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Is the Giro d’Italia the toughest Grand Tour?

There is no doubt that Tadej Pogačar is the best all-round cyclist in the professional peloton. The 25-year-old Slovenian’s ability to win one-day classics and three-week grand tours is rightly comparable to that of Eddy Merckx, the greatest racer of all time. However, Pogačar has never ridden the Giro d’Italia – the first Grand Tour of the season before the Tour de France. But he thinks about it.

Each of the three Grand Tours has its own flavor and unique challenges. The highly anticipated and widely followed Tour de France follows a proven formula of an opening week with relatively flat stages, a short period in the mountains, flatter transition stages, another short period in the mountains and then a short stage. to Paris.

But the Giro d’Italia offers an exciting mix of diverse terrain, technical challenges and mano-a-mano racing, creating a more dynamic experience for riders. With reduced pressure from teams and media, the Italian Grand Tour stands out as a race in which athletes can test their limits while enjoying the delights of Italian cuisine and scenery.

Lots of climbing

“The Giro is much more surprising because it doesn’t follow a general formula,” explains Andy Hampsten, the first and only American to win the Grand Tour of Italy. “There can be mountains in almost any region of Italy. What surprised me during the first Giro I ever rode, and what I continued to look at later, were just incredibly hilly days, mostly in central Italy in the Marche or Umbria, or even further south in Campania or Calabria.”

Easy stages in the Giro where racers can rest and relax are sometimes hard to find. “A stage without categorized mountains can still be up and down every kilometer of the race,” Hampsten adds. “Those days that are not normally highly rated may end on fairly flat ground, and a sprint finish will be the prediction. But they could climb 2,000 meters all day, which could really destroy the field.”

Chaotic finishes

After all the ups and downs, the difficulties are not over when a stage reaches the finish line. The cities that pay to organize the finish do not want to waste their investments. “They want to highlight the best parts of the cities, usually through some of the gates that emperors built in the Roman Empire. That could be in the last kilometer, and it could come down to one and a half or two lanes,” notes Hampsten, who lives and runs Cinghiale Cycling Tours from his home base in Tuscany.

“When I did the Giro in 2009, you were close to the finish because you were coming into the city, but they found ways to send you through the neighborhood and through the shopping area, making it total chaos before the finish,” recalls former NBC Tour de France analyst and Grand Tour winner Chris Horner. “It was technical. You could crash in the middle of it. A few of those finishes had me scared for my life.

“In the Tour you arrive at the finish on much bigger, wider roads. There are still falls in the Tour, but there are other reasons for that. (The Giro is) a bit scarier in terms of the cities, but the Tour is scarier in terms of the battle for position. Each team has its A-team riders, so the level of the peloton is super fast and twisty all the time,” Horner adds.

A grand tour for the neo-pros

Italian cycling enthusiasts, known as ‘tifosi’, go crazy for the Giro, but worldwide the Tour de France is more popular. Results at the Grand Boucle can make or break a team’s sponsorship, which goes a long way in explaining the makeup of the teams for each race. “What normally happens when the riders show up at the Giro is that they bring A guys mixed with B guys and C guys,” Horner notes. “When you go to the Tour de France it’s normally your whole A team.”

“The Giro and the Vuelta (a España) are where you bring in your neo-pros or your one- or two-year-old boys who haven’t done their first Grand Tour yet,” Horner explains. “Even Visma-Lease a Bike has to hire a neo-pro sooner or later!”

But not having a team made up of all your best riders has some interesting side effects. Horner notes that in the Giro and the Vuelta you see much more ‘mano a mano’ racing in the stage finals, while on the tour the teams are so stacked on top of each other that it is common for the top teams to have five or six men on their feet . in the lead on the last climb.

Lower stakes

Another side effect of the difference in popularity between the Giro and the Tour is the pressure on the riders. “It is so much easier for a foreigner or a racer from a foreign team to do seven or eight hours of racing and podiuming, and interviews, than to go to the hotel and relax in a beautiful country without the cities being completely be swamped as would be the case. be present in the Tour de France,” Hampsten remembers. “In the Tour it is difficult to escape the pressure from the riders. I would say that they recover better in the Tour of Italy than in the Tour de France.”

“He (Tadej Pogačar) is going to realize that it’s not that stressful and that the press is a little bit easier. He will realize that the Giro is fun compared to the Tour,” Horner agrees. “When he gets off the bike, I mean, he’s Pogačar, so he’ll be a bit swamped, but it won’t be the demanding press of every member of the world.”

Unpredictable weather and delicious food

The weather in the Giro can be terrible. Hampsten won his Giro after attacking the peloton and surviving an epic snowstorm on the Gavia Pass on the stage known as ‘The Day Strong Men Cried’. “It is rare that there is bad weather in July during the Tour. Certainly, in any hilly area (in Italy) it can snow or have cold rain, which is about as bad as snow,” Hampsten explains. “People are demoralized. Every wet day. It is more nerve-wracking because there are more crashes due to poor traction.”

Hampsten, the first American to win the Tour stage to l’Alpe d’Huez, is a real foodie. ‘And I haven’t even mentioned the food yet. In Italy it is much more fun for all racers to eat good food than in France. The Italians are just so proud of their food. It makes such a difference to every racer’s morale to have delicious, healthy, easily digestible food that tastes good. It’s a pleasure for the racers.”

Whether it is the Giro or the Tour, the riders will give 100 percent and the racing will be exciting. But the Giro has its own unique qualities and challenges, and always seems to produce a worthy winner; this year it could be Tadej Pogačar. So don’t wait until July to get excited about cycling.