Girophobia: fear and stage racing in Italy

La paura. It means fear in Italian and I’m detecting a few riders expressing the feeling right now. Normally riders sound confident, at least in public, with statements like “I’m ready” or the Italian line about being “calm” or “serene”. Only with the Giro ways things are sounding different.

Drop your flashlight in the pain cave
Dropped your flashlight in the pain cave?

Frenchman Christophe Le Mevel said “ce Giro me fait peur” to Cyclismactu, meaning “this Giro scares me”, adding “it’s a monster route. Especially for those aiming for the overall who will have to be up there every day. You’ll have to dig deep. Obviously this scares me a bit because it’s going to be very long and extremely hard“.

Sylwester Scaredy Cat
Liguigas’s Polish rider Sylwester Szmyd says he’s ready for the Giro… but in true team helper fashion tells readers via his blog that he’s worried for his team leader. “You don’t want to think about it now, I’ve had enough of worrying about little Nibali on those gravel descents without barriers that are as steep as the Zoncolan“. Given Nibali is one of the best descenders in the bunch, if Szymd is worried about him then you don’t want to think about how the others will cope.

HTC-High Road’s Craig Lewis seemed excited about the prospect of the Giro but slowly his attitude has changed, as judged by Twitter and the comments from his team mates:

Excitement > Concern >Acceptance

What are you worrying about?
Three examples that show riders are apprehensive about the race and there are more, including Alberto Contador. It’s true the course is very tough with some massive amount of climbing, not to mention descending.

Where did the road go?

Away from the obvious difficulties, there’s so much more to be worried about. The race often uses narrow roads and accidents are common when the bunch gets squeezed into a street originally designed to accommodate medieval traffic. Plus there are the long transfers, a rider’s job is not done once the finish line is crossed, as it’s all about recovery. Hours in the team car or bus before and after the race mean additional fatigue, not something to look forward to when every bit of rest counts over the three weeks. And that’s before the weather has its say.

Just in case anyone picks up the wrong end of the stick, I’m not trying to say riders are soft. On the contrary, it’s that this race looks be a unique test of endurance. It says something when professionals are expressing doubt. On paper at least this looks like the hardest grand tour I can remember. But we’ll see, the riders famously make the race, not the course.

If you’re lucky enough to watch the race in person be sure to shout for every rider. If you’re following over the internet be sure to look up the lanterne rouge and think about sending them messages of support.

8 thoughts on “Girophobia: fear and stage racing in Italy”

  1. I can’t wait, though we’ll have to watch the first week via the ‘net, then the next one we’ll get live TV in Italy and finally, see it live in-person on the penultimate day. Might be the best possible course to dethrone “Il Pistolero” who’s “won” all the Grand Tours he’s entered recently. Vai Nibali!!!! For those who think La Corsa Rosa 2011 too hard, there’s a vacation/training race going on in California at the same time.

  2. Fearing the suffering is one thing, fearing for one’s safety on dangerous gravel descents is something else. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see parts of races “neutralized” to deal with safety issues, or perhaps a mass protest like we saw a couple of years ago. That will curb the drama in a hurry.

    I hope this race winds up being as hard as it looks, but not because I want to see riders suffer. Last year’s Giro was fascinating in part because of the ebbs and flows of the GC battle, where early leaders tailed off and Basso only emerged superior in the last week. This race has the potential to be quite dramatic, with decisive stages in the first week and on the last two days.

    Some grand tours wind up being predictable, with the leaders emerging early and the top guy racing defensively after gaining a workable margin. This year a strong GC rider could have several minutes lead halfway through the race based on strong early form, but be caught by a late-rising rider in the devastating late stages. Additionally, 3rd or 4th place riders in striking distance in late stages could try suicide attacks on penultimate climbs or treacherous descents to upset the prevailing order.

    I suspect that’s what the bigwigs have in mind. I hope that we remember this Giro for competition, not for doping or tragedy.

  3. Two things.. I understand that people want to see a spectacular race but really 6500 meters of climbing in one day in a grand tour ? Is it any wonder some riders look to “other means” to make it through ? I don’t advocate doping at all but how far should riders be pushed ? I think it speaks volumes to the teams real interests that they will take a stand on radios but when it comes to the race organisers who issue the invitations you hear only “dead air” .. Also nice idea on the lantern rouge! I will take you up on that !

  4. “Fearing the suffering is one thing, fearing for one’s safety on dangerous gravel descents is something else. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see parts of races “neutralized” to deal with safety issues, or perhaps a mass protest like we saw a couple of years ago. That will curb the drama in a hurry.”

    Compared to courses of old, these are tame. I applaud Zomegnan in trying to create some drama. Fabio Casartelli was killed on a descent in France…did they take them out of future Tours? Did they put up miles of air-fencing? How dramatic will things be if we end up holding the events on auto racing tracks with plenty of run-off room and minimal elevation gain?

  5. @Duluth Baptist Clydesdale – you’re right, the sprinters will all go home fairly early this year and the later stages are wide open for big GC changes, but sadly if Clebutador even crosses the start line we’ll have both doping and tragedy as you mention.

    What is Contador doing be allowed to even ride it anyway?!

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