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Giro d’Italia

Andy Hampsten, Giro d'Italia, 1988

Andy Hampsten, Giro d'Italia, 1988

I don’t get it. Why all the coverage of the Giro d’Italia? It’s been ignored for years, but now Juliet Macur has daily coverage in the NYT. Since when is interest in the race sufficiently large?

Perhaps I should explain. There are three great multi-stage bicycle races each year: the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France, and the Vuelta a Espana. Each lasts three weeks. Each has the cyclists riding all over the country, with mountain stages, flat stages, time trial stages, and so on. The Giro is in May. The Tour in July. The Vuelta in August.

US coverage used to be limited. I have the perhaps false memory that I read little bits about the Tour in the NYT when I was in summer camp in my childhood. And I remember when Eddy Merckx used to be the dominant rider, winning five times between 1969 and 1974. Only Jacques Anquetil had won five times before him. Merckx also won the Giro five times, and the Vuelta once. But I really started paying attention in 1985. It helped that we were in France for part of the Tour, in the early days of our extended honeymoon. On the final day, we were over at my sister’s apartment watching on TV as they came along the Seine into Paris. I realized they were just 200 meters away and here we were watching indoors on TV. That was silly. We could instead cross over the Seine and walk up to the Champs-Elysees to see the finish. Gail (my wife Gail, not my sister Gail) and I headed out and just as we got to the street, sister Gail leaned out the window to shout down to us that our niece Joelle wanted to come too. She would have been 3 months shy of her 3rd birthday at the time. We waited for her to come down, then headed to the Seine,. She wasn’t walking too fast, so I ran ahead while Gail led her on. They eventually caught up and somehow found me amidst the huge crowds leaning against the barriers along the Champs-Elysees. (Many years later I would discover that my friend and colleague-to-be Sandor, then a young student from Hungary, was watching from somewhere nearby, up on a lightpost.)

I got to see the field zip by in the repeated circuits from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe and back that close the race, with Bernard Hinault being cheered as he was about to win his fifth Tour, thanks in part to the help of his teammate and rising star, the American Greg LeMond, who rode beside him safely in the peleton as they awaited the finish. LeMond had finished third the year before, his rookie year, and might well have won it in 1985 had he not been assigned the role of helping Hinault. LeMond settled for second, with the understanding that Hinault would repay the favor the next year by helping him win. Except that a year later it seemed Hinault wanted to win again. There was some friction before LeMond ultimately won. And if LeMond’s brother-in-law didn’t accidentally shoot him the next year, he might well have won five straight, but instead he took two years to recover before winning two more.

I could go on and on about the Tour. By then I was hooked, a committed fan. In the early ’90s, before the world wide web existed but with news services available on the internet, I would sit at my desk in the mornings during the Tour and constantly update my news feed in order to get the latest reports. TV coverage started around then, on ESPN, but in the evenings, hours after the actual daily race. It took years before we had live coverage. What changed everything of course was Lance. Lance Armstrong. With Lance as national hero, we finally got to have live coverage of the Tour every morning.

Which brings us to the answer to my opening rhetorical question. Why the sudden interest in the Giro? Lance of course. I understand, sort of, but it’s still a bit of a mystery to me why someone who retired years ago and is well past his prime should have such a following that we now have detailed coverage. He’s not going to win. He’s 14th at the moment in the general classification, with a week to go. Pretty impressive, I admit, but not a reason for blanket coverage.

An American has won the Giro in the past. Andy Hampsten, in 1988. He is perhaps better known for finishing 4th to LeMond in the first Tour that LeMond won, in 1986. Imagine that. Americans in 1st and 4th in the Tour, at a time when hardly anyone in the US paid attention. And that still didn’t result in greater coverage. It took Lance to change everything.

I should be happy. I just wonder why it took so long, and why it took a national celebrity to bring the press. I wish things were different.

Categories: Cycling, Newspapers, Sports
  1. ljkarst
    May 24, 2009 at 9:16 AM

    Robin (McDuff–Russ’ sister) and I were just talking about the same thing–how so much of the Giro coverage here in the State is all about LANCE, even though he’s just acting as domestique in the race.

    I’ve been following the race closely (on the VeloNews website), and it’s been quite exciting so far, though you’d never know that from the US news reports. (I blogged about it here: http://eatsingride.blogspot.com/2009/05/justice-and-giro.html)

    Go Levi!

  2. May 24, 2009 at 2:21 PM

    It is not just in the US that they are exited about Armstrong. The Italian TV coverage of him is really heavy. Today he was chasing with three others to get back to the second group on the road that contained all the contenders (he didn’t make it)and the camera kept covering him. Normally when a rider is dropped that’s it. forgotten.

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