Cycling legends are often written there. During these endless days, these long stages that try to use the fiercest energies of the pack. The Tour of Italy which has just started its 104e edition in account of famous, of these crazy stories which are displayed in majesty. If one had to remember only one, that of Charly Gaul, an epic phenomenon of the 1950s, it is undoubtedly necessary.
Because the silent Luxembourger nicknamed the “angel of the mountain” had indeed flown to his paradise for his first Giro at the age of 23, on June 8, 1956. With already four passes in his legs, he had embarked on the assault on Monte Bondone under terrible squalls of snow, with temperatures bordering on -10 ° C. After 242 km of staggering efforts, he could barely make a gesture when crossing the finish line, muscles paralyzed by the cold to the point of hardly being able to get out of his bike. His swimsuit had to be cut with a scissor later at his hotel, it was so stuck to his skin by the gel. A resounding victory: 24e in the morning with more than 16 minutes late in the general classification, he seized the pink tunic with more than three minutes in advance.
When runners say “stop”
“We went beyond everything we had already experienced in pain, suffering and difficulties”, underlined Jacques Goddet in The team. But undoubtedly he liked these asphalt marathons, the dark Charly, to the point of putting the cover back in 1959. And then playing Jacques Anquetil, catching nearly 10 minutes on a stage aligning the climbs to Courmayeur for A total of… 296 km.
The Giro has long worked to perpetuate this tradition of endless rides. In 1987, 13 of the 22 stages on offer had more than 200 km, a record. The Giro 2020 program, before the arrival of the pandemic, still counted an average on line stages of more than 195 km.
Redesigned under the constraint of the Covid-19 and postponed to October 2020, it was losing weight a bit, but still offered a 19e stage at 258 km. The runners last year suffocated. They had just investigated three days in a row at more than 200 km and said stop. Faced with their refusal to take the start, the organizers had no other choice but to shorten the stage to 125 km.
For this Giro 2021, which always wants to be very demanding, the wings are in fact reduced: barely four stages of more than 200 km, half as much as in 2020. The time has come for planing. In the latest version of its specifications in April, the International Cycling Union (UCI) only authorizes one “Maximum of two stages over 240 km” at the big towers. The Giro this time has none. The Tour de France provides only one (248 km between Vierzon and Le Creusot on July 2).
Shorten, at the risk of distorting?
La Grande Boucle has been keeping its routes since the turn of the century: 500 kilometers erased, especially by limiting long distance days, for laps not exceeding 3,500 km. The explanation is multiple. The recurring doping scandals are not for nothing in the desire to offer less tiring races. The full televised broadcasts have also resulted in the length of the stages being limited. The mobilization of runners, more and more organized to make their voices heard and defend their health, also takes part. Even if opinions are divided. Some, like the Colombian Egan Bernal, one of the favorites on the Giro this year, not hesitating to defend the long rides.
The course of the races is also in question. The Tour de France likes to bet on certain short stages likely to excite dynamiters, capable of blowing up the teams who too often lock up the race. Most sports subscribe in the same way to increasingly nibbled formats and time is certainly no longer quite for the “road convicts” dear to Albert Londres.
→ DOSSIER The 2021 Tour de France
But by dint of cutting back, isn’t it endurance cycling-sport that risks being distorted? “In a grand tour, the main thing is to disrupt habits to give movement to the event, and therefore to play over distances, alternating long and short stages, defends Marc Madiot, the manager of the Groupama-FDJ training. After that, there is also a question of symbol: the marathon stages are part of the history of this sport, and I often say it to runners: if you don’t like them, you don’t have to do this job. “
Monte Zoncolan at the end of the effort
If it erodes a few giant stages, the Giro still intends to stay true to its reputation as a more extreme lap than its rivals. After two weeks of racing, his 14e stage in particular on May 22, promises the most valiant a dantesque pawg – this edition pays tribute to the author of the Divine Comedy.
205 km are offered to runners with at the end of the effort the monstrous laces of Monte Zoncolan, among the nastiest in Europe. This legendary pass will be used as for its first in 2003 from Sutrio, with an average slope of 9% for more than 10 km, then, on the last three kilometers, hairpins sometimes up to 27%!