Also known affectionately within the pro peloton as by far the hardest of all the Grand Tours.
5 min read by Nathan Haas
Impossible you say, that title belongs to the Tour De France, the Giro is just the warm up.
Well, I have news for you, the Tour might be the biggest, but the hardest, for every reason, is always the Giro. This is known within Italy, whose fans see the giro as their everything, their Amore Infinito. To them, the Tour is just a warm down.
I just went to the official Giro d’Italia website and was reminded exactly what it is I love about the Giro. I surf the page and music surprises me, Orchestral Timpani booms me into the mood, the horns crescendo my interest. The strings swoon me. It’s kitschy perhaps, but the Giro is just a mood. An emotion. A drama. A story. That’s it. That’s what I love about the Giro. You feel like you are a part of a story, combining 104 years of narrative. You feel part of its history, part of its tale, and it is without doubt, a moving experience.
This year, like all others, is set to be wonderful.
The parcours, the line up, the battle between the young and the old, the passing of the guard, it’s set to be exactly what the Giro always strives for. Epic.
I’ve raced the Giro 4 times. In fact, my first Grand Tour was the Giro in service of the ever amazing Ryder Hesjedal. Without a doubt my hardest days ever have been in the Giro.
Does anybody remember the team Garmin-Sharp team time trial crash in 2014 on stage 1? The Gavia/ Stelvio stage in total snow in 2014? Last years’ stage finish in Lago de Cancano, with 5890m total elevation, the most in recent cycling history?
I can keep going, but my point is, this is what the Giro is, it’s hardcore, and that’s what builds peoples love for it. It’s a true representation of the human spirit, overcoming all, for glory. Well, finishing for some doesn’t feel like glory. But you learn more about yourself on these days than most years in your life.
This year's Giro is taking on more of a traditional Giro format, yet with a twist.
Traditional in the sense that the first 7-10 days are structured to give the sprinters and the gutsy breakaway specialists their chances.
In recent years, we have seen decisive GC stages early in the race, but this year, the Maglia Rosa, the pink jersey, could be anybody’s until stage 8 or 9, and even then, perhaps a surprise rider finds time early and keep it through this period. Does anybody Remember Michael Matthews winning against the climbers on Monte Casino in pink in 2014?
What gives the traditional race format a twist this year is that there are no insanely long stages, the longest being 231km, which might seem long, but compared to previous years having multiple stages over 260, this year the organisers have opted for shorter, more aggressive stages which will make for fireworks every stage, so don’t miss a beat!
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The important climbing stages...
Or perhaps I should say, infamous climbing stages finish on the Montalcino, stage 11, Bagno di Romagna, stage 12, The Zoncolan, stage 14, Cortina D’amezzo, stage 16, Sega di Ala, stage 17 and finally, the epic last stage into Alpe Motta on stage 20.
Most of these stages are short, under 200km, and mixed throughout the 2nd and 3rd weeks which makes the Giro something to tune into most days, rather than just the weekends. This is brutal for the GC riders as they don’t get much time to switch off between challenges, but this is what makes the giro the GIRO. It’s the gladiator who wins.
I have fond memories of finishing stage 20 in 2014 on the Zoncolan. After multiple category 1 climbs, tired, weary and ready to give in. We rode into the bottom of this climb where suddenly the road turned right into a small, single-lane drag whereby the infamous Gates of hell (yes, the gate actually says “welcome to the gates of hell”). I had ridden this stage well and had arrived in the small group of 30 riders, and after having placed our GC rider, Ryder Hesjedal, into place I got to settle into my own rhythm knowing I could enjoy my final day of climbing before the end of the race.
I was alone. I was emotional. But more than anything, I was enjoying this final climb as I had no stress to make time cut (the grupetto being 30 mins behind us already). The first part of the climb was lonely, just so steep, and the meters felt like they were passing so slowly. I then rode into the dark, tiny tunnels lit only by flaming barrels placed by the race organisation, like riding into the dark, hoping to emerge into the light. Finally, the light emerged and I accelerated. I wanted this, I push and suddenly when I emerged I came to the greatest crowd I had ever seen on a mountain.
It was thousands of people, many lines deep on both sides of the road. It felt like a carnival, the welcome home for the champions of the sport. I couldn’t help myself, I was doing wheelies the whole way up.
The crowd went wild and for the first time in weeks I couldn’t feel my legs, I was floating with euphoria. I finished the stage, I rode to the bus, and I knew in my heart that this was going to go down as one of, if not the greatest experience of my cycling career.
Emotional story aside, what really excites me about this edition of the Giro is that it follows its traditional finish ending with a 30km time trial into the centre of Milan.
In the recent history of the race, there have been three times the pink jersey has been lost in this time trial, which if history repeats, we are set to be on the tips of our seats from stage 1 right until the final meter of this epic race. This Giro will be just another part of the overall narrative of 104 years telling stories of struggle and success.
And this is why the Giro is an infinite love. Amore infinito.
By Nathan Haas