As Ghisallo notes below, this year's Giro was a smash hit in Italy. I'm guessing a few of us here would agree as well. So while it may take some work to figure out what didn't go over well, the only challenge to listing the good parts is not forgetting anything.
Let's start small:
Five Things to Love About the 90th Giro d'Italia
- The sprints. There was just about everything you could ask for in the sprinter's program. We were treated to Alessandro Petacchi's emotional comeback, and yet rarely were the sprints as dull as that previous sentence might have implied. Petacchi won five stages, but between his wins were some crazy finales, including the spectacular curves of stage 5 (won by Förster), the crashes on stages 2 and 11, and so forth. Other stages featured great straight-up competition, including Danilo Napolitano's two-day burst of speed which saw him win in Petacchi's hometown. And artful touches, like stage 7's finish on the F-1 track at Mugello, and stage 8's conclusion at the legendary Ferrari test track.
- The Scenery. The early and transitional stages are usually a chance to tune out the long race for a day or so, but there were few such chances this year. The start in Sardinia was upstaged only slightly by the turn around the Amalfi Coast, a site beautiful enough to make the UNESCO list. Warm-up climbs to Montevergine and Santuario Nostra Signora Della Guardia were beautiful as well. And of course, the Alps and Dolomite stages were postcard-ready too, as usual.
- An impeccably balanced parcours. From day 1 possession of the maglia rosa was contested. OK, there were a few days off around stage 6-9, but the opening team time trial got things started, and the absolutely brilliant Montevergine stage succeeded in drawing out the competition on day 4. And while everyone knew where the biggest challenges lay, the Tre Cime and Zoncolan stages did NOT overshadow the latter half of the race: stages 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17 and 20 all mattered.
- The maglia blanca. Often a grand tour will showcase an up-and-coming young talent, but rarely are we treated to talents as young and impressive as Andy Schleck and Riccardo Riccò. Schleck was nearly impervious to the pressure and the demands of either the attention, the competition, and the course. He showed great form on the climbs and time trials alike. Riccò, for his part, could use some ITT practice, but his transition from Classics ace to grand tour climbing stud thrilled the home crowd. Schleck may be bound for France in future years, but Riccò looks like a future maglia rosa for sure.
- The Winner. Much will be written about Danilo DiLuca's brilliant Giro, but for me, nothing is more significant than this:
Di Luca, from the region of Abruzzo, became the first of the Giro's 64 Italian winners come from south of Tuscany.
The first rider south of Tuscany? There are a lot of Italians south of Tuscany, not to mention some 70% of the land mass, and it took 90 years for one of them to win. This is big.
- The Humanity (Bonus! from Cyclewife). I PROMISE that I am not a sadist, but I found stage 10 to be one of the most remarkable things about this year's Giro. At the end of the 6 hour stage (up the Santuario Nostra Signora Della Guardia), I saw cyclists suffering like I had never seen before. I saw Pinotti collapse in pain, Simoni, so exhausted that his bike was nearly at a standstill, Cunego clutching the guardrail (having to he helped off of his bike), and Schleck hunched over in agony. There were no "chipper" post-race interviews. Most of the riders looked like they were about to have (or already had) a heart attack.
I won't venture to say that the race was without doping, but I really thought, "This is what the Giro looks like without EPO." The Giro is a KILLER race, and it showed. The time gaps were much closer between riders, and that made things much more interesting to me. I appreciate that there were no "superheros" in the race. They seemed much more human to me, and I like it that way.
And four things to forget:
- The pileups. Does it rain olive oil over there? Not that it would be so bad in some respects, but however spectacular the mass pileups may be, this isn't NASCAR, or wrestling, or whatever. Stage 4 and the now-infamous Pinerolo Pileup both featured most of the peloton sliding on the ground. Fortunately only one sorta-contender got taken out... along with a few other lesser known riders who deserved better.
- Drafting politics. Not my favorite subject, there's always more to the story than what distant viewers can see. But Mazzolimpet's performance was one of the worst since Hincapie's ambush of Oscar Pereiro in the 2005 Tour. Sure, Mazz didn't go for the stage win, but at least Hincapie had the good graces to not be a contender. Perhaps it was for naught -- Mazzoleni acquitted himself well over the next 10 days -- but would it have killed him to take his turns on the ride to Briançon?
- The Zoncolan warm-up. Probably the only blemish on the part of the course designers was the easy 120km prelude to the Zoncolan climb. I get that they wanted to take some of the sting out, since shorter stages are a point on the anti-doping platform, but did they have to drain the juice from the Zoncolan stage? It needn't have been longer, but they needlessly bypassed numerous climbs in their three hours of riding piano.
- Gee... I'm not sure I can gin up a fourth complaint. The weather?