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Giro: What have the Italians ever done for cycling??

May 7, 2011

My heading is, of course, in jest. (Admiring a top-end Merckx bike at my local coffee shop the other day, I asked what the Belgians ever did for cycling, too; the shirt in the pic is a seasonal Giro offering from the aforementioned coffee shop). Belgium and Italy serve as the two cultural poles of cycling. In Belgium, there are cobbles, the hardest of the hardmen, and cold, bitter weather (which kind of explains the first two). In Italy, there is class, coffee, and style (and some incredibly beautiful bikes). It’s maybe not a surprise that France—the third leg of Europe’s cycling tripod—is geographically situated between these two poles and seems to marry both these ends with varying degrees of success.

But the Giro d’Italia is underway, the first grand tour of the year. Three weeks of men in pink. While I already miss the Spring Classics, hopefully regular pro racing will get me through it. Last year’s Giro was full of drama and tension; this year’s course looks almost too hard, though, and we could see a dearth of tactics for fear of the top contenders cracking too soon. There are some absolutely insane climbs—frequently on consecutive days—and terrifying descents that have even the world’s top riders claiming to be nervous. Further, many of the top riders seem to be keeping their powder dry for the Tour de France in July. Only Alberto Contador seems likely to contend for both grand tour titles. After him, Vincenzo Nibali and the strong Liquigas-Cannondale team should be tough. And then there’s a drop-off. Maybe Joaquim Rodriguez, perhaps Igor Anton, there’s a chance Geox’s Denis Menchov and Carlos Sastre might have a little gumption left in their older engines. Michele Scarponi is another Italian upon whom a nation’s hopes will be riding. My dark horses (for the top five, not to win) also include Thomas Löfkvist and Brice Feillu, who was brought into the Leopard-Trek team very late. He’s got nothing to lose and is a legitimate climber; he might be a better pick for a steep stage win, however.

I had grand notions of riding every day of the Giro, but I fear that’s unlikely. And around here, I’ll never find the hills to do justice to the suffering these guys are going to experience over the next three weeks, but I’m rounding into form (albeit two months from peaking) and hope to get some more kilometers in for Bikes to Rwanda.

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