Is this the most boring Giro d’Italia ever?
If you read the hysteria on social media, one might believe that. Even the most discerning of fans were left yawning a few times over the past week or so.
Yet anyone who thought the opening week of the Giro was relatively uneventful, just wait to see what lies in store, in week two.
There are at least two — and more likely three — sprint stages and two more days that will likely go to the breakaways before Sunday’s summit finale “light” in the Italian Alps at Cogne.
Fans were bemoaning the lack of interest in stage 6, and there will be a few more days like that before this week is out. Stage 11 is dead flat and it’s more than 200km long.
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The peloton is already bracing for the Giro’s second week that will be thin on GC drama, with one top rider saying they plan to do little more than “pedal around” next week ahead of the Giro’s infamous third week.
After nine days of relatively routine racing, Sunday’s Blockhaus summit finale delivered the sparks this Giro desperately needs. Several big names cracked, and the race’s first significant GC separation revealed who might and can win the pink jersey.
No grand tour wants to have the race decided by the end of the first week, so RCS Sport brass will be happy to see a dozen riders still within 90 seconds of each other. Nothing wrong there.
Yet there were grumbles inside and out of the Giro bubble that the opening week of the 2022 Giro was one of the most uneventful and downright boring in quite a few years.
Can a Giro even be considered boring?
For fans of the corsa rosa, the mere consideration of the notion is heresy.
The Giro’s done a commendable job to spice up the blueprint of what a grand tour looks like in the modern era. With its introduction of Monte Zoncolan more than two decades ago, the Giro heralded a new era of “impossible summits,” undiscovered climbs, gravel roads, and surprise finishes even on routine sprint days.
Budapest start left wanting more
So what’s “wrong” with this year’s Giro?
First off, to suggest that the Giro has been boring is certainly not fair. It hasn’t been. The Giro never is.
So far, big names have taken most of the honors, and the GC fight is still wide open. Thankfully, the race also missed out on some of the unnecessary drama that inevitably comes in a grand tour with a rash of top favorites crashing out early.
Only a few big names have exited this year’s Giro, or at least been hampered by crashes, with perhaps Simon Yates as the clear exception. Miguel Ángel López also left early complaining of a hip injury that was not necessarily related to the Giro. So at least the race has been relatively safe.
And boring should never be confused with “easy.”
This year’s Giro has seen some brutally hard days. One pro called Thursday’s transition stage to Potenza “one of the hardest grand tour stages” they’d ever done. Another said they were “crossed-eyed” from the hard effort.
What lends to the perceived lack of drama so far this year is the start in Budapest.
Riders and teams are loathe to take chances racing hard and fast on largely unknown and unfamiliar roads. The first three stages in and around Budapest were eerily similar to how the racing unfolded in Israel in 2018. The peloton did ride around Hungary for three days, but it only “raced” the hilltop finale of stage 1 and the last hour of stage 3. The individual time trial was a 20-minute effort.
So bringing races to far-flung and exotic new markets might be great for RCS’s bottom line as well as for the TV images, and it doesn’t seem to help raise the tension or drama.
“Cycling is boring.” “No it’s NOT!” Pause. Turns on the Giro, flat stage, 3 guys from same team allowed to ride away to scoop up intermediate sprint points, 150k to go. Uhm…
— MarcBertucco (@VC95) May 12, 2022
On paper, however, the first week should have been much more intense and entertaining than it turned out to be. Before the Giro, some sport directors were calling this year’s opening week of the Giro one of the hardest they’ve ever seen.
The first week of the Giro was riddled with hard stages, at least on paper. As one pro said, “the peloton always decides” how a race is raced. Sometimes it’s harder than expected, other times not.
So what happened?
With Mount Etna in stage 4 and Blockhaus in stage 9, there were certainly plenty of climbing kilometers. But Etna came after a long transfer and rest day, so again, the peloton didn’t “race” that day until the bunch neared the smoldering volcano. On Sunday, most of the “bigs” still had good legs, so they didn’t blow up too dramatically.
Grand tours are like ‘slow food’
Another element of this perceived “boredom” is that fans today can watch the entire stage of nearly every race on the calendar from start to finish.
Not so long ago, live TV coverage usually didn’t begin until about three hours before a stage was scheduled to conclude, and the sharp end of any day of racing is always the spiciest.
What fans today are sitting through is simply part of the rhythm and flow of a three-week grand tour.
Transitions stages that don’t serve up much action are simply part of any grand tour.
Every stage cannot cross four hors-categorie climbs. Every finish cannot end atop a punchy climb, a towering climb, or in front of the Arc de Triomphe.
Fans should remember that grand tour racing is like “slow food,” and there’s nothing wrong with a few siesta-provoking stages along a three-week course.
I don’t have much to add to the discourse around today’s (boring AF) Giro stage, other than the fact that my TV just turned itself off in protest…
— Alex Ballinger (@alexballi_) May 12, 2022
The GC riders need the mental and physical break to reload for the next major climbs, and the sprinters simply need something to keep them in the race.
Another factor of a perceived lack of movement among the favorites is simply that the top level of the sport is much higher and more developed than it even was a decade ago, let alone a generation ago.
Fans reading books of historic grand tours marvel that riders would lose seven minutes in one mountain stage finish, and then gain back nine minutes the next day.
In today’s highly calibrated peloton, seconds are minutes, and minutes are hours in a relative sense.
When everyone is racing with huge power, there’s only so much faster or further even the very best rider can go.
Look no further than Sunday’s Blockhaus finale. Ineos Grenadiers set a blistering pace that thinned the front group down to a barely a dozen riders before Richard Carapaz jumped with just under 5km to go. As deep as he went, he could not shake Romain Bardet or Mikel Landa, and then a few other riders were able to claw back on.
Some real damage was done further down on the GC, and everyone will feel that sting and carry that fatigue into the Giro’s third week.
The real drama is always in the third week
The Giro’s hallowed third week — it’s enough to evoke fear in the most hardened of pros. That’s where grand tour racing, and particularly the Giro, really come into their own.
Because the teams and riders are so much stronger, it takes more and more wear and tear, and more intense measured efforts to finally bring everyone down to a level of true fatigue that the strongest riders can finally make their mark.
More than a decade ago, Alberto Contador used to complain about the evolution toward shorter and more explosive climbing stages of 100km to 140km. Course designers and racing fans love the shorter stages because there’s action from start to finish. The long, flat stretches are pared out of the stage, leaving only the extreme, sharpened husks of the climbs.
Yet Contador and others know it’s only when everyone is on their collective knees — be it well into the third week or well into a 200km monster climbing stage — that the real damage can be done.
If the second week might seem a little thin, the third week of this year’s route lives up to the Giro’s legendary reputation of having the hardest third week of any grand tour.
There is one element of the modern Giro design that I think adds to the perception of boredom, and that’s the inclusion of the final-day time trial coming on stage 21.
The Tour has its famous finishing lap on the Champs-Élysées, and no other grand tour has been able to recreate that magical place and setting. The Vuelta a España tried it with Madrid and the Giro with Milan, but neither seemed to really capture the imagination of fans or teams, and locals hated seeing the city streets shut down all day.
Yet having a time trial conclude the race is about the most anti-climatic way to finish a grand tour.
Sure, it might shake up the final podium, and sometimes even decide the race, but a time trial stage at the end of a grand tour matters to about 10 riders tops. A few fighting for the GC and a few racing for the stage win. For everyone else, and for the fans, it’s game over.
To make the Giro’s second week much more interesting and tactically more appealing, the Giro should move that time trial from the final stage to the middle of week two.
A mid-race individual time trial is a big talking point and an important inflection point of any GC narrative. By having it this week, it would and could have much more impact both on the race and for fans than having it next Sunday, in Verona.
Some argue that having a final day sprint is even more boring because it means nothing to the GC. That’s true, but it means a lot to the sprinters. Caleb Ewan is receiving grief because he’s already publicly said he’s going to leave the Giro by this weekend.
But when you look at what lies ahead in the third week, why would he suffer all the way to Verona? For what? To say he finished the Giro? For a top sprinter, that doesn’t count for much. Winning on the Champs, however, means everything, and it gives the sprinters a reason to suffer across the Alps and Pyrenees.
And Ewan won’t be the only sprinter citing fatigue, injury, or whatever other excuse. I bet none of the major sprinters last to Verona, and if they do, they’re doing it to chase the points jersey or form.
And why not finish the Giro atop one of its famous climbs? Thomas De Gendt hinted that he’s hearing the Giro will do just that very soon, and conclude an upcoming edition atop the Stelvio.
Grand tour racing is never boring just as it is never fully exciting and engaging. No sport is. Cycling consistently delivers in grand tours. They’re a line, verse, chapter, and book all nicely packaged across three weeks.
And of all the races, the Giro is the antithesis of boring. Fans shouldn’t give up on this Giro. There might be boring moments, but the 2022 Giro isn’t even half over. The fun hasn’t even started yet.
🇧🇪 Thomas De Gendt: “I heard Giro 2025 might end on Stelvio. If that’s true, I want to finish my career there. There isn’t a more symbolic place for me. Winning on Stelvio was the most beautiful moment of my career.”#Giro https://t.co/IQqfe0EXYV
— Domestique (@Domestique___) May 16, 2022