Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin both tried the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France double. Did it work out for them? Probably but this won’t make the Giro-Tour double any easier, in fact new calendar changes for 2019 and beyond make it even harder and this is potentially a problem for the sport.
The double has long been prohibitive because of the efforts demanded, to do a three week race, pause and then go again a month later leaves little time to rest and rebuild, you’re cooked once from the Giro, twice from the Tour. Every year some riders do it but few contenders for the overall classification think about, winning both is something which hasn’t been done for twenty years and that year owed itself to some particular events too. This year time neither Froome nor Dumoulin won but they came close, it showed they could compete in both races and this might tempt others to try. Winning both is another matter, Dumoulin may wonder what could have been in the Tour had he not done the Giro. It’s like the apocryphal Irish tale where a lost visitor asks for directions to Cork, “well I wouldn’t start from here” says the local. To win the Tour the ideal route is probably not to start with the Giro.
One difference this year was the extra week between the two races thanks to the FIFA World Cup which saw the Tour moved back a week to reduce the calendar clash, a precious extra week to rest, train and refocus. Only the Tour-Vuelta combo doesn’t deter many despite just four weeks weeks between them and many go for this. The difference here is one of context and status, of the Tour as the pinnacle of the sport where the level is the highest, riders aim to peak for July and teams bring the strongest squads they’ve got. By contrast the Vuelta can be an after-thought, a see-what-happens race for those who have done the Tour. If they can win a stage, place on GC then all the better; if not then they bank another grand tour in the legs which does them good for the following year.
All this matters because if riders and teams fixate on just the Tour de France then it impoverishes the rest of the calendar, especially the Giro which is notionally the second biggest event on the calendar. Imagine tennis players skipping Rolland Garros because they want to play at Wimbledon instead? Unthinkable. But in cycling the demands of one grand tour are such that this makes eminent sense. The calendar choices suit the Giro-Vuelta or Tour-Vuelta double and this is a problem because the Tour can drain away the best riders. It doesn’t mean the Giro is a bad race, indeed the more open and unexpected aspect is something to enjoy, but it can lack the stars all the same.
Be careful what you wish for
If the extra week because of the World Cup made a difference this year, it’s not going to happen again. The Giro has been lobbying for a later slot on the calendar to help avoid snowstorms when the race visits the Alps in its final week. Just seven days make a difference, the period coincides with the season when the roads are opened by the authorities but of course Mother Nature does as she pleases, even the Tour de France has seen Alpine blizzards. The Giro’s wish has been granted, in 2019 and beyond the race will start a week later. Yet if there’s less chance of snow, there’s surely going to be even less chance of star riders given the increased proximity to the Tour. Even in a FIFA World Cup year the gap would be week less than it was this year. Now in return the Tour could be pushed back later still into July and August but it’s a business rival of the Giro and has little incentive to help out; similarly if it did move then the Vuelta would want to be moved too and the season would get very long.
Another thing that makes the Giro-Tour possible is appearance fees. As covered in May amid the Froome furore the murky topic of start money appeared. “A start fee for Froome? I flatly deny that” Giro director Mauro Vegni told cyclingnews.com last year. Fast-foreward Vegni was lamenting that he was kept in the dark over Froome’s salbutamol case… when negotiating an appearance fee. So there is a fee, only technically it is paid to the team rather than the rider. Similarly Vegni also let slip that the Giro pays teams participation fees linked to the riders they bring. All teams collect a payment for starting but Vegni adjusts the fee according to each team’s roster, bring more stars and they’re paid more. Only with the date changes the price to lure a Tour contender has surely only got higher? Still a large sum is a way to counter the calendar differences, to make it so worthwhile targeting the Giro that whatever happens at the Tour is nice but not essential.
The Giro-Tour double tempted some this year, perhaps a fistful of Euros was a hidden incentive but the calendar was a factor with an extra week between the two races. The Tour-Vuelta double doesn’t have such a wide gap but doesn’t seem to pose such a problem, the difference is the Spanish race is less important, teams base a lot of their year’s plans, budget and recruitment on July and then hope for the best in the Vuelta. A wider gap between the Giro and Tour encourages more to try the double, it could be healthy for the sport to have the stars attend both, if not all then at least more. Only the Italian race has asked for a later slot to reduce the risk of snowstorms and this means riders and teams are more likely to be forced to choose between the two, Giro or Tour.