Giro d’Italia for dummies

Who will reach the Stelvio peak? Who have legs and will strong enough? Appointment with fate has been set up on Saturday May 26th…

But before we keep on climbing the highest, sickest mountaintop of them all, let’s take a breather and try to understand this sport that millions and millions of people watch for hours on the telly, or drive miles to get a glimpse of for a fraction of a second.

From one dummy to another (I bet there are many more of us out there):
Firstly, Giro d’Italia (known as the Giro) is one of the Three Grand Tours amongst the Tour de France (the Tour) and The Vuelta a España. The Tour might be the biggest, but about the Giro they say it is the toughest. And the most beautiful. And the friendliest.

The Giro-circus greets and creates a fresh breeze from spinning wheels in more than 3500 km of Italian nature, hills, mountains, lakes, villages and towns. And the Italians sure knows how to greet the circus. The Giro is in their genes, as it has been a part of their culture for more than 95 years now. So each little town who hosts the start or the finish (the routes changes every year), has applied and even paid to get selected. And I am telling you, it is the event of the decade for these little towns to be selected as a host town. I’m surprised I haven’t seen a grandma with pink hair-dye or a baby named “Giro” yet, cause the amount of effort they all put in… The bicycles painted, flowers planted, and balloons inflated -all in pink, are quite extraordinary. The month of Maggio/ May is the month of pink and party.

Teams: Anyone can put together a cycling-team if they have the money (and the urge). So most teams are named, owned and sponsored by businesses; Movistar, BMC and Omega Pharma-Quickstep, to name a few. If the teams are good enough they will be invited, amongst 22 teams, to join the Giro. And the team managers and Sports directors then strategically selects around 9 of their in total about 30 athletes to enter. Some sprinters, some mountain-climbers and some general classification-guys. The point is that the guys should all work well together in a team. And a “PS” to those interested: In the Grand tours, there are 9 cyclists instead of 8 which is norm in any other cycling-races.

The different stages: During the 21 stages of the Giro all the cyclists starts at the exact same time, except during the time trials. Here they either start individually, with about three minutes separating them, or they start together with their teams if it is a team time trial. At the end of the Giro there is always a time trial-stage, and this year it also started with one. These stages are there so that we can see who really is the fastest. Since when the cyclists are going together in the big peloton (that’s when the whole lot of them cycle together -you’ve probably seen that on TV. Even I had!), they get a lot of extra help from each other. But who’s the best solo? Except from iron-man Keith Tuffley? Well those are the guys in the jerseys.

So what’s all the fuzz about these different colored shirts? It took me some time to understand, but I’ll try to explain. The maglia rosa, or the pink jersey is for the one leading the whole Giro. It is worn each day by the cyclist with the fastest overall time up to that point of the Giro. The color pink represents the color of the Giro. The color of the newspaper Gazetta della sport (founder of the Giro). The pink jersey is the most prestigious one, and although the jerseys can change hand during the race, the one with the lowest time at the end of the Giro’s last stage, and therefore also holds the pink jersey wins the whole shabang. The guys that could typically win the pink, are the general classification (GC) guys who are good at it all; sprinting, mountain-climbing and endurance. The pink jersey is the equivalent of the yellow one in Tour de France.

The red jersey represents fire, power, a red face, sprint. Points are given to the rider who is first to reach the end of, or determined places during, any stage of the Giro. And points can be gained halfway through the stage, at the point of an “intermediate sprint”. The first three that passes through the point of the intermediate sprint, gains points. The first 15 at the end of the whole stage (the finish-line) also gains points. Sprinters are usually good at gaining points, and they are best at the flat stages, which are about half of the total 21 stages.

The blue jersey represents the sky, the mountain air, the ice-blue snowcapped mountains. It also represents the blue color of the logo of the Italian bank Mediolanum who sponsors the Giro… So these colors seems to be somewhat changeable depending on who offers the biggest moneybag… The cyclist, the climber who first reaches the finish-line during the mountain-stages, wins this one. You can also gain points during the mountain-climbs counting towards the red jersey. But these points, called mountain-points, are counted on every classified mountaintop. Today there were for instants 4 classified mountaintops in the stage.

The white jersey represents innocence, purity, youth and novice. The young rider, under 25, with the fastest overall time up to that point of the Giro, wins this one. So it follows the same rules as the pink jersey, but celebrates the Giros youngsters.

What else? Everyday the team-buses park after each other in a stretch close to the start-line. There are drivers, physicists, nutritionists, engineers, mechanics, PR-folks, trainers and off course cyclists in these clusters. The cyclists starts off following a bunch of motorcycles ridden by I-have-no-idea-who and followed by a parade of team-cars with extra gear and aid. The teams try to strategically help the teammates. For example will a sprinter be held in the back of other teammates (it’s about 30% easier to ride behind others than to be infront), until it’s time to sprint the last 500- 1000m to the point of the intermediate sprints. There is appearantly a lot of psychology and strategy in this sport, which is what makes it fascinating, I think. For example can the teams sometimes negotiate so that they let others win in exchange of favors. Stuff like that seems to happen…

So guys, I’ve given this a shot. This sport. I used to not give a damn about it. I don’t usually like to watch any sports, I like to do them! But, this time around I’ve kind of had no choice as I’m traveling with the Giro and this crazy cycling-stunt of Keiths for almost a month. And it, cycling, is starting to get to me… So to all you “dummies” out there: Watch out -if you give it a shot, you might get hooked!


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