Yesterday I saw what can best be described as a charm offensive from tourist executives in the US. A folk singer beckons us to come to the land of the free to realise our dreams. No offence intended to my US readers but this struck me as a little fake. And this was reinforced by its screening in an ad break during the Giro d’Italia. As charm offensives go, the Giro is a total success in my book – great scenery, lovely weather, enthusiastic and expressive spectators, the only thing missing is the food and drink. As you can tell, I am hooked.
My love affair with Italy has been recent, a combination of honeymoon, simple veggie friendly cooking and of course the cycling. Though Italian cycling for many years didn’t mean much to me. Of course I knew about the Giro, I’d seen reports of classics like Lombardy and Milan-San Remo but it had never featured as much as the Tour de France. Maybe that is the product of growing up in the UK and following the limited cycling coverage available. To me the Tour de France came top but the Kellogg’s Tour and, if you remember them, the Scottish Provident criteriums seemed more real even than Miguel Indurain’s tussle with Tony Rominger down the boot of Europe. To be honest, these seemed like training rides in the build up to the big event. And that’s a feeling that has taken a long time to shake. Just as I’ve previously indicated how the season seems to end by August, the Italian races were an hors d’oeuvres to the main event, the cheap support act. But no more.
This year’s Giro d’Italia has changed my thinking for good. With its bold selection of route and in its acceptance of which riders who will come, this year’s race has been spectacular. Whilst there has been no one stand out moment like, for example, Lemond’s final day win in the ’89 (and my first) Tour de France (yet*), the twists and turns in all aspects of the race have been intriguing. And the riders have added to this. Mark Cavendish remains in the race long after others with GC ambitions have pulled out and his continued participation in what was considered a warm up to the Tour-Olympics dominated July should be considered a mark of how good this race is. It has offered a fresh approach to racing, one made all the fresher by the absence of some of the so-called big names. Ironically this is the definition of True Racing that others merely apply as a tag.
And a significant feature of this has been the selection of wild card teams. When this selection was announced there was some outcry in Italy at the teams who were left out. In particular the exclusion of Acqua & Sapone and previous Giro winners Danilo di Luca and Stefano Garzelli was greeted with surprise and threatened retirements. Yet the teams included have done the wildcard tag proud.
Admittedly this did not start well. Androni’s Roberto Ferrari was certainly wild in his antics on stage 3 and questions were soon asked about his inclusion and the worth of his team. But over three weeks these episodes start to pale. Whilst the pocket climbers of Androni have been conspicuous by their absence this year, Ferrari has grabbed a stage and Alessandro Di Marchi has been in 2 main moves on high mountain stages. Far from being the “who are they” team when the wildcards were announced, Team NetApp have covered almost every break in the race and in so doing covered themselves in glory and reaffirmed their selection. Despite the loss of their team leader, Filippo Pozzato, Farnese Vini have been in the attacks, had 2 stages wins and surely the moment of this year’s race when Matteo Rabottini out on his own for the day and having looked totally spent hit back at Joaquin Rodriguez’s final attack by finding, from where we can only guess, a final burst to clinch the stage. And Colnago-CSF, whilst also having been in much of the daily action, have placed Domenico Pozzovivo in the heart of the battle for the pink jersey – whilst he may not take it he certainly made the battle tougher for the others tougher at the top of the Passo Giau. These are teams who have earned their way into the Giro and when there have done their inclusion justice with their fresh and wild approach to racing.
There’s still 2 days and a bit to go in this year’s race and things may change for the worse but I’m going to stick my neck out and say that the Giro d’Italia is better than the Tour de France. Whilst its big it isn’t too big to go through – and finish in – the centre of towns. Its produced racing that has been non-stop, interesting and enthralling. It has shown that great racing doesn’t always need “big names”. Whilst last year I find myself looking back on last year’s Tour in much the same way now as I felt then, I can’t help but feel that even if it is not a classic this Giro has reignited my interest in racing.
So here’s to true racing, the Italian (and with Net App, the German!) way. I’ll raise a glass of Chianti to that.
* As I write this watching the 19th stage, Sunday’s time trial could yet produce similar!