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How I learned to stop complaining and love the Giro’s sprinters

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2014 Giro d'Italia - Stage Twenty Photo by Bryn Lennon - Velo/Getty Images

Let’s be honest. If you’re watching the Giro, who outside of Holmovka is interested in the points competition and the sprint stages? It’s like going to Paris and eating at the Parisian Arby’s (I pray this doesn’t actually exist). But, you know what? If you are in Paris, and you are hungry, and the only place that is open is Arby’s, you’re going to be eating at Arby’s- so it pays to know what’s on the menu lest you end up consuming a roast beef and sadness sandwich. The sprint stages and points competition is like that (hopefully) fictional Parisian Arby’s. There are a bunch of stages this year where sprints are the only thing on the menu, so let’s see what we’re going to be getting.

As I count them, there are 8 probable bunch sprint stages:

  • Stage 2 - Haifa - Tel Aviv (167 km)
  • Stage 3 - Be’er Sheva - Eilat (229 km)
  • Stage 7 - Pizzo - Praia a Mare (159 km)
  • Stage 10 - Penne - Gualdo Tadino (239 km)
  • Stage 12 - Osimo - Imola (214 km)
  • Stage 13 - Ferrar - Nervesa della Battaglia (180 km)
  • Stage 17 - Riva del Garda - Iseo (155 km)
  • Stage 21 - Roma - Roma (115 km)

Stages 4 (Catania - Caltagirone) and 5 (Agrigento - Santa Ninfa) could be awesome but could also end in bunch sprints. Comparing this year’s course to the last few years, it looks like this is a course that would have Cipo oiling up his pecs and getting his toga ready:

  • 2017 - 6 bunch finishes + 1 Postelbergled stage
  • 2016 - 7 bunch finishes + 1 stolen by the break
  • 2015 - 4 bunch finishes + 2 stolen by the break
  • 2014 - 6 bunch finishes + 1 stolen by the break

START WEARING PURPLE

EUROEYES CYCLASSICS Hamburg Photo by Joosep Martinson/Getty Images for CYCLASSICS

The points competition will be won by a sprinter this year. More specifically, it will be won by Elia Viviani.

As a refresher, here are how the points are broken down. As you can see, the competition is heavily-weighted toward the flat stages.

A and B category stages (A = Stages 2, 3, 7, and 21; B = Stages 12, 13, and 17). The final placing on the stage awards points down to 15th place: 50, 35, 25, 18, 14, 12, 10, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. The 2 intermediate sprints award 8 places: 20, 12, 8, 6, 4, 3, 2, 1 .

C category stages (Stages 4, 5, 8, 10, and 11). The final placing awards points down to 10th: 25, 18, 12, 8, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. The 2 intermediate sprints award points to 5 places: 10, 6, 3, 2, 1

D and E category stages (D = Stages 6, 9, 14, 15, 18, 19, and 20; E = Stages 1 and 16). The final placing awards points to 10 places: 15, 12, 9, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. The 2 Intermediate sprints, in the non-time trials award points to 3 places: 8, 4, 1.

The leader of this competition will again wear the Maglia Ciclamino, which looks like what my grade school markers used to smell like.

The synesthesia inducing jersey

THE SPRINTERS

There hasn’t been a grand tour sprint field this shallow since last year’s Vuelta (Heyo!). Like last year’s Vuelta, and last year’s Tour, and last year’s Giro, and this year’s Spring Classics season, Quick Step looks to clean up, this time with Elia Viviani. Right now, Viviani is a Saganesque and Valverdian below even odds to win the Maglia Ciclamino. Looking at the rest of the field it makes sense:

AG2R - Clement Venturini

Androni - Francesco Gavazzi

Bah Meh - Niccolo Bonifazio

Bardiani - Andrea Guardini

BMC - Jurgen Roelandts

BORA - Sam Bennett

Israel - Kristian Sbaragli

Lotto Soudal - Jens Debusschere

Team Effed - Sacha Modolo

Katusha - Baptiste Planckaert

Lotto Jumbo - Danny van Poppel

Willier - Jakub Mareczko

DiDa - Ryan Gibbons

And that is how you get a sprinter that has only won a single grand tour stage in his career as a below even odds favorite. In fact, looking at the sprint field, there are only 7 grand tour stage wins between all of the sprinters. The most? Modolo, with 2. The most recent grand tour stage win from any in this field was almost three years ago.

Viviani - 1 stage - Giro 2015

Gavazzi - 1 stage - Vuelta 2011

Guardini - 1 stage - Giro 2012

Sbaragli - 1 stage - Vuelta 2015

Modolo - 2 stages - Giro 2015

van Poppel - 1 stage - Vuelta 2015

You know what? I’m even boring myself with this preview. Let’s get down to brass tacks - Viviani will be crying joyous tears in purple and probably increase his grand tour stage wins by 800%. We’ll be hoping for a break to make it to try to make half of these Giro stages interesting. Maybe Sam Bennett or Sacha Modolo could swipe a stage from Viviani if he finds himself out of position.

There is a high probability that most of these sprinters don’t even make it to Rome. What rat bastard psychotic decided that Guardini aka Mr. Langkawi should try to ride up the Zoncolan? Who is going to comfort Mareczko, the King of Taihu Lake, after he realizes he now has to go up the much harder side of Etna (He came in over 30 minutes down last year on the easier side, only beating Matteo Pelucchi, who in an act of mercy was left home this year). Sam Bennett will likely have bronchitis, pneumonia, laryngitis, mono, toxoplasmosis, mad cow disease, leprosy, and scurvy by Stage 8. By the time we get to Rome, it’ll be Laurens Ten Dam outsprinting Bobo Gesink in a bunch gallop.

You know, looking at it that way, we should herald the bravery of these doomed sprinters. We should take after the Samurai tradition and hold funerals for them before they go off to the Giro. So before the start of this year’s Giro, let’s take a moment to salute these warrior poets who will set off with dreams of success but who will be chewed up and spit out soon enough. Before we start relishing the performances of Froome, Doom, Lopez and the like, let’s take a moment to celebrate these madmen, who will be fighting against the time limits and their own physical limitations in the mountain stages. In the ecstatic words of Dino Buzzati, they are the “pilgrims traveling to a distant city that they will never reach.” Bonifazio and Planckeart “are knights errant who leave for a war where there are no lands to be conquered, and the giants who are their enemies resemble the windmills of Don Quixote, they have neither human limbs nor faces, they are called distance, grade, suffering, rain, fear, tears, and wounds.” Sbaragli, Gavazzi, and Modolo “are prisoners of an ogre who has tied them to an enormous leaden grinder and they churn around, flogged till the blood runs, and from the surrounding woods their women call, weeping, but the slaves cannot reply….”

Long after the cameras stop broadcasting and the tifosi have gone home and shut off their screens, these guys will still be suffering and fighting their own personal battles, all to survive for the next day for the chance of the muted glory of a close up view of a Lidl advertisement as they cross the line. Their unseen struggle and ultimate failure is noble, so let’s pour out some of our Peroni or Chianti for these knights errant before they embark on their fateful journey.*

*This is what happens when you combine my now annual, thanks to Chris, tradition of reading Dino Buzzati’s The Giro d’Italia before the start, with a long plane ride, lack of sleep, and too many beers while writing a preview for the Giro’s sprint competition.