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The 2010 Giro d’Italia has reached its second rest day, which coincidentally means that I have just completed the longest contiguous stage race of my cycling career within the Giro itself. That’s right, 12 days of nonstop racing since the first rest day is the longest stretch that I have ever raced nonstop. Taking a quick poll around the peloton, that fact stands for most of my colleagues as well. That fact is a telling anecdote of the Giro, as it’s a race unlike any other.
The Giro itself is a superlative thanks to a laundry list of ambiguous adjectives; it’s the gnarliest, most grueling, most fascinating, most sensational bike race in the world. It’s a beautiful beast, it’s a ruthless animal, and it’s an emotional rollercoaster like no other, which are just a few reasons why I love it.
Today’s column is dedicated to introducing to you a few cycling specific vocabulary words, appropriately beginning with the adverb Giro. For example, one could say, “Five categorized climbs on the docket today? Geeze, that’s going to be Giro-hard.” Or perhaps you’re gazing at the impossibly steep and craggy Dolomites. One could utter, “Those mountains are so vividly magnificent, it’s almost as if we’re staring at a PBS Bob Ross painting show — they’re Giro-stunning!” Put simply, this usage adds emphasis and significant weight behind the adjective one would be using anyway, much like the adverb ‘very.’ For entertainment purposes, try casually dropping this word among your non-cycling friends.
Next is the abbreviation V.I.P. To understand this piece of cycling lingo, picture yourself in this scenario: you’re pleasantly racing along until there is an unmistakable increase in speed. Riders form a single-file line and as your speed steadily ticks up, everyone hunches down lower and lower to decrease their aerodynamic drag. Your eyes are locked on the wheel in front of you with the brief exception when you steal glances at your power meter, which creeps dangerously higher and higher — 400 watts, 425, 460, 490, 500, 520. There is a side wind gusting mightily so that the peloton is completely guttered out as you deftly steer your bike mere millimeters from the road’s edge and certain catastrophe. Now cross-eyed with exertion, you question whether it’s physically possible to go faster as well as what kind of motorcycle is driving the pace at the front of the peloton. Then off to the other side of the road you nearly have to do a double take as you witness a V.I.P. or very inopportune pee.
Apologies if you think this is crude or crass, but upwards of five, six, and seven hours on the bike will inevitably lead to riders needing to use the facilities. It is therefore mind-boggling, when you’re doing everything within your power to stay glued to the wheel in front of you, that someone finds it to be an ideal time for a nature break. Very inopportune indeed, especially in the rare event when you see that you share the same jersey as the individual and therefore soon afterwards a voice crackles over the radio that it’s your duty to assist said rider back to the peloton. Ahh, the glamorous life of a domestique.
Race face is the next piece of cycling terminology, referring to the facial expression one dons when the going gets tough. American cycling fans, for example, have grown fond of Chris Horner’s apparent smile as he’s turning the screws to the competition. Comparatively, my brother infamously was once photographed looking as if he has just seen a ghost during an extremely arduous session on the bike. Race face is a noteworthy piece of lingo here at the 2010 Giro thanks to the Richie Porte. The Giro’s current best younger rider surprised more than just a few folks by additionally slipping into the maglia rosa for a handful of days. Much like Horner, his countenance is an ear-to-ear grin, which I suppose I might also exhibit if I were in the pink jersey two weeks into the Giro. But that’s a big if. Well done Richie.
Lastly is a word describing the etiquette one should exhibit during time in the gruppetto; I have aptly titled this term gruppetiquette. There are unofficial rules of the road during those mountaintop finishes when us non-climber types are merely trying to make time cut. My appetite for Coke strangely only exists in the gruppetto and part of gruppetiquette is that when you receive the crisp cold Coke from your follow car, you should take a few sips and then offer the can around to others. This is common courtesy as surely there are riders who have been abandoned by their team follow vehicles yet have a hankering for Coke. Another factor of this gruppetiquette rule is to heed the calls of “piano” from the rear section of the gruppetto. It is understood that people generally do not want to be in the gruppetto, so while misery loves company, there is no reason to be cruel to those suffering the worst. Piano means cool your jets and to ease off the gas at the front and typically if one person wants to cry it out, others as well are hurting just as badly.
There are plenty of other bits of vocabulary to help give meaning and put words to such a spectacularly indescribable race as the Giro, but I think these will usher you off to a good start. And now a bit more rest before we tackle the final week of this truly grand tour.
(Related: Last week from Ted: Expecting the unexpected at the Giro.)
This year Ted King is in his sophomore year with the Cervélo TestTeam. After getting a taste for the European peloton with the U.S. espoir national team in 2005, King returned to the United States for three successful years of domestic pro racing. The 27-year-old is a native of New Hampshire and despite his affinity for hearty servings of coffee, he is slowly adapting to the smaller European portions. Slowly. His diaries appear monthly on VeloNews.com; between the scanty portions we serve up, you can follow Ted at www.Cervelo.com/team and www.iamTedKing.MissingSaddle.com. Those of you content with 140 characters or less can track his activities at www.twitter.com/iamtedking.