We’ve been waiting, and waiting … and we’ll have to wait some more.
When will something happen at the Giro d’Italia?
This year’s Giro is so hard, so challenging and so daunting, that no one dares to lift an unnecessary finger or pedal an unneeded inch. When race designers packed in so much difficulty into the final days of arguably the hardest race of the calendar, well, they all but guaranteed this two-wheeled détente in the mountains.
On paper, Wednesday’s four-climb uphill finale to Madonna di Campiglio was supposed to blow up the race, or at least invigorate a rather moribund and stalemated GC battle. Instead what happened? A break went up the road — and chapeaux to all the brave riders who went for it — but the GC favorites rode a predictable paceline to the finish.
Why? Because everyone is looking to what lies in store tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. With the intimidating Stelvio on tap Thursday, no one was going to press the accelerator Wednesday for fear of running out of gas tomorrow.
Should we be surprised? No. You can’t blame the riders for saving their matches and measuring their efforts against this Giro route.
Has the Giro d’Italia become too difficult for modern cycling? The answer to that question depends on what kind of race narrative you’re trying to build. If you want to bring an entire peloton to their knees, and have the absolute strongest rider win, then these old-school Giro courses still have a place.
If you want a race with suspense and uncertainty right to the final day, modern racecourse designers have been trying to find the right balance between endurance and entertainment. The Tour this year looked more like the Vuelta a España than the Giro. ASO has been steadily stripping out the time trials, the long, flat sprint days along with the 225km+ stages, and packing in a lot of punchy climbs, shorter stages under four hours, and adding a bit of gravel here and there, just for fun.
Just compare the Giro to the opening days of the Vuelta a España, where the stages are short, crisp, and packed with climbs. The first two stages of the Vuelta has seen more action than the first two weeks of the Giro.
I say that sparingly, because like many, I love the Giro, and it’s one of my favorite races of the year. The Giro this year, however, seems a bit out of step with the times. I do buy into the notion that a grand tour needs to be hard, and sometimes you can’t get fireworks every day in a three-week marathon. But when a race is reduced to a marathon mentality day in and day out because it’s so long and so hard, well, you lose the fireworks.
That’s not to say that this year’s Giro is boring. Far from it. And the coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on the Giro this year. Squeezed between the Tour and Vuelta, and overlapping with the classics, the Giro got the raw end of the bargain. Add cold weather and seeing three of the top favorites out of the race due to crashes and COVID-19 didn’t help, either.
And what about Remco Evenepoel? His presence would have spiced up the Giro a few degrees. Yet even having Peter Sagan around this year isn’t enough to lift this Giro out of its stupor.
Thursday’s stage over the Stelvio will make for some great TV images, but with everyone looking with fear toward what lies in wait on Friday, well, it’s hard to imagine anyone will have the legs to “pull a Landis.” And isn’t that what the Giro is banking on? The Giro has seen some of the great turnarounds the past few years based on the fact that it is so hard. Most elite pro riders can get through two weeks of racing fairly evenly. It’s in that brutally hard third week when the magic happens. At least it’s supposed to.
We’re all waiting for Vincenzo Nibali to pull another trick out of his hat. We’ve been waiting for nearly three weeks. This year’s Giro is so hard, however, that there might not be much magic left in anyone’s legs.
Let’s blame COVID-19. In a normal year, this Giro could have been a zinger.