6.01.2016

Memories from the Giro: images, postcards, souvenirs.

Nowadays the cycling season is crowded with races, there is no time to reflect about a race that we immediately switch our focus to another one. Or two, or three... Several importante races are disputated at the same time and a lot of minor races fill the gap in between. 
In my opinion this isn't good for the sport. Riders and teams are stressed, under pressure all the time because a minor race - or a brad new race - gets the same media exposure as a classic race. Supporters and observers don't have the time to savour a story because there is a new one already, to watch or to write about. 
The last Giro has been one of most thrilling grand tours I have ever seen. It finished on Sunday and today Tour of Luxembourg starts, then Tour de Suisse and Dauphinè, then the Tour de France. The Giro itself didn't get a unshared attention because there was also the Tour of CaliforniaIn my old school way to think the Giro is more important than the Tour of Califormia, but I must admit that isn't true as far as you consider the quality of riders and route. Nervertheless I think there are too many races in the calendar. 
That's why I decided to watch only the most important races: the Classics and the grand tour. I'm not going to cover the Tour of Luxembourg as I ignored the Tour of California. I'm curious about the results because California is usually a preparation for the Tour de France, but that's also less true than in the past: many Tour contenders prefer a specific training camp to actually racing. 
Now... let's close your eyes and think about the last Giro. What do you see? I have no doubt: I see Steven Kruijswijk crashing into the snow wall while wearing the Pink Jersey. Then I see Mikel Landa pedaling in the rain on the road between Radda and Greve in Chianti, a Sky's team car following with the light on. Images, postcards, souvenirs. Esteban Chaves' parents holding Vincenzo Nibali like you hold a son, his mother's pink t-shirt. Rigoberto Uran dashing to the front and pulling: Chaves dropped, Valverde following. Mikel Nieve solo miles stacking up. Stubborn, serene. Gianluca Brambilla working in Pink for Bob Jungels in White, waiting Matteo Trentin at the last km of a long break-away with Moreno Moser. 

No Nibali? you'll ask. Yeah: Nibali. But I have to think about. I don't have an image ready to be shown. I wonder why. The only image I can find - after a while, hidden somewhere - is Vincenzo Nibali in Maglia Rosa on the final podium with an unconfortable smile. Vincenzo Nibali isn't an easy guy: introvert, cleaver, sensitive, somehow severe, he has got his own ideas and a strong sense of duty, loyalty and respect. He won this Giro with a scary determination. Smiling he looks away, prouder than happy, accomplished, vaguely sad. He doesn't seem to enjoy the light spot. He doesn't make it look easy. Serious, strong, experienced he looks like a man at work, a man who has to earn the pay for his family, painfully, but proud to be praised at the end of the day. Sure he loves his job, sure he knows he's one of the best riders of his generation but he seems to drag around the load of his hard, sour, demanding early life. He left his family and friends to follow his dream, very young and determined. He got a chance and made the best of it, aware that he was worth of it but also that he MUST live up to the expectations. And he did. 
Vincenzo Nibali, I don't claim to know him or to understand  him but I see there is something to be understood, something deeper under the surface. 
That told and in my opinion, if Steven Kruijswijk didn't crash then Vincenzo Nibali would not have won the Giro. He wasn't in a top condition, he got sick - as many others but didn't tell it, feeding that soppy drama... - and made an outstanding comeback in the last week, showing guts, determination and class. But Steven Kruijswijk wasn't going to be dropped. Esteban Chaves and Alejandro Valverde, for different reasons, weren't that strong, both were lacking continuity. Both surprised me: I expected Valverde to be stronger as he had had a very good season, and I expected Chaves to be weaker because he's still very young and coming from a bad injury. Both their team didn't surprise me: ORICA-GE was even too good on supporting Chaves but unadequate while Movistar was - again - one of the best and smartest teams in the bunch.
Talking about teams, Etixx-QS was great: they managed to wear the Pink Jersey for many days by many different riders, won stages and brought home the White Jersey. Bob Jungels was one of the best riders in the peloton, one of the most regular and consistent. I already wrote about Team Sky so now I add nothing. 
I'm not going to give marks, I'm not interested in this sterile activity. A race is a story, or better many different stories, a big plot and many underplots. It's many lives together, fighting and suffering but also thinking, planning, calculating. Meetings at night, no-stop working of people you'll never see, and people at home, on the chat or on the telephone, family, friends, loved ones... A whole world. That's why races, grand tours especially, are so fascinating. It's a world, don't forget it, where everybody always do his/her best for default, where everybody is expected to push his/ her limit and nobody never even try to find an excuse. That's why we shouldn't be so quick to give marks and to judge.
A last image: Mikel Landa at home in Leitza, greeted like an hero, passing under a triumphal arch of wheels. 

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