THE island of Sardinia is bathed in pink today as it hosts the first stage of the 100th Giro d’Italia. Pink is the colour of the Giro, similarly to yellow being the colour of the Tour de France and for the same reasons.
The Tour was first run as a promotion for a daily sports paper called La Auto. Its pages were yellow so that soon became the colour of the leader’s jersey. The event captured the imagination of European sports fans so the Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport started their own version and it also was embraced by the Italian sport mad “Tifossi”.
Its pages were pink and so the leader’s jersey, the Maglia Rosa, and the flavour of the race are also pink. I have a serious love affair with the “Giro” — I raced it 36 years ago and have covered six for the Addy over the years.
And although always referred to as the bridesmaid to the Tour de France, it has a beautiful element that makes it quite special — the passion.
Riding through the seaside town of Varigotti on the way to the finish in Genova on stage 2 of the 2015 Giro d'Italia. Picture: Marcus Enno aka "Beardy McBeard"
The Tour de France has become a “bucket list” thing to do and although the crowds at the Giro are not quite up to TdF size, there are still hundreds of thousands of fans flocking to every stage. But the big difference is that they’re genuine cycling fans and they love the event. Also it is a much tougher route then the Tour.
The big mountains of the Giro are much steeper and more demanding with the rider having to fit special low gears to their bikes to be able to conquer these monster climbs.
There are only five Aussies racing in this special edition and probably only one who will challenge for the overall title.
Rohan Dennis is co-leader of the powerful BMC team with American Tejay Van Garderen, and although not really expected to get on the podium this year, this is his chance to show what he can do over the demanding three weeks with full team support. And BMC believes that Rohan can be a genuine contender in a couple of years.
Adam Hansen is taking on his 17th consecutive grand tour. It’s a record that may never be beaten and shows how tough this man from northern Queensland really is. Nathan Haas has certainly found his feet in the South African Dimension Data squad and will be aggressive and a big chance to take a stage. But the Australian team Orica Scott will certainly be in the mix.
Young Englishman Adam Yates is a definite chance. He rode brilliantly to finish fourth and as leading young rider in last year’s Tour de France. There are only three Aussies in the team for this Giro but expect them to make their presence felt.
The pocket dynamo from Bowral, Caleb Ewan, will be certainly in the mix in the first week in the sprint stages. Young Alex Edmondson has had a stellar start to the year in the tough classics such as Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix and he will be crucial in the lead out train for Ewan. Michael Hepburn has proven himself to be a great strongman over the three week grand tours. He will be seen on the front reeling in the breakaways early in the Giro to allow Ewan to challenge in the sprints and then later in the Giro he is likely to be doing the same to bring back any dangerous moves when Adam Yates is trying win the overall.
The undisputed favourite this year is Nairo Quintana. The diminutive Colombian won easily at his last attempt in 2014 and this year is attempting to win the Giro/Tour double. That hasn’t happened since Marco Pantani in 1998, and it could be his undoing.
I am pretty sure he will win this Giro if he puts all his energies into it. But it’s a big “if” because if he tries to win this race and keep some reserves for the Tour then he could come unstuck.
Defending champion Vincenzo Nibali is going for his third Giro victory but the aggressive Italian doesn’t appear to have the brilliant form of last year. Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk will definitely be one to watch. He looked to have last year’s Giro in his grasp when he overcooked it on a tricky descent in the final week and blew a golden chance to be come the first Dutchman to win a grand tour since Joop Zootemelk in 1980.
There was a very interesting addition in this year’s Giro, a timed descent of the steepest mountains. It had never been tried before in a grand tour but it raised some eyebrows in the peloton as it was sure to encourage some riders to push it past their descending abilities. But it has now been cancelled.
Some of the descents in the Giro are super dangerous and I can vividly remember going over the edge with my two breakaway companions back in 1981. Fortunately we all survived but it doesn’t always work out that way.
I have to admit I would have loved to have had this downhill challenge back in my day. I rated myself as one of the better descenders and I used hum to myself Billy Thorpe’s version of “Yes I’m the great descender” as I hurtled down European mountain passes. Of course the real words are “great pretender,” which was probably closer to the truth.
The Giro starts tonight and runs until May 28.
The peloton climbs the Sella pass during the 14th stage of the 99th Giro d'Italia, Tour of Italy, from Farra d'Alpago to Corvara last year. Picture: AFP PHOTO/Luk BENIES