Giro d’Italia: How Strava and VeloViewer revolutionized the old-school grand tour recon
The WorldTour increasingly taps into online data to prepare for grand tours – but the age-old reconnaissance mission will always rule.
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Some of the most crucial stages of any pink jersey pretender’s Giro d’Italia campaign rolled out months before this weekend’s “grande partenza.”
This winter and spring saw teams across the peloton scouting the stages that could decide the race for the pink jersey.
They’re a voyage of discovery that inform the racing strategies, training sessions, and even nutrition plans that can make or break a rider’s season.
A pre-race reconnaissance is an age-old ritual revolutionized – but still not replaced – by platforms like Strava, VeloViewer, and Google Streetview.
“A recon can be a crucial part in the puzzle preparing a grand tour,” Israel-Premier Tech director Sam Bewley told VeloNews.
“There are more and more sites and apps that can help with recons, but you can never replace doing it the old style, being out there driving or riding the route.”
The Giro has been blown up off the back of a well-considered recon mission.
Chris Froome’s infamous Finestre raid in 2018 was founded in a pre-ride of the course, and Bora-Hansgrohe’s GC ambush last year on the roads to Torino was sparked by a brainwave coming out of a team scouting session.
Power estimates, road surfaces, pinchpoints, and more
The whirlwind schedule of the racing calendar means few teams have the time or resources to scout every stage of any given grand tour.
Directors like Bewley or Bora-Hansgrohe staffer Enrico Gasparotto use early route data to select stages they think might make the difference before scheduling a roadmap of scouting sessions through the fall and winter.
“We target stages that feature something different compared to a normal stage. We’re looking for characteristics such as narrow roads, crucial descents before a final, and of course, time trials,” Gasparotto said.
G O O S E B U M P S #Giro pic.twitter.com/FXLOtzOo0E
— Giro d’Italia (@giroditalia) April 28, 2023
In some cases, a Giro recon might be as low-key as one director driving a stage local to home.
In the ideal scenario, a half-dozen riders and staff tack a mini recon camp around Strade Bianche, Milan-San Remo or Tirreno-Adriatico.
Putting tires to tarmac allows team leaders to test road surfaces, consider descents, and visualize what’s to come.
“It always helps to know what’s coming,” said Bewley, who only recently retired after a long career with the Orica-BikeExchange squad.
“You might ride the route and think, ‘Maybe I’ll attack here where it’s steeper and there’s a corner,’ or get an idea of what sort of power you can do to go away over a climb.”
No detail is too small to notice during a pre-race recon.
Features like traffic islands, pinchpoints, technical descents and sketchy surfaces could become the center of a scheme that scores the stage victories and GC coups that make history.
Pink jersey favorite Evenepoel and his Soudal Quick-Step team started their Giro d’Italia scouting process last November.
Evenepoel took his new rainbow jersey to check the stage 9 Emilia Romagna time trial and some potentially hazardous hilly stages through the center and north of Italy.
“We especially did recons of the first week because we saw that there can be some tricky stages there,” Evenepoel said this winter.
“It’s important to see the medium mountain stages in particular. Because if one team does something crazy, you need to be ready, you need to know what you can expect.”
Shortcuts and deep dives via online data
So what do platforms like Strava and VeloViewer bring to the recon mix?
For teams short of staffers and resources, or in cases of bad weather, a lot.
“VeloViewer is really valuable for giving a good idea of things if you can’t properly look at the stage,” Bewley said. “Sometimes a team just don’t have the manpower to go and do a recon.
“Before, without VeloViewer, you might sacrifice an altitude camp to go do a recon – you would have had no idea what the stage is going to be like otherwise,” he added.
“But now, teams can put focus on other things and still get a good idea of what’s coming.”
Online data becomes a stopgap for teams that couldn’t carry out a recon, and add a new level of insight for those that did.
VeloViewer piles data into a platform built around Strava segments. Interactive 3D maps, gradient analyses, and weather impacts all collate into a dream resource for riders, directors, and weekend warriors alike.
The database became such a crucial tool to the WorldTour that it expanded its offering to include a package designed specifically for pro teams.
“We have more than 100 teams signed up now,” VeloViewer founder Ben Lowe told VeloNews. “All men’s WorldTour and almost all ProTeams. Also loads of women’s teams, Conti teams, national teams, and a few domestic teams.”
But for directors, preparing for a grand tour isn’t a one-stop VeloViewer shop.
Multiple online sources come together to build even the shortest team briefing.
Google Streetview is used to identify road furniture, roundabouts, and sometimes even potholes in a painstaking process that can take days.
Pro-level “Strava stalking” helps staff estimate climbing times on key ascents, allowing them to compute the watt/kilo figures, energy expenditures, and nutrition strategies that will be shared during pre-stage meets.
There are now even apps that overlay weather forecasts and wind directions onto road maps, a boon for any team with eyes on blowing up a race with crosswind maneuvers.
Riders of the Giro d’Italia, I have some bad news;
VeloViewer says that you’ll have almost 3000 more metres of climbing to do than the official Giro website.
Oh, and you’ll be doing a total of 111km in the neutralised zones.
Apart from that, it all looks straight forward.
— Daniel Lloyd? (@daniellloyd1) May 3, 2023
But even in the data-driven, app-laden environment of the WorldTour, old-school recons still rule.
Directors across the peloton agree that no number of apps can replace the real-world experience of physically experiencing every off-camber corner, heavy road surface, or shaded descent of a potentially decisive stage.
“You can spend hours looking over maps, apps, but I like the visual aspect of driving the stage,” Jayco-AlUla director Matt White said.
“It gives me an idea months out on what I think can happen – is this a stage to attack? To defend? I just like seeing it personally.”
Bewley, who has fresh experience as both a rider and a director, agrees.
“People do recon less now with the access to VeloViewer and all those sorts of things,” he said. “But I don’t think you can ever replace being there to see things properly.”
Will a pre-race recon decide who wins the pink jersey this month?
In a Giro d’Italia packing more than 70km of leg-sapping time trials and boasting a brutal final week through the mountains, possibly not.
But a reconnaissance sure might help the future pink jersey let his legs make the difference.
“Mountain stages are about the legs. If you don’t have the legs, you can do as many recons as you want, you will drop,” Evenepoel said.