The proverbial fork has received permission to be inserted into the Giro, because the 2010 edition of the race is done! Now with two completed grand tours to my name, namely the last two editions of the Giro d’Italia, one immediate reaction is the question of how the two races compare. If hindsight is 20/20, then it’s perhaps somewhat surprising that despite the ink that marks the completion of this year’s race still drying, I’m left shell-shocked wondering what was more difficult.
The following is an unraveling of my thoughts after completing an event as extraordinary as the Giro d’Italia. Hopefully it will unfold in a somewhat congruent and fluid fashion, but given how wild the race is, we’ll just have to see.
2009 celebrated the centennial anniversary of the Giro and to say that Angelo Zomegnan put forth a concerted effort to produce a difficult event for this momentous occasion would be an understatement as equally devastating as to describe the Giro as “Well, yeah it’s hard.” With the first of many gut-busting mountaintop finish arriving on just the fourth stage, three different expeditions deep into the Italian (as well as Austrian and Swiss) mountains, all in addition to one of the most challenging final weeks of grand tour racing in recent memory, the 2009 Giro was clearly more than a celebratory hundredth anniversary parade.
Furthermore, or perhaps adding insult to injury, it wasn’t just the undulating terrain that made for arduous racing, rather, last year’s Giro always pushed the envelope across the board. Extraordinarily long transfers were the norm; we often woke up early to make the longer than desired drive to the start, next a half dozen hours of racing some of the most brutal races of my life, closely followed by another sinuous drive in the bus to a half-way point between today’s finish and tomorrow’s start. Burning the candle at both ends was simply the way things operate, as dinner was served typically around 9 or 10pm. We also quickly discovered that navigating dicey finishing kilometers through cobbled streets no more than three meters wide is the status quo. Moreover, given these difficult circumstances, it’s surprisingly that this also marked the fastest Giro ever. Collectively, this 2009 Giro really was something extraordinary.
Yet my perception was that 2010 Giro was indubitably harder. (Of course perception is a loose term and the criteria to be classified as harder is often indefinably ambiguous.) The distances in 2010 weren’t significantly greater, but we seemed to tackle more notorious climbs with greater regularity. Whereas 2009 boasted the novelty of a sub-80km Blockhaus stage and a few other toughies, 2010 featured Monte Grappa and Terminillo, Zocolan, the knee busting Plan de Corones, and Gavia. The second to last road stage climbed more vertical than any other stage to date… which was then followed by the Gavia stage, forcing us to climb nearly fifty percent more vertical than the previous day! These back-to-back stages arriving as close to the final Verona time is telling to how hard this edition truly was. There is a perpetual cycle in effect given this race layout; the harder the race becomes, the further we get into the race, despite how we racers are becoming more and more exhausted.
The weather in 2010 was another massive impediment seemingly as large as the looming Dolomites. Collectively in all of 2009, we suffered through about one hour of rain and the rest of the time it was simply searingly hot. This year, however, seemed to simply offer rain rain rain. Even on days that appeared on television to be clear, we would have an hour or two of rain spaced intermittently throughout the day. The thirty fewer finishers in 2010 as compared to 2009 certainly shows that weather plays a roll in attrition.
Allow me to stop beating around the bush and just say it (again): 2010 was a harder race. A grand tour really is an awesome event, and I’ve discovered that finishing the year before does not mean that I’m a grand tour aficionado… yet. This year’s race was a beast. But the best lesson I’ve discovered is just how much I love the Giro! Its difficulty, its beauty, its rich history, the passion elicited from the fans all throughout the country, and virtually everything about the race is why I love it. It is spectacular to an indescribable degree and I hope to add many more to my name.