Navigating the Giro d'Italia
This Giro was hard. Is that because of the racing, or the route?
Modern Grand Tours have challenged the idea that harder is better. The classics are beholden to traditional routes, but the Giro, Tour and Vuelta organisers have frequently made use of their license to get creative. For instance, this year’s Tour features a 65km stage, a far cry from several hundred kilometre long epic stages that made up the first Grand Tours.
We pine for shorter stages, understanding that fresher riders make for better racing. At the same time though, everybody’s egging on the organisers to make the race harder, like footy fans hanging over the fence, cheering wildly as a fight breaks out at three-quarter time. You know what’s happening in front of you is wrong, but you just can’t stop yourself from getting excited by it.
With every route release, we instinctively dissect the course, total up the number of summit finishes and total ascent. Giro director Mauro Vegni had to defend this year’s course because supposedly it wasn’t hard enough. “But it has 2000m more climbing than last year’s route!” he exclaimed.
The Giro is the most sadistic of the Grand Tours; the heroin dealing brother coming from a family of shoplifters. But this year’s route reached new heights, partly due to route, and partly due to the way the racing panned out.
The Finestre and Cervina stages were one hell of a sting in the tail. Judging your effort and coming into form at the right time were prerequisites for this race, and Sky did that perfectly. So many others did not.
Thibaut Pinot lost 45 minutes on the penultimate stage and was hospitalised that night. Domenico Pozzovivo lost 9 minutes to Froome on the road to the Jafferau. Fabio Aru struggled all race and pulled out in the last week. The Mitchelton-SCOTT blow-ups of Chaves and Yates were two of the race's most dramatic moments, and partially of their own making.
Mitchelton-SCOTT came here with a plan to take the race by the scruff of the neck in the first two weeks. The knew they'd be hanging on for dear life at the end. It didn’t work, and they were counting the cost as Yates’ tank was running on fumes as he made his way (slowly) up the Finestre. He was made to look like that kid at your Year 9 Athletics Carnival, sprinting the first lap of the 1500m before crawling home on his knees.
From the team’s point of view though, it was the right plan. Yates is as punchy a GC contender as you could find, and he’ll win a Grand Tour one day doing precisely what he did here, but a tad better and for a couple of days longer.
Nearly every day turned into a GC battle. To reach the other side in reasonable shape, you had to be either the best Grand Tour rider of this generation (Froome) or possibly Ironman (Dumoulin). This was a hard course no doubt, but you’d say the nonstop racing contributed to the spectacular downfall of several GC contenders just as much.
Any discourse around Grand Tour routes need to keep that in mind that the level of excitement is going to be up to how the riders race it. The riders are the artists; the course is just the canvas for them to paint on.
In the end, that’s what we really want, isn’t it? The best athletes in the world giving absolutely everything, to make for an incredible race. I’d probably say we got that. There’s a reason the Giro is the best three weeks of the year.
See you back at the social club,