The organiser of the Giro d’Italia Michele Acquarone has a blog on cyclingnews.com and his latest piece opens the floor to thoughts on the 2012 edition, the route and the racing. It’s good PR, opening up to the fans and seeking ideas. We’ll see what the response is and in time whether any thoughts are taken aboard by the “Pink Admiral”*
I don’t know if he’s a reader but Acquarone raises some interesting points about the Giro and the nature of racing. To summarise the last 100 years of cycle sport in a sentence we’ve seen races shorten in distance, the epic tests of 400km a day with dawn starts and gravel roads are gone and today pro cycling remains a gruelling test of endurance but it is increasingly defined by television.
1. The route
I enjoyed the route, it was varied and allowed the overall classification to slowly take shape. Personally I don’t like the starts in foreign countries, or rather the very long transfers but understand the business reasons.
2. The climbs
According to our own Mauro Vegni, long stages with 4 or 5 passes are the very soul of the Giro and of cycling itself because they give champions the chance to produce great exploits through memorable long breaks. Instead, for Millar, a more modern cycling should aim for shorter stages. 100 kilometres: up, down, up again. Fewer tactics and more emotion from the big riders, who give us spettacolo from the beginning to the end of the stage.
I’ve written on here before that stages longer than 200km in the third week can be excessively long. The main riders are so tired and so scared of losing the race that they don’t launch long range attacks until the final climb. Hours of television but everyone is sitting still, whether in the saddle or at home in the armchair. Maybe a mix can be tried, an epic “Queen Stage” but some shorter stages between 120-180km. Even the conservative Tour de France is experimenting with this.
3. Strade bianche
I think everyone likes this but perhaps not every year? It is fine to use a section or two but recreating the Eroica like in the Giro did in 2011 could be something to save for special years. It is so good because it is special.
4. Time bonuses
I prefer pure racing but these do help to liven up the racing. I like to see the pink jersey change shoulders during the race and these time bonuses can help.
I’ll take the opportunity here to raise a provocative point – during the final debriefing on the Giro, our commercial director Lorenzo Giorgetti proposed allowing teams a pair of “jokers” to play during the race. Such a joker would be played by the team before the start of a stage and would double the time bonuses on offer to them in that particular stage. This decision would oblige teams to “reveal” their own race strategy before the start and would create more interest.
Why not? But perhaps this could be tried in Tirenno-Adriatico first? Also when extra rules are added it can confuse ordinary viewers and leave the TV commentary crew having to explain the rule every day.
5. Points classification
Is this for sprinters or all-rounders? Mark Cavendish came so close this year and only lost out because Andrea Guardini pipped him in one sprint. I’m not sure we need to rewrite the rules but organisers can always add more weight to the sprint finishes to ensure the pink jersey isn’t also wearing the red jersey.
6. The sprints
On some occasions, we were criticised for having designed finales that were too technical for sprint finishes. Stefano Allocchio (who within our team represents the point of view of the rider) guarantees that the finishes of the 2012 Giro were designed to respect the security of the athletes
We had crashes in Denmark on the wide flat roads. Sprints are always dangerous and if riders read the roadbook before the stage and possibly do some extra homework then they won’t be caught out by the roads, even if they will always find an elbow, shoulder or more in the way. For example there was nothing inherently dangerous with the bend in Montecatini Terme that saw Sacha Modolo go down, taking others with him (2m20s in the Youtube clip). That said there were one or two moments in the finale that were very “Giro” with narrow roads and tight turns.
I’d almost caution against talking to too many fans. It is great to consider the passionate fans around the world but the core audience remains Italian TV viewers who are not necessarily the greatest followers of the sport. It’s something I’ve addressed before on the gap between fans and audience.
Another thought is the mix of riders. One criticism is that it’s often the Italian stage race championship with a very local field. This year’s results showed something else with Hesjedal and Rodriguez at the top but in order to widen the audience I suspect fans and audience alike want to see the big names take part, albeit with the local audience hoping an Italian can contend for the win. It’s all about balance, when Contador showed up in 2010 he was so far ahead of the others the race turned into a victory lap of Italy so if the race attracts big names it needs a good mix of them.
Also the Giro is making great advances with social media and the internet, especially the free video streaming which is a real bonus and pioneer move in the sport. By contrast I’ve been trying to get info on the Tour de France but the race website is bad and the French race seems to adopt a gallic shrug “take or leave it” approach. For one of the largest sporting events in the world it has a relatively small presence on the web. It’s their loss and even for cynical business reasons they could promote the race and its sponsors better. But the Giro is leading the way here. Now this might be a blog and I have a Twitter account but social media is still highly marginal compared to TV, radio and press. It’s just a great channel for more information and to work on the brand.
A great race, it is refreshing to see the organisers looking to make improvements. The Giro isn’t alone here but it seems unique to do this in public. In some aspects the Giro is playing catch-up and trying to find avenues that aren’t blocked by the mammoth that is the Tour de France.
If anything the Giro has a winning formula already: it occupies a prime spot of the calendar, exploits stunning scenery and is one of the most prestigious races going. But that’s looking backwards. Cycling is almost an old-fashioned sport these days, bolstered by the conservatism of the UCI which seems to ban first and then think, rather than enabling and promoting. But the actions of RCS and its Giro give us an interesting glimpse into the future of pro racing.
What do you think?
- * apparently Acquarone served briefly in the Italian navy and so cyclingnews awarded him the title of “Pink Admiral”. In fact here’s his biography from RCS Sport:
“He has a degree in Business Economics from Milan’s Bocconi University, and joined RCS group in 1999 as Product Manager for the marketing department of La Gazzetta dello Sport. He was then given the responsibility of developing the promotional products business of La Gazzetta dello Sport that brought in from 15 million euros in 2003 to 65 million euros in 2007. Michele has been Chief Executive of RCS Sport Since 2008. I can accept failure, but I can’t accept not trying.”