The Giro d’Italia is bigger than Everest

Friday, 29 April 2011

Swiss scenery

Let’s play word association. When I say “Switzerland”, what do you think of? Punctual trains, chocolate, hard currency and secret bank accounts? Cheese, cows and yodelling?  I bet mountains are an obvious thought, whether for the skiing or the postcard images of lush Alpine pastures. So when you think of the Tour of Romandie, you tend to think of a stage race for climbers. Romandie is the French-speaking area and like the whole Swiss confederation it has plenty of mountain passes.

More precisely the 2011 Tour of Romandie has 6,100 vertical metres of climbing (~21,000 feet). Despite several first category cols and plenty more other climbing, whether categorised or not, this is not the most mountainous edition of the race. Still, there are six days of racing with the prologue and you can’t escape the hills. But all this is less than one single day of mountain madness in the upcoming Giro d’Italia.

Giro Stage 15 profile

Incredibly one single stage of the Giro has more vertical metres than the whole Swiss stage race. Stage 15 of the Giro features 6,320 vertical metres in a day, including the Passo Giau, the high point of the race where the Cima Coppi prize is awarded to the first rider to get to the top. Normally 4,000m is a big day in the Alps and it’s rare to go beyond 5,000m (16,500 ft). In addition, the insanity of this stage is such that:

  • it would be a long ride without the mountains, as it’s 229km long
  • the stage comes after two weeks of racing already
  • the previous day’s stage sees the riders rack up 5,000 climbing metres over 205km including the vicious finish on Monte Zoncolan
  • in one weekend the riders will do the equivalent of going from sea level to the summit of Everest… and then add a further 2,500m on top.

Note that its the riders who make the race. Long stages like this are never easy, of course not, but faced with such hardship it is quite likely riders mark each other all the way until the end of the day and save the action for the final hour. Obviously the attrition will be big and any weakness on the day means grim punishment.

Stage inflation
As exciting as this might be, and I applaud race organiser Angelo Zomegnan’s innovation,  but I’m worried the Giro is trapped in a spiral of “stage inflation”. It has to beat the bar set in the previous year. The organiser is seeking out more and more madness and if it’s exciting on the one hand, you do wonder where things will be in five years’ time.

In the meantime, imagine if it rains… or snows on Stage 15?

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{ 23 comments }

Flammecast April 29, 2011 at 10:47 am

You’d also worry about Zomegan’s attitude to riders, long transfers, inadequate safety precautions, I remember last year reading Wiggo getting food and a massage gone midnight.

GreaseMonster April 29, 2011 at 12:14 pm

Brutal, carnage, insanity, torture, along with many other words spring to my mind when I look at this year’s Giro. As a fan I am really looking forward to this race, I honestly don’t care who wins. I have no doubts that I am going to be entertained, but for the riders I feel they are getting pushed harder and harder to the point of breaking perhaps.

What kind of attrition rate will we see on a day like this, could a vast number of sprinters fail to make the time cut?

Wal April 29, 2011 at 12:27 pm

And then we wonder why there is still doping going on in the peloton. Hard is good but races should at least be kept realistic!

GluteCramp April 29, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Although I applaud the concept, I still think that more undulating stages and less truly brutal days is probably more conducive to better racing over the whole three weeks.

That said, even though I’ll be in Thailand with no internet and no guarantees of finding Eurosport in a local bar (or even in the hotel), I’ll be making sure I’m watching for this stage – it’ll be worth it, even if it’s likely to be mostly to watch people crack and suffer. If we’re really lucky RCS will continue the broadcast after the time cut, so we can watch most of the bunch roll in, completely destroyed… :-)

jonny allan April 29, 2011 at 12:35 pm

And we wonder why there is a doping problem in cycling….
Is it not about time that race organisations came up with routes that are actually possible to do without assistance.
This is madness.

The Inner Ring April 29, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Thanks for the comments so far.

Tom Boonen said the same thing about doping a few years ago after a long stage in the Pyrenees during the third week of the Tour de France, something like “do they want us to dope?”. It’s true, the harder the race the more some might feel it necessary to resort to doping. Above all those already doping gain a bigger advantage over those keeping it real.

But note people dope massively to win the 100m sprint in athletics, totally flat and done in 10 seconds. For me I think there should be a reflection on the final week of a grand tour, perhaps capping stages at 200km. It’s a point I’ll revisit in due course.

Oliver April 29, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Two very different cyclists Anquetil and Bassons (just the other day for the latter) both explained in their own way that doping is “necessary” because of how taxing the races (and the racing schedule) are for pros.
So why make it so? Races could be shorter and just as exciting! And it’s not like the TV coverage starts right at the beginning of a stage — so what’s the point?
And the number of viewers who know that the insane distances and elevations mean “survival doping” and who say “I’ll still watch it, it will be fun” is a clear proof that we the cycling fan are no longer in denial. We now admit to being schizophrenic about the doping issue. I suppose that’s progress.
In any event this Giro is looking like it will be a Roman circus — which I suppose is fitting — and the cyclists are the gladiators — and at the end of the day who really cared about their fate?

Velonista April 29, 2011 at 1:52 pm

Is there an over/under on the number of times we hear “you’re all murderers!” from commentators over the course of the Giro (or that weekend)?

GreaseMonster April 29, 2011 at 2:04 pm

I have been in turmoil with the above for quite a bit. I wanted to see Vino win Paris-Nice, for the Giro I’d love to see Contador literally blow the race apart. As someone who is not a fan of either rider(I believe they both dope) and hold a fortifide belief in the need for clean competition, I don’t understand where these emotions come from. In the offseason(and on) it’s all fun and games to pontificate about the wrongs of cycling of which there are far too many. But once we tune into the spring classics I choose to ignore the truth temporarily, only fall back into the mid-week “bah doping” mindset.
We come for the spectacle and get caught up in drama or as time progressed has it now become the other way round?

Larry T. April 29, 2011 at 5:48 pm

After reading some of the new “Maglia Rosa” book and helping friend Bill McGann with “The Story of the Giro d’Italia” I wonder about claims of excess when it comes to the modern Giro. When these grand tours first began, stages were 3-400 kms, starting in the dark of night, ridden over what today would laughably be called a road and contested on single-speed bikes weighing twice as much as today’s machines. Riders did all their own repairs, carried their own tools and spares, etc. Sometimes they had to find their own meals and places to sleep after the day’s stage.
NOW suddenly a 229 km stage with 5000 meters of climbing causes riders to dope? The riders of today have scores of folks to take care of their every need or whim, radio earpieces so they don’t have to bother with strategy, spare bikes just moments away should they need (or simply want) one, very nice (in Italy anyway) hotels and meals and luxury buses to cruise around in. Some teams even have Jaguar or Mercedes cars to drive. Nowadays, about the ONLY thing that IS difficult is the actual racing and the race course itself! I think Zomegnan and Co. are doing the right thing making their race difficult. So few of the TdF contenders show up anyway these days, why NOT make La Corsa Rosa the most difficult (to go along with the most beautiful and exciting) of the Grand Tours? I’ll be glued to the TV during these monster stages — the toughest day on our Legendary Climbs of the Giro guided tour offers 3150 meters of climbing in 118 kms, over the Passo Mortirolo and Gavia. It’s completed by our mere mortal and undoped (unless you count vino rosso!) clients every year – so a stage just double this should certainly not be too much for the world’s best, don’t you think?

ColoradoGoat April 29, 2011 at 6:03 pm

Look – if no one doped, then the pace would merely slow down a bit in the latter stages. There is no reason to dope for any of these races. Are they tough, yes. But if everyone is in the same boat, then this in theory should wear everyone down just as easily, and paces should slow down as rider fitness begins to wear down.

Do you need to dope…no. Do you need to dope to continue a pace that could be unnatural for a normal human, even an elite cyclist….yes. Let’s stop with this “Do they want the riders to dope” garbage.

Duluth Baptist Clydesdale April 29, 2011 at 6:06 pm

I’ll watch if I can. It sounds spectacular. I love that the Giro and, to a lesser extent, the Tour are changing things up and adding more interesting stages. The questions raised above are unavoidable, though–doesn’t this encourage doping? 6000 meters is a *lot* of climbing. It will be a decisive stage, sure, but it won’t tempt anyone to think they can get by without cheating. Even in our micro-dosing era the riders will be scrambling all the more for every last advantage. Not even necessarily to win, but to survive.

I really enjoyed last year’s innovation, where grand tour stages on the dirt and the cobbles proved both dramatic and decisive. I think we need more of that sort of thing.

ColoradoGoat April 29, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Here in the States, Universal Sports shows every stage multiple times a day. Solid coverage.

The Inner Ring April 29, 2011 at 7:08 pm

ColoradoGoat: Boonen’s c0mment about long distances “encouraging” doping sparked a French journalist and cyclist to ride the following year’s Tour de France route. Riding ahead of the race he wrote a daily account for French daily Le Monde with views on the terrain, the people along the way and thoughts in his mind and plenty more. It was a very good read and yes, he rode every stage and was even tested along the way. Obviously not racing but he wanted to say he could do the route clean. It’s not distance, it’s socio-economic factors like money and a culture of tolerance that are the greatest factors, no?

bikecellar April 29, 2011 at 7:43 pm

Yes, plus peer pressure.

ColoradoGoat April 29, 2011 at 8:12 pm

@The Inner Ring:
I was not stating there were not other factors leading to doping. I was merely refuting the idea that the “tough” stage races can only be done whilst loaded up with chemicals and hormones. It is a stupid argument (Velonews recently had an editorial stating this). I agree, economics drives doping in the pro ranks, which is facilitated by free-rider syndrome. They could have 21 straight short-circuit crits for the Giro, and there would still be doping.

Larry T. April 29, 2011 at 8:25 pm

After looking more at the profile/route you’ve shown, I recall we used to offer a loop from Cortina which included the Cibiana, Staulanza and Giau (the much tougher approach rather than the “easier” route the Giro is using this year) and again, our clients managed to not only complete this route, but ENJOY it! Granted, WE stopped to enjoy a wonderful lunch atop the Staulanza (if you’re up there, stop at the aptly named Rifigio Passo Staulanza Ristorante and enjoy the casunsei!) before continuing on but it was certainly doable, as is our current loop ride from Corvara, over the Campolongo, Fedaia, Sella and Gardena passes – 89 kms with 2521 meters of climbing. Racers looking for a vacation can always head to the Tour of California instead of the Giro d’Italia…arguably a better training race for those with TdF ambitions in July.

REG April 29, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Did this trend come about due to the Giro trying to be reactive to the intense media the the TDF received during the Armstrong years?

Visko May 1, 2011 at 6:14 pm

If the people and organizers in the begining of this sport would have thought like you, we wouldn’t have saw the mountains i the 1910 TDF (300+ km with Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet, Aubisque and Osquich from Luchon to Bayone, in dirt roads with one gear “bikes”). That’s what cycling is: challenging, hard, epic… not the modern bullshit of sort stages with 5km buch-sprints up a mountain.

Rising the bar has been a must for quite some time in cycling. Everything was evolving and making cycling less challenging (materials, training, massages, meals…) but the routes were even easier than before.

Anyway, some lunatic cycloturist make what’s know as “the Everest challeng” (Reto Everest): that’s climbing more than the height of the Everest (8848m.) in ONE day. And the next they go to work.

beev May 2, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Personally, I think these longer and mountainous back to back stages should hopefully play into the hands of riders than are not bantams. Clearly, AC is a bit special, but he hasn’t done this sort of thing before (either), so i do hope it that others take it upon themselves to at least test him, as i believe this Giro will be one by the rider who recovers the best / can maintain his hormone levels (naturally of course) under such extreme conditions….

b May 5, 2011 at 2:06 am

If any of the riders think this is too hard, I’ll happily take their place, their bike, their pay, their lifestyle, their fame.

If they want a safe job, then go home, get an education, and get in the rat-race with the rest of us.

And HTFU.

The Inner Ring May 5, 2011 at 9:34 am

b: true and most riders will do this without grumbling. They’ll attack harder than you or I could, they’ll pull longer into a headwind and they’ll descend narrow mountain passes in the rain at speeds almost no vehicle can match. HTFU? Maybe it’s technically possible….?

But these guys are as hard as you get. My view is that you don’t always need 240km to test this.

b May 5, 2011 at 9:49 am

T.I.R. – yes you are right: these guys are wayyyy harder than me.

Now that you mention it, I notice that in the most parts the riders are not the ones complaining about the super tough Giro course, rather it’s fans complaining on their behalf. That’s kind of weird IMHO.

Personally I am much more excited to watch the Giro this year than the Tour*, so I guess the organizers have achieved their goal. However I do hope that it doesn’t get into an arms race of increasing ridiculousness – perhaps next year they could have a (relatively) easy Giro to make up for it.

*but, I’ll still have to watch the Tour to see if Cadel can do something fantastic this year.

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