Thursday, May 3, 2012

Wait....It's May?!?!

I’m still kicking myself for not following my winter training plan like I should have.  I’m still trying to find time to take some real long rides so I can build my “base.”  If you asked my legs what month it was, they would look at you inquisitively and say, “Why it’s February of course!” No it’s May.  Wait, did I hear myself correctly? May?!?!  Where does the time go?

I suppose I could rail against it, but time—passing as it tends to do—can’t be stopped.  So I’ll embrace it.  I will embrace the fact that May is upon us—even though my legs wish they had more time to find themselves.  The classics have passed and we are in the throes of another long and difficult cycling season.  April showers have brought us May flowers—although it seems as though we are probably in store for some more May showers.

In cycling, May means one thing: The Giro d’Italia.  May brings us the grand tours.  The hard men of the cobbles have had their day in the sun—or rain—and now it is time for the small men of the mountains to do their thing.  

If the classics embody all that is the suffering of cycling, then the grand tours are all the verve and panache—and The Giro may be the vervey-est and panachey-est of them all.  The Tour de France may be the oldest and most revered of the three, but The Giro is the most beautiful.  It has the most life.  It’s spirit and flair make it unique among the grand tours and are a mark of pride for Italian cycling enthusiasts everywhere.  It’s no surprise either.  The Italians’ grand tour is a reflection of their own vigor for life—think: Cipollini’s sometimes outrageous skinsuits.  

Though not as old as The Tour, The Giro is not far behind.  Its first edition was in 1909, only six years after the first Tour de France.  Like many of the major bike races in Europe, it was created by a newspaper—in this case La Gazzetta dello Sport looked to compete with another Italian newspaper, Corriere della Serra, which had just created an automobile race around the Italian countryside.  La Gazzetta, with its iconic pink pages (thus the pink jersey for the race leader, although that did not come about until sometime later), staged the first Giro d’Italia in May of 1909.  

Alfredo Binda, here in the 1927 Giro, would go on to win the race 5 times.  One of only three men to do so.

Italy has an incredible history of domination in its home grand tour, taking every overall victory from its inception until Hugo Koblet won the overall classification in 1950.  And if you think this domination has waned recently due to the “globalization” of cycling—think again.  The Italians recently strung together 11 straight victories from 1997 to 2007.  Of the 20 cyclists who have won the race multiple times, only 4 of them are non-Italians.  Italy has won the overall classification an incredible 67 out of 94 editions of the race (there were no races held during the two world wars).  The country in second place? Belgium—with only 7 wins.  

Fausto Coppi in the 1957 Giro.  Coppi is the second of three men to win the Giro 5 times.  The other? Eddy Merckx.

On the list of overall stage wins, only two Belgians crack the top ten: Eddy Merckx and Roger de Vlaeminck—with the most flamboyant champion of them all, Cipollini topping the list with 42 stage wins.  

The Giro can also boast some of the most creative race programming of any of the three grand tours, although last year’s edition was probably a bit too hard for its own good.  Think of stage 7 of the 2010 edition.  Cadel Evans won a mud-ridden stage of dirt roads in the rainbow jersey.  Epic.  Definitely one of my favorite stage race stages I can ever remember watching.  The Giro takes risks like having stages comprised of many dirt roads, and it often makes for great racing.  

Vino and Cadel in stage 7 of the 2010 Giro d'Italia.  Evans would go on to win the stage.

This year’s edition is admittedly easier than last year—as it should be.  It features three time trials—two individual, including the final stage in Milan, and one team endeavor—as well as a multitude of mountains and interesting flat stages.  Here are a few stages of which to take note:

Stage 2: Herning-Herning (206km)

An uninteresting profile, for sure, but this is what has me interested in this stage:

 There is some very exposed coastal riding there, which could make for some nasty crosswinds.  There is potential for this stage to be your average sprint stage and a “W” for Cavendish, but the winds could potentially split the field. 

Stage 4: Verona-Verona (32.2km) TTT

Despite it being early in the race, there is nothing like starting with a deficit to your nearest rivals.  It’s important for favorites to do well here.  

Stage 14: Cherasco-Cervinia (205km)

The first true high mountain stage of the Giro.  This stage is the first time the race will go over 2,000 meters in elevation—expect that to make a significant selection.  Altitude can wreak havoc on riders who are not accustomed to riding there.  This will be a mountain top finish to mark on the calendar, no doubt.  

Stage 20: Clades Val di Sole-Passo dello Stelvio (218km)

One of the most legendary climbs in all of cycling ends this penultimate stage during what is a brutal final week of The Giro.  The day before the final ITT, look for the climbers to make a final decisive blow against the strong TT contenders.  Fireworks are all but guaranteed.  

So if it isn’t terribly obvious, we’re all pretty excited about The Giro around here.  Follow Off the Rivet throughout the race for special Giro-themed posts, as well as some pretty exciting surprises we have in the works for you guys in the month of May.  Catch the Giro starting Saturday May 5th, on many live streaming channels on websites like or watch it live on NBC Sports

I’ll leave you with a video featuring 5 time winner of the Giro d’Italia, the cannibal himself, Eddy Merckx.  Enjoy: