Commentary: Giro stars should race the Tour instead
Giro d’Italia fanatics have had it good this winter. Over the past few weeks, one GC star after another has announced plans to race the Italian grand tour in 2019. The start list is shaping up to be fantastic, with Tom Dumoulin, Simon Yates, and Vincenzo Nibali among the marquee names set to hunt the pink jersey this spring. Geraint Thomas may even join the fray, according to recent reports in Italian media.
Sounds great, right? Sure, if you’re okay with the sport’s biggest stars shying away from cycling’s biggest race.
Call me a curmudgeon: I’m not pleased with the Giro’s stellar field this year, because it weakens the field at the Tour de France. And with Chris Froome set to contend for his fifth maillot jaune, I want the Tour lineup to include the sport’s best GC riders, all on top form.
Froome’s decision to attempt the Giro-Tour double last year bummed me out because it meant we wouldn’t see cycling’s top stage racer at his best for the main event in the summer. I’ll be just as bummed to see Froome crush a weaker field this summer.
I love the Giro for numerous reasons. The race always delivers excitement, drama, and great scenery. For years now, people have been perfectly content to watch a field of mostly Italian and up-and-coming riders battle on gorgeous high-mountain passes in testing conditions. The formula works — I can’t remember a recent Giro that bored me.
I don’t need the Giro to have all of the top GC names in cycling on its start list to get me to tune in, so I can’t get behind the groundswell of riders flocking to the Italian grand tour. It is hard to see this as anything other than a decision by these riders to avoid taking on Froome and Co. in France.
This summer more than ever, I want to see the strongest field at the Tour. Froome is looking to join the special company of Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, and Miguel Indurain with a fifth Tour win this July. That’s an incredible feat, but it only means so much if half of Froome’s would-be challengers skip the showdown. He — and cycling fans too — deserve fierce competition at the Tour de France, which is why I’m hoping at least a few big names have a change of heart before they book their flights to Italy.
I’ll give Nibali a pass because the Giro is his home race. He has won all three grand tours, and if he wants to race both the Giro and the Tour, good for him. But Dumoulin? At the start of 2018, I wondered whether he might finally be the rider to challenge Froome for grand tour dominance. He may not have won a three-week title last year, but Dumoulin looked plenty strong en route to a pair of runner-up performances. The talent is there. This year’s Tour could have been the showdown we’ve been waiting for, a fresh Froome taking on a fresh Dumoulin on cycling’s biggest stage.
Instead of taking on the challenge, Dumoulin is opting to target the Giro yet again. While he may ride the Tour as well, it won’t be a truly dedicated yellow jersey bid with the fatigue of a Giro run in his legs.
Dumoulin has pointed to the difference in the race routes as a determining factor in his decision. The upcoming Tour will be very light on individual time trial mileage, while the Giro will give the former ITT world champ three opportunities to put his talent on display.
I feel for Dumoulin, but it’s not like he wouldn’t have his chances at the Tour. The ASO is billing it as “the highest Tour in history,” with a collection of high-altitude climbs that will inject uncertainty into the race. As strong as Froome and Sky are, they aren’t immune to bad days, especially when the competition is there to push them to the limit. Should Froome suffer through a jour sans high in the Alps, even a power guy like Dumoulin could capitalize if he’s on a good day.
Plus, it’s not like the Giro’s route is overly friendly to the time trial specialists. The total TT distance sits under 60 kilometers. Is that really worth skipping a Tour battle the sport deserves?
And what about Yates? He is coming off a year in which he won the Vuelta a España and multiple Giro stages en route to the top spot in the WorldTour rankings. Now is just the time to see how far he can go in the biggest race on the calendar. Then there’s Primoz Roglic, who had a breakthrough 2018 too. Why aim for a Giro win when the Tour podium seems possible? Speaking of podiums, Miguel Ángel López finished in the top three in both the Giro and the Vuelta last year. He’ll be heading back to the Giro this spring; isn’t it about time he made his debut in the Tour de France?
And now even Geraint Thomas himself is reportedly considering a Giro run. We’re talking about the defending Tour champion here. Leave Egan Bernal to tear up the Giro. Aim for another yellow jersey, and may Sky’s best former Tour champ win.
I know that each of these riders faces a daunting challenge in prioritizing the Tour. For most, it’s the thought of going up against the indomitable Froome and his Sky train. For Thomas, perhaps, it’s the specter of intra-team strife. But how much is a grand tour title really worth when it’s won over a field of riders eschewing a bigger test?
Froome only went for the Giro victory last year after collecting four Tour titles — for him, the Giro-Tour double seemed a worthy challenge. For Dumoulin or Yates, on the other hand, focusing on the Giro this season is shying away from the worthy challenge of targeting the Tour.
Richie Porte, Nairo Quintana, Romain Bardet, and Rigoberto Urán are at least set to try to take on Froome in France. They deserve credit for accepting the challenge. Hopefully, they will put up enough of a fight to make things interesting this July; we’ll see how that goes.
In the meantime, Mr. Dumoulin, Mr. Yates, and Mr Roglic: Please reconsider and join the battle for yellow this summer.