Saturday, May 23, 2009

Amore di Giro

It seems that every year the Giro organizers come under fire for some aspect of race logistics. Last year, it was the crazy and lengthy transfers and a climb that required swapping out cassettes for something larger than a 25. This year, riders found the narrow roads with tight turns objectionable enough to protest. And then Fabian Cancellara called the stage 12 time trial a cyclotourist event and left the race for a few days rest before an appointment with the Tour de Suisse.

Some of the criticism is understandable. Following a murderous six hours in the saddle the last thing anyone needs is to be cooped up in the back of a station wagon moving through stop-and-go traffic. Dinner after 10:00 is perhaps okay if you’ve had a siesta and planned your evening (and the next morning) accordingly. Similarly, roads narrower than some minds are an understandable cause for the peloton’s concern. It’s one thing to expect guys on a group ride to single up for a tight turn, but at the Giro? For crying out loud it is a bike race—guys will ride seven abreast on a two-meter-wide strip of tarmac and just pray that they don’t crash.

Can a climb be too steep for a Grand Tour? Only if you can’t get traction to ride up it. Does every road need to be paved like a new boulevard in a subdivision? Not if you like drama. Can a time trial be too long or too hard? Isn’t this bike racing?

If this perspective seems a little extreme, consider the logical endpoint for restricting the climbing and road quality. Any criteria used to judge a climb as too steep are subjective and ever more subjective criteria can be applied. If 20 percent is too steep, then 19 percent can be too steep as well. If a poorly paved road is too rough, then a patched road can be too rough. At some point you end up rejecting everything that isn’t the Daytona tri-oval.

Stage 12’s mountainous time trial was one of the most exciting stages I’ve seen in a Grand Tour in the last five years. The course was breathtakingly gorgeous and over roads any cyclist would kill to ride on as a closed course. Shouldn’t the course of a Grand Tour take in roads that are at once challenging, thrilling and precarious? Certainly we don’t wish harm to come to the riders (e.g. Pedro Horillo), but roller races aren’t nearly as fun to watch.

Because it took the competitors out of their comfort zone—a traditional flat time trial—the outcome couldn’t be guessed. Commentators and fans were divided on DiLuca’s chances for victory and the final outcome was satisfying because it yielded a victor we know to be a contender for the overall.

The tragedy is that Cancellara’s departure deprived the tifosi of what would have been an interesting performance. Even though he was unlikely to win, he could still have turned in a great performance given his descending ability; consider that a pure climber didn’t take the day. And while Cancellara is one of our favorite riders here at BKW, leaving a Grand Tour because the time trial doesn’t suit your specific abilities isn’t exactly PRO. We love our champions more when they play their hand even when holding a pair of deuces.

The Giro organizers may need a better rider advocate to help them judge certain technical aspects such as when a road or turn is too narrow for the peloton to negotiate at full cry, but they deserve a righteous toast for taking the opportunity to make the longest time trial run in a Grand Tour in 12 years a mountainous and technically challenging trial to reveal a truly complete rider.


Anonymous said...

I do think the organizers in Milano blew it by not taking car of a few simple safety measures -- tow the parked cars, block on-coming traffic, cover/mark vicious tram lines.

But otherwise, the fact that the riders are bitching and moaning, but still riding, shows that the overall plan of the Giro is perfect. If the riders didn't complain, then you'd know the course is too easy.

Jim said...

I cut Cancellara some slack. He had a season for the ages last year, and has nothing but a hard time this year.

FWIW, I didn't hear any complaints about the road conditions or the Milan stage out of Quickstep or any Belgians. Maybe they did and I missed it... but maybe not. Is there a contrast in racing outlook between the aesthete racers of Italy, and the curbs, cobblestones and frites crew from Flanders? Given the nice weather, the course probably compared favorably to a lot of Kermess courses...

Touriste-Routier said...

To quote John Eustice (former PRO and director of the Univest Grand Prix), "No Mercy for the Riders".

The Milano stage didn't look any worse than De Panne. Maybe this is out of context in a Grand Tour. Sure, a few more cars should have been towed, but from what I am told, that isn't too uncommon in Italian races. If you want precision, you need to go North of the Alps...

In the Milano stage, they could have kept it safe and still put on a show riding at 40 KPH, then racing the last few laps. They do this all the time in post-Tour Crits. Instead, the deprived the fans the show they deserved, and embarrassed themselves and the sponsors.

I thought Race Director Angelo Zomegnan's comments quite pointed and accurate.

I typically find TTs the most boring thing to watch, but last year's mountain TT had me captivated. This Year's long TT wasn't quite as interesting, but at least it wasn't formulaic and predictable.

They are pros, and while they shouldn't be unnecessarily be put in harm's way, in general I believe there needs to be more of a "Accept All Challenges" mentality. Or as amateurs are told all the time, "Shut Up and Race".

Anonymous said...

The problem with Milano is that is was a "normal Crit" in the middle of a Grand Tour. It is one thing to take the risks inherent in a one-and-done crit, or even a one-day cobbled classic-- but those risk become enhanced exponentially when you've got a dozen more stages to go. You just don't stick the Arenberg Trench in the middle of a Grand Tour and justify yourself by saying the the riders have done it before!

Sean said...

Keep in mind the Milan protest was the day following Horillo's horrible crash. That spooked me, and I am all the way in Seattle!

Padraig said...

What I find incomprehensible are the untowed cars and lax road closures. When you consider the incredible expertise and competence required to organize a Grand tour, one would think that organizers would have a team of guys towing cars out of the way the morning of the race. And there should be carabinieri enough to keep drivers from rolling headlong into the peloton.

RMM said...

While I don't sympathize with Cancellara, we should listen to riders when they complain about unsafe conditions. Racers, even at the lower levels, risk life and limp every time they pin on a number. We, grand tour riders and cat 4's alike, shouldn't face extra hazards due to organizers' negligence or inconsideration. If you enter Paris-Roubaix, you expect potholes and cobbles, when you enter a grand tour, you expect wide roads with no oncoming traffic.

Anonymous said...

+1 on Sean's comment. That guy is very lucky to be alive.

jza said...

Yes, the Giro makes the other Tours look totally boring.

The press coverage has definitely been in overdrive. I think Cav's Slipstream comments and Cancellara's TT comments were blown way out of proportion.

Yes,if the TT had suited Cancellara, he probably would have rode it, and then dropped out. Did it resemble a cycle-sportif route rather than a typical TT in a modern Grand Tour? Absolutely. But there's no way he was going to finish the Giro with the season he's had thus far.

The Milan course sounded like a joke. Giro organizers have been known to half-ass logistics. Organizers need to have some foresight, neutralize the race and enjoy a couple of sprints. The 'protest' was a bit over the top, but could have been avoided.

Entertaining races are hard on the racers, but it's a hell of a lot more fun than watching cookie-cutter TdF stages.

Next stop,BLOCKHAUS!!!

Da Robot said...

My first reaction to the Milan boycott was that the riders were being prima donnas. Then I saw some pictures of the course, and I thought, "that's ridiculous." Parked cars, etc. is just amateur crap.

If you enter Paris-Roubaix you know that Arenberg is coming. If you're racing a crit, dead tired already from 8 previous stages of pounding, you do NOT expect a Fiat to materialize out of the ass of the rider in front of you.

I'm all for tough stages, steep climbs, technical descents, etc. But some danger is gratuitous.

I recall reading a TdF history that said that Henri Desgrange's plan for that race was to have it be so hard that only one rider finished. Even DesGrange, sadist that he was, never proposed turning fire hoses on the riders or dropping 1 ton anvils on their heads.

Anonymous said...

Well, and colorfully said, Robot!