Giro d’Italia: “There’s something about a pink damn leader’s jersey”

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Words by Joe Parkin

So there has to be some ground rules here. If you’re going to watch the Giro — even the reruns — you have to pronounce it at least with a modicum of respect. Google the pronunciation if it helps, and we’ll forgive you for possessing only an American tongue, but you have to respect the inherent coolness of the Italians and their beautiful race.

For the record, the two most egregious mispronunciations are Hero and Dee Italia. Don’t do those. Please.

Also for the record, I never rode the Giro d’Italia. I was supposed to, back in 1987, which was the year I turned pro. Jules DeWever, the then team director of TVM, wanted me to turn pro early in the year and ride the Giro. Even with 20/20 hindsight, I am not sure that would have been a good idea.

I remember watching the Giro on TV that year and seeing some massive bunch-sprint-finish crashes. At least a couple of them happened when the RAI television helicopters swooped down a bit to close to the peloton and blew the riders into a giant pile.

That’s not why I shouldn’t have ridden the thing. I remember watching those crashes and having a serious feeling of FOMO. But I just simply wasn’t ready at age 20 to ride a Grand Tour.

I have talked about the Giro and the Vuelta and the Tour de France ad nauseam with any number of people, most especially my old teammate roommates while we were killing time in the evenings in the pre-internet days in hotel rooms with no televisions.

Frank Hoste, a former champion of Belgium and once a winner of the Green Jersey in the Tour de France told me that the Vuelta is the hardest race from a course standpoint. He said that the Tour de France is the hardest race overall because of its monumental importance. He said that the Giro was the easiest of the big tours to ride and finish.

But he also added that, in his opinion, winning a stage in the Giro was significantly harder than winning a stage in the other Grand Tours.

Frank had a ton of opinions and, other than the one where he thought I would probably win a bunch of bigger races, he was pretty much spot on with his thinking. By the way, he formulated the opinion that I would win a bunch of stuff based on the fact that he could see my heart beating in my chest sometimes. Seemed legit at the time.

If I’m being honest, I have to admit that I don’t watch the Giro all that much anymore. It always feels to me that after I have lived and breathed Classics and then switched my attention to mountain bike events and then the Tour de France, there isn’t/wasn’t a whole lot of extra attention span left over for Italy. I know that is just flat-out wrong and lazy, but it is what it is.

The straight gloriousness of the Giro is in the old-school, Giro-style stages, which start slowly and build to a crescendo befitting of a country that produced Luciano Pavarotti, Dario Pegoretti and Gino Bartali.

That old-school Italian race rhythm is kind of emblematic of Italian food, too. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Dunno. Basically, the Giro, like a beautifully prepared spaghetti aglio e olio, is deceptive. On the surface it is just a few ingredients. It seems simple.

And if you watch the riders rolling out slowly and building speed over the day until the knockdown, drag-out finale, you might be lulled into thinking that it is all just easy peasy, like a bowl of overcooked Eyetalian noodles and sauce.

But there’s a shit-ton more nuance to it. Skill. Repetition. Passion. Care. Beautiful ingredients and focused operators who do it because it is who they are — not just what they do.

There’s something to those Giro stages — that thing where you’ve been riding all day long, and the speed keeps kicking up, and you don’t think there’s any way humanly possible to go any harder, but you do anyway.

And there’s something about a pink damn leader’s jersey.

I like to think that if there’s a Hollywood-style heaven for old bike racers, that mine would be a perpetual post-stage awards ceremony during one of the 1980s editions of the Giro.

I’d be standing there resplendent in the Maglia Rosa — an early Castelli version. Gino Bartali would be there, and perhaps Maurizio Castelli too. There’d be the scent of cigarettes and Prosecco in the air, and I’d be holding a giant bouquet of victory flowers.

And everyone would be pronouncing the race correctly.