Giro d'Italia

Your new favorite race: Giro d’Italia

The season's first grand tour is always dramatic. Here's a fan's guide to the Giro d'Italia and a look back at Hesjedal's historic win.

Welcome to the VeloNews 2017 WorldTour fan guide. Great news: There are tons of cycling races all season! Less-great news: Like trying to pick an ice cream flavor at Ben & Jerry’s, tons of choices can be overwhelming. So, we’ll try to help out by giving you quick, fun overviews of major races. Stay tuned for more previews.

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Your new favorite race: The Giro d’Italia, May 5-28

Why should you care about this race? Hey! I see you rolling your eyes. The Giro is hardly new, and it’s already your favorite race. I get it. You’re hardly alone. Many cycling fans already agree that the Giro delivers the most drama of the three grand tours  thanks to its difficult route, unbelievable climbs, and stacked field of riders with fresh legs. There’s a lot to love about the Giro, which is why, if you’re relatively new to cycling, it is the perfect race to follow. In addition to the reasons I just mentioned (which should be enough to spark your interest), the Giro is a showcase for young talent. It was the first grand tour that Nairo Quintana (Movistar) won, in 2014. It was the second for Nibali, in 2013. More on those two in a moment.

Most dramatic edition in recent history? It is tough to boil a three-week race down into a single verdict since all grand tours ebb and flow, with boring days punctuating the thrilling stages. The specter of doping also makes me leery of naming certain Giro editions as “most dramatic,” even if, from my comfortable living room couch, a fusillade of attacks through the Dolomites was a thrill. Okay, enough griping — I have a job to do, and that is to explain why 2012 was the best Giro in recent memory.

By the numbers alone, 2012 was great: Eighteen different riders won stages, and of those, 14 were first-time winners at the Giro. The pink jersey changed hands among six riders, and American fans got to see Taylor Phinney wear the maglia rosa for three days after he won the prologue in Denmark. Along the way other fan favorites won stages too. Mark Cavendish claimed three sprints; six different Italians won stages to keep the home crowd happy. Heck, even Andrey Amador became the first Costa Rican to win a stage … Pura vida!

For my money, what puts 2012 over the edge as the most exciting recent Giro is the GC battle. I know that Ryder Hesjedal’s legacy is tarnished by his admission to doping in the early 2000s, but can you really stay mad at a Canadian after he says “sooorey?” Maybe you can — that’s your prerogative.

The battle between Hesjedal and Joaquim Rodriguez made for a terrific Giro. Hesjedal took pink on stage 6, only a day after his Garmin-Barracuda teammate Ramunas Navardauskas lost the lead. With a sprint victory in the hilltop town of Assisi, Rodriguez won his first career Giro stage and put on pink after stage 9. Hesjedal struck back with an attack on the Giro’s first mountaintop finish in Cervinia, stage 14, but Rodriguez went up the road the next day, finishing second behind Matteo Rabottini atop the Pian dei Resinelli, reclaiming the lead. For the next three days, the Spaniard clung to a 30-second advantage on Hesjedal. Just shy of the final two kilometers on stage 18 to Alpe di Pampeago, Hesjedal hit out, and Rodriguez couldn’t respond. Although he only took back 13 seconds on the pink jersey, it was all he needed. Rodriguez clawed back 14 seconds on the Stelvio, but the time lost in stage 18 would come back to haunt him in the final time trial on stage 20 (how apropos, since this year’s Giro ends with a Milan TT). Hesjedal beat Rodriguez by 47 seconds in Milano over 28.2km to win Canada’s first Giro, its first grand tour as well. What if Rodriguez hadn’t lost that time on Alpe di Pampeago? He might have been about 47 seconds ahead of Hesjedal going into the final time trial — the “what-if” game is downright scintillating.

Your race’s defining feature: The Giro’s most iconic moments usually occur with the jagged Dolomites in the background. The vertical gain in these mountains is huge. For 2017, fans should look to  stage 16 for the big showdown. The day features the Mortirolo, Stelvio, and Umbrail passes for a whopping 5,300-odd meters of climbing over 227 kilometers (that’s about 17,500 feet of total up).

But the thing is … Since we are racing in May, there’s always a chance that bad weather can cancel a stage, or cast a pall on an otherwise thrilling win, like in 2014, when controversy surrounded stage 16 on the Stelvio. Should Quintana have waited? Was the snowy descent actually neutralized?

One other knock against the Giro is that it can be a bit of a crash-fest. The roads are narrow, and the sprint finishes can be sketchy. The mountains also have their perils, as Steven Kruijswijk and Ilnur Zakarin found out (the hard way) last year in stage 19.

Ladies first? Not exactly. The Women’s WorldTour takes on the Giro Rosa June 30-July 9, the most prestigious stage race on the calendar. Unfortunately, the race is often overshadowed by the Tour de France’s first week, happening at the same time. The 10-day race is run by a different organizer, but it often features some of the same climbs as the Giro.

Who are you betting your beer money on this year? With a difficult route that features Mount Etna early in the race, on stage 4, the only safe bet is that there will be a thrilling race, and it will likely be between Nibali and Quintana. These two have each won the Giro before, and they attack the mountains with aggressive panache. There will be plenty of big climbs for them. Quintana is a strong pick, especially given his strong Movistar team, yet I’m going to tip Nibali for this Giro. The race is his sole focus, while Nairoman has targeted the Giro-Tour double. Plus, I think Nibali will be slightly better in that stage 21 time trial, if it comes down to that.