The Giro was first run in 1909, organised by the sports newspaper La Gazetta Dello Sport. The pink newsprint of the Gazetta is the reason why the leader of the Giro rides in pink, it’s the 2nd most prestigious jersey in bike racing, the Maglia Rosa.
It’s a 3-week tour, one of only 3 ‘Grand Tours’ in the calendar with the tours of France (July) and Spain (September), so it features a similar combination of mountain, sprint and time trial stages. If anything the Giro is harder than the Tour de France. The roads in the high mountains of Italy are a little bit less pristine than in France, and the organisers deliberately pile on the climbs to give the Giro a distinctive identity as the most brutal of the Grand Tours.
In Italy it’s an institution, and in the past many Italian teams and riders have prioritised the Giro over the TdF. It comes earlier in the season, in May, and the combination of top riders either avoiding the Giro (Like Lance Armstrong until 2009) or using the Giro as training for July’s TdF has meant that Italian riders are still prominent in recent lists of winners and contenders. It’s a sad side-effect of the Tour de France’s prominence that there hasn’t been a French winner since Bernard Hinault in 1985. The Giro is very important to Italy, and Italians are very important in the Giro.
But don’t make the mistake of thinking that the Giro is an also-ran. The reason Lance didn’t do the Giro each year is because he thought if he did, he couldn’t win the TdF. Winning both the Giro and Tour in the same year is seen as one of the toughest feats in cycling, and nobody has achieved it since Marco Pantani in 1998. But a list of previous ‘Tour-Giro Double’ winners is a list of some of the greatest cyclists of all time: Eddy Merckx (twice), Fausto Coppi (twice) Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault (twice), Miguel Indurain (twice) and Stephen Roche. Only four riders have won the Tour de France 5 times, and they’re all on that list of Giro – Tour double winners. That’s how good you have to be.
This year Bradley Wiggins has claimed he’s going for a Giro – Tour double of his own, although his boss at Team Sky, and his team mate Chris Froome, have both claimed that Froome will be the team leader for the Tour de France. Of course, you can’t win the Double if you don’t win the Giro first, so a lot of eyes will be on Wiggins this year.
Vincenzo Nibali, an Italian rider with the Astana team, came 3rd in last year’s Tour, behind Wiggins and Froome. He’s not an amazing climber in the Contador or Pantani mould, but he’s a good climber, probably better than Wiggins – just. Wiggins is stronger than Nibali in the time trials, so Nibali must drop him in the mountains and gain more time than Wiggins can make up in the time trials. He spent the whole of last year’s TdF trying to drop Wiggins in the mountains, and never quite managed it – this is probably the major battle of the 2013 Giro: can Nibali take time out of Wiggins in the mountains?
Other contenders include Ryder Hesjedal, a Canadian rider who was a surprise winner in a very exciting 2012 Giro. But he’s not a surprise anymore. He says he’s stronger this year, and 3Kg lighter, which will help in the mountains, but he’ll be a marked man this year.
The 2011 Tour de France Champion, Cadel Evans, is also riding this year’s Giro. He is a very good time trialler, if not quite in Wiggins’ class, but his most famous cycling attribute is his determination and the way he hangs on to the leaders in the mountains. Racing journalists talk about riders with diesel engines – they don’t have the explosive acceleration that creates breaks in the mountains, but they grind out big gears and they gradually reel-in the breaks. That’s Evans. In reality he’s not expected to win, but nobody will write him off until they see how he performs in the high mountains.
I’ll stick my neck out and say the winner will be one of these 4 riders. Actually, let’s say it will be Sir Bradley.