Starting From Afar

There’s something wrong with a foreign start of a grand tour. The Giro starting in the Netherlands is the equivalent of ordering a pizza with toppings of herring and gouda. Yet each time these foreign starts happen they’re a success enjoyed by thousands.

Amsterdam was the first foreign grand depart when in 1954 the Tour de France started in the Netherlands. It was sold as a European departure although the Italian team was blocked from starting. Since then there have been all sorts of foreign starts for the Tour and Giro. The Italian race had timid starts with it’s first foreign start in San Marino, the microstate inside Italy in 1965 and then Monaco the following year. It took until 1997 for the Vuelta to join in with a start in Lisbon and in 2009 the Vuelta began in Assen in the Netherlands. The Giro’s really got into a groove: Amsterdam in 2010, Herning in 2012, Belfast in 2014 and now Apeldoorn in 2016. You can spot the pattern of alternate years starting abroad. Next year’s start is tipped to be Sardinia with 2018 mooted to be in… Japan, more of which in a moment.

The start of the Giro seems odd and out of place. Here’s a Mediterranean, Latin race taking part in a northern, Hanseatic landscape. It’s like expecting herring and Gouda on top of your pizza. Not that the Giro should be the sole property of Italy, the race could visit Austria, Slovenia or Croatia instead as the first two share borders and the other is just across the Adriatic Sea. These closer choices would be an easy logistical exercise and exploit age-old cultural links.

We could view this Dutch departure as part of a sweeping narrative of developing the sport around the world, a tale of internationalism. Perhaps you imagine the children who will see the race flash by and find inspiration and take up the sport. There probably are kids who want to be Tom Dumoulin now. But the reality is less poetic: it’s business. Nobody took the Giro to Italy to promote pro cycling, instead the race is biddable, a travelling circus for hire. There’s bread and circus for the locals in Gelderland, a media spotlight on the region and photo opportunities galore for local politicians.

The sad point among the pink festival this weekend is that it takes an Italian race to bring three days of World Tour racing to the Netherlands. There’s the Amstel Gold Race for a day, there are three stage finishes of the Eneco Tour and that’s it. Even if you add the other race days this big cycling country doesn’t have many race days as the chart shows. The country has passionate cycling fans and surely deserves more although where and when is the hard part.

It’s reported that two million people watched the Tour of Yorkshire the previous weekend. This has to be better, a race that’s becoming a fixture and celebrated by locals. So instead of buying in a big race ideally the Netherlands could have its own race. But would it feel the same? A three day Tour of Gelderland with a time trial and two probable sprints wouldn’t draw the crowds in the same way, it’s unlikely that the king would show up for the podium ceremony. Buying the Giro is also buying into its branding and the ability to draw in the crowds.


If the Netherlands is far from Italy then what about Japan? 8,500km when measured by distance but a logistical leap beyond anything we’ve seen before. A grande partenza would take business to whole new level given RCS would only take the race there for a substantial premium. There’s already a business connection with Honda having replaced Fiat as the official vehicle partner. The race has looked at a start in Washington before but the mayor changed and the plans were dropped. Japanese fans make the tifosi look slack, just see the crowds that turn up for the Japan Cup and the Saitama criterium. There’s even a popular manga about cycling called Yowamushi Pedal.

But like Yorkshire the Japanese fans probably deserve their own race on the calendar, perhaps even as much as the Dutch… but until that day arrives RCS Sport can supply a slice of Italian culture. How it would work remains to be seen, presumably there would be no prologue in order to avoid flying out 200 time trial bikes for ten minutes but there would have to be an armada of ammiraglie, team cars waiting for all, presumably supplied by Honda. Above all there’s the jet leg for the peloton, if the Dutch start required a Friday to get get going then a Japanese jaunt means a three week grand tour could conceivably take place over four weeks. Then there is the time lag, would the race happen in the morning in Japan in order to suit the Italian TV schedule where the vast majority of the race’s audience resides?

The Giro’s frequent foreign forays seem wrong on paper, a trip too far but each time they’ve been a success, at least going by the crowds and the media impact. Frosty prejudice against these foreign starts melts when you see the enthusiasm. It’s the same for the Tour de France which is a huge deal when it starts in Yorkshire or Utrecht but less so when there’s a start in, say, the sleepy Vendée region.

The start might be all about business and a chance for race owners to shakedown municipalities but the Giro never loses sight of the race’s Italian identity. This is part of the attraction, the Giro’s visit this weekend brings out the crowds in a way that no inaugural Ronde Van Gelderland could hope to achieve. The secret of a good start seems to be brevity, an opening stage or two and basta the race is back on home soil.

126 thoughts on “Starting From Afar”

  1. I don’t mind a grand tour starting in a different country – if it has an interesting parcours. But I think it works better if the race then carries on from that country (i.e. it’s in a neighbouring country), rather than having a day’s break before the ‘real race’ starts. This seems like an 18 stage race in some ways.
    Japan is a preposterous idea, for all the reasons you state, but this or a Middle Eastern start seem inevitable. It would be detrimental to the grand tours if this was to become a regular occurrence.
    China having 30 days of racing seems ridiculous for a country that has little interest in the sport.
    There seems no point to the clamour for globalising the sport other than the financial reason.
    Why does it matter if cycling is more popular around the world – why are the Chinese not trying to make table tennis more popular in Europe?
    I often wonder why a fan would care if cycling was more popular – it seems to be an idea that is adhered to without thought.
    The traditional fanbase and the smaller races are the backbone of cycling and these could suffer at the hands of globalisation.
    There are good new races and poor ones – but the quality of the race is often not the deciding factor in how ‘big’ a race is. (If it was, then in the Middle East, we would possibly have the Tour of Oman being races ridden by the big teams, but not Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Qatar.)

    • With its pollution problems and rise in private car ownership, is it so difficult to see the potential benefits of having bicycling parlayed into the aesthetic from the utilitarian, especially when one considers there are nearly half a billion bike owners in China?

    • It makes a difference to me if cycling is more popular in my own country – more riders and more people who know cyclists makes the roads a little safer (I think)

      Now, does it make a difference if it’s more popular in a country in Asia? Harder to argue…

      • It depends how it’s done. Just bringing in a bike race doesn’t do much but making the race part of a celebration of the bike can help, for example in Malaysia the Tour de Langkawi races on a circuit but families are encouraged to come and ride and it’s a way to value the bicycle rather than portray it as a sign of poverty.

        • Having lived in Malaysia for three years I can tell you the Tour of Langkawi has not got people out on their bikes – very few cyclists.

          • Having lived in Malaysia for several decades, I can remember what it was like before the Tour de Langkawi, so I’m afraid J Evans is wrong there. In a country where professional sport isn’t the done thing, and cycling is apparently unpopular, there’s a couple of Continental teams. The most popular sport in the country is football, and there aren’t even 30 football clubs.

      • Around the edges, I think so.

        I’ve seen the pick-up in interest first hand here in the UK, encouraged by the Olympics and visit of the Tour – but success has helped as well, admittedly.

        Of course, most will watch for a day, and return to their lives; but a few are encouraged enough to get out there for the first time, and some of those will start to cycle more regularly – and I have seen this first hand. And perhaps they will encourage their friends?

  2. A very interesting article.
    I see both sides of the argument here.
    I have to draw an analogy with English football (sorry), where our game feels like it’s being slowly taken over by…the world? Ticket prices have rocketed and the traditional atmosphere and culture has been diluted. Good for business of course though.

    But…the difference with cycling is it’s open to all. You can just turn up and see it.
    There’s something about a vast public procession that’s uplifting to the soul.
    It’s a celebration, a welcome, a thank you, all that is good about the human spirit.

    Yesterday, and the other similar ‘foreign’ stages, feel European.
    My grandad’s Giro 70 years ago started from a landing craft.
    Let’s not forget the dark places the Continent has come from.
    The pan-European stages are an absolutely fantastic thing.

    I do agree about new races in other cycling mad countries though.
    That’s where the UCI should look, not the Middle East.
    Talking of the Tour of Yorkshire, did you see the Yorkshire Puddings dangling over the riders, their necks craning up to get a bite?

  3. Totally disagree with the conclusion. Nothing is melting away with me. On the contrary. Yesterday was horrible. It’s nice to have a festivity – but then make it ahead of the race in countries that border on Italy, France or Spain and not as the race itself. Or make an exhibition race ahead of the race itself a week before it. And it is wrong to assume everybody turning up for a Grand Depart or the TdY has any interest in the sport or will be interested after the race. It’s the same with world championships in football. Literally the whole nation meets and watches on big screens, but when it is over the majority never watches a football game again till the next world championship. Football and the media can call that footballcrazy how often they want, this won’t change the fact, that it is not the sport that draws, it is the event. That’s nice, but it is important to not confuse that with actual interest in the sport and get in a hypemode which isn’t sustainable.

    • This hype had me join a Football Club when I was 8 years old in 1998, when I whitnessed my national team reach the semi Finals of the world championship.

      I can safely say that pro cycling gave me no incentive to ask for a racing bike at the time, quite the opposite in fact.

    • Sport England figures show there were 18,000 more cyclists in Yorkshire in December 2015 than the previous year.

      You don’t need to catch all the people who come out to watch.

    • Bloody hell… lets not ever have a bike race ever again, as the people who come out to watch don’t really like it anyway….

    • also, what classes as “interest in the race”? if people enjoy having a gathering of friends and watching a race go past and not watching another race until next year does that make them less worthy of a spectator and they should only be allowed to spectate if they are going to follow the rest of the race??

  4. I know that when there were rumors of the Giro starting in DC, I was making plans to be there. The chance to see the Pro Tour peloton for amultiple days without crossing the Atlantic had me more than excited. (OK, I know I can go to Canada to see a one day race but it’s not quite the same.) I agree that such a long distance start doesn’t make sense for a grand tour. Maybe in the future there can be a week or two in calendar that can be open for bidding so that cycling can bring the top teams to areas that having growing interest in the sport. I’m imagining that the proposed locales would have to do more than pay the most but show how there is already a fan-base and how they will further promote the sport.

    • Thats a nice idea: a nomadic stage race that has the same calendar slot each year, the same name, branding etc, but changes it’s country every time. In the same way the World Champs move among the participant nations. Call it The Earth Race, or Unity Tour or something.

      • That is a nice idea. Business would love it too, so much that you wonder why no one has done this yet. But, let’s give the name a little more thought.

        • On the contrary, that sort of stuff is something the UCI should not be remotely involved with, other than appointing a commissaires’ panel.

          Let the governing body focus on governing, and leave race organisation to the race organisers.

      • I too like the idea, but is there room in the calendar? I wouldn’t want to lose one of the current grand tours.
        Also, a lot of countries would be un-rideable in any given month that was chosen.
        Maybe a one week stage race. February or October?

        • Was this not the thinking behind Criterium Internationale? I remember it being ‘for sale’ a few years ago, and at the time Yorkshire was considering buying it as a way of getting a ‘race in a box’.

          As a concept, I think it would really work – anyone know why Criterium isn’t a bigger deal on the calendar? Is it because the licenses are held for up 3 three years perhpas (i.e. does this take away the novelty?)

        • CI isn’t a week-long race, so not the same idea.
          And it’s much ignored because it clashes with Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Catalunya.

    • I can’t see that working. The best races – those that develop a real following and identity – are those that have a connection to their local geography. It is possible for that to form even with a new race – think Strade Bianche – but this proposal seems to be to deliberately create a race divorced from the key feature that could give such a race an identity in a crowded calendar.


    • I’ve been thinking the same for a while. New races don’t generally have the prestige to be ‘an event’ as top riders won’t be targeting them. The only real prestigious event that moves around is the World Champs but that is always based on a city, so less chance to show off a country’s highlights/diversity.

      My solution would be to make the Giro/Vuelta biennial (works for Ryder Cup & could even add to their prestige). This then leaves space in the calendar to have a grand tour open to international bidding. ASO/RCS could organise alternate ones to balance loss of that year’s Giro/Vuelta. With a bit of flexibility should be able to make it so can create a timetable to fit most regions climate.

      Would be great, just thinking of a grand tour in UK, Germany, Oz, Canada, US, Colombia, Japan, combined Low Countries etc. All with different characters perhaps broadening the pool of prospective winners (whilst mountain stages are enthralling, a head to head of Cancellara vs Sagan across 3 weeks in Holland & Belgium would be an incredible spectacle).

      Teams/sponsors would surely love the chance for greater international exposure & would have a far better chance of catching the public imagination than the Giro/Vuelta which really only get a domestic audience or those already interested in cycling.

      • “…the Giro/Vuelta which really only get a domestic audience or those already interested in cycling”.

        I suspect you haven’t got a very clear picture of the whole audience thing.

        Not that what you say isn’t half-true but, to start with, the difference with the Tour is quite relative, if we speak about *audience* (for example a little more than half of the *global* difference in spectators between the Giro and the Tour is due to… French viewers, since the Giro isn’t broadcast by any significant or free channel in France).
        Domestic audience is very relevant for the three races, but it ultimately accounts for about 20% of the total audience both in the Giro and in the Tour’s case (perhaps a bit more for the Giro and a bit less for the Tour, depending on the editions, but neither the Giro ever gets to a 23% of national audience on global audience, nor the Tour is ever as low as a 17%). The domestic contribution to the Vuelta’s audience (an audience which is a bit lower as a whole than the Giro’s) is probably around 15%.

        The mere fact of an event being held in a given country doesn’t grant a huge TV audience, especially not beyond the impact of the “Big Start” as a special event, which is what creates the crowds.

        An itinerant GT would probably constitute a huge drain in global audience, even if, admittedly, that audience would become more distributed. I also suspect that, besides those two or three days you can already have with an abroad start, the race would only be followed through by sport enthusiasts, which would stregthen the “already interested” effect.

        Outside the main cycling countries, it’s very hard to summon a comparable interest from the generalist public. The “boom” of cycling in the UK hasn’t yet produced numbers anywhere near to what we have, say, in Italy. At their best, they can reach for the Tour an average audience similar to the one which in Italy can be recorded for… dunno, any Amstel Gold Race? The big comeback of the Tour in Germany worked quite well, still it scored an half of what the Giro (or the Tour) usually achieve in Italy… and about the same numbers that can be obtained by the Giro… in Spain (whose total population is well below the German one).

        Presently, the main task for cycling institutions and social agents should be to fully exploit the installed fanbase… it’s quite crazy that you don’t broadcast for free the Giro in France or the Vuelta in Italy, since even in the worst case they’d probably reach an audience way superior to most other countries.
        Not that I’m not aware of the utter importance of entering new markets, but we’re really throwing spectators away where we need not to work them up.

        • Gabriele, As with most things it is about striking a balance. Tradition is essential in a sport like cycling. What I am proposing would mean that countries such as UK/Germany/US would get a grand tour once every 15-25 years, whereas Italy and Spain (which also gt occasional TdF visits) would still have one every other year. Therefore you’d still be looking after the traditional strongholds.

          There’s also a chicken and egg scenario – is cycling viewing higher in Italy/France/Spain because there is more of it? It also isn’t purely about numbers viewing but who is viewing. This year there is only 1 day of world tour racing in the 5 biggest global economies (Vattenfall) & only the TDU, Tour of Poland + Canadian races take place in countries which don’t border France. If you are a global brand looking at sports sponsorship, this is going to have an impact. So many cycling teams are sponsored by products that are either not widely available outside their domestic market (Lampre, AG2R, Caja Rural etc.) or even available at all (Katusha).

          In terms of the ‘big event’ effect, this is exactly what cycling should be looking to capitalise on – football, rugby world cups, the Olympics, Ryder Cups are all things that move around and generate big interest & big sponsorship – as they appeal to far more than the normal sports fan. The UK start of the TdF generated over 4 million TV viewers (plus record live crowds), comparable to the viewing figures for the Giro in Italy. The competition to host (and therefore potential hosting fees) would be massive).

          Whilst organisers can build good new races, they are never going to have the attraction of a Grand Tour/Classic. At the moment the only big race with a chance of being outside Europe is the World Champs, where it’s national teams so sponsorship isn’t visible. Having one stage race which offers the opportunity to draw the best cyclists (on form) to new destinations would be a massive way to grow the sport without compromising the traditional heart of the sport.

      • The point of a Grand Tour, at least for me, is that it presents the hardest challenges: the highest mountains, the most stages in sequence, the most riders jostling for position, etc.

        Much as I love my country of birth, a Grand Tour of Britain would be forced to include all of the hardest climbs every year, and there would only be so many times you could watch a summit finish in Honister Pass or Bealach-na-Ba without it becoming dull.

        • But it wouldn’t be in Britain every year – with it moving around annually Britain would probably only host one every 15-25 years, like the World Champs. At the moment the ToB won’t touch Bealach-na-Ba because it is logistically impossible in a short race, due to transfers whilst spreading it around the country. Although, to be honest it’s probably too remote for a 3 week race but it would bring a lot more of the Scottish highlands into play.

          In terms of the challenge, a course without high mountains can still be a challenge. There are few countries/regions where you wouldn’t be able to get a challenging course – you can easily as much climbing as an Alps/Pyrenees stage in somewhere like UK/Belgium but a lot more up and down rather than long climbs – something which opens it up to more potential winners rather than just skinny climbers. Too often the mountain stages become relatively formulaic as there are only a limited number of potential winners. Just look at TdY final stage, fantastic racing – stick some of the best riders, on top form on that and it would be great viewing (as stage 2 of the Yorkshire Grand Depart was).

          • You know you could base it around Scotland – hence the Highlands would easily come into play. A far more challenging route and not everything has to be focused around England.

    • Maybe in the future there can be a week or two in calendar that can be open for bidding
      Already done. How do you think it is that Dubai, Qatar and Anshutz (California) got races? They bought them. You can buy a race too.

  5. The Tour de Yorkshire didn’t come from a vacuum though- it came about after the success of the Grand Depart with the team that brought that to Yorkshire impressing ASO enough to start up a new race. Perhaps Gelderland can work with RCS on the same model?

      • They tried that in the Netherlands after the 2010 Rotterdam Tour de France start.

        Since then, the World Ports Classic has disappeared from the calendar.

        I think in the Netherlands we need a big race to start here (Amstel Gold Race, WC or a Grand Tour, or the Dutch public simply doesnt care. Example: Eneco Tour.

  6. If I might take issue with your analogy: foreign influences might sometimes jar, but pizza would be weird without tomato, and that’s hardly indigenous to Italy.

    • Actually, the tomato is indigenous to Central and South America. The word tomato is derived from the Aztec word tomatl.

  7. It makes me sad to read all the comments (here and elsewhere) demeaning a foreign partenza as a classless beg for cash. We all know the sport is not exactly F1 when it comes to financing, and if that means coming to a new country that sounds a great way to fix it – better than those silly criteriums full of dolphin photos and archery, not to mention some things that other sports do, like in Formula E where social media engagement can actually alter the outcome of a race (tweets can impart a boost to the motors).
    The only time I’ve been able to see the Tour de France was when it came through London, and I absolutely loved it. Far more than the chance of seeing the Tour of Britain, or the Surrey Classic – it was a bit of exotic brilliance in the town I live in. Lots of people seem to confuse being international (rather than just France, Belgium, Italy, Spain – truly international) with greed and corporate interest. In this world we have to endure a bit of corporate interest to keep the sport alive (unfortunately!) but I don’t see that this is the only reason for a foreign start. On the contrary, it’s bringing the greatest races of the greatest sport to more people, and as one of those people, I’m very happy. And I look forward to visiting them abroad in the future too – perhaps with some of the friends I’ve made from watching them in my country.

  8. I’m of a similar mind. The foreign starts have always seemed weird to me, even tawdry. But, they sure do draw crowds and they manage to convey an atmosphere of festival that is enjoyable to experience even from afar. I’ll go another step in that direction. If the GTs want to market their events to the world, I say good. I’d support their efforts to get more travel time, say two days after a three day start on the other side of the world. The prospect of a Giro start in Japan is too delicious. It would be madness!

  9. The race seems rewarding when their are lots of people cheering.

    Ultimately the action is however a bit lastluster…. but however you construct it, if it’s going to be a sprinters stage the teams are the ones that make the action in Italy or Holland.

    I believe that the races should be spread around the world. The big tours, if they are on the calendar, justify themselves by doing this.

    Europe is relatively compact compared to the rest of world – so it is not too hard to have starts in financially stronger locations – but across the globe becomes harder. I think that Inrng makes a good point that the Grande tours should include their close neighbors. It shouldn’t always be exclusively about the Euro’s.

    Giro could include
    – Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and on occasion – Hungary, Bosnia…
    The Tour
    – Holland, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and UK
    – Portugal and on occasion Morroco, or some fly away location (Ireland, Norway, Sweden)

    And… if Tour of Pologne was given more leeway and time (but not every year)
    – Slovakia, Czech Republic Ukraine
    – Litutnia, Lativa, Belarus, Hungary, Estonia

    Of course there is the whole argument for include more of the world, but that is a subject for a different conversation…. Japan, North America, China, Australia among others are big biking markets…

    • Well, the Tour de Pologne already started abroad… in 2013, the first couple of stages were in Trentino (Italy), climbing up to Madonna di Campiglio and Passo Pordoi 🙂

      The inclusion of nearby neighbours, as I explained elsewhere, is easier for the Giro when we’re speaking of an “abroad stage” during the second part of the race (and it has been done several times, indeed).

      About the lists you suggest, I’d also note that the Netherlands are further from France than Germany is from Italy 😉
      And I really don’t get why the Vuelta “receives permission” for the “fly away locations”: if they make sense for Spain, they probably make sense for the other GTs, too.
      Plus, I find it curious that you didn’t name Switzerland, was it on purpose since you’ve got specific reasons for that, or was it accidental?

      • 2013 Dolomiti, 2014 one stage starting in Poland but with a mountain top finish in Slovakia (logistically much simpler). I hoped the organizers of Tour de Pologne would continue this trend, making short visits also to Germany, Czech rep., Lithuania or West Ukraine, say one neighbor once in two years. But this was not the case so far, neither 2015 nor this year. Most probably because of financial issues, the accompanying circus with sponsors promotion is immense and it is surely not so effective abroad.

    • I know the Guillen -Vuelta’s director- has always wished to bring the vuelta to Canary Island for huge mountain stages, but it has proved impossible so far.

      • The Vuelta is counting quite a lot on the money from the Comunidades Autónomas (regions), and the Canary Islands struggle from that POV.
        They stick to a very low deficit model (one of the lowest of the whole country), renouncing to any sort of public investments which doesn’t immediately and directly implies profits for private subjects.
        Besides, the turistic model of most islands implies the maximum of exploitation with the minimum effort (and the minimum of positive effects for the territory and local people), perhaps because the property of most structures isn’t local and/or doesn’t feel involved with local society.
        The consequence is, nonsensical it may be, they aren’t taking advantage of the huge cycling-related economic potential… some little things are happening, but that’s *despite* the lack of proper policies.
        And if the Region doesn’t pay some big bill, the Vuelta won’t come.

      • Interesting explanations. And I agree on the huge cycling potential Canary Islands have.
        It is also puzzling to see that the Vuelta goes repeatidely to Galice and Andalucia -not the richest among Spanish regions-, which poses questions on the wise use of public money. But this is maybe another debate…

        • We’re speaking of policies, but we could start speaking about politics and many more things would become even clearer 😉

  10. Funny thing, with the start in northern Europe, it feels like an extension of the spring classics rather than the start of one of the three major grand tours, like the start proper isn’t until they get back to Italy.

  11. Perhaps I’m a bit behind in keeping up with INRNG and the blog.
    But on a similar subject, why no Russian WT stage race?

  12. I can’t remember the last time a foreign Grand Tour start added some value. Most times 2 boring bunch sprint stages and a ITT, then we have a first rest day until 4 days later maybe the GT has it’s real start. That’s when I watch my first stage.

      • Yep. Even if you disregard the incredible spectacle of the day, Nibali’s attack on stage 2 in Sheffield was hardly a “boring sprint stage”

    • Focusing on the Giro, I’d also add the Liège-like stage in 2002 and the Namûr stage in 2006. 2010 was just great, switching three race leaders like Wiggins, Evans and Vinokourov along three enthralling days. 2012, 2014 and 2016 have been frankly dull. But I suspect that’s not because of the abroad starts as much as for the more conservative attitude by Vegni in terms of course (which is good from several other POVs, but tends to create a more formulaic scheme).
      In the Tour I recall a fine Valkenburg stage in 2006, and a great finale in Seraing in 2012. The 2010 stage in Spa, too, had a great potential and was working great, but Spartacus spoiled it. Then we’ve got the already cited Yorkshire and Zeland stages in 2014 and 2015.
      I’d say that half of the times, or even a bit more, the abroad starts *do* deliver at least a very good stage during the first 3-4 days, which isn’t exactly what we usually have.

    • That’s the fault of RCS – for example in 2014 they had lots of great potential parcours to work with, but for some reason decided to do a pan-flat loop around the Glens of Antrim rather than climb any of them. The Belfast-Dublin stage was another flat procession which ignored the Mourne Mountains.

      Of course in the Netherlands it’s going to be hard to do anything but a sprinter’s stage, although you could argue the one last July decided the Tour.

      Agree that Yorkshire is the way to do it – have a GT start in an area with good parcours and good crowds, then use that attention to kickstart a local race.

      • As I said above, a lot is about RCS’s decisions… or Vegni’s decisions (that was way different not further back in the past than 6 years ago!).

        However, we should take into account that cycling isn’t only about GC or even… ehm ehm… exciting stages. The Tour survived and even flourished during the Leblanc era which was pure boredom.
        Luckily or not, a lot of people, especially those who aren’t very interested in cycling, do love sprint stages, they’re fine with a five minute spectacle, very *visual*, too, fast & furious, and also predictable (I’ve been always amazed by the way the generalist public *loves* multiple victories by the same person) while at the same apparently unpredictable right to the line.
        And, like it or not, the generalist public is often worth even more than sport fans for many sponsors (Lidl anyone?).
        Why do you think that big money are put on riders when can ultimately win only a very boring stage like Kittel (“the Sanremo is way too hard for me”)?

        I loved what RCS was doing not long ago, putting always a little hill before the sprint, to create a supplementary narrative before the final sprint.
        Suddenly, they stopped doing that. I was really surprised. Why? Because, obviously, the big teams with big sprinters *don’t like that*. Why should they see their chances lowered?

        The Giro used to be a sprinters’ fest, strong home sprinters battling with the best guys which weren’t afraid to do both Giro and Tour… then they started to complain. Technically, that makes no sense. A sprinter can absolutely perform in both races. But it was becoming harder for them to win, and their sponsor didn’t like that.
        You pay a sprinter in order to have a lot of victories, possibly coming with apparent ease and some display of superiority (how boring is that for a true fan?).

        When RCS sensed that they were losing the symphaty of the sprinters and their teams, they made an U-turn and went back to the Leblanc-style stages.

        I bet that nobody from Etixx is whining about the course, right now: maybe they’ll even allow Kittel to go on for a couple of days more. And it’s not like they aren’t the whining type (I think they’re actually complaining about the other teams’ behaviour or so).

        Is it better for the Giro to have a thrilling first week like last year’s? As a fan, I think so. Totally. But than you find out that the sprints (which you need for the general balance of the race) end up being contested by Modolo and Nizzolo, which is absolutely fine for me, but it’s not for the star-loving general public and sponsors. Technically, I value much more a Viviani, Hofland, Matthews, Greipel, Gilbert mix than the Kittel one-man show… But, like it or not, there’s not only the technical aspect, and a lot of people will give more importance to the presence of Kittel than to any technical consideration.

  13. Foreign starts to a grand tour are old news. How about a criterium on the deck of an aircraft carrier in the Atlantic.

      • The Giro d’Italia may have started as a publicity stunt, but it’s now part of Italian culture. I don’t think I’d be all that interested in watching a “Giro of Wherever the Money is” and any race with that title or mind-set will not last long.
        I’d call setting up in Holland, Ireland, etc. little more than money-grabs. Sadly, with the euro economic crisis RCS is looking for every euro they can find and don’t much care where it comes from (ie producing the sandbox races) so if this is what it takes to keep La Corsa Rosa alive, it is what it is…but I don’t have to celebrate or even like it. Tomorrow Il Giro starts for real.

        • Larry, I was expecting you comment as our resident grumpy old man! 😉

          However I actually to agree that the Giro proper will start tomorrow. I also believe that if foreign starts are what is required to keep the race alive (and perhaps more importantly other races in the RCS/ASO stable) then that’s just the modern world. The key I believe is that the continuity of a three week tour must be maintained. If you have more than a single rest day, the early stages dont count and the overall tour would be weakened.

          Finally the first pro race I ever saw live was the Tour depart in Yorkshire. It was a great experience and I’ve now travelled further afield to see races. I would probably have always ridden my bike and watched a bit on TV but without ‘the biggest’ race in the world starting locally I wouldn’t have become such a big follower and advocate of professional cycling.

    • Ahem… of course Giro is trying to make money… how is that bad or a shock to anyone? Also, in terms of rating this as a money grab, it’s doing a pretty poor job overall and we should applaud it for being innovative. Remember, RCS sport doesn’t make very much on the Italian GT or other Italian races, so we should be happy they’re doing what it takes to keep the race going.

  14. Yowamushi Pedal isn’t half bad, but there are better animation & Manga with cycling as main subject.

    “Nasu: Summer in Andalusia” is one. Developed from a short manga Nasu by Iō Kuroda, the animation is done by studio Ghibli of Prince Mononoke fame and got selected for Cannes Film Festival.

    It tells the story of a small team domestique’s stage win in la Vuelta (stage finish at his home town. The team is so small that their captain is a breakaway specialist). It touches everything from the struggling of small team, sponsorship issues, team folding all the way to doping (in the sequel).

      • Several characters and details do indeed hint at real cyclists or teams of the 90s (Mapei, Saeco…). There’s a technical service by Shimagnolo, if I remember well.
        It’s a good product, indeed, the underlying story of the main character is good, too. I fansubbed it for Italy and Spain.
        The sequel, among other things, is about… racing far from Europe. They’re racing Japan cup. IMHO, the best part of the sequel is the beginning, with the untimely death of an Italian rider, half Coppi and half Pantani, with whom one of the characters used to train.
        However, I prefer the first movie (Summer in Andalusia).

        • Missed the Mapei reference, the shimanoglo is a fantastic laugh. It also contains the giant bull billboard in Spain as well.

          Kind of curious who they were referencing to with world champion character in the sequel. Maybe nobody in particular. Anyway, I would save further spoiler.

  15. Starting from far away is good for the sport. Just look at those crowds during Sat and Sun stages. Very impressive indeed. If I were the Giro Dictator I’d do this every year and perhaps ride half a dozen stages in different countries before Italy.

  16. Boring on tv, maybe, money grabbing, probably, but as a dutch cyclist I had a great day out. With my club we made a 90 mile roundtrip to see the peloton on one of the climbs south of Nijmegen( Novio Magus, 2000 years ago it was part of the Roman empire). And I was certainly not alone to have an enjoying day around cycling. Isn’t that part of cycling too?

    • I agree strongly. In my view that is why the Tour de Yorkshire has been a great success so far. Even on a steep hill the peloton go past pretty quickly, so the attraction of spectating in person, rather than on TV, is the community feel of a large group of people converging on the same area with the same interest. I cycled with my kids (aged 8 and 9) to the final stage of the TdY, and they both climbed White Horse bank ( ramps of 25%) without stopping. The police were encouraging them, even the motorists with burning smelling clutches seemed very happy. And this was in the pouring rain. Bike racing isn’t just about what it looks like on telly.

      • +1
        What’s great about cycling is that it isn’t just a sport… as most sports, indeed, but perhaps cycling is the one which merges better so many different aspects. I’m ready to endure a couple of boring stages (from time to time, not every year) – which I’d had to endure anyway, more probably than not – if it means creating a big, special event for people who normally don’t have the privilege of watching a big race from the roadside. And, as Larry T. should know very well, that goes well beyond the technical qualities of the course. I bet Larry has some reason to prefer that fans eventually go to Italy rather than the Giro going to the fans, but not everyone has the means or even the motivation to face efforts, costs, time investment for something they don’t know they’ll love. When they can experience it on their doorsteps, maybe next time they’ll take a journey to live it again (as many readers appear to have done).

  17. Some interesting comments here. Largely polarised along the lines of ‘loved the TdF in England’ versus ‘boring overseas stage detracting from my grand views of Italy’.

    I think the Grand Depart based in another country has the prospect of being commercial (not a bad thing), good marketing (which leads to commerciality) and entertaining (the best marketing for the sport). But flat stages around the Netherlands fails on the last of these.

    It’s no secret that NL has a lack of interesting topography, and this is no doubt why cycling is popular as a means of transport, but that the racing calendar suffers.

    The TdF Grand Depart was the opposite. It opened the eyes of the world to the fact that UK can have good weather and the sort of terrain that can separate the elite so you end up with the finest wheat.

    Transcontinental starts seem a step too far though. Rest days have always been frustrating for the fans and I can only see stages in the US or Japan leading to rest periods of two, three or four days as teams decamp and camp half a world apart.

    As other posters have indicated it would be interesting to see a ‘trail to Italy’ (or France) so perhaps a stage in fjords of Norway, followed by some tricky stages in Denmark and Germany.

    But the point would be to highlight the interesting aspects of road cycling, not processions to sprint finish.

  18. On the wider issue of increasing road cyclings appeal, I think Inrng has picked up on this before, the Grand Tours take up May, July and August/September. Trying to create a market for cycling in other countries then creates the problem (in the Northern hemisphere) of where you fit another big event in. Japan has some great topography, China too, but you could not get the biggest European teams to commit their biggest riders into an event crammed into June and August.

    How then do you create a cycling event which draws a worldwide audience? At best, you have the answer in the World Championships

  19. I don’t mind a foreign start in a neighbouring or culturally linked country, and I don’t mind them in other cycling nuts countries, such as Holland. But when they are in countries that have no link to the ‘home’ country or sport then it just seems weird and money motivated. Japan and the US may well deserve more race days, perhaps even backed by the Giro or Tour organisers, but this isn’t the way to do it.

    • I agree for slightly different reasons. I agree that these foreign starts in general are a great way to add interest to a potentially very repetitive race. But, the logistics of starting in Japan will be a nightmare and seem preposterous to me. The cost of flying all the riders will be ridiculous, not to mention equipment that is either shipped or purchased locally for use over a few short days.

      Plus riders and staff will be incredibly thrown off by the time difference, travel time, etc.

      To make this as good of a situation as possible, RCS should really consider a longer rest period between Japan’s stages and the start in Italy.

  20. I enjoy the foreign jaunts; they add a nice bit of variety with usually fab crowds.

    Where the TdF trumps the Giro in foreign starts though is in how there is still usually a vaguely coherant route; even with a far-flung start in Yorkshire, the third stage (which, to be fair, was a bit dull after the opening two stages) finished in London, which wasn’t far as the crow flies from the start of stage 4 in the Pas-De-Calais if memory serves (certainly more coherant than Gelderland to Calabria).

    It’s easy to understate the importance – especially to casual fans – of how the Tour does always more or less map out a linear tour – compared to the Giro and (even more so) the Vuelta, which often just looks like a load of random lines on a map. France is fortunate in it’s geography of course – both internally and in its borders – but even so, it’s an important point.

    • Truth is that this is not the case for the Giro, at least in most of the more recent editions (it was an issue in the past), as it can be seen by the strong reduction in “transfer kms” between one stage and the other.
      Presently, the Giro has been consistently the best GT from this POV, something which, among other things, helps recovery and the focus on racing. Besides, as I commented in the past, you can feel a strong sense of narrative which helps, for example, to remember or retrace the course and its several stages.
      This is a big problem for the Vuelta, but the Tour is far from perfect, too, often crossing vast areas of nothing to reach the significant points of the race where two or three stages go back and forth, or around, with no specific sense of linear movement, just to fully exploit what that little are of Alps/Pyrenées has to offer.
      However, all this is less true when abroad starts are concerned (but I understand that your point was more general in the final paragraph)… the question is that countries with money and interest in cycling are closer to France than to Italy! (besides, nearby countries are near… to the North of Italy, which might create some troubles, too, since you risk to cut off the South of the country).

      • PS I’d also add that what I observed in my last sentence above is why nearby countries *do* often offer “trespassing” stages during the second part of the race, rather than abroad starts.

          • The starts cost a lot more, three days of racing but five or six nights of full hotels and media attention. Probably €2 million at a guess. These are the fees, on top are costs for fixing the roads and then cultural activities linked, eg pots of pink paint, promotional posters and campaigns etc

          • From NOS:

            Total cost of 3 days: 12,65 million
            Paid directly to RCS: 3,65 million.

            5 mln Gelderland province
            1 mln together from Apeldoorn, Arnhem, Nijmegen cities
            2,5 mln State funded
            1,6 mln sponsors
            Some from pass through towns

    • agreed – the Tour looks like just that, a tour of the country, with a coherent choice of stages that follow on from each other and actually appear to follow an identifiable route which you could re-trace as a journey if you wished. The Vuelta in particular always looks to me like an unrelated collection of scattered stages.

  21. I remember cycling magazines of the early 1980s being regularly exercised by the prospect of a Tour de France start in the US, even before the rise in strength of US cycling (at a time when Jock Boyer was pretty much the sole US rider on a European team that most people could name). It seemed to be a pet project for Felix Levitan, but ultimately came to nought. So such speculation of intercontinental starts of grand tours is not new.

    That said – while I recognise that ultimately cyclists are professionals, paid to perform wherever the sponsor needs – aren’t we supposed to be in an era of considering a bit more what the physical demands on riders actually involved? I can’t imagine flying several hundred riders to the US or Japan, racing couple of days and then coming immediately back for another three weeks of racing in Europe, jet-lag and all, is conducive to good health or top performance. While I am not against foreign starts per se, I think a degree of realism has to be in place with regards the physical demands of constant transfers.


  22. PS – the Tour de [sic] Yorkshire was indeed fab, and has been embraced hugely by the locals; essentially creating a sort of linear festival.

    I watched in my home village, which was on the route. There were bands playing, a mini beer festival, a scarecrow contest, all the local traders and houses had the bunting and flags up, and the crowds were immense. Interesting that in it’s second year it has seemed to get even stronger – down to the strong organisation, regional pride and the hitherto-untapped resource of great road racing terrain.

    Making it a three-dayer has been quite canny, I think. Long enough to make it a long-weekend event, not a flash-in-the-pan single-dayer, but not so long that it quickly runs out of terrain (and feels less special to the towns and villages en-route).

  23. Honda certainly haven’t replaced Fiat. There were mazda, Skoda and if I remember well last year it was Citroën, wasn’t it?

  24. I like a good foreign Grand Tour start. Ok they go where there is a commercial interest, but that’s no different to how in-country stages are decided a lot of the time. Neither RCS or ASO picks a route purely in cycling desires for action or history, money will always play a role. Go back in time to when a lot of stages finished in Velodromes because it meant they could charge fans to see the finish. It’s no secret towns will pay thousands, or millions, for a stage finish.

    I also look at the Grand Tours as ambassadors for the sport. It is how the vast majority of fans will come to the sport. Whether that be via a succesful rider (a la Le Mond, Armstrong, Evans) or a big race start (a la London 2007, Belfast 2014). It’s good for the sport in many many ways. It boosts interest in many that had no interest before the race visited.

    There is a limit where a distance start can have a detrimental impact on the race, and obviously Japan falls under that catagory. Giro going to Northern Europe is fine, but no further than that. As opening stages are usually pretty formulaic in design it’s nice to get out and see something different on the TV from the following 18stages.

  25. Of course this should be an anecdotic feature, that deserves no big debate, and no big ambitions. What I like about it is the celebratory dimension of the togetherness of those European countries that love cyclng races. The Giro starting in Greece was ok, but that’s about the limit.
    What I find strange is that when the Tour goes to Italy and Spain, there are big crowds, and when the Giro and Vuelta come to France, there’s hardly anyone by the road.

    • @ Pierre-Jean Did you watch the Giro in Greece in 1996 ? I wasn’t into cycling back then, but a friend (a competitive cyclist himself) who was there as a spectator told me he was amazed at the speeds the pros were going while climbing on the road to Delphi.

      • I don’t remember much except some strange sprint finishes, and nice touristic images. Not much climbing, in my recollection.

  26. I know this may sound lazy, or like a typical Brit, but I have to confess that that I am pretty ignorant of a lot of European history and culture.
    Strange as it may seem, it has taken an interest in cycling (and quite often prompted by this blog actually) to look and read about many things, places, and people that I did not know of.
    It’s a real joy.
    Sport can often be about division and the contest. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but I love the whole ‘European’ feel, in all its intricacies, about cycling.
    Long may it continue. Even if someone is making money out of it!

  27. About the parcours:
    Tour operators clearly design the courses for competition among various styles of riders, and from year to year might do so with an eye toward elevating a certain style (indeed, perhaps even a certain rider).

    What I think no tour designer would tolerate is initial beyond-border stages being so definitive that they determine the outcome of a grand tour. I am cheerfully prepared to be set straight on this, but surely no one wants ‘3 days in Holland’ to be the answer to the question ‘how was the race won?’

  28. I have no issue with it been outside the country if the aim is to create a lasting legacy and not simply a money grab. The legacy left in my home county of Yorkshire by the Grand Depart has been fantastic. I can only speak from my personal perspective but since what I experienced in those two days in Yorkshire it left me with memories that will stick with me for the rest of my life. I got back into road cycling a couple of year before and only had a passing interest in the sport but since the Grand Depart I have followed it a lot closer and increasing my knowledge mainly thanks to this wonderful blog!!

    I’ve noticed a marked increase in the number of cyclists I see on my weekend rides and membership of my local cycling club has increased massively as a result of the excitement it brought to Yorkshire. I think this was because of the actions taking once Yorkshire had won the bid and the commitment of bringing the pro tour back to the area for the next 10 years with the Tour de Yorkshire. This has created an interesting 3 day event in the calendar with a wealth of parcours it can use in the region.
    I’ve attended the Tour de Yorkshire event both years. It has grown from last year and I expect it to continue to do so. Even the horrible weather we had this year did not deter the crowds and were probably bigger than the first year. The Friday of stage 1 was awful weather and after a 80 mile ride to first KOM summit I spoke with many people along the route about their excitement and even as I crouched shivering behind some dry wall on Greenhow Hill with many others waiting for the peloton to arrive, the minute the vehicles arrived signalling the breakaway was close by the mood lifted immediately (and the sun weirdly made its first appearance of the day).

    I drove to the final stage in Scarborough with my wife and 2 children who have zero interest in pro cycling but watching it from the finish line and witnessing the action on the big screen before they arrived. They were all genuinely caught up in the excitement and even asking questions about cycling when I’m watching coverage of the Giro with them.

    As we mingled around the buses after the race we got to get close to a lot of the riders and my daughter who is only 8 was blown away she could get so close to the riders and even got to meet Luke Rowe. This is a marked difference to other sports as you are so close to the action and riders are accessible in this way.

    • Great post. Serves as a useful antidote to much inverted snobbery about the legacy foreign starts to GTs can have, and the sneers about ‘money grabs’

  29. Reading the comments it seems out-of-country starts are just fine when they come to yours, but maybe not so great otherwise? One last thing on this subject (I promise) – calling something a money-grab means merely that financial interests overcame sporting ones. I don’t think anyone who used that term thinks putting on these races must be a non-profit enterprise. It’s not a choice of wild-west unbridled capitalism/greed OR communism. Same with the argument against runaway technology in equipment – when you object to technology that you believe negatively affects the sport, instantly you’re branded someone who wants to go back to 30 pound single-speeds with wooden wheels.

    • Fair point I think you’re right regarding RCS there. However, there are other parties involved, f.e. the Gelderland province, who are doing this for other reasons, sportive and social. I saw a report on the senior homes who were given free Giro pasta packages by the province as a succesful means to organise a social event for the senior citizens together with the other generations involved. Yes I know it sounds silly, but it’s a working illustration of other parties involved with other good interests.

      Regarding other country starts…. well thata purely just my own opinion, but I enjoyed the Giro Belfast and the Tour in Yorkshire as much as a ‘home’ start, if not more due to the spectacle. Belfast or Bolzano, both a foreign place to me.

  30. I’ve spent some trying time trying to think of an equivalent situation in another sport, and frankly i’m struggling. Here’s a couple of ideas and thoughts:

    NFL International Series: The NFL has been bringing games to the UK for a number of years now. They wanted to tap a new and interesting market by bringing over games. Certainly this did not go down well with USA fans who lost home games to see. But, whilst it’s taken a few years, NFL has exploded in the UK since then. 3 games per year, all sold out. More people than ever before watching and playing American Football. It’s well on its way to becoming an established part of the season that everyone enjoys.

    ECL/EL Final: The Champions League and Europe League move the venue for the final every year. Jumps from city to city for various reasons to try and include and reach as many fans as often as possible. But there is a heavy financial aspect as to who wants to pay to host it as well. Locking the finals to one place or a small collection of places would be detrimental to the international aspect of the competitions.

    Two slightly different takes there. One is the spreading of a national league to other markets, and the other is a rotating of an international competition. Both have a multitude of reasons, finacial and sporting and cultural. In both cases they are successful moves and welcomed by fans, having overcome some scepticism at times.

    Granted they are not perfect comparisions with a foreign GT start. I can’t really think of a perfect analogy, i guess it’s a peculiarity of cycling and it’s atempts to stay modern and engaging with as many people as possible.

  31. I don’t think foreign starts with even the short hiatus of a following transfer are a good idea.
    Though as Kittel has shown, a segmented approach to the race can be fruitful: he and his team came to this Giro with the aim of leaving the Netherlands in pink; none of his sprint opponents contemplated this goal for themselves. And they have simply not been in his class and physical condition so early in the race. Viviani put up a bit of a fight yesterday but in truth got no nearer Kittel than he did to Gaviria in numerous sprints in London earlier this year.

    But everyone contributing to the discussion here seems to assume that a foreign partenza must be a feature of something nearly contiguous –probably in geography but if not then in time.

    If it were essential to have foreign starts to foster cycling around the world (which I doubt) then a prologue event in a far off land some weeks ahead of the main GT, the results of which count towards the outcome of that main GT, could be a thought.

    In order to win the GT the big teams must partake in the far off race and thus promote cycling there, but then they can rest their team to overcome the physiological problems of date-line traverse. Any interim injuries or loss of form would not be compensated for by any team changes, which could add spice to the main GT.

    In essence it is not much different to saying a Champions League match in November is critical to a final outcome of the contest the following May.

    In modern racing while the Spring Classics squads are in action, the GT squads are often building condition elsewhere and there is much less cross over nowadays –so let the GT squads race in GT prologues far afield instead of schlepping up and down Mount Teide.

  32. Some interesting vox pops on The Cycling Podcast regarding a Giro start in Japan (riders, DS’s, team managers). General view seemed to be ‘some issues to resolve, but why not – it will make a good spectacle and garner a lot of support, which is what the sport is about’

Comments are closed.