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06-06-2023 | Luc Nouwen

Giro della Sicilia, a charming stage race

The Giro della Sicilia was organized for the fifth time this year. A great opportunity to challenge it for once. Together with my wife, I travel to Sicily for a wonderful week of cycling and vacations.


The organization consists of a small team, supported by a number of volunteers. The format is special: participants can choose whether to do one, two or all five stages. After the second stage there is a rest day. Each stage begins with a group ride to the starting point of a timed section that is virtually traffic-free. At the end of this "time trial"  the group ride continues. All stages start from the same city. This year that was Campofelice di Rocella. So it is not a tour of Sicily. The giro element consists of the fact that the starting point moves to a different location each year. This year's focus is the Madonie, a protected natural area included in the UNESCO Global GeoParks network.

I rode the first two stages in excellent weather conditions. A real treat after the horrible spring in Belgium! With just over two hundred participants for the first stage, the organization was under some pressure. A few things that might annoy perfectionists are the lack of proper information, failure to adhere to the schedule and Italians who speak only Italian. But they make up for it with their charm, the fact that everything gets taken care of in the end and good food!

Stage 1

The first stage was 37 kilometers uphill to Piano Battaglia after which you were free to take the same way downhill at your own discretion and time. The timed section was about 12 kilometers long with 725 meters of elevation. Some parts of the climb passed the  11%. A nice pasta was served at the end of the climb so you didn't have to go downhill with an empty stomach. 

A nice feature of the organization is that in addition to a nice finisher's shirt, you get a good quality backpack. You can leave that in the car at the beginning of the stage and pick it up after the timed section or at the end of the stage. It did take some searching for your bag in the big pile. That was better arranged last year during the TOUR Transalp in northern Italy: there the backpacks were sorted by number. 

It was a nice stage uphill, unfortunately my legs didn't quite agree. Downhill was a test for the brakes given the poor condition of the roads.

Stage 2

The second stage was just over 100 kilometers with a timed section of 7.2 kilometers over 590 meters of elevation toward Pollina. It is a demanding climb with steep sections and a difficult finish. My legs were good this time, so even though it was tougher, it was more fun! A little further uphill, in Castelbuono, we were treated to local specialties, then it was downhill, back to the coastline and a lunch overlooking the sea in Lascari.

The advantage of a group ride is that you get to know some of the other participants. Although the phrase "no parlo Italiano" cuts off much of the potential conversation, a Australian and a couple of very likable Dutch riders make up for it. A young Dutch rider named Wout Driever, who lives in Switzerland, won both time trials and clearly impressed other riders.

The rest day took my better half and myself to Tindari, home of the Black Madonna and an archaeological site. As we got lost, we followed a beautiful route. Sicily has a lot to offer in that regard. Perhaps Tindari will be the starting point next year?

Stage 3

The beautiful weather has left Sicily, thunderstorms and heavy showers are predicted. For this reason, the organization has shortened the third stage, which should have been the queen stage. Instead of a round trip, it will go up as in the first stage (this time to Geraci) and then return to the departure base via the same road. The scheduled departure at 8 a.m. sharp became fifteen minutes later; the stops along the way took too long; at the start of the descent, the sky was threatening and dark. It led to four crashes (including our Australian friend Will and Dutch talent Wout) and one casualty with a broken shoulder. The road was slippery in places. Several times my wheel slipped in the turns. So it was a back road with the brakes and the buttocks squeezed. Fortunately, the rain stopped after a while and the final stretch was quite reasonable. The top riders made the section against time a race between them, with Wout losing out in the sprint. Wash my clothes, polish my bike, grease the chain and on to stage 4.

Stage 4

The briefing for stage 4 was better than the one for the first three days: more facts & figures and one of the participants who provided a good translation into English. During the ride itself we were again reminded of the Italian clichés: there was a problem with the police; the start of the time trial was much earlier than announced; nothing came of the intention that you should not ride together across the mat (the days before there were problems with the recording of the times); the distance of the time trial did not correspond to what was said; the signs with 3 kilometers, 1 kilometer and 500 meters to go, were not there. But the feed stations were very nice and we were kindly welcomed everywhere in the villages.

Stage 5

In terms of course and views (Caccamo, Montemaggiore Belsito, Alia) I loved this ride. We were treated to some heavy rain, but we were prepared for that. Wout was again beaten in the sprint, but remained leader. The final 'champagne' stage was quite short at 60 kilometers. There was another time trial of just over 10 kilometers, where this time everything went reasonably orderly: start on call, the last in the ranking starts first. My race number was called way too early, but after some tasty cookies at the finish, everything was forgotten again. Wout took the helm again and became overall winner of the Giro. With my fourth place in the well-filled sixty-plus category (twelve participants out of sixty in total) it was a successful training camp for me. Of course, it still gnaws at me that I just missed out on the podium and would have been in a younger age category.

A lot of flowers were thrown at the organization in the app group. It is a very sympathetic team and in terms of participant safety they did their best (despite the crashes). The sponsors are also very generous with the prizes. Between the winners of each age category, for example, a voucher for a custom handmade bicycle frame was raffled off.

In the little apartment next door, the family is calling "la mama," the sun is shining, someone is strumming a guitar. We are going to explore a few more places in Sicily over the weekend, and this time not by bike, because the spouse has pushed herself away long enough.

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