What is bike racing?

Saturday’s Giro stage was epic and already a highlight of the 2010 season. But what makes for stunning television is not necessarily sport.

Penelope Pitsop defending the Maglia Rosa from the Equipo Formicaio

To reduce the argument to the absurd, imagine a race organiser spraying oil on hairpin bends and digging large potholes to trap careless riders. This would liven up the race. But it’s Wacky Races, not sport.

What I’m trying to say is how far should a race organiser go to liven up the race and what should the riders have to put up with?

My view is that yesterday’s stage was within reason, especially since the strade bianche are not technically difficult. Iit was as much the weather that determined the day. On a normal Tuscan stage even a charming village characterised by medieval town planning would be enough to up the risk factors. So from me, it’s a yes to the strade bianche in the Giro.

What next?
Italy isn’t alone in having dust tracks. It’s possible to find unpaved roads in rural Spain where they are still the main thoroughfare from one village to another. Plus France has many dirt roads, often forestry tracks designed to allow quick access for firemen. There’s even an off road track up the side of Mont Ventoux. It’s probably only a matter of time until Christian Prudhomme copies RCS Sport and starts searching for some more off-road action.

But my advice, for want of a better word, would be to keep it simple. This is already understood, you can have a one day race like the Eroica that includes many sections on unpaved roads but the Giro didn’t use as much. Similarly, when the Tour de France visits the pavé of Northern France, it will only use a fraction of the 55km normally used in Paris-Roubaix. So a visit for the Tour to dust tracks in the south of France is perfectly possible, so long as they are within reason.

We’ll have to see if this happens, practical concerns like allowing the race onto forestry land and the ability to clear up after the fans have visited will come into play.

Finally I’d ask is all this necessary? The Tour de France and the Giro attract rising TV audiences already, there’s a risk that spectators get spoilt, that they will ignore a “normal” mountain stage and only tune in for the wildest stages. This would be a dangerous trend, there would be an inflationary trend that could indeed see the start of Wacky Races, pro cycling.