Giro Rest Day Review

A week is a long time in a grand tour. Egan Bernal and Remco Evenepoel were sprinting for a three second time bonus on the stage to Foligno. A week later, Egan Bernal was sitting up in the streets of Cortina d’Ampezzo to remove his rainjacket, the better to show off his maglia rosa at the finish line. Who cares if this cost him a few seconds, his nearest rival overall is over two minutes down and as for Evenepoel, he lost 24 minutes yesterday.

Just as the winners get to write history, they narrate it and Egan Bernal told Italian TV he wanted “to put on a show”, to “do something special” and racing a hard stage in the grim conditions was just the kind of sport he likes. His back is holding up and defeat looks unlikely, only a shock collapse on a climb or an accident can cause problems but he’s got the insurance of a two minute lead and the assurance of the strongest team.

If Bernal’s cruising, the race for the podium and other placings is on. Damiano Caruso is second overall and obviously delighted with this, don’t expect any heroics with a podium in reach, we and he know he’s not going to beat Bernal in an uphill pedalling contest. Caruso’s challenge is from the riders behind him. Hugh Carthy, Simon Yates, Giulio Ciccone, Aleksandr Vlasov and Romain Bardet all within reach of the podium, six characters in search of a podium. They all have varying goals with Yates probably at one end as someone who just wants to win, probably Carthy next and then at the other end of the win-or-bust versus secure-a-podium-spot scale both Vlasov and Ciccone would probably sign up for third place today if they could. So there’s more to play for but it’s going to be a defensive game, often waiting and hoping for others to crack in the coming days.

It’s been a vintage Giro so far but too early to rate as a whole. We’re likely to see more breakaways succeed in the coming days as only Ineos are able to control the race. EF Education-Nippo worked hard yesterday and Carthy is up to third overall but in part because Vlasov dropped his rainjacket into his backwheel and Yates was on a bad day anyway and Carthy lost time to Bernal, Bardet and Caruso. So they not try to rip things up in the same way again. Astana tried to shake up the race on the Zoncolan stage but it blew up in their face.

Open today’s Gazzetta, reach the pages on the Giro and there’s a full page about superheroes and legends. It’s an advert for Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman comic books rather than cyclists taking on 210km mountain stages. Why was Stage 16 abbreviated? Out of precaution, in case the weather got worse said race director Mauro Vegni to Italian broadcaster RAI, adding the conditions were alright on the morning of the race but he preferred to shorten the route before the racing started rather than be forced to do this mid-race. At the same time the CPA riders union rep told television all the riders wanted to race. Yet later in the day the CPA’s Twitter account thanked RCS Sport for heeding its request to shorten the course, a contradiction. It seems nobody, including their union leader, could say this aloud. You can understand why riders might be reluctant to become a human lightning rod every time they open their phone, but that’s exactly what a union delegate is there for.

Let’s consider two matters here. First is the immediate, practical issue of changing the course on the morning of a race and then communicating this to a public that had woken up expecting a tappone. People had booked days off work, some travelled to the forsaken passes at their expense. The CPA statement says it was discussing things “as early as 23 May”, as in the day before… and probably the evening before. The bad weather didn’t come out of the blue, it had been forecast for days and snow in May is not uncommon either. There needs to be better planning and protocols, rather than polling riders via the phones and approaching the organiser on the morning who decides with an hour to go.

The second matter is the very nature of cycling as a sport. What is the Giro d’Italia for? It uses the strapline of “the hardest race in the world in the most beautiful country in the world”. Are high altitude mountain stages now conditional on the weather, in a way they were not before, even after the introduction of the extreme weather protocol? Demonstrably yes but let’s not exaggerate, cycling isn’t about to become tennis where play stops because of rain. Pro cycling remains, bar any ultra event reserved for niche participants, the toughest sport. There are limits and they are moving, but these are undercurrents rather than manifestos. We need to reflect on where the peloton’s comfort zones are in the light of yesterday, the Morbegno protest in October’s Giro and especially because of what might come next. This is a difficult area, rider opinions vary, and may change during a race for varying reasons, from mood to rational self-interest. Comparisons with the past are valid, the peloton rides in the slipstream of its predecessors and performances are validated by comparisons, to race over the Stelvio is to be compared to Coppi, Gaul, Quintana or Nibali. We rightly mythologise the Gavia stage of the 1988 Giro won by Eric Breukink and the day Andy Hampsten took the maglia rosa while omitting that it was only 120km, done in under four hours. Yesterday’s stage was longer, albeit probably easier and certainly safer. To celebrate cycling’s history is to know the Gavia in 1988 was easier than Monte Bondone in 1956 and that this was in turn a cakeride compared to the forçats de la route era before telephones, let alone television were in use. Cycling might be softer today but society as a whole has got much softer, the former is often derided while the latter is celebrated as progress. Cycling’s unique selling point is the tough image, the rider as Hercules or Maciste, only this comes in a one-way sadistic pact where the public expects riders to endure conditions they’d shun but it’s this that makes bike racing special and so comes sponsorship and salaries. So where to strike a balance? It’s a big question and one that requires reflection rather than a hot take. See you for the stage preview tomorrow morning.

55 thoughts on “Giro Rest Day Review”

  1. Nice post, and I completely agree. It seems the particular weakspot in all of this is, as you clearly point out, the lack of a solid plan B. We there routes only part way up the full climbs they were scheduled to do? Surely that could have been a much tighter part of their preparations. And one thing unmentioned, which I think made the situation worse, was the lack of television coverage. Had the audience seen how hard things were on the revised course, I think it would have taken a lot of the criticism away. Looking at the riders at the finish, it did not look like a ride in the park.

    As has happened many times before, I learned something new – the character of Maciste (which I think you misspelled, though there could be variant spellings my google search didn’t reveal).

  2. As Daniel Friebe pointed out on the cycling podcast yesterday, professional sports is getting more conscious of safety even while amateurs are flocking to increasingly punishing events like ultramarathons.

    • . Any mountaineer will tell you that pushing yourself to your limits in questionable weather is a bad idea. The weather changed rapidly during an ultramarathon event in China last week. 21 contestants were killed. Maybe the pros know something.

  3. Brave man with the polemica over yesterday’s stage, I agree with you and there are shades of grey here but clearly a number of contributors see things more in black & white 🙂

    As to the actual race, Egan Bernal has been outstanding, to use his own word he has demonstrated “grinta” (apologies for not knowing quite the correct Italian context), not just in dealing with the weather but in his whole approach to the race. If he goes on to win, no doubt he will be a worthy winner with as dominant a performance in a GT as I can remember from the past few years. I have been impressed with his media stuff showing the right balance between humility and the self confidence & arrogance you need to be a top sports person. The little touches, like giving the flowers to someone in the crowd, feel genuine not part of some “media strategy”.

    I hope Hugh Carthy can do something over the next few stages, 2nd would be an achievement though I guess he will need some good fortune to win a GT but he has a refreshing attitude to the whole thing. That said Damiano Caruso is going to be difficult to dislodge, he has plenty of experience and this could be a singular opportunity.

    Things at DQS are strange, I wonder if Patrick Lefevere has been caught up in the hype thing (whatever his denials). The team really needs to get back to what it knows best at the TdF. A real shame that Sam Bennett’s time on the team seems to be coming to an end. With a better focus perhaps Joao Almeida could have been on the podium.

    • Bernal’s mentality is interesting. He’s 100% Colombian of course, but also very Italian, fluent in the language – he learned quickly after living north of Torino when he joined Androni – and making posts online about niche Italian in-jokes. There’s a level of communication with the public that I’m not sure he’d achieve in the Vuelta despite the Spanish language, let alone in the Tour de France where if he’s just moved to Monaco, his French must be limited to a few words. He hasn’t come to Italy as part of a public relations stunt of course, but his fluency just helps him along the way, he say what he wanted to do without it sounding arrogant. Plus it’s all better than the “I’m taking it day by day” polite talk.

      • That’s a very interesting take, inrng. I wonder if his Colombian-ness is also more attractive (because it’s more exotic) to Italians than it is to the Spanish, and especially Castilian Spaniards (because it’s less exotic and maybe just seen as a less developed place).
        I may be wrong, and Spanish nationals may have taken Colombian riders to their hearts…

  4. I think they were a bit over-cautious yesterday, but fair enough — I wouldn’t want to make the call. What was crap was the TV coverage — how could they not have a plan in place? They said the plane couldn’t take off because the flight path had changed, but only *a little bit of it* had changed, it could have covered the start and the end. I also noticed there were only 2 bikes covering it — it looks like there was a major f*ckup somewhere …

  5. very interesting and on-focus review; thank you Inrng.

    with your incisive takes on modern cycling plus your keen interest and knowledge of the long historical context… and your occasional book reviews and other pieces that draw out less-known or less prominent issues and personalities… have you thought of occasional interviews with select folks who we don’t often hear from? In particular, your review today makes me curious about Andy Hampsten’s perspective on rider safety etc, from those earlier times. Andy is a person still involved in cycling but who doesn’t have his own big platform and isn’t in front of the cameras or microphones anymore, as least not that I know about (perhaps revealing my social media ignorance here…). I know I’d be very interested to read a bit of discussion between you and someone like him. Perhaps something for the off season : )

  6. ‘Society has got softer’ is a polite way of saying workers are no longer viewed as expendable pawns who exist to help advance the wealth and power of others. Still, the riders do know what they’re signing up for when they choose this career, nobody forces them to choose it, and they can leave at any time.
    Bernal’s fantastic both on and off the bike, hopefully we’ll have a few grand tours at least where both Pogacar and Bernal are able to face-off in their prime.

    • I agree with point about our changed perception of workers/cyclist. However, I think there’s another perspective as well. Society has become a lot more risk averse in general, we want to prevent every incident. And when something bad happens, we take measures to mitigate the risk so that it can’t happen again, sometimes without looking clearly at the impact of those measures or the likeliness of another incident happening.
      I’m not saying I’m against improving rider safety, not at all. Just that there might be a more risk averse attitude in general.

      • Road cycling has always waved a double edged sword though.
        On the one hand, it likes to celebrate its toughness but on the other it’s been too closely associated with illegal substances.
        Some of the substances are / were to win or enhance performance but some are to dull pain and sensation.
        Each cab a cause and effect to the other, I feel.
        Having said that, if stages were made less harsh or extreme, it wouldn’t stop cheating.
        The riders would go quicker and, as Inr Rng often points out, athletes in a 100m foot race will cheat.

        The weather has always been a critical factor in cycling, so for high risk mountain stages in early Spring perhaps an alternative route should be planned in advance?

  7. Lets put the safety aspect to bed. No one wants to see riders injured because of their profession. IF this were about safety, then something would have been done about the constant street furniture in the middle of the road in preceding stages, with the resulting crashes and serious injuries. You simply can’t change a stage in a GT encase something ‘might’ happen, ignoring the experts and conditions which were saying it will not.
    This latest Giro problematic was NOT about rider safety. It rained, was cold but above zero at 2000m and the descents were wet – end of.
    This second fiasco in as many years to befall the Giro was about the self interests of some riders, some DSs and the woolly interpretation of the poorly worded EW protocol plus a dysfunctional riders union who don’t appear to know if they are coming or going. There should be no surprise that an embarrassing and unnecessary problematic resulted.
    For many time and money were wasted on a stage which should have been special. Special thanks to Bernal for showing the panache and attitude lacking in so many involved with the sport today.

    • Good post. My somewhat rambling tuppence are that I’ve gone back and forth over this, but one thing that i can’t help feeling is that the peleton and the CPA just seem unwilling to ‘own’ a stand-point on this. Many conflicting views and contradictory statements. As our host says, surely at least the CPA can do this. I can’t help feeling RCS were in a somewhat invidious position (if they did go with the original plan) of not totally trusting that there wouldn’t be a mutiny half way, despite statements of intent from within the peleton of wanting to ‘get on with it’. Not sure that sits well with me. Arguably, the UCI has it’s EWP and this should be the process through which decisions are made – thus trying to negate the potential vested interests that will obviously be at play. What’s its purpose otherwise? Whilst i do think it’s important to separate the ‘politics’ from the technicalities of TV coverage, in reality it becomes hard to do. Given the much suggested value of TV coverage to teams, host towns/regions etc the running of the race and the coverage of it are arguably linked.

    • It was still special and was a brutal 153km. As Inrng mentioned, it was 30km farther than the EPIC stage that gave Hamsten his legendary status.

      People are so quick to complain, yes the CPA is messy, but that’s cycling. End of.

  8. Thanks for the overall summary.

    Yesterday was still 153k, at full race pace, EF was drilling it on the front for ages, and the clear favourite demolished everyone and passed the full break… looks like it was a great stage.

  9. Thanks for exploring these issues – I listened to the Ned and David podcast and Ned was spot on predicting a lot of static camera shots on the finish gantry. That said and taking everything in to account in the comments above I’d add in that our climate is changing and this very wet and cold May in Europe is part of that. I’ve been watching the Giro for a few years now, probably since Wiggins tried to win it and then packed up with a cold after a few stages – it rained and rained and rained. I watched yesterday as I think the Dolomites landscape is wonderful and of course got to see nothing. Bernie Eisel on Eurosport said whatever you thought of the reduced stage at least the riders, teams and organisers all agreed to the change. Bernal isn’t in my fantasy team, but he is a revelation and will be a worthy winner if he can get to Milan – still hoping for Yates and Carthy to have something to say about it. And DQS let the road decide too soon – Almeida looking much stronger for a few days now than Remco.

    • Bernie Eisel… Oh gawd. Remembering his racing days, I can only imagine his concept of “agreement”. Several riders have been outspoken about their will to race the original course, so I’d love to know how Bernie explains the decision-making process which supposedly took place.

  10. The fiasco caused during the shortened stage of TdF which Bernal won will surely have made race organisers more cautious – as well as the protest last year which Inrng points out. James Knox gave a fairly honest review from a riders perspective on last nights Cycling Podcast. Getting to the decision was a farce but sounds like it was the right call as riders were seriously cold after that last decent.

  11. As you say it is a delicate balance. Sport has become more risk averse in general, from concussion protocols in many sports to the halo in F1. The reason? They save lives, and attempt to prevent physical and mental degradation once the music stops and a usually short athletic career is over. As I understand it the concerns over 16 were more around the potential dangers on the descents in wet or even icey conditions. We have seen terrible crashes and incredible attrition of injured riders already in this race, on seemingly benign stages, do we want more? Do we want winners to be selected by a willingness to commit and take risks or by the best preparation and athletic ability?

    Of course the answer is both. And the question asked by those Gladiators is “are you not entertained…. enough?

    Could they have raced the planned stage? Yes of course. Should they have? Probably maybe no yes. It was disappointing, it was chaotic viewing because of that decision. But I would rather that than seeing another terrible crash. At the same time I yearn for what might have been.

  12. Assuming the roads remain clear of ice and there isn’t truly extreme weather in the form of storms, I really can’t get on board with an idea that this cautious approach is an inevitable consequence of a “softer” society. I can’t see what is stopping riders from making the most of the technical clothing available to them (I guess the fear of being weighed down and losing precious W/kg?). The horizons of other sports have been expanded by developments in clothing/tech, while the images above show the two best riders on the stage wearing shorts, no full shoe covers and no skull caps… which doesn’t really tally with the idea that this stage was at the limit of what is possible in a GT.

    Guess in retrospect we were at least spared 2 extra hours of no race pictures.

  13. Re breakaways succeeding – I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m still struck by how many first ever World Tour wins we are seeing in this Giro: First wins for Dombrowski, Mäder, Lafay, Schmid, Vendrame, Fortunato. Second ever wins for Merlier, Taco, Campanaerts. And then there’s Attila’s Maglia rosa, w/no WT wins. Great to see so much pure finish line joy. This seems unusual, though I haven’t followed the sport as long as some here.

    • It is unusual, in part a function of the lack of sprint stages but also the lack of teams trying to boss the race, Ineos are strong but Astana are not the Astana of old, Bahrain are several riders down, Quickstep’s ambitions have gone but collectively they’re not so strong either and so on across other teams. Curious to see how Jumbo-Visma ride at the Tour de France, last summer they were very imposing but it may not be the right tactic now, it just helped Pogačar hitch a ride.

  14. Hopefully this wont cause the level of polemica as diverting yesterday’s stage. Apparently Friday’s stage has been diverted away from Mottorone. This was the site of the fatal cable car crash on Sunday.

  15. thank you for the insights: i had not realized that it was cancelled not due to existing conditions but as a precaution to what might occur. At face value this seems absurd, ludicrous and down right stupefying: “well, you know, it might rain or – heaven forbid – snow – and so, you know, we better not.” huh? Wonder what Hinault would have to say? Although he’s mellowed these days. I seem to recall a mtn stage a few years back won by Visconti in freezing cold sleet/rain/snow, it was epic! Its funny, the two tours Bernal has won – giving him this one – both times, the queen stage was shortened or eliminated – hmm. While the scenery has been beautiful, the GC fight has been very disappointing: two of the best riders crash out in the first week and the other pretenders do their usual pretending, i guess we have to give Remco a pass but he didn’t help himself with his declarations as team leader after Almeda had a bad day – wonder what he has to say now?

  16. The riders weren’t dressed for the cold (shorts) because they weren’t that cold. It was nowhere near too cold to race. The weather protocol allows riders to miss stages that they don’t want to do for tactical reasons. It’s a very bad idea for a sport to let the competitors decide such things.

  17. No one has yet put forward a reasonable argument for the moving standard of the “softness/hardness” of the sport. Hence one only assumes it’s basically about riders’ comfort (or lack of pride, more precisely, but it can’t be very comforting to know inside that as professional cyclist, you are a dwarf compared to the giants of the past).
    Personally, I ride all year long, regardless of weather conditions. Please understand my contempt and sadness.

  18. Surely in 2021 the technology exists to ensure we can actually see live pictures from the race whatever the weather conditions ? Is it a matter of cost and RAI been unable or unwilling to spend more money ?

  19. To make a couple of things clear, then let’s try to put this to rest, because – as I also wrote elsewhere – at the end of the day I actually prefer people believing in that “unbearable weather” fake stuff, or in the sudden rise of union spirit among the riders, or in having had a huge day of Dolomite racing or whatever they fancy. If it makes the Giro look slightly better on the markets, I suppose that I shoud be happy with all that.

    That said.

    1) EWP (which I always criticised) was *not* applied in this case, because the conditions simply weren’t there to do so. “Freezing rain” doesn’t mean “cold rain”, the former is a specific technical term. Look it up if you please. *No* EWP condition was considered to be pertinent to Stage 16 weather, nor under the actual weather, nor under *any* forecast. EWP, which is loose enough (way too much, way too discretional) couldn’t be enforced.
    There was *no* actual danger, as all parties involved had admitted when the decision was taken. Which is indeed coherent with racing the most difficult descent under the most complicated conditions, both according to forecasts and on the road.
    We could see a lot of recorded and live material by fans spending the day on the roads where the race should have passed, and on the Giau too, which just confirmed what everybody knew since that same morning (including the people who took the decision). Conditions were not dangerous or extreme. They were very uncomfortable, which is a different thing.
    Just drop the big talk about risking lives because it’s frankly disgusting – total bad taste.
    Same goes with the nonsense “we had accidents on dry days, imagine on a wet one”. We had indeed terrible conditions on Stage 16: during the first climb and descent, too. No serious accident took place, as no serious accident took place with full race conditions down the Giau. It’s just that the risk profile doesn’t vary as you’d expect, for a number of factors. Same goes for ambulances and so on (for example, the fact that the time limit isn’t a problem anymore when the weather is grim helps a lot to reduce dangerous racing).
    Not even Vegni is seriously defending that conditions were actually dangerous for racing, so why all the people started to spread this laughable POV?

    2) There was no such thing as an “athletes’ collective decision”. Again, *nobody* ever defended that. I’ll always support any collective decision by the most exposed party involved, riders in this case. But a collective decision must take shape with proper form. *Any* proper form, but you need it – otherwise, it’s just camarillas and caciques claiming that they’re “the voice of the people”. Which typically leads to the most unfair results for “the people” themselves.
    A vote. Secret or not. Representatives. An assembly. Whatever. But *NOT* an unspecified whatsapp chat without full participation, and without full information either. Most riders simply didn’t know what was going on. FWIW, the CPA – in the morning – expressed a favourable opinion to race the original stage.
    And, anyway, proper forms are also required to avoid undesired effects which, again, undermine the idea itself of a collective decision: you need adequate balancing of powers and interests, or you’ll find yourself struggling with unfair decision after unfair decision.
    It must also be underlined that ai a case like this, the full commitment to ride all the stages is an important part of the underlying “stage-race pact”. Obviously enough, most riders may have nothing to look for in such a stage come the third week, hence why riding? Rules include mechanisms to grant that a stage race can happen all the same – but if you consider that some stages can be skipped *at will* (read again point 1 above), the whole idea of stage racing crumbles. Which is why I’d say that collective decisions on the matter should be taken through a proper process which also should grant *responsibility* for the actions taken. It’s paramount in any base-lead community. Reponsibility is not being punished or the likes: it’s just to be ready to account for what you decided in front of the rest of parties involved. Nothing further from what we saw on Stage 16.
    In a sense, it’s that disgusting UCI-WADA quarrel about Froomey’s clean-up all over again: it’s always “because of someone else” that decisions are taken. And so the famous “someone else” never gives a step forward to explain exactly all the details of the decision, technical elements, data, probabilities – which should help the general public to judge if decisions are being taken fittingly or not.

  20. Now, let’s tackle another aspect of Stage 16, given that De Luca (RAI commentator) is insisting on it right now.
    Impossible to fly, some say, be it because of buraeucracy, Dantesque ice, or whatever.
    And I myself would venture to say that troubles with live images were one of the reasons because of which the stage was cut.
    However, it’s worth noting that several aircraft were flying through the area during the time of the stage. You can check it easily at Flight Radar 24.
    Helicopters (at least two of them, both taking off from Italian airports) and small aircrafts, too, some of them flying within the maximum altitude range which can be reached by the Giro airplane (which, in fact, is lower than the Tour’s).
    For example, a Cessna flying from Pula to Switzerland; or a private Pilatus taking off from Albenga which was flying over Fedaia and Cortina around noon at some 8,000 mt. Another Cessna came close around 14:20 flying at 9,000 mt, just a little above the Giro’s airplane top altitude. It had taken off from an Italian airport, again (Isola d’Elba). I was watching an Embraer flying over Pordoi a little after 14:30 when Flight Radar cut my free 30-minute connection…
    I don’t know pretty much anything about aviation, but I suppose that some of the experts who’ve been writing here of late will be able to explain to me how is it that some apparently similar aircrafts are able to face those extreme condition and others aren’t. All of them must get an authorisation to take off and fly through, mustn’t they?
    What’s sure is that on Monday the Giro’s airplane never took off.

    • I hadn’t gone through the Reddit posted by jc above. Interesting. Might have been such a technicality, indeed.

      However, it’s a shame they hadn’t tackled the problem after the difficulties they already faced a dozen of days before (and many times in the past). It was possible, no doubt, to safely fly over the area – and to get permission to do so from one or more airports in the area. It’s to be seen if the Giro’s aircraft suffered from the specific fault described bt the Reddit, but, was it so, it’s quite incredible that they didn’t even think about solving it year after year.

      • The planes can fly, it’s when the helicopter that is used as the bridge between the plane and the motos, can’t fly that we seem to have problems. Planes can fly in many conditions or even above the bad weather, helicopters sometimes can’t.

        • According to what the usually well-informed guys of La Flamme Rouge write in the Reddit linked above, you don’t need to have always helicopters flying:
          “This fleet is redundant. In raining conditions, for example, there are no camera helicopters and radio helicopters. Signal is sent directly to radio plane. Or at least this is what happened yesterday in MercanTour or in Tour de Romandie Stage 5”.
          As I said, there were helis around that day – yet again, it’s to be seen if the RAI ones were equally able to fly.

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