This article originally appeared in The Spin of issue 351 of Cycling Plus. To subscribe and take advantage of our current offer, head here.
Illustration: Mick Marston
It’s a very uncontroversial opinion to say last year’s Giro d’Italia was the best of the three grand tours. In fact, it’s been the best grand tour of a number of seasons recently (2016, 2017) as has, for that matter, the Vuelta a España (2011, 2013, 2014). You have to go back a fair way to a year when the Tour de France was unequivocally the best race.
There are reasons for that; as the most prestigious race for riders and sponsors alike, a race or jersey win gets more publicity – the fuel that cycling exists on – than any other race in the calendar, which means teams send their best possible squads of riders in their best possible shape. Everybody is chasing the same goal, which makes racing hyper-controlled and competitive. More than a century has gone into the Tour achieving its kingly status and it’ll take more than a succession of seasons where it’s not the best race for it to be toppled. Yet, there are several signs that things are changing.
Despite it often being the most entertaining race, the Vuelta will perhaps always lag behind both the Giro and the Tour while it remains the third grand tour of the year. Not so the Giro, which is now reaping the rewards of being the season’s first grand tour. Last season’s race benefited from the Tour being moved back a week because of the football World Cup, one of the reasons (see also a hefty appearance fee and a chance to win three consecutive grand tours) that persuaded Chris Froome to ride it, as it meant more recovery time.
That isn’t the case this year, but the Giro has still attracted a field that’s the equal of the Tour, including Tom Dumoulin, Simon Yates, Egan Bernal and possibly Geraint Thomas – four of the world’s best stage racers. Yates was recently quoted as saying:
“You know what? I’m not interested in the Tour. I simply don’t feel the same passion for it.”
Dumoulin is this year’s most curious contender. Given that he won the Giro in 2017, and finished second last year, it was widely expected that, for the first time, he’d put his sole focus into the Tour. But no, with three individual time trials totalling 58.5km (to the Tour’s single 27km solo test), Dumoulin has again opted not only for the race that matches his abilities most closely at the expense of the one that, right now, would bring him more worldwide acclaim, but the one that he enjoys being part of more. “I really love Italy, I love the course, and I love the race,” he says.
That he’s riding the Giro to win for the third season running, knowing that, even if he rides the Tour, he’ll have little chance of victory, says a lot for how the best riders are prioritising races in 2019, and shows a pathway for the Giro to becoming the premier grand tour.
Then again, if it does, it simply becomes another Tour – controlled by a dominant team and rider, with the winner called from a long way out. And who would want that? The Giro’s working just fine as it is, as the hyperactive grand tour that keeps you guessing where it’s heading.