It's Grand Tour Time
Cycling is filled with tradition, but the Giro d'Italia is making a new history.
In less than a week the first Grand Tour of the season rolls out in Herning, Denmark - the Giro d'Italia 2012. Twenty-two teams of nine riders each will be contesting what is considered the most beautiful of the Grand Tours.
Sure the Tour de France has the worldwide prestige that is only dwarfed by the Olympics and World Cup soccer (or football - depending on where you're from), but it lacks the Italian flair. By no means am I suggesting the Tour de France is ridden in the bad parts of town - for crying out loud - it finishes on a street called the most beautiful in the world. But the Giro d'Italia always seems to be the postcard of everything that is beautiful in Europe. If after watching the Giro you don't want to book a holiday to somewhere in Europe I would consult with your doctor because, obviously, you have no pulse.
Regardless, while this Grand Tour plays second fiddle to its French cousin it has taken the lead in social media. If you're on Twitter (If you're not, as a cycling fan, I highly encourage you to do so for many reasons. Perhaps that's a post for another day?) follow @giroditalia as they have fully embraced social media and are often giving updates and news regarding their race. The same applies to Facebook as the organizers have reached out to fans by asking to submit jersey designs.
While the Giro has embraced the new in this digital age they have also realized that the days of epic stages needed to be toned down. All this did was foster drug usage in order to handle the day in and day out grind of a three week race. Now the stages are still very competitive and challenging, yet don't reduce the peloton to a crumbling ruin. In the official Giro d'Italia program, the managing director of Giro organizer RCS Sport, Michele Acquarone, said referring to those hard editions, "if we'd piled all of the mountains on top of each other we'd have ended up on the moon. It was too extreme, too complicated, and it asked too much of the riders and everyone else, too."
I'm not sticking my head in the sand and saying that this has eradicated doping from the peloton, but creating a more manageable race is a step in that direction.
The man seen as largely responsible for this change is Acquarone. Some people raised an eyebrow in apprehension at the thought of a "marketing guy" coming in changing an event that is over 90 years old and steeped in tradition. Also, he says he doesn't even ride a bike! Oh the horror!
But let's be honest - Europe has a lot of events, places, and things steeped in tradition or history - so anyone coming in with new ideas is going to rock the boat. There are times when change is necessary and this is one of those moments. So what that the guy isn't an authority on professional bike racing - he's moving the Giro d'Italia forward in an intelligent manner and at the end of the day that's all that matters.
Professional cycling has too many "old boys" still lurking about with their outdated ways of dealing with the media as well as their athletes. To a few managers, the media is nothing but a nuisance. Again, I'm not about to say that managers need to be "best friends forever" with the media because that's what journalists aren't - just act reasonably.
I've had the experience of working with staff who are the face of the team who are either unaware of what a journalist's needs are, which in turn is not good for the squad, or they are just outright flaky, which makes the team look like an amateur organization. That dribbles down into the media and their teams don't get the attention they might deserve. Then the following year, when sponsors are reviewing their dollars and seeing how they were used they look at their "return on investment" - ROI. There are a couple of deal breakers with sponsors, and not getting media love is one of them.
Fortunately, those days seem to be waning as more and more professional media people are taking the place of the guy who spoke for the team as well as wrenched on the bikes. True story - I've spoken to those guys. I don't mean to sound harsh, but professional cycling needs to be treated professionally and having professionals in place is a step in that direction. That's why I applaud the hiring of Acquarone. Okay, I'm stepping off my soapbox ...
So what can we look for in this Giro? With the amount of climbs featured in this year's Giro it looks like a climber will wear pink in Milan. Stage 14 in the Alps is where we will start to see how the race will unfold. Another Alpine stage is number 17, which includes a new route. By then the clear favorites will have shown themselves.
The Queen Stage is stage 20 - Caldes/Val di Sole to Passo dello Stelvio. The side the racers will be climbing has 42 switchbacks and not a spot to recover. Then the final day is a 30 kilometer time trial in Milan. It's pan flat so it will go to a rider who has the ability to reach maximum speed and carry it the entire distance.
Full disclosure - I am terrible about picking winners in a bike race. Hell, last year I predicted Alberto Contador would win the Tour! The exception to the rule was my streak of Boonen wins this month. Instead I'm going to say that the winner of the Giro d'Italia will deserve the victory. I'm also going to predict that the racing will be interesting, we'll all tune in every day and dream how someday we're going to book that Italian holiday and climb the Stelvio ourselves.
Stay tuned to us here at Roadcycling.com for our 2012 Giro d'Italia coverage, including video highlights from all stages in our video section. While you wait for the Giro to start, why not subscribe to our Twitter feed @RoadCyclingCom , our Facebook page, and start your own training diary created by TrainingPeaks/Roadcycling.com and used by many of the pro riders who will battle in the Giro d'Italia this May.