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Wednesday’s Giro Gala Crackling With Suspense

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Except maybe for the route...

Cycling: 100th Giro d'Italia 2017 Presentation
Cycling: 100th Giro d'Italia 2017 Presentation
Corbis Sport

The 2018 Giro d’Italia will be revealed in all its glory tomorrow in Milan, and rarely in recent times has there been as much to talk about with respect to the Corsa Rosa. There’s history and politics (not necessarily in a good way); there’s truly suspenseful participation stuff; and there’s a route that will be memorable for years to come. The race’s soaring ambitions are coming to a head, and while the Giro Gala may not resolve any lingering questions, it’ll certainly put them front and center.

Will He? Won’t He?

The biggest issue circulating in the press is the idea that Sky’s Chris Froome might attend the race, ahead of his attempt at what would be a record-tying fifth Tour de France win. I have labeled this as the Lucy-with-a-football issue of the month, where Froome does what so many Tour cyclists have done before, playing footsie with the race before announcing the obvious inevitability that they will instead focus on the Tour and pay all the team’s bills. Sky’s bills are already paid, with gross Murdoch money but also with the more standard sponsorships befitting of the world’s best-run team. So Froome doesn’t need to have anyone’s back... except his own, and that’s where I still find it hard to believe he will go to Italy (etc) to win. We have seen Tour champions go to Italy for a workout, and that’s the more likely scenario in the whole “sure, let’s send our golden goose to the Giro” plan, if one exists.

So does one exist? CyclingNews says “signs point to it” but the world is full of signs pointing to things and far less than all of them end up being true. I’m not against CN running with what they have, but they could be a little more critical of it. Because what they have is one single blurb in De Telegraaf, which cites one single source at RCS, and says literally nothing else. CN offers no further reporting apart from regurgitating some stuff from race organizer Mauro Vegni saying how Froome should do it.

More interestingly, though, is the VeloNews story on the subject, which starts with the same (frankly insufficient) Telegraaf mention of “a source” to support the idea that Froome is “expected” to ride the Giro. But VN’s Gregor Brown then does a bit of his own reporting, citing “other sources within the Team Sky circle” for the idea that Froome will ride the Giro. That sounds like credible background information, as in information where the source(s) refuse(s) to be named or described but are giving information they actually have on background. So score one for VN here.

Which gets back to Froome. Eddy Merckx is saying he needs to be there for his legacy, and Froome’s legacy is the only issue, given that it’s best served by doing the double but not well served by sacrificing a fifth Tour for the Giro. Worse, the Giro is not known for being the safest race, and Froome’s predecessor Bradley Wiggins can attest to how legacies and ambitions can go up in smoke quickly on the roads of Italy in springtime. But Froome would be well supported and has proven himself reasonably capable of staying on his bike. Attending the Giro would never ever be the safe move for Froome, but legacies aren’t built by playing it safe.

[UPDATE!] Now reports are saying that the Israeli government will pay Froome $2million directly for showing up in Jerusalem. Not too shabby! This makes it sound like he will spend at least three days at the Giro. But if the money is coming from Israel, I’m not so sure it is contingent on Froome making it to Sicily. Like I said, if he does attend, the chances of him fighting for the win are still not great.

Politics (Ugh)

Next up is the matter of the start in Israel, which is praiseworthy from the Giro’s perspective of history and promoting tourism and cycling. But the decision has drawn steady fire for its purported support (or appearance thereof) of the present Israeli government and its inhumane treatment of its Palestinian citizens. As some here might have detected, I personally have spent time this year gaining a deep appreciation for the importance of Israel as a Jewish homeland, and get a little irritated when issues come up around the Giro that seem to minimize what that’s about. But the subject of Israel’s present government and political climate is another matter entirely. Their approach to the Palestinian population is undoubtedly very complex historically and generally beyond my understanding, but apparently there is a pretty large swath of Israelis and American Jews who agree with the international criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, so that’s a pretty good indication that the situation is not OK.

That’s about as far as I can take that discussion without making a complete mess, but a separate point is what the Giro d’Italia can and should do to address the pressure they are facing (boycott threats, etc.). And the reason it’s a subject is because the gala is a moment where they can maybe start addressing the matter. Simply saying nothing is not an effective response, but it’s also important that they don’t sink into the swamp of Israeli politics. Like it or not, the Giro is a private business whose purpose is to pay for (and maybe even profit from) putting on the race, and they have to attract sponsors like every other element of the sport. This time it’s the Israeli government and the sponsorship is to increase tourism. If Israel’s cheerful self-promotion seems tone-deaf to some, it’s not the Giro’s place to correct them. As far as these stories of cycling taking whatever money it can get go, I’ve seen far worse examples. [Sigh.]

My idea is that the Giro can do well by just showing some acknowledgement of the Palestinian people. Not all the bad things happening now, but just call attention to the fact that they are a part of the fabric of Israel, both historically and in the modern day. Stage 1 finishes at the Damascus Gate, with the Dome of the Rock looming over the race, two utterly important symbols of Islam and the Muslim community. The Dome of the Rock is a religious site where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven, per the Quran, and the Damascus Gate was built when the Ottoman Empire ran Jerusalem, and symbolizes the city’s connection by road to the Palestinian city of Nablus and to Damascus in Syria. Make it about the history, the religion, Palestinian culture, whatever. The Giro can do a solid for these people without biting the hand that’s feeding them. And whether or not they do, you can expect our Giro coverage to fill in stage details that explore the area history broadly. [Spoiler: Rome weren’t the good guys.]

Oh, and the Route

This is ostensibly what tomorrow’s gala is about, and while even RCS admits that a lot of the details have leaked out, there should still be some suspense around some of the details. The trio of Sicilian stages was reported and more or less confirmed months ago, and last week La Gazzetta dello Sport published details of the Monte Zoncolan finish that will mark Stage 14 for the Giro and a stage of the women’s Giro Donne in July as well. A month ago I wrote about how La Flamme Rouge had sleuthed out an entire list of stages from Jerusalem to Rome. And so far those predictions are panning out.

OK, enjoy the Gala tomorrow and feel free to either use this post for commenting as it happens or to create a fanpost if we still think those are necessary to facilitate comments.

[Update!] Gala finished, route announced. Here is the map:

2018 Giro map