There really is no bicycling stage race that can compare to the Giro d’Italia. Nothing like a sufferfest wrapped up in Italian flare. The Italians love to be creative in a demonic way with their wondrous three-week Tour. This year’s event started in Amsterdam on narrow roads that led to many gut-wrenching crashes. However, upon the return to Italy the trademark of the Giro was as usual the most gruesome climbs in cycling all bunched into the last week.
The riders entered the final week of racing a week ago Sunday with a mountain-top finish of the Zoncalon. It wasn’t until some of the most recent Giro’s that the climb of the Zoncalon was even thought possible. The average grade for the 10km climb is 11.5% with long portions over 20%. One rider called the easiest portion of the climb harder than any climb in the more renowned Tour de France. Oh, and the climb of the Zoncolan came after the riders had already tackled three difficult climbs and covered all but final 10k of a 222km route. The crowds at the finish were massive and featured the colorful “tifosi” as the passionate Italian fans are called. After a rest day an individual time trial saw the riders climbing every moment on the 12.9 km route that finished on dirt roads. On Friday and Saturday the climbs just kept coming. Relentless agony for the riders but visual delight for any cycling fan.
For most casual fans, cycling begins and ends with Lance Armstrong and his remarkable seven Tour de France victories. However, it is important to remember that Armstrong has called the climb of the Mortirolo the toughest he has ever faced. The riders tackled that on Friday. On Saturday, they climbed the Gavia. No one will ever match American Andy Hampsten climbing the Gavia in a raging snow storm on his way to winning the 1988 Giro. Riders had to have their frozen hands pried from their handle bars. Besides being the only American to win the Giro, Hampsten is the only non-European to ever take the title. Saturday’s ride wasn’t as epic, but the roads were literally cut out of deep banks of snow for this year’s edition.
To cap all this off last Sunday, the Giro finished with an individual time trial. Even though Italian Ivan Basso had all but wrapped up the victory, that didn’t stop the Italians from going all out. As each rider finished in Verona, they rode into the ancient Roman arena along a pink carpeted runway to the cheers of thousands. I realize the people that faithfully read this blog, as amazing as that sounds, really couldn’t care less about the Giro, but it truly is an amazing spectacle.
There really was only one problem for the Giro when it comes to American interest. Lance Armstrong didn’t ride it. Lance instead rode the one week Tour of California that moved its dates to May in direct conflict with the Giro. The time is coming for what will undoubtedly be numerous rants on this blog about the great Lance Armstrong. The Tour de France is just a little over a month away. But for now, I just want to remember the beauty that is the Giro d’Italia.