Cycling’s big three Grand Tours provide the sport’s greatest spectacle and inspire millions of people to ride. They probably inspire many people to spend their hard-earned holiday euros in Italy, France and Spain too – but for the moment, let’s concentrate on the racing. The Giro d’Italia comes first in the calendar. Its May schedule promises the first three-week test for the world’s best road cyclists, but can’t absolutely guarantee the good weather – not when we hit the mountain stages anyhow.
For aficionados of the Corsa Rosa every Giro is special, but it’s a whole new kind of special this year as we hit the hundredth edition of the race. In celebration our Italian amici have been painting the town pink – or at least illuminating many of the significant buildings and landmarks lucky enough to be on the 2017 route in a bright rosy glow.
The carefully designed route has been well received so as viewers we should see fights over mountains, in sprints and in time trials – all the specialisms well represented, putting teams and their star individuals to the toughest test. Giro 100 features eight mountain stages (with two uphill finishes) featuring many iconic mountain passes – well tested in previous editions of the Giro – including a double climb of the mighty Stelvio. There are two individual time trials (no team time trial this year), one hilly and the finale, a flat 28km TT in Milan on May 28.
An island start
The modern pattern sees editions alternating between the ‘Grande Partenza’ on home soil and the ‘Big Start’ in a foreign country, where the notoriety of the event has been in distinct growth in the last decade – with media watchers reporting that the global viewing figures for the Giro are now right up on the shoulder of July’s Tour de France. The Giro100 still manages to get a ferry ride transfer and an early rest day by kicking off in Sardinia, with an opening day 203km leg-stretcher around the island and a further two stages culminating in a sprint in the capital, Cagliari.
So there was disappointment when local boy Fabio Aru, was forced to withdraw after an injury sustained from crashing in training. Astana rider Aru was the first Sicilian ever to have worn the Giro’s General Classification leader’s iconic Maglia Rosa.
But the sadness surrounding Aru soon switched to tragedy, when the man who took his place as leader of Astana, Michele Scarponi, was killed after a collision with a lorry. The accident happened close to his home after the 2011 Giro winner had just completed the preparatory Tour of the Alps event. Many tributes have been paid to Scarponi by fellow riders since his death, which will add an element of reflection for those involved in the 2017 Giro.
The main protagonists
Bahrain-Merida team leader, the Sicilian Vincenzo Nibali – ‘the Shark’ – will be looking to join the elite club of triple Giro champions, cementing his 2013 and 2016 victories. Nibali’s no flash-in-the-pan, having previous second and third-placed finishes at the Giro and also winning the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana Grand Tours.
The two Italians are joined by the outright GC favourite, the diminutive Colombian Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team). The specialist climber claimed the Giro title in 2014 (also taking the young rider title), and backed it up with GC victory at the Vuelta a Espana last year. His victory at last month’s week-long Tirreno-Adriatico (traditionally regarded as a good indicator for Giro form) may have sent shivers through a few spines as he smashed the Terminillo, a carbon copy of 2014 that, even if few were surprised by, none could combat. Also in the frame is the 30-year-old Dutchman Bauke Mollema hitting his peak and with support from what looks like a strong Trek-Segafredo team.
What of the Brits? Don’t discount Geraint Thomas, the tough Welshman, who set his 2017 stall out with a stage win in the Tirreno-Adriatico (his shot at the overall dashed by Moscon’s smashed wheel in the team time trial) and third place at the Volta a Catalunya. Freed from his shackles as Chris Froome’s super-domestique (Froome’s saving it for a crack at an unprecedented fourth Tour de France), let’s see what the Olympic and Commonwealth medallist can do in the Italian sunshine.
And keep an eye out for Simon and Adam Yates – the twins riding for Orica-Scott. Both Giro first-timers, they’re on good form, with top-10 Catalunya GC finishes and both previously bagging top-10 finishes in Grand Tours.
Of course, the form, the training, the excitement, the teamwork (or occasional lack thereof) and the unpredictable test of the punishing course will determine who reaches the podium. But what’s for sure, it’ll be a cycling spectacle not to miss.
Buon compleanno, Giro d’Italia!