By Lyndon Ferguson
It’s May. For this cycling fan that means one thing – The Giro. Yes, I know everyone Stateside is getting revved up for the Tour of California, but the first Grand Tour of the year is a sign that cycling has awoken from its winter slumber, had a good stretch through the Spring Classics and is readying for The Big One in July.
For 2012, the Giro is under new management. They have promised to make the Giro more “humane.” A humane Grand Tour — who are they trying to kid? Humane compared to what? Medieval torture? Six months in a Gulag camp? More re-runs of The Simpsons? No, the 2011 edition of course!
The 2011 Giro has been labelled “inhumane.” (It was so brutal that Giro boss Angelo Zomegnan was fired a few months later and replaced by nice guy Michele Acquarone.) So let’s just consider the inhumane tag. When you have to start describing a sporting event, in which people voluntarily participate, using language typically seen in a flyer for Amnesty International, you know something has gone wrong. (Let’s not forget, the race was also tragic, but this is meant to be a light-hearted discussion.)
The 2011 Giro was, to put it mildly, a treat for the climbers. Too many mountains makes for a boring race when the world’s best climber shows up with the threat of not being allowed to ride the Tour de France hanging over him. So Alberto Contador romped away every time the road went up. Which it inevitably did. A lot.
So the race was an anti-climax. Some spectators described it as boring (a bit harsh for the riders that managed to drag their asses all the way to Milan). But was it inhumane? I don’t think so.
Any Grand Tour is a three week suffer-fest. A rider on the limit, is, by definition, riding at a pace at which he can ride no faster. On a typical flat stage, the average rider will still spend a significant chunk time at or near his physical limits. It just won’t look as dramatic compared with riding up an alpine ramp. Any rider who finishes a grand tour, much less wins one, is going to descend to depths of suffering most of us can’t begin to imagine.
By these standards, any bike race, and a grand tour in particular, is inhumane. If a bunch of hardened criminals on death row were asked to endure the physical torment expected of a pro cyclist, human rights groups would be suing faster than you can say lactic acid.
So please, let’s just accept that cycling is tough. And that to ride flat out for three weeks is about the toughest test of an athlete there is. And let’s hope the 2012 Giro is just a better race than 2011, not merely a more humane one.