gradient too much for their clunky TT bikes? Does the almost dead stop turn at the bottom of the climb mean changing bikes does not cost time?

It's an opening stage that could genuinely provide a shake-up in GC contention and that, while unlikely to completely kill off hopes, could put riders on the backfoot.

Pain and Glory

The Sanctuary of San Luca will provide a special backdrop to the Grande Partenza of this 102nd race for pink not only for its beauty but also its place in the race's heart.

There was the time, in 1956, when Italian veteran Fiorenzo Magni defined 'hardman'. Breaking his collarbone day's before, three-time Giro winner Magni bit down on an old inner tube tied to his handlebars to alleviate the excruciating pain and help steer up the winding climb.

Moren Argentin also won atop the San Luca in 1984 but that's no surprise as its steep gradient was bread and butter for the all-conquering Classics man.

But the most recent, and therefore the most memorable, occasion was 10 years ago - give or take two weeks.

On Stage 14 of the 92nd Giro, the race headed from the small Tuscan city of Campi Bisenzio to Bologna and a finish at the Sanctuary of San Luca.

The race was about to enter a tough final week of mountain ascents to Blockhaus and Mount Vesuvius which made for prime breakaway territory.

Eventually, a group of eight hit the base of the climb, attacking almost from the start. Involved were names such as Vasil Kiryienka and Francesco Gavazzi but the two main animators to the finish were individuals we are much more familiar with.

First was Simon Gerrans, able puncheur and future Monument winner who would eventually win the stage. Second was the man who Gerrans followed, a little known domestique from the ProContinental Barloworld-Bianchi team.

Carrying a few more pounds than he does today yet still rocking the pedals in that familiar unorthodox style was a 25-year-old Chris Froome.

The unknown Froome eventually popped on the ascent, began to pedal squares and found himself overtaken by another four riders as he rolled in sixth on the stage, his best Grand Tour stage result to date.

It would be the same level of obscurity for a further two years as Froome moved to Team Sky, rolling around as a domestique in the service of others, until 2011, when under threat of being let go by Dave Brailsford, Froome miraculously battled to second overall at the Vuelta a Espana.

A decade and six Grand Tours later, Froome has made his transition from breakaway also-ran to the most decorated Grand Tour rider of his generation.