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Giro d'Italia

VeloNews Mailbag: Could a strong Cat. 1 survive a Giro d’Italia stage?

You have questions about the Giro d'Italia, and we have answers! Today, Larry Warbasse fields questions about disc brakes and Cat. 1 heroes.

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You have questions about the Giro d’Italia and we have answers! Well, we have educated opinions and access to people who have answers. Got a burning question on your mind? Email us at and we will pose your inquiry to pro riders, WorldTour mechanics, and other insiders. Today, we’re talking about disc brakes, and whether or not your local Cat 1 hero could survive a Giro stage. 

Happy soggy Giro d’Italia opening week! Keep that rain cape ready, because simply watching the Giro d’Italia broadcast is likely to leave you sopping and numb from the awful weather that is currently battering our heroes in Italy. It isn’t often that I watch a race and thank my lucky stars that I’m seated in my home office listening to my toddler’s demented ABC playlist echo through the walls. But after watching Tuesday’s stage from Piacenza to Sestola, I’m happy that I’m warm, dry, and not on a bike in Italy.

So, this mailbag column is something we will keep going throughout 2021, and we will rely on your questions to drive what we talk about in each column. For the Giro, we plan to roll these columns out at a regular cadence — how frequently depends on your awesome questions!

And hey, no question is too obscure, too weird, or too outlandish for us to address. Bike racing is a beautiful sport that is filled with all manners of mystery and intrigue, so ask away!

OK — on to your questions.

What percentage of riders in the 2021 Giro are using disc brakes?

— Moosebumpz

Great question, Moosebumpz. Is that Mr. Moosebumpz, or is Moosebumpz your first name? I suppose that’s a question for a later mailbag column.

Disc brakes have arrived. Up until now, the pro peloton only seemed to embrace discs on TT bikes, and under certain sprinters’ bikes. Now they have gone more mainstream and they crop up even on lightweight climbing bikes. Photo: Dan Cavallari |

So, from my perch here in the home office, watching the Giro broadcast like ever other schlub, I believe that disc brakes far outnumber traditional rim brakes in the peloton. After analyzing the tape this morning, I see that Astana, Bahrain, BikeExchange, Wanty, EF Education, Deceuninck-Quick-Step, Trek-Segafredo, Jumbo-Visma, and Bora-Hansgrohe are using the technology that just a few years ago some riders saw as spinning blades of doom.

I realize that is hardly an accurate count, so I posed your question to Larry Warbasse, who is riding his fourth Giro d’Italia. Larry, as you may know, is producing these amazing video diaries for us throughout the Giro, and I suggest you check them out. He’ll address some of your questions in the videos as well.

Anyway, here’s what Larry told me about the peloton’s disc brake/rim brake split at the race:

“It’s only now Ineos Grenadiers only on rim brakes, and then UAE have the option between rim and disc brakes, and so I would say probably five out of the eight guys would ride rim brakes because it’s lighter. I don’t know if there are any other teams riding rim brakes anymore. The guys who do ride rim brakes it’s just because of the weight, because the bikes are pretty heavy with discs.”

See, it’s not just Chris Froome who thinks disc brakes are heavy!

That said, my assumption is that every disc brake-using rider in the peloton was mighty glad he had the spinning plates of doom on his bike for today’s wet and zany stage. Having zipped down twisting descents in the rain on both rim and disc brakes, I can attest to the better braking power of the latter, even if they do carry a few more grams on the climbs.


How long would a Cat. 1 rider be able to survive in a Giro stage? Say he’s pretty strong for a Cat. 1 but has no European racing experience. 

— JDigg

Hey JDigg, you said Cat. 1? What does your TrainingPeaks look like at the moment? I’m guessing it’s all green.

Cat 1 heroes
Cat 1 heroes prepping for the Giro. Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/Martin_vmorris

I get this question a lot (How long would our local hero survive in a European race?) and the answer is always: “Well, it depends.” If it’s a classics race in Belgium or The Netherlands, my answer is always: Not very long! This fact is less about the horsepower of the peloton, and more about the twisting roads and the preternatural instincts that European riders have for proper positioning in the peloton.

I don’t care how strong you are — if you’ve never raced Gent-Wevelgem, you’re probably going to get elbowed in the ribs and then spat out the back of the peloton on the first section of crazy Belgian bike path roads. American riders are awesome at training, but when it comes to proper positioning on narrow and crazy European roads, experience and knowledge beats leg strength every day of the week.

Now, whether our heroic Cat. 1 could survive a grand tour stage depends very much on a variety of factors as well. Is it a mountain stage or a flat one? Are the roads narrow and winding, or straightforward?

I don’t have the answers, so again, I’ve posed this question to Larry to get his take. Here’s what he had to say:

“It totally depends. Yesterday (stage 2) I would say a Cat. 3 could have easily finished in the bunch yesterday. For the data geeks, I averaged 135 watts for the stage, which is crazy. Yesterday was really easy. But we don’t get so many days like that anymore in pro cycling. Today (stage 3) was hard. Today, it was flat the first half, but once we hit the climbs after the first climb, maybe they could make it over the first climb, but they would probably be dropped by the next climb. There were people getting dropped on that climb as well. It depends on the stage and how we ride it. A lot of it has to do with positioning. Sometimes the race splits more on the descents than on the climbs because everyone is so strong.”

So, there you  have it, JDigg. You might make it through the Giro’s easiest stage and finish alongside Larry Warbasse, Egan Bernal, and the other stars of the sport. Then, the next day, you might get dropped on a climb just a few kilometers from the start, or on a twisting descent. My advice: Keep training hard to make sure those local hero legs of yours are ready for action. You never know if you might get called up for the Giro d’Italia.