With the Spring Classics wrapping up at Leige-Bastogne-Leige last week, it’s time to focus on the grand tours, particularly “The madness of a descent that plunges towards the center of the earth. The torture of a hill that soars into the sky. The solitude of the road and the celebration at the finish line. The embrace of the people that push you with their hands and hearts. The war against time, which is both with you and against you. The fatigue that is never-ending, even when it’s over. And then there is the rain, wind, snow, tears and joy.” This is La Corsa Rosa, the Giro d’Italia, The toughest race in world’s most beautiful place.
This years 96th running of the Giro is a short 9 days away. Beginning on May 4th in Napoli, the 21 day race will cover 3,454.8 kms (2,149.2 miles) including grueling climbs of fabled mountain passes including Passo Stelvio (2,758 M), Passo Gavia (2,618 M), Passo Giau (2,236 M), and Col du Galibier (2.642 M). The 21 stage race will include 1 team time trial, 1 uphill time trial, 1 individual time trial, 7 stages for sprinters, 1 stage with dirt roads, 4 medium mountain stages (with 1 summit finish), 6 mountain stages (with 6 summit finish).
The Giro began life in 1909 when struggling Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport got wind of a plan by a rival paper to launch a tour of Italy following the runaway success of the Tour de France, which had been established six years beforehand. Although they had already established the Giro di Lombardia and Milan-Sanremo, those one-day races had not yet gained the Classic status they would later acquire, and Gazzetta’s directors didn’t have the funds to get a new race off the ground, much less one lasting two and a half weeks and covering a substantial part of Italy. Donations from across the country, including a gift from a Sanremo casino, ensured the race got off the ground. Starting and finishing in Milan, it proved a huge success, Luigi Ganna claiming victory thanks to three stage wins, while La Gazzetta’s sales soared, which guaranteed the race’s future.
Today the Giro ranks behind only the Tour de France in terms of prestige, and is one of the three grand tour highlights of the racing calendar. The riders love it because it is more relaxed than the Tour and because the tifosi, the Italian fans, are passionately enthusiastic and knowledgeable.
The field features 23 teams of nine riders (19 World Tour Teams plus four wild card invitations). The will be battling for four jerseys;
- maglia rosa: the coveted pink jersey is awarded to the rider with the shortest overall time for all the stages added together. As such, they have covered the course faster than anyone else. It is pink because the race has always been organised by newspaper La Gazzetta Dello Sport which is printed on bright pink paper. It is sponsored by Balocco, a biscuit maker.
- maglia azzurra: the mountains jersey. Originally green, but now blue, it is sponsored by Banca Mediolanum, a bank.
- maglia ciclamino: the points competition. Riders pick up points at the intermediate sprints during a stage and at the finish line. Points are awarded at an intermediate spring and the finish line. It is sponsored by Italo, a train operator.
- maglia bianca: for the best young rider, this is awarded on the same basis as the pink jersey, except the rider must be born after 1 January 1988, ie aged 25 or under. It is sponsored by Fratelli Orsero, a fruit distributor.
Canadian Ryder Hesjedal will be defending the maglia rosa, with no fewer than two Tour de France winners in the field – Bradley Wiggins, and Cadel Evans. The other likely contenders are Italian Vincenzo Nibali, the Spaniard and former Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez, Ivan Basso, and the Dutch rider Robert Gesink. I’ll be rooting for American Taylor Phinney to not only win but also take over the GC reigns from Cadel Evans at BMC.
Regardless of the outcome, it will be a punishing, yet spectacular race. Below is a great info graphic video of all the stages which is well worth a watch to give you a better idea of what an epic ordeal the Giro is. Good luck to all the riders. Good luck to all the riders.