Race Preview: Probably the best Grand Tour of the year, Il Giro d’Italia, starts on Friday in Israel with an individual time trial and quite a lot of controversy. Ed Hood looks at the Italian race – The possible sporting high points and the not so good side of the Tour of Italy. Salbutamol and politics aside… bring on the Giro!
Ed Hood’s Giro’18 First Look is HERE.
It’s that time, the first Grand Tour of the season and one controversial Giro for sure: There’s the thirty pieces of silver issue – and then there’s the biological aspect thanks to Mr. Froome. But let’s begin with what really matters in international sport – MONEY. We’ll talk Salbutamol later. . .
There shouldn’t be any allergy educed asthma in the Negev Desert
As AC/DC so succinctly put it, ‘Listen to the Money Talk’. But forget those thirty piece of silver, how’s 10 million Euros to the Giro organisers from Israel; and one – or is two million euros? – to Christopher from the organisers to get him on the start line? OK, now that we’ve sorted out the real reasons the Giro is starting in the Middle East and Froome is on the start line, let’s move on.
‘Religion & Politics shouldn’t be mixed with sport’: Pardon me? The race is to start in one of the most controversial arenas in the world, we can’t ignore that – especially with the recent Israeli Army sniper killings of civilians in Gaza. The choice of start venues is a political hot potato with the European Co-ordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP), consisting of 120 human rights groups, sending statements urging RCS Sport to reconsider its decision to start the race in Jerusalem.
The other side of the wall
The group stated “that holding the Giro d’Italia in Israel will both cover up Israel’s military occupation and discrimination against Palestinians and increase Israel’s sense of impunity, encouraging continued denial of Palestinians’ UN-stipulated rights.” Protests are inevitable and whilst the Israeli Government has guaranteed race security it’s bound to be a nervous and stressful time for riders and organisers.
Are denied the first three stages; no doubt the Jerusalem Stage One will draw big crowds but if you have a wee look at a map you’ll observe that whilst Stage Two takes in the Mediterranean coast and finishes in vibrant Tel Aviv, Stage Three describes a bee line through the wilderness that is the Negev Desert – remember how much fun the desert Worlds parcours was?
But no doubt the inclusion of the Zoncolan and Finestre won’t see the Faithful crying into their Chianti too much?
Stage 14 – Zoncolan
It was a serious error of judgement to launch the 2018 percorso on the United Nations, ‘International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People’. To some elements this will be seen as major disrespect and could easily have been avoided – let’s hope it’s not a mistake the race pays for.
Contador in Israel
Rest Days and Rules:
If you’re as old as me then you’ll remember that rest days were introduced to try to reduce the temptation/need to resort to ‘artificial’ means of getting through a Grand Tour – and such races are only meant to run for a total of 23 days. This one runs for 24 days. A few years back the UCi decreed that rest days were to be just that, not the vehicle for huge and extremely tiring transfers so as ever more exotic starting cities could be utilised. . .
Yes, lots of them with eight summit finishes. The first joust with gravity comes on Stage Six with the ascent of the still active volcano, Mount Etna in Sicily. The last time we were up there, Albert Contador won in front of a very few people. Sicily is where the race lands – and begins for real – after the three stages in Israel and has the race to itself for three tappas.
Alberto Contador on the summit of Mount Etna
Stage 8 to Montevergini di Mercogliani, Stage 9 to Campo Imperatore, Stage 14 to the mighty Zoncolan, Stage 15 to Sappado, Stage 18 to Prato Nervoso, Stage 19 to Jafferau via the Finestre – of which more later – and Stage 20 to Cervinia mean that the organisers (and the Tifosi’s?) appetite for ever more climbs is well sated.
Giro di Freddy?:
In 1977 Belgian ace all-rounder – but he was no climber – Freddy Maertens won the Vuelta, taking 13 stages along the way. Perhaps one day we’ll see a Grand Tour organiser going against the grain, CUTTING the number of climbs and opening it up to all-rounders like GVA and Sagan – that would be a different race?
Freddy Maertens – No climber, but won La Vuelta’77
Perhaps appropriately in a land where the definition of how we manage years and therefore time came to be, the First Stage is a time trial. Rolling, 10 kilometres around the Holy City of Jerusalem and the Froomists are already saying that their man could lead this Giro from start to finish – however Messrs. Dennis (BMC & Oz) and Dumoulin (Sunweb & The Netherlands) are sure to dispute that.
There’s a second dice with Father Time in Stage 16’s Trento to Rovereto’s 34.2 kilometres and the profile looks big gear friendly – Froome, Dumoulin and Dennis, if he’s still there?
Stage 16 TT
Whilst things start well for the fast twitch guys In Israel it’s not a percorso Super Mario or Ale Jet would get excited about. Stages 2, 3, 7, 12 (maybe), 13 and the finale in Roma, Stage 21 are all the fast men can look forward to.
Elia Viviani’s (Quick-Step Floors & Italy) name is the one which jumps out – and with Michael Mørkøv (Denmark) as his ‘pilot fish’ the laminated flooring men should get to 30 bouquets and beyond.
Elia Viviani – King of the sprints?
There are four stages where an opportunist like Aru could launch an ambush; Stage 4 and 5 in rugged Sicily; not to mention Stages 10 and 11 north through the Apennines are all tappas where Sky will have to be on guard duty.
An ambush on stage 4, 5, 10 or 11 is possible
The ‘antis’ say it’s a gimmick, the ‘pros’ say it harps back to a time when ‘men were men’ and racing wasn’t about watts and Vo2 max. As the kids say, ‘whatever’ but it is damned impressive standing at the top of the Finestre watching the drama unfold on those dirt hair pins below you – hopefully Stage 19 may see Martin and I back up there?
The Sterrati of Finestre
Best have a few:
# the Giro was first held in 1909, this will be edition 101.
# Italians have won on 68 occasions, Belgians on five and Spaniards four times.
# most wins: Alfredo Binda, Fausto Coppi and Eddy Merckx have five each.
# Eddy holds the record for days in pink at 77.
# the record for stage wins is 42, held by ‘Super Mario’ Cipollini (who else?)
# 2018 race distance will be 3,563 kilometres over 21 stages with an average stage length of 179 kilometres – there are three rest days.
We’ve gone down the route that the continental sports papers do, awarding stars one to four to the participants according to their chances of victory. In the current velo milieu a rider’s recent palmarès can mean everything – or nothing. A youngster on the way up and fighting to prove himself may well have good results but for a ‘Big’ the races en route the big day are incidental, just back drop to the actual show. This must be borne in mind when analysing prospects:
One star *:
Louis Meintjes (Dimension Data & Republic of South Africa): has finished eighth in the last two Tours de France so we have to mention him but his palmarès this year are flat as a pancake.
He could be saving all for the Pink Race but it’s difficult for us to move his particulars out of the, ‘Just Difficult to Drop’ file.
Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal & Belgium): has no history as a Grand Tour rider but we like the level he’s been operating at this season – victory in the Ruta Del Sol, an excellent showing in Paris-Nice and a very strong Ardennes campaign. A top six is possible.
George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo & New Zealand): was ‘up there’ in the first part of Le Tour last year after winning in California – and he was top 10 in the Vuelta. A feat he’s repeated this year in Tirreno, Catalonia and The Alps – it bodes well.
Two stars **:
Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana & Colombia): he gets that little bit better all the time with podiums this year in Oman, Abu Dhabi and The Alps. And let’s not forget those two Vuelta stage wins in 2017 – or his top 10 on GC in that race; confirmation cannot be far away.
Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton Scott & Colombia): a man who was so close to Giro victory in 2016 that he could smell it and who earlier this year won the Herald Sun Tour – but. . . The sparkle that took him on to the Giro podium seems to have dulled; we’d like to be proved wrong – and maybe he’s there for our next candidate. . .
Three Stars ***:
Simon Yates (Mitchelton Scott & GB): top 10 and white jersey in Le Tour last year and with excellent rides this year in Paris-Nice – a stage win and second on GC – and Catalonia – a stage win and fourth – the podium beckons.
Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates & Italy): the man has been twice on the podium here, second and third – so he knows the pink score. And he’s won the Vuelta. He rode a strong Tour de France last year with a stage win and fifth overall but there’s not been a lot to write home since, albeit he was sixth in the recent Alps Tour so perhaps he’s just where he wants to be right now?
Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ & France): he’s abandoned his beloved Tour in search of an allergy-free three pink weeks in May. He’s raced sparingly this year, there’s gas in the tank, and his recent Alps victory bodes well. With the Frenchman it’s as much about his mental state as his leg muscles and if he gets through the first half of the race with his head still on then a podium is possible.
Four Stars ****:
Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb & The Netherlands): remember what we were saying about palmarès meaning everything or nothing? That’s the case with this powerful gentleman. A brilliant winner of the Giro, last year and a reigning World Time Trial Champion, this year hasn’t been super – but we’ll only know the truth when he rolls down that start ramp in Jerusalem. If he’s ‘on’ he’s the master time tester and very hard to drop, even on the toughest climb. For us it’s between him and. . .
Christopher Froome (Sky & GB) with Vincenzo Nibali the pre-eminent Grand Tour rider of the day. BUT. If the Alessandro Petacchi and Diego Ulissi cases are to be cited as precedents then Froome should, and will be suspended, period. However, if reports in the Swiss media are to be believed then Sky have already invested a huge amount of money in the legal team which is handling Froome’s defence. The case will not be settled before the Giro but may be concluded prior to Le Tour. If Froome loses the case then we’ll have the messy Contador-esque situation of performances being retrospectively ‘wiped’ – a horrible circumstance to contemplate.
Can Froome win? Despite the brave face, his stomach must be churning much of the time worry about his situation. That said, he’s a proud character and a winner; that fourth spot in the Tour of the Alps means he’ll be very close to where he wants to be – and the Giro has had stronger fields. . .
Keep tuned PEZ for the best daily Giro d’Italia coverage and for online TV coverage go to steephill.tv.
Giro d’Italia from May 4th to May 27th:
Stage 1: Jerusalem – Jerusalem, (ITT) 9.7km
Stage 2: Haifa – Tel Aviv, 167km
Stage 3: Be’er Sheva – Eilat, 229km
First rest day: May 7
Stage 4: Catania – Caltagirone, 191km
Stage 5: Agrigento – Santa Ninfa (Valle del Belice), 152km
Stage 6: Caltanissetta – Etna, 163km
Stage 7: Pizzo – Praia A Mare, 159km
Stage 8: Praia A Mare – Montevergine Di Mercogliano, 208km
Stage 9: Pesco Sannita – Gran Sasso d’Italia, 224km
Second rest day: May 14
Stage 10: Penne – Gualdo Tadino, 239 km
Stage 11: Assisi – Osimo, 156km
Stage 12: Osimo – Imola, 213km
Stage 13: Ferrara – Nervesa Della Battaglia, 180km
Stage 14: San Vito Al Tagliamento – Monte Zoncolan, 181km
Stage 15: Tolmezzo – Sappada, 176km
Third rest day: May 21
Stage 16: Trento – Rovereto (ITT), 34.5km
Stage 17: Franciacorta Stage (Riva del Garda – Iseo), 155km
Stage 18: Abbiategrasso – Prato Nevoso, 196km
Stage 19: Venaria Reale – Bardonecchia, 181km
Stage 20: Susa – Cervinia, 214km
Stage 21: Rome – Rome, 118km.
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,600 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.