Giro – All Mountains, no Time Trials

After 6 interesting stages so far, the Giro d’Italia hits the mountains this weekend with the first summit finish of this year’s race on the Terminillo to come on Sunday. Historically, the Italian Grand Tour has always had more focus on climbing than its French equivalent. While time trialling is usually a necessary skill to win the Tour de France, it is much less of a prerequisite when it comes to conquering the Giro.

Last year, Denis Menchov laid the foundations for his Giro victory by taking the Pink jersey with a time trial win on Stage 12 . This was the first occasion for many years that the overall winner of the Giro also won an individual time trial during the race. Overall winners in recent years have mostly been out and out climbers with relatively poor time trialling ability such as Ivan Basso, Gilberto Simoni, Stefano Garzelli and Danilo Di Luca. To find the last rider before Menchov to bag a time trial victory on the way to overall glory we must go back 15 years to 1995 when Tony Rominger won all three individual tests against the clock. Contrast this with the Tour de France where 38 of the last 50 editions were won by a rider who was victorious in an individual time trial along the way.

Incidentally, the year Rominger won both the overall and a time trial at the Giro, he also won the points classification. In the Tour de France, the green points jersey has become synonomous with the term ‘sprinter’s jersey’. However it is merely the prize given to the most consistent day to day finisher over the three weeks. In the Tour de France, the route, which is usually littered with plenty of flat stages, dictates that the green jersey is dominated by sprinters. In fact, every rider to finish in the top 3 of the points classement at the Tour for the past 15 years has been a sprinter. Miguel Indurain (3rd in 1995) was the last G.C. rider to get near the points jersey. The last G.C. rider to actually win the Green jersey was Bernard Hinault way back in 1979.

Compare this with the Giro, where the top 4 riders in the points classification last year reads like a who’s who of the overall contenders, Danilo Di Luca*, Denis Menchov, Franco Pellizotti* and Stefano Garzelli. Other riders who have claimed the maglia ciclamino (now called the maglia rosso passione) in the past are Gilberto Simoni, Laurent Jalabert (after he had left his sprinting days behind him), Claudio Chiapucci and Gianni Bugno. This all proves the point that there’s much more emphasis placed on time trialling in the Tour than there is at the Giro. The fact that the G.C. contenders can also become contenders for the points classement highlights the emphasis the Giro organisers place on racing up mountains.

This year the race director Angelo Zomegnan has concocted another murderously mountaineous route. Monte Terminillo, Monte Zoncolan, the Mortirilo, the Passo di Gavia, and the Plan de Corones mountain time trial are all included on the route which includes six summit finishes. With only 23.7 standard time trial kilometres this is most certainly, again, a race for the climbers. Riders who are liable to lose time against the clock will have ample opportunity to gain it back in the final week. The mountain stages come so thick and fast in the third week it’s hard to imagine that any rider can get through it all without having at least one off day. Of the stages that don’t include huge climbs, most would fall into the ‘Giro won’t be won here but it certainly can be lost here’ category, as we’ve seen already with the messy but hugely exciting stages in the Netherlands.

The English speaking riders have been doing well haven’t they? I’ve never warmed to the term ‘English speaking riders’ when referring to the group of riders that happen to hail from English speaking countries. It’s an anomaly in that it’s not a term used in reference to any other sport. It is in use due to the number of ‘English speaking riders’ who simultaneously infiltrated the overwhelmingly mainland-European peloton in the Eighties. The successes of Steve Bauer, Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche, Robert Millar, Greg LeMond and Phil Anderson all coincided, yet they all hailed from different countries. Despite this and because of this, they were all grouped together under an ‘English speaking’ umbrella and the term has stuck. I feel that the phrase detracts from the national identity of every rider referred to as ‘English speaking’.

Having said all that though, it’s hard to ignore the fact that there is a definite Anglophone flavour to the Giro so far. Bradley Wiggins, Tyler Farrar and Matthew Lloyd have all won stages, there have been stints in pink for Wiggins and Cadel Evans, fast men Farrar and Graeme Brown have both led the sprinter’s classement while the young Tasmanian Richie Porte wore the White jersey for three days.  These riders have all ensured that the ‘English speaking’ flag (whatever flag that is!) has been flying high in this year’s Giro. Other riders who may feel compelled to get in on the act in the coming days are Greg Henderson, David Millar, Charlie Wegelius and Chris Sutton. And of course, despite losing a further 11 and a half minutes on Stage 6 due to riding in the service of team mate Millar, I still harbour hopes of a mountain stage win for Daniel Martin.

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