The season of spring is an action packed smorgasbord of professional cycling. It's a fair argument to say that no other 3month block of the season will test the riders skills and physical condition the way the month of spring seem to do. March kick things of with the race between the seas with tirreno addriatico and the optimistically named race to the sun with Paris nice although you would be hard pressed to find to many examples of sunshine greeting the riders in nice annually! Also during march sees belgium come to life and the hard man come out to play on the cobbles, crosswinds, and what otter feels lie racing on footpaths not to mention the array of climatic conditions that are also thrown the peletons way. Perhaps fittingly in the final month of spring lies a race that has a history of testing all the skill set required to survive during this period with the giro! There is an endless archive of iconic images which encapsulate the uniqueness of the race around Italy, again seeming to serve as one final exam for a peleton that's spent the unpredictable months of racing in spring to prepare for. 3 weeks of racing that can quite literally through up a completely different climate and terrain on each and every single stage to assess how well the warriors of road racing have done the homework or hardwork in this case to be prepared for anything and everything that the giro can through up at you. Like with every great bike race it's logical that the most complete rider will rise to the top and emerge victorious but perhaps this is never more evident than at the giro.
What makes the giro special
The initial part of the season is a build to the classics for the hard men and the giro for gc chargers. To be at your best for the giro means negotiating your way through the most unpredictable and stressful period of the racing season. This therefore means that simply arriving at the start line of the giro in your absolute optimal health and best condition is a major challenge in itself, let alone worrying about the 3 weeks of torture that lies ahead. I can obviously only speak with conviction on the 2 giro's that I've competed in in 2010 and 2013. Both editions of the race were equally different and equally brutal in there own unique way. The lead up to both events is also something special. Often as early as the races in february and march you'll start to see the same faces of the races your using as preparations, another 200 guys on a similar schedule that will culminate in the giro. So before you have even made it to the startling you have already formed a bit of an extended family of fellow giro competitors in the build up, in the end it's not just the 3 weeks you'll spend with alot of all these guys but more like 3 months. Why is this important to know?? Well with the challenges that the giro throughs up with it's climate and terrain and you suffer as badly as you do at times, it makes it's far more manageable when your around a group of guys whom you know know and appreciate what your going though and that solidarity within the peleton can often be critical in helping you deal with the challenges the big lap of Italy throughs your way.
The way the race is played out-
Due to the timing of the giro it takes an extremely resilient and all rounded champion to pull on the pink jersey at the end of 3 weeks of racing. The race can be broken down into 3 stages, First week, second week and 3rd week. Week 1 is the stressful week. The sprinter or bunch sprint friendly stages result in small gaps on GC and alot of riders within striking distance of a day in the prized maglia rosa! With just one day wearing such a prize having the potential to shape the entire career of a rider it's logical that everyone is a little on edge due to the high stakes. With nervous anxious riders comes a nervous anxious peleton and that sadly tends to greatly increase the probability of nasty crashes which the consequences can be equally consequential for those that crash or suffer misfortune as those whom benefit from the crashes taking place and are the fortunate ones. It will ruin a season for some and define a career for others, such are the highs and lows of sickness, injury or a successful daring move that nets that great result. You truly start every stage in the first week of the giro knowing that one thing is guaranteed, that anything and everything is possible of that day for each and every single rider in the peleton.
While I have many wonderful memories from my days racing in the giro, one particular stage in the 2010 edition sums up perfectly my impressions of the race. Stage 11, 262 from Lucera to L'aquila was the longest stage of the 2010 event and came close to the end of what had been a brutal 2nd week. That year the race began in holland which meant that after just 3 days of racing when we returned to Italy we had taken our first rest day. This meant that a haul of 10 straight stages were rattled of before the 2nd rest day would be arrive. Stage 11 came after 7 straight of the most unpredictable and taxing days of racing I've endured. We had searing heat to contend with, almost monsoonal rain falls the next day, sub zero foggy mountain stages with zero visibility the next and to top everything off the gravel or Strada bianchi stage was held in torrential rain which would come as not surprise turned the stage into cycling equivalent of a mud run! That day in the mud was that chaotic that in the end the dismal suffering could only be replaced by the humor of the citation us riders found ourselves in as we plowed our way through the mud! Not surprisingly and fittingly the stage was won by the regarded as the most complete rider of his generation, the great Australian Cadel Evans whom was able to draw of his 20years of professional bike riding experience to cross the line first on a day where guts and determination counted as much for exceptional bike skills, two things which cadel has no shortage off!
Anyways back to stage 11 to L'Aquila and it's a day of racing I'll never forget. The longest stage in the race is always to be feared. With 7hrs of racing ahead the entire peleton was hoping for as straightforward a day as possible. Straightforward in as much as a nice breakaway that the gc teams could easily manage and the course could be covered in the must civilized possible! Yeah right!! The stage started out in beautiful sunshine and warm condition which was one blessing as the flag dropped in Lucera, that however was the last time there would be anything civilized about the stage. Around 10pm into the stage the attacks were coming thick and fast as we entered a dark tunnel. I was at the front staying alert to control any dangerous attacks for our team leader Michele Scarponi as we entered the tunnel, well 2nd wheel to be precise. I was thinking gee we are hammering here through this tunnel and as we came out the other side and barreled down the other side I noticed we were really hammering. It was a wide open big straight road and I was full gas following the wheel ahead of me. I just assumed all the bunch was there but all of a sudden team sky and movistar stormed to the front and drilled it! At this point I looked back and noticed there were around 50 of us and daylight behind. In the group were some of the biggest gc threats for the race in Bradley Wiggins, Carlos Sastre, David Arroyo, and most excitingly for me that day fellow Tasmanian Richie Porte whom at days end became the biggest name in the international Cycling world when he pulled on the maglia rosa. There was a day that not that richie wasn't already destined for stardom but that day just sped up that process for him which was great to see. So back tot he race and the gap quickly started to rise and the big teams of there leaders drove home the advantage they were being given. I was told by my androni ds gianni savio to sit tight as many team behind were hitting the panic button and chasing hard. He said my chasing energy would be needed later in the stage. So I sat tight and comfortable in the breakaway in the luxurious position of not having to do any work. I even started dreaming of go for a big result myself as I would have a chance to arrive at the finish as fresh possible and spent many minutes studying the finish profile plotting my attack. As were rolled along the road toward L'aquila we also slowly began to rise in altitude, it was one of those days that gradually rose in elevation and with it the temperature dropped and the rain started to fall. S now the warm sunshine was gone, we were on the longest stage of the race and it was pouring rain and freezing cold. I kept checkin in with the team about going back to start pulling but was told to sit tight, all was under control. Yeah right! Sure enough with 100km to and we were 22minutes up the road savio finally called my teammate Rubens Bertagliati and myself back. The only problem was now that we were so far ahead and it was so cold that riding slowly or waiting on the side of the road as I would have got hypothermia! So did the only logical thing, I turned around and rode backwards with rubens and Brent Bookwalker of BMC who had also been called back to help his team captain Cadel Evans. We rode about 3km back over the terrain we had just covered so now turned the stage into a 270km day for us, would have looked interesting on Strava that file!! Anyways I couldn't believe what I saw when what was left of the peleton arrived. The brutality of the chase had taken it's toll and now just 20riders remained in the peleton! All the biggest names were there, all with the same desperate look of needing help on there faces as rubens, Brent and I arrived. The group contained The eventual winner Ivan basso and his team mate Vincenso Nibali, Scarponi, the man in pink Vino, Cadel, pozzato, paolini, Pablo lastras, and some other very strong dudes, put it this way at the time I recognized each and everyone of them!
Anyways there was no time for pondering the situation it was desperate times and time to get to work. For the next 60km we pulled at pur absolute max and when I did my final pull before being catapulted out the back the gap was down to 10minutes. One conciliation was even though I was offering the chase had been solid as now only around 10 of the the strong men remaind in this peleton! It was crazy, there were 50 up the road, 10 in the peleton, and 140 guys miles back down the road!! Anyways as I was unceremoniously dumped out the back of the field I was totally spent and hadn't prepared myself for what was to hit me next. I was completely out of fuel, I was now freezing cold as my body had no energy to keep it warm, and o still had 40km to ride and I was alone! My teeth started chattering and I was starting the face the reality of not being able to keep my body moving. Then almost like a knight in shinning armor, Pablo Lastras appeared out of the mist and saw me in distress. He had seen the work I'd done and been dropped in the process, that alone will earn you respect with your peers. What he did next saved my day ensured my survival in the 2010 giro. He put his hand on my back and simply said, tranquillo Cameron, relax! He simply got me to the finish. He pushed me along and kept me talking, he even unwrapped power bars and opened gels for me, a simply thing my border lining frostbited hands hands a d teeth could not mechanically perform. He was in every sense of the word a life saver for me that day and eventually some 40minutes after the winner petrov had crossed the line and 30minutes behind the group of favorites I'd been helping some 40km's before hand! I was absolutely in peaces!
This stage for me really signified everything the giro stand for me. We had the 4 seasons in the one day. We had a ridiculously long hard stage at a point in the race when we were already on our knees as a peleton. The stage panned out in the exact opposite way anyone in the peleton predicted before it kicked off that morning. A riders career was catapulted into super stardom when richie porte pulled on the maglia rosa. The eventual champion Ivan boss showed his class and experience and while lost major time knew that staying within his limits would mean he would have the batteries left to put all the field to the sword in the final torturous week of racing in the dolomite's. And off course that solidarity I'd talked about wigging the group of riders that tackles the giro was evident with Pablo lastras whom rode for another team ensured that I made it to the finish that stage. Oh and also my day all in all was as unpredictable as ever which a giro stage can only through your way, it still remains the only time in my racing career I've turned around and ridden the wrong way back down the race course!! All in all was just a magically racing giro day that I and I'm sure every rider whom raced the stage or watched the stage will never ever forget.
P.s. I wrote this 6 weeks ago so it's been interesting following the lead up to the big lap of Italy unfold for the big favorites! Pretty exciting that it would appear the Tasmanian richie Porte is right on track for taking home pink!!