In the 1990 Giro, a relatively unknown cyclist named Gianni Bugno lit the cycling world on fire by winning the first stage, thereby taking the Maglia Rossa. That wasn’t so surprising in itself; what was surprising was that the little bugger managed to hold the jersey all the way to Milan, a feat previously only accomplished by Binda and Merckx postwar, and prewar legend Costante Girardengo.
This all happened in the age before smartphones and social media; while these days a stealth strike on the World’s Most Wanted Dude gets live-tweeted, in 1990 it took until well after I knew Greg LeMond had won the Tour de France before I found out that Bugno had won the Giro. Reading about the feat in Winning magazine, Bugno instantly became one of my heros and went on to cast himself into a bronze statue of Rad by being one of the few riders able to challenge Indurain in the following years. (He also possessed the mental frailty that seems to be common among my favorite riders. There’s something Shakespearean about heros with flaws that I simply can’t resist.)
The Giro d’Italia is just prestigious enough to be the maker of champions. It’s isn’t made up of a downgraded field like the Vuelta, but it also ins’t as popular as the Tour where only the best riders on the best teams seem to stand a chance. Every Giro produces a revelation that goes onto great things; that’s one of the key reasons this is my favorite Grand Tour: the field is strong enough to have serious contenders, but weak enough to let an outsider play. It’s perfect.
Aside from a well-balanced field, the geography of Italy lends itself to a better three week race than do France or Spain. Many European companies are defined by natural borders such as mountains or water, which generally means the mountains and great bodies of water lie at the borders with plains in between. (Or, as is the case with the Netherlands, beneath.) Italy is unique in that it is narrow and has mountainous terrain in nearly every region. Whereas the first week(s) of the Tour and Vuelta feature mostly flat stages suited for the sprinters and little else, the Giro’s first week generally contains several mountaintop finishes. The difficulty of a typical Giro’s first week means that riders who ride strongly there typically fade towards the end, while riders who were weak on the first climbs may come on strong as the race closes down. The result is a tight race from start to finish with regular changes in leadership. Except in 1990. And whatever years those other three guys who did what Gianni did.
This year’s Giro will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy by making strong men cry. Forty major climbs, and 7 mountain top finishes, one of which involves climbing Mount Etna twice. (Welcome to Sicily, assholes. You get to ride up the most active volcano on Earth twice.) I have it on the excellent authority of a man down the pub that Contador is stocking up on extra drugs even as I write this in an attempt to quiet the rattle of his skinny little bones in his spanish boots.
With that we kick off the best Grand Tour of the year, and the first test of our Grand Tour VSP Software. The other VSP editions have been a piece of cake. Grand Tours include free “swapping of the picks” logic whenever a rider in a contestent’s pick list drops out. We have rest day swaps for 2 or 4 points each, depending on which rest day it is. Our system is supposed to handle all of this smoothly and seamlessly. We’ll see.
Read the scoring guidelines, work out your strategy, dope up on clairvoyance drugs (alcohol) and chuck your picks up. As usual, the winner of this VSP edition will earn an “Obey the Rules” bumper sticker and all reader’s points qualify towards the final prize of the free personalized Velominati Shop Apron. If you are inclined to enter, simply post your predictions for the top five placings in the designated area above the posts section, bearing in mind that entry/modification of picks closes at 5am Pacific time on the day of the race. You are eligible to swap picks at no penalty for your picked riders who drop out; rest day picks each come at a 2 point penalty for the first rest day, 4 points each for the second.