Last month, when Giro d’Italia boss Mauro Vegni hinted that a possible North American start to the corsa rosa could still be in the works, the news was met with surprisingly positive feedback from within the peloton.
Despite the long distance — about an eight-hour flight from the East Coast to Milano — many inside the peloton think that something as outrageous and over-the-top as bringing the Giro to the United States might well work after all.
Reaction from Etixx-Quick-Step general manager Patrick Lefevere was typical, who answered with a shrug and a “why not?”
“If we don’t have to go to the moon, I think it’s OK,” Lefevere said. “Modern cycling has to reinvent itself, and in my mind, a 22-day bike race is not modern anymore. Young people don’t want to watch a bike race for three weeks. So why not take the race to America? You could race there for a week, and come back to Europe, and have two or three or even four rest days, then start again. Why not? There are a lot of Italians in America.”
VeloNews queried nearly a dozen riders and staff, and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, no one was openly opposed to the idea.
It appears the Giro organization is once again investigating a “grande partenza” in the United States. An effort to bring the Giro to Washington, D.C., stalled a few years ago, but Vegni told VeloNews that a possible start in the United States “is closer than one might think.”
With the Giro set to celebrate its centenary edition in 2017, the organizers of the Italian grand tour have already suggested the race wants to do something spectacular. Some insiders suggest that New York City is the target, but officials would not publicly confirm that possibility.
Brett Lancaster, the Orica-GreenEdge veteran of 10 Giros, said if a trans-Atlantic start is well organized, it could be pulled off.
“It’s been talked about in the past. If we look after the riders, have two or three stages to make it worthwhile, and a nice charter flight, with a rest day, it’s doable,” Lancaster said. “It would be fantastic to race in front of the fans in America. If it was really thought out, and logistically perfect, it would be possible. It’s too bad the Concorde [jet] isn’t still around, then it would be a four-hour flight instead of eight.”
It’s the long flight coupled with the logistical hurdles of bringing bikes and other equipment across the Atlantic that have throttled previous efforts to bring grand tours to North America. The Tour de France organization has also looked at possible departures from Canada and the Caribbean island of Guadalupe, but eventually decided it was simply too far.
The Giro, however, is a little more fleet-footed than the much larger Tour, and a possible North American start could be feasible. The blueprint would be the model used for last year’s “big start” in Belfast, well beyond the Italian sphere. The Giro got permission from the UCI to start the race on Friday as well as adding an extra rest day into the mix. Another way to ease the transition would be for the race to have independent infrastructure that would stay in the United States, and not include a time trial stage that would require specialized bikes and equipment.
“The key to the move to the United States would be logistics. How do we move the equipment? Is it at the start of the race, the end of the race? We would need one or two more rest days,” said Orica-GreenEdge sport director Matt White. “Look how far the flight was last year from Dublin to Bari [in southern Italy], so it’s not that much different. So long as it’s organized well logistically, why not? I understand why organizers want to globalize their event. It would be something worth looking at.”
It’s that long flight is what gives many second thoughts. The Giro has already pushed the envelope, with starts in Northern Ireland and Denmark, each requiring long flights and transfers back to Italy after just a few days of racing. An even longer flight from North America would be pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable at a sporting level.
“I think the elephant in the room would be the jet lag. That is something you cannot absorb in one day. Starting a three-week grand tour with six hours jet lag would be tough,” said Cannondale-Garmin sport director Charly Wegelius. “On the other hand, if you never change anything, things just stay the same. I would be interested to see how they would plan it. I would imagine they would need a special compensation from the UCI.”
Riders seemed to embrace the idea, especially those from the North American contingent. Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin), winner of the 2012 Giro, said any flight during a bike race is pretty much lost time.
“We’ve been to Ireland and Denmark, so whether it’s three or four hours, or if it’s seven or eight, it’s still a whole day wasted on the plane, so the difference isn’t that big,” Hesjedal said. “If it helps grow and support the sport, why not? I think the sport has to look at what it needs to do to evolve and improve.”
The peloton seemed to agree with the general idea that it would be feasible if the race started on a Friday, with three road stages, and then an overnight flight, with an entire rest day followed by a relatively easy day in the saddle upon returning to Europe.
“Last year, the Giro did a really good job starting in Ireland, and the community really embraced it,” said BMC’s Brent Bookwalter. “It’s kind of an ordeal to get on the plane, but if the preparation is in place, it’s possible. The key thing last year was the extra rest day. It would be challenging and daunting, but it’s nothing more absurd or extreme than what the Giro has thrown at us over the past years.
“As an American, I would say for sure. I am not sure the Italians would agree with me. I think it would do a lot for the globalization for the sport, and for American cycling. It would be great for Italy and the Giro as well,” Bookwalter continued. “If they take care of the riders, and plan it right, it could work. It would be ridiculous and absurd to fly us back, and then send us up a first category climb the next day.”