- It’s bloody hilly
And by hills I don’t mean fair-weather, gently rolling mounds from the Teletubbies. I mean mountains. The Giro is notorious for putting its riders through tasty tests. A Tour is a tough challenge anyway, but there are many hearts and wills left behind in the Apennines, the Dolomites, and the Alps on past races. The weather is also a factor. A Giro can go from sun to pouring rain, from sand to snow.
- There’s a lot of pink
The maglia rosa is the Giro’s equivalent of the maillot jaune (the Tour de France’s coveted yellow jersey). I.e. it means a great deal to a lot of riders and fans, past and present. It’s an incredibly hard-earned jersey, worn on the backs of men who have conquered bad weather, steep inclines, chilling descents and the rest of the peleton.
Why pink? The colour reflects the pinkish hue of the famous Italian sports newspaper – La Gazzetta dello Sport – which sponsored the very first race in 1909.
- It’s starting in Northern Ireland this year
This year Belfast is going pink. Just like the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia often has a Grand Depart in other cities around the world to bring a bit of Italian cycling flair to the rest of the world. In 2014, the race is starting in Belfast. This has given rise to a few concerns about getting the riders ready to start in Italy. To accommodate this, an early rest day has been placed on the race calendar so that the riders can recover from the travelling. Then the race kicks off on home soil in the heel of Italy, with a stage to Bari.
On Stage 3 of the Giro d’Italia in 2011 Wouter Weylandt – race number 108 – crashed on a descent from the Passo del Bocco. He reportedly turned his head to look behind him on this tricky descent, collided with a guard rail, and was killed instantly. He was only months away from becoming a father, and only 26 years old. Three years later, Trek Factory racing have parked up at the Giro d’Italia with WW108 pasted alongside the names of this year’s team. No doubt there will be other tributes to the young, sorely missed rider from the sport along this year’s route.
- The Italians love their cycling
The roar of the tifosi (the Italian cycling fans) following the peleton up and down the length of the country is the only evidence you need that Italy is a country full of cycling nuts. Like France during the Tour, the country is swept by Giro fever.
- So who is going to win?
Italy all but burst with pride last year when the Italian Vincenzo Nibali took the maglia rosa. But he’s not coming back for the race in 2014, and so there’s a certain spice to the race and the favourites lining up to take his crown. The Italians still have hopes in their old stalwart Ivan Basso (Cannondale), but there are other pretenders to the throne. Such as Nairo Quintana (Movistar), who sniffed glory when he came second in the 2013 Tour de France, but who has never done the Giro d’Italia. There are runners-up from years past to look out for, such as Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha). And of course there will be plenty of teeth gnashing and wheel-spinning to get the coveted red jersey amongst the sprinters. Ahead of that list has to be the feisty German Marcel Kittel, but maybe the home crowd could inspire Italian Alessandro