With the Srping classics out of the way, the attention of cycling fans now turns to the Grand Tours, ushered in by the Giro D’Italia. The Tour de France is iconic in its own way but there is something about the Giro that sets it apart among cycling fans. Plus it has the coolest leaders jersey by far.
With the first week of racing behind us I thought I would take a sideways look at some of the main talking points.
No one can convince me that watching an Individual Time Trial (ITT) stage of a Grand Tour is a fun thing to do. I am not taking anything away from the human endeavor of riding against the clock but the race or truth rarely makes for exciting viewing. With that being said there are ways to make them more watchable and that is to ensure that there is some jeopardy and some hard racing already in the legs.
Save the ITT’s until later in the race when time gaps have naturally opened and the best Time Trialists have to fight against heavier legs.
By doing this the time gaps become meaningful instead of having a short ITT at the start where three weeks of further racing will most likely make any time gaps academic.
The short ITT time trial at the start of this years Giro in Bologna had a strange feel to it due to the majority of the main GC contenders going out at the start of the day ostensibly to make sure they were not affected by some (wrongly) predicted inclement weather. This sort of meant there was none of the usual build-up to the main guys going and we couldn’t, as a viewer, get a feel for the stage.
The crowds were amazing, particularly up the climb that was the sting in the tail of this stage and it was a great showcase for Bologna.
Eurosport up their game
After a couple of stages of the Giro I have to say that I have been impressed with the coverage of the racing from Eurosport, particularly the analysis. There is no doubt that cycling as a sport needs to do something to stem the loss of viewers across the spectrum and a big part of that is improving the experience for viewers (among a raft of more drastic changes that are needed within the sport itself) and Eurosport to their credit seem to have taken this on-board.
In Orla Chennui they have a natural presenter for cycling. She is an excellent anchor for the pre-race and post-race analysis, allowing plenty of space for the other guests to talk whilst probing with relevant questions to stimulate the conversation. With her great work on the The Cycling Podcast Feminin it is clear that she has a love of the sport and a deep understanding of its many intricacies. Whilst Jonathan Edwards was a nice enough guy he was unable to get under the skin of pro cycling.
The real feather in the cap for Eurosport is the quality of the pundits they now have on the sofa and it looks like they are using them more during the stages for analysis. A welcome break from for and from the commentators.
Bradley Wiggins always offers an opinion and helps to unlock some of the mysteries of the pro-peloton and has a face and personality that extends beyond cycling. Not only is he a former Grand Tour winner but he is a student of the sport and this shines through in his analysis and anecdotes (of which I want to hear more).
The tie in with the YouTube channel GCN (Global Cycling Network) is an excellent idea and shows some forward thinking from the traditional broadcasters. Of course Matt Stephens is a welcome addition to any broadcast especially watching him try to chat with the riders after a brutal day in the saddle. Keep up the good work and let’s applaud the innovation.
My one criticism is that the highlights package is pretty basic and could do with some love and attention.
Crashes and Luck
The first few proper road stages of the Giro were marked by crashes that might have looked fairly innocuous but have changed the complexion of the race completely. Tom Domoulin, GC contender and all round good guy, was involved in a nasty crash near the end of Stage 4 that ended not only his dreams of winning the race but, as it turned out, also his chances of even finishing the race.
Crashes are part of cycling of course and part of winning a three week stage race is staying out of trouble either through design or pure luck. It is never god when it happens so early into the race and we lose one of the stars before the real fireworks begin. The silver lining for Tom and the Dutch fans is that he can now really focus on the elusive Tour de France victory.
The weather has not been kind to the riders at the start of the Giro and they have been suffering through some pretty brutal and unexpected conditions. You know it is bad when you are glad to be out on the bike in Scotland rather than Italy!
Watching pro cycling on TV is an aspirational experience, watching stunning landscape pass by and athletes competing at the highest level. When it rains and the riders look like they would rather be anywhere else it does not make for edifying viewing.
I always feel sorry for the finishing towns on days like these when the heavens open. They have clearly paid the equivalent of a briefcase full of money to get this exposure and then mother nature does her worst. In the rain and cold even the most charming of little villages look like a dismal Scottish coastal town that has been battered by centuries of wind and water.
Hopefully the weather improves as the race goes on for the viewer and the riders sake.
Fans and their Dogs
One of the biggest differences between the Giro and the Tour is the behaviour of the fans at the roadside. Because of the exposure of the Tour, there is a certain type of fan who just wants to get on TV so their mummy can see them. The safety of the riders is basically irrelevant to them. The Giro on the other hand showcases proper cycling fans who don’t feel the need to make an idiot of themselves to get on TV. They respect the riders and just want to encourage them up the hills.
The Tour is an accident waiting to happen with regards to the behaviour of the fans.
One thing I would like to see is that some of the fans take more responsibility for their dogs and keep them on a lead when standing at the side of the road. There has been a couple of occasion on the Giro so far where stray dogs have almost influenced the race in a big way.
Here's hoping for more of the same over the next couple of weeks.