The 100th edition of Italy’s Grand Tour
The Giro d’italia is turning 100 this May. Like the Tour de France, which ran its 100 edition in 2013, both Grand Tours started at a time when riders made do with heavy bikes that had one, maybe two, gears. Spain’s Vuelta a España, the third of the Grand Tours, is a mere pup in comparison, with its 72nd edition scheduled to start this August.
The 2017 Giro will launch on the island of Sardinia on May 5 and will finish on May 28, 21 stages in all stretching across more than 3,500 km. Milan, where it all began in 1909, is its final port of call. The race missed the years 1915–18 and 1941–45 because of the First and Second World Wars.
The Giro tends to embrace the whole country and will include all but a handful of Italy’s 20 regions. Though the sprinters will be grabbing the headlines in the early going, they may be packing their bags following Stage 13 in Tortona, as it’s onward and upward from there to Milan. Stage 16 is especially nasty, as it features a double ascent of the Stelvio – weather permitting, that is. Snow is an ongoing concern at the Giro. It doesn’t get any easier on the following stages, with a 28-km individual time trial to wrap things up.
As you might guess, Italians have dominated the race, winning it a whopping 69 times. Every Giro from 1909 to 1949 was won by a local hero. In 1950, Hugo Koblet of Switzerland broke the string. Belgian riders, thanks largely to five-time champion Eddy Merckx, are next best with a mere seven triumphs.
We’ve seen just four Italian wins since 2008, including defending champion Vincenzo Nibali, who also won it in Astana’s colours in 2013. Actually, only three of the four were first across the line, as Spain’s Alberto Contador had the title stripped from him in 2011 for the use of the banned substance clenbuterol, which allowed Michele Scarponi to add to Italy’s total.
Contador was the legitimate winner in 2008 and again in 2015. Russia’s Denis Menchov (2009), Canada’s Ryder Hesjedal (2012) and Colombia’s Nairo Quintana (2014) have also rained on Italy’s parade in recent years. It’s Quintana who is favoured again this time, quoted at odds of three to two (so a bet of $10 wins you $15), followed by Nibali (at three to one) and 2015 Vuelta winner Fabio Aru (at five to one). Aru hails from Sardinia, so he’ll obviously be out to impress there. Esteban Chavez, who was runner-up in Italy in 2016, and Dutchman Tom Dumoulin, who led through Stage 7 last year before saddle sores got the better of him, are both at nine to one.
In 2016, Hesjedal rode his final Giro. Other Canucks included Ag2r-la Mondiale’s Hugo Houle and Svein Tuft. Houle made his second Giro appearance and finished a not-too-shabby 72nd. This year, however, he’s planning to miss the Giro for the Amgen Tour of California. Orica-scott’s ageless hardman Tuft will likely ride his seventh Giro in May. Cannondale-drapac’s Michael Woods was slated to ride the 2016 Giro, but broke his hand at Liège-bastogneLiège. He’s hoping to ride one Grand Tour this year. We might see him in Italy this spring.
Michael Woods at the 2017 Tour Down Under on Willunga Hill