This year’s Giro was the first Grand Tour I’ve watched from start to finish. Early on this year I decided to give my summer to the Tour: I would do everything I could to watch it. When I was reminded by Eroica Cicli that the Giro d’Italia was coming up I immediately jumped at the chance to get my first proper taste of Grand Tour riding.
The Tour de France carries an impressive weight in the cycling world. It is THE event of the year, and everyone is, in varying degrees, familiar with the TourBut the Giro is something else, a little more mysterious and much less known. When explaining to friends and colleagues that I was watching the Giro I’d explain: “It’s like the Tour de France, but for Italy.”
What was it like watching my first Grand Tour? I was first struck by how little rest these riders get. I was expecting five to six days of riding followed by a rest day. In reality, they rode for nine days straight! And each stage isn’t a two to four hour ride, some were as long as eight hours! At the end of the Giro Contador concluded: “Hombre, it was tough. This was the hardest work and the hugest effort of my career.” And this is from the guy that breezed by other riders on more then a few occasions! It’s a tough race!
It’s easy to be disappointed when your favourite rider (in my case I decided to back Nibali – not the most exciting rider, but he had the amazing skill of just grinding up those hills in spite of breakaways and attacks) can’t quite get away from the chasing group and get on the attack. It took a while for me to realise that pushing yourself for upwards of four hours and then having anything left is a challenge in of itself. To remember that these riders had been doing it for three weeks brings a whole new perspective.
I was also surprised at how much tactics played a part. Well, maybe not surprised about how much tactics were key, but more the different ways riders used tactics. It had never occurred to me that if you pushed yourself hard one day, you might no longer have the strength to properly compete the next day. Or that riders would intentionally hold themselves back in the closing kilometres of a stage in order to try to provoke another rider to attacking early, so that they might draft behind the leader and ultimately pass them closer to the finish line. I wasn’t terribly impressed at the small ways riders try to gain an advantage. This was most clearly noticeable when riders were receiving drink-bottles from the team cars. Staff would hold out the bottle and pull the rider for a second or so as he was grabbing the drink, providing just a moment of repose. I just thought it was a shame.
It was certainly an adventure! I loved getting up early, watching these guys slog it out, experience the excitement of frantic finish morning after morning and then having the whole rest of the day to get on with the rest of life. I hope I get to watch the Tour this summer. Maybe, just maybe, like Contador I’ll get two Grand Tours under my belt this summer!