Bike races are hard. But there is one country in particular that like to make their races especially difficult. Every race that I have done or seen in Italy has been harder than any others.
Each year the Giro d'talia seems to out-do itself with ridiculously long stages, ridiculous amounts of climbing and ridiculously steep roads on all kinds of surfaces.
My first Italian race this year was GP Nobili. It was 195km long with the first 100km on dead flat roads followed by three trips up a 5km long climb. The flat start gives the sprinters a false hope of being able to make it to the finish before being crushed when the roads go upwards.
The hills at the end mean that the non-climber's only chance is to get into the early break away. As a result, the race starts with an relentless flurry of surges and attacks. This year, we covered the first 100km in under 2hrs! This also allows the climbers to sit back and bide their time as they wait to ride away on the climbs.
My second race in Italy was the Coppi E Bartali. It was a 4 day stage race that had 3 road races, a 4 man team time trial and finished with an individual time trial.
It began with a double stage day that had a road race in the morning and a team time trial in the afternoon. The road race took in 2 climbs before a fast descent into town. I finished a bit down on the winner in grupetto.
In the afternoon, the TTT was done in pouring rain and we crossed the line holding onto our helmet visors in our teeth so we could see.
The 3rd stage was, well, there is only one way to put it: ridiculous. 165km with 5 laps of loop that contained a 10km long climb. For most of the peloton, it was a day of survival. Just get up the 3500m of climbing without being outside of time limit. I managed to get through it... Just.
Stage 4 was, thankfully, a proper flat day. One for the sprinters. I spent most of the day in the early break away before being reeled in for the bunch sprint. My already tired legs did not appreciate it one bit.
By this point, the overall positions had been pretty much decided and a time trial to finish the race off would not change much. But that does not stop the Italians from making it as hard as possible. The final time trial was 10km long that finished up a climb that reached gradients of 25% in dirt roads. Again, ridiculous. It was the slowest time trial I have ever done. I crept around and finished down near the bottom of the page.
My last two races in Italy took place last weekend. It was two 200km, 1-day races with the GP Industria & Artigianto on Saturday.
Like my first Italian race, it began with around 100km of flat roads that we covered at warp speed. I pushed to get into the break away as I knew what was to come in the 2nd half of the race but I was never able to get clear.
The final half if the race, in typical Italian fashion, contained four laps of a circuit containing a steep climb with a 1km section of around 18-20%. This was followed by a high speed descent with hair pin turns in pouring rain. At the end of the day, only 57 out of 160 starters managed to finish the race. That's 35% of the field that could complete the race. Or 65% that could not!
Sunday saw the 2nd 200km race,the Giro della Tuscana. On paper, it also had a couple of climbs in the middle of the race with the first one lasting for 20km at a relatively gentle slope. The 2nd climb however, was not as forgiving. It was 10km long with some serious pinches. It took a large chunk of the field out of the race with only 81 riders crossing the final line!
So why does Italy make their races so crazy??? Well, my team mates inform me that it is for the 'spettacolo'. They only care about making a scene. Making the race so hard that the eventual winner has to fight and battle their way through like a gladiator. Every race is a race that people will be talking about afterwards for years!
So I'm not a fan of Italian races. I'm no climber and have to do what I can for my team mates in the early, flat stages of the race. I won't be the guy that provides the 'spettacolo' but I will still be talking about the race for a while afterwards. Albeit for a very different reason.