Dan Martin’s Giro d’Italia analysis: Was the 2022 race entertaining?
'The riders make the race but they need inspiring terrain to ensure the script isn’t predictable', writes former Giro stage winner.
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It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were watching the Giro d’Italia start in Hungary, discussing the favorites for the GC and what would happen over the 21 stages.
I’m not sure that anybody would have said back then that Jai Hindley would be bringing home the maglia rosa in Verona, which was a massive misstep. Second in 2020 and with strong but not spectacular form bubbling away during the spring, it was with no disrespect that we all omitted him from the list of big favorites. He was even distanced a number of times on Blockhaus, showing strong determination to regain the front group and win the sprint. We did of course lose Simon Yates and Romain Bardet to injury and illness respectively but from his performance on stage 20 it seems he judged his race and his form perfectly, being unbeatable on Fedaia.
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Whether it was a strong attacking performance from Hindley or a bad day for Carapaz is up for debate, but there is no doubt that holding the maglia rosa for a week and the commitments that come with it cost the Ineos Grenadiers leader a lot of energy. Podium protocols, press conference and anti-doping controls are all mandatory for the leader on GC at a grand tour; and that’s all valuable recovery time that Jai no doubt spent with his feet up in the comfort of his team bus. In my opinion it was how Hindley judged his form coming into the race that made the difference.
Hugh Carthy was another who was on a crescendo the final week. With the course RCS put together for 2022, I would have aimed to arrive at the race well rested and below my best, with a solid taper leading up to the race start. I would have looked at the stages and only seen Blockhaus as a key stage in the first 15 days. Turin on stage 14 did slip under my radar but by that stage your form would be building nicely after two weeks of racing. The final week demanded freshness. It’s near fatal to be in top condition on stage 1 as it means that you’re hanging on in the final week, which was generally how I rode my grand tours. My worst day of the 2020 Vuelta was on the final day before Madrid, after a really aggressively designed first week which was crucial to the GC.
In this respect the Tour de France is different as generally the challenges are spread throughout the race (except in 2018 when we had a flat first 10 days). This means that most years you needed to show up in top form, or risk being out of the game early. It also means that everybody is hanging on in the final week so not much changes on GC in the final mountain stages. This raises a question. Was the 2022 Giro entertaining?
Also read: Giro d’Italia: What’s next for the top-10 class of 2022
I would argue not. The tension and finely balanced nature of the GC was captivating but it turned into a race that was lost rather than won. Course design is crucial to this and I hope that RCS learns from this edition. Riders are so closely matched now that you need a variety of terrain to offer different platforms to showcase talents. Multiple big climbing days with long climbs will result in similar results each time. It is a gripe I always had and what kept me away from the Giro for a lot of my career.
The epic, long mountain stages with over 5,000m climbing just become a war of attrition; the final climb a slugfest where everybody is so tired they cannot produce explosive accelerations; a slow motion grind to the line. The high mountains have their place in grand tours, offering a scenic backdrop to often dramatic racing, but repeated big days of climbing negate the racing as riders manage energy reserves in preparation for the days to come.
Guillaume Martin is a fine example of digging too deep one day only to lose double or triple the time the following day. We all wanted to see the GC riders battling it out for stage honors but it was a rare sight as the teams also preferred to play the long game and conserve energy over chasing down breakaways. There is a very different approach to a climb when the stage victory is up the road, the battle for position is less intense, the tactics more conservative, and those valuable time bonuses also not available.
A short mid-race time trial to create time gaps, explosive hilltop finishes, mountain top finishes with a flat start, and short undulating days like the entertaining stage around Turin interspersed with sprint stages for recovery, and the traditional Giro huge epic day in the Dolomites would add up to a balanced course offering every type of test. Sport is an entertainment business and cycling is among the best. The riders make the race but they need an inspiring terrain to ensure the script isn’t predictable. Here’s hoping for something spectacular in 2023.