Giro d'Italia
The Giro's stage 3 was short, which led to...

Chad Haga Giro Journal: The anatomy of the grupetto

Haga goes for broke, trying to make the day's breakaway but instead ends up contemplating the various characters found in the grupetto

There isn’t much that can strike fear into the heart of bike racers quite like a short stage. Unlike long stages, they’re unpredictable. Perhaps that’s why so many guys skipped the lovely pre-race villaggio and its endless espressos and biscotti in favor of a front-row start on Monday for the race from Rapallo to Sestri Levante.

Our tactical meeting before stage 3 outlined a variety of possibilities, but I thought it was too early in the Giro to really go nuts. I was a gambling man today and put all my eggs in the basket of a traditional “small breakaway tries to stick it” model. Accordingly, I attacked at kilometer zero and was soon joined by one other. A few kilometers later, six more appeared. My plan went sideways when 20 more joined us.

The break was way too big to be cooperative, so I stuck to my plan. But the small group never went away, and the big group never got more than 90 seconds over the peloton. All my eggs were broken. So, having spent my matches, I ended up in the main field, then a chase group, then the grupetto.

I’ll certainly end up in the grupetto more times throughout this Giro (don’t worry, you won’t have to read about all of them), but, as this was the first time, I thought I’d take the opportunity to describe this peculiar facet of bike racing for the uninitiated.

Everyone has their own reasons for being in the grupetto, which is the massive group of riders whose sole ambition is to make the time cut and race again the next day. The grupetto usually forms late in the stage (today’s was in the first hour), but it’s basically a snowball that collects the dropped and demotivated en route to the finish. But a group so big has curious dynamics, as we’re not actually racing anymore … but we are … but we aren’t.

I hereby present to you the anatomy of a grupetto:

The most outspoken member of a grupetto is ‘the complainer.’ You’d think I would like these guys because they’re always shouting “piano!” but in this context it’s simply Italian for, “Ouch, my legs hurt. If you wanted to go hard, why are you in the grupetto?” Complainers will often complain about the pace even when time cut is a real concern.

Sometimes the pace really is unnecessarily high, though. I call these guys ‘over-caffeinated.’

Another common personality is the ‘do-nothing,’ which really requires no explanation. A do-nothing may be legitimately cracked, just trying to hang on, or they may simply want to be a moocher. Either motivation is fine, as long as the do-nothing does not become a ‘disrupter,’ the arch-nemesis of the ‘engines.’

The engines are the heart and soul of the grupetto. They don’t want to be out there all day and are always willing to pull through and keep the rotation going for the good of the group. When disrupters screw things up, the engines may become do-nothings out of frustration.

Reigning over all these personalities are ‘the bosses.’ Bosses are usually the most experienced riders, who remember when time-cut math was done on an abacus. Bosses calm down the over-caffeinated, hush the complainers, motivate the engines, and scold do-nothings and especially disrupters.

So there you have it, the makings of a daytime soap contained in the tail-end of a bike race. If I see a “Which grupetto personality are you?” quiz pop up in my Facebook feed, I’m coming after whoever stole my idea.