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Giro marches on

Italy Gears up for the Giro!

Richard Moore Posted 5th May 2011 view comments

With a smidgen of humour and a sense of foreboding, David Millar referred to it this week as "The Italian Death March".

He was talking, of course, of the Giro d'Italia, which starts with a team time trial in Turin on Saturday.

Apparently the roads in Turin are dead straight, which should be perfect for the team discipline. If only the rest of the three-week race were so simple. As Millar's words suggest, it is not. But then, as Giro organiser Angelo Zomegnan recently said, "The Giro is for strong men, not little girls."

Giro d'Italia champion Ivan Basso will not be defending his title

Giro d'Italia champion Ivan Basso will not be defending his title

In the land of Silvio Berlusconi such remarks are perhaps ten-a-penny. In fact, this probably passes for political correctness. But there is no mistaking Zomegnan's raw passion or his towering ambition for what is, for many cycling fans, and most definitely the country's own tifosi, the most compelling and beautiful of the three Grand Tours, with the Italian topography lending itself so perfectly to bike racing, and, more specifically, stage racing.

On drugs, Zomegnan generally says the right things, though he can be a little flippant ("If you're not under investigation for something, you're nobody in Italy," he jokes), and his race has been badly damaged by the likes of Danilo Di Luca, Riccardo Ricc̣, Basso and others.

Richard Moore
Quotes of the week

Of the landscape, Zomegnan, justifying the brutality of this year's route, said: "You have to exalt it, otherwise we'll put on a ballet for little girls and everyone goes home happy."

Last year's Giro could be said to vindicate Zomegnan's conviction that tough is good. But there were other factors, too. The furniture-strewn roads in the opening days in Holland, not to mention the strong winds, caused havoc.

Then there was the 'strade bianche' stage to Montalcino, which, with incessant rain, turned the white roads into dirt roads, and left the riders looking like they'd emerged from the trenches. And, perhaps most memorably of all, there was a remarkable 55-man escape - "a breakaway," as Zomegnan said, "outside of any cycling instruction manual" - on another day of horrific weather, on the long road to L'Aquila.

Eight is enough

This year, there are eight mountain-top finishes. Eight! But the stage most are talking about is the fourteenth, finishing atop Monte Zoncolan, where Ivan Basso rode away from Cadel Evans to set himself up to claim the 'maglia rosa' - pink leader's jersey - last year.

Before Zoncolan, on the same day, comes Monte Crostis - or, more specifically, the descent. It has to be one of the most dangerous ever to feature in a major race, leading Alberto Contador, the pre-race favourite, to suggest that nets should be installed to catch any riders who come off the road. To the side the drop is precipitous.

Contador's participation in the Giro, before June's Court of Arbitraition for Sport hearing into his positive drugs test during last year's Tour de France, is highly controversial. The Giro doesn't need a winner who is promptly banned for two years.

On drugs, Zomegnan generally says the right things, though he can be a little flippant ("If you're not under investigation for something, you're nobody in Italy," he jokes), and his race has been badly damaged by the likes of Danilo Di Luca, Riccardo Ricc̣, Basso and others.

And yet, in terms of popularity, the Giro seems to be capturing the imagination of many more people. In his interview in the Official Giro Programme, Zomegnan reels off some impressive statistics: "10.5 million people stood at the roadside to watch the Giro last year. That's something like 100 capacity crowds at the Maracană stadium in Brazil over 21 days - five Maracană stadiums every day."

On top of that, the Giro is broadcast in "177 countries, watched by 360 million unique spectators across the globe, 32 million in Italy alone."

Another sign of the Giro's increasing reach is the fact that the Zomegnan interview appears in an official Giro programme published in English and available in British shops - a first. There are also two newly published books about the Giro and Italian cycling - Herbie Sykes' magnificent Maglia Rosa, and John Foot's forensic Pedalare! Pedalare!

Zomegnan insists "the Tour de France is still this sport's compass, its guiding light," and doesn't suggest the Giro could overtake it in terms of popularity. Rather, he is content that more people appear to be falling under the spell of the Giro's unique charms, but mindful that growth must be carefully managed.

Or as he puts it: "These statistics are a great source of satisfaction for us, but also of anxiety, because we know that we have to keep upping our game. If you're a good-looking guy, you can get seven times the girls you can cope with. The day, though, when you're that guy and you don't get any girls, you want to kill yourself. That's the situation we have to avoid."

Indeed.

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