I can’t believe it’s May already. In California, our road race season is winding down. In Utah, it’s just beginning; a good thing for me. But May is also the month of the Giro d’Italia, which is probably my favorite bike race.
The Tour’s nice and all, I love all of the classic single day races, the Vuelta seems to always be very exciting, but the Giro is, well, somehow just special. Perhaps it’s because it’s “the most beautiful”; maybe because it’s early and we’re not sure who will be strong in the grand tours for the year; but mainly, I think, is that it’s in Italy.
Italians loves bike racing. I mean really love it. Kind of like Belgians, but with better food, wine, coffe, weather, and mountains. Because it’s in May, the Giro has all sorts of different elements. It might be hot, cold, rainy, or snowy. Mountain passes sometimes close down. Stages sometimes flood. The southern stages can also be the first truly hot races of the year and melt the peloton.
Also, there’s a different vibe about it (which has been changing over the years with media pressure); where the Tour has panache, the Giro has piano. It’s not uncommon to see stages play out like a parade for the public. When a stage goes piano, it slows to a crawl. This gives the riders a break but is something special for the public, who can actually ride along with the peloton. Since the entire race is now televised, this doesn’t happen much anymore. I think the riders must miss it. But piano is still a tradition and you’ll still see stages cruise along at 20kph for periods of time, which means that when things get fast, they get REALLY fast. I remember a hot stage in Sicily where they spent about 100k cruising around with spectators as though it were a ride down the esplanade. When they finally decided to race, it was the fastesst and most exciting riding I’d ever seen. I think Cipo won that day. Bike racing needs another Cipo.
The Giro also has mountains; the most beatiful on earth. And they’re steep. This year’s edition feature one, the Zoncolon, that makes L’Alpe d’Huez look look like a freeway overpass. L’Alpe’s steepest pitches are 11%. The Zoncolon AVERAGES nearly 12%. It has prolonged sections of 18%, 20%, and 22%. Two years ago, the race sorted out on the penultimate climb up a monster called the Finestre. This climb is not only long and at elevation, but it’s dirt. The Giro can be cruel, and that makes for great drama. It’s no wonder that Bob Roll’s finest tale covers one mountain stage in the ’88 edition. If you haven’t read “The Day the Big Men Cried,” put it at the top of your list.
And the Giro has that song. Ah, Il Grande Giro. It gets in your head and it stays there until you’ve been on your bike long enough to beat it out. It’s how I met Big Jonny over at Drunk Cyclist. We shared the same sentiment about it. Most American’s, unfortunately, will never hear it. And that’s a shame. But for us in the know, our world will be a better place because of it.
Time to get on my bike…