Giro d'Italia

U.S. pro roundtable: Why the peloton loves (and sometimes hates) the Giro d’Italia

Giro d'Italia veterans Brent Bookwalter and Joe Dombrowski share their insights into the race, from the 'organized chaos' and culture to the monster stages and long transfers.

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The Giro d’Italia is in full-swing, and for the next three weeks we will be covering every angle of the Italian race here on velonews.com. As an added bonus, there are eight American riders racing the Giro d’Italia, and they have lent us their expert perspective to help shed light on the event and all of its glorious trappings.

We have questions about the Giro, and our pro riders have the answers. So, every day throughout the Giro we will roll out a new Pro Roundtable, with expert perspective from two pro riders and one VeloNews editor. Today, the questions focus on the best and worst of the drama and sometimes chaos that defines the Giro d’Italia. 

What is your favorite part of racing the Giro?

Brent BookwalterMy favorite part of racing is also what makes it such a demanding race—the amazing magnitude of the countryside, the scenery and the mountains. And then in that environment there are the fans, who are so passionate. The Giro is in May. People are not on vacation and kids are still in school, so you have to make a real effort to come to the Giro so the fans are really passionate and really knowledgeable. 

Joe Dombrowski: It has to be the Italian culture. The food is so good and it is just really laid back. I live in France and Italy is just a bit more laid back. It can be more chaotic but it is a sort of organized chaos and I like it. And then I like the way the race is raced, with a lot of the big mountain stages packed in the third week. That really suits me.

Andrew Hood: Well, anyone who’s seen me recently in my cycling kit knows I am not racing the Giro any time soon. My favorite part of covering the Giro is too hard to pin down to just one thing. The Giro is madness start to finish, which, as that implies, can be maddening. The drama, the tifosi, the difficulty of the race, the curveballs thrown by the weather, and the overall ambiance of being in Italy for three weeks all add up to make the Giro something unique on the racing calendar. Many on the moving circus that is professional racing will tell you the Giro is their favorite event. Sure, it has its pitfalls like any big race, but the beguiling beauty of Italy, its people, its landscapes, and its cuisine certainly means it’s one of my favorite months of the year.

What is your least favorite part of racing the Giro?

Brent Bookwalter: They really throw some curveballs at us. But I would say the fact that they always seem to throw in some stupidly long flat stages at us. It is a welcome chance not to be beating ourselves up in the mountains. But some 240-kilometer stages that last like seven hours can be a real eye-roller. And for some reason it always seems that those stages are also the days when we have some long transfer as well. It can really wear everyone down and take the fun out of it.

Joe DombrowskiWell, the weather can be a bit of a question at times. It can be totally fine, but then not so fine! It can be just awful. Occasionally you will get some mega-transfers that are not so much fun. But other than that, I don’t have too many complaints.

Andrew Hood: There are a few minor things from a journalist’s perspective that make the Giro a challenge to cover sometimes. Let’s put it this way: the Giro doesn’t run as tight of a ship as the Tour de France. Simply navigating your way from each day’s start to finish is a much bigger hurdle at the Giro than it is at the Tour. At the Tour, each stage is meticulously signposted for credentialed vehicles to move around France in relatively seamless fashion. That’s not the case at the Giro. If there are signposts at the Giro, they will just as suddenly disappear, so even with careful map-reading and navigation, getting lost is an almost daily occurrence. As one of my colleagues once said, losing the pink ribbons that mark each day’s route is akin to the character Chef in the movie, “Apocalypse Now,” who leaves the boat to search for mangoes only to be attacked by a tiger. So when it comes to chasing the Giro across Italy, NEVER get off the boat.

What is the biggest difference you expect from the Giro in October vs the Giro in May?

Brent Bookwalter: Usually in May the weather can be a dramatic backdrop in the race but it is generally improving. But this year it will be the opposite, with the weather potentially getting worse and days getting shorter. That, along with the untraditional preparation we have had, I think we may see even more surprises in the third week of the Giro, like we did in the Tour. 

Joe Dombrowski: Everyone is talking about stages like the Stelvio being canceled due to the weather, but I don’t really know about that. We can have some pretty bad weather in the mountains in May as well. For me it is a toss up. I guess the big difference is that in May, the weather is supposed to be getting better, while in October it tends to be getting worse. And then the fact, like I said, that we really have any references regarding our preparation. Again I haven’t done much racing this year. And then in a month, my season will be essentially over. It’s funny because in some ways it feels like the season is just starting, but then at the same time, it is almost over. I think you just have to focus on the day-to-day. If you start focusing on all the things that could derail then you will just lose focus.

Andrew Hood: The weather is going to be the big wild-card. I’ll be curious to see how it plays out tactically. Teams and riders cannot afford to wait for that hard final mountain stage across the Alps to make a move because it might not happen. The big differences are typically made in the final days of a grand tour, but what happens if forecasters are calling for bad weather a week ahead of time? We might see some very different racing if everyone thinks that the penultimate stage might be canceled or rerouted. It’s also interesting how they placed the Giro between the Tour and Vuelta (both owned by ASO). With the new-look schedule, riders can still do the Tour-Vuelta double, but almost no one is racing the Giro after completing the Tour. Choices had to be made, and weather in Spain usually is better in November than it is in northern Italy.