The Giro’s apparent modus operandi of making each year harder than the last may well be turning itself into a victim of its own undoing, writes Anthony Tan.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

About a week-and-a-half ago on 21 April,
Giro d'Italia organisers RCS sent out the provisional start list for the
94th edition of 'la corsa rosa'. Kick-off will be next Saturday 7
May in Turin, located in the country's northwest and Italy's first
capital city in 1861, the century-and-a-half since unification being
commemorated this year.

The 2011percorso is, once again, a
veritable beast on paper. And for the television viewer, equivalent to a
twelve-course degustation menu at Tetsuya's restaurant – only every
night, and for three weeks straight.

In the current issue of Bicycling Australia,
I summarised it thus: 'One team time trial; two individual time trials;
one stupidly-long transfer that only lowly paid team deckhands and
silly field reporters like yours truly have to concern themselves with;
and four medium mountain stages and seven big mountain-top finishes (not
including the Stage 16 mountain time trial) – spread across twenty-one
stages and twenty-three days.'

It's an mouthful just reading it,
let alone watching such a spectacle unfold, or for the riders, grinding
their way through 3,496 race kilometres.

And perhaps over time,
in RCS' predisposition to make each Giro more spectacular, more
enthralling, more everything, they may be shooting themselves in the
foot.

This year, apart from Alberto Contador, whose reasons for
riding are obvious and are in some ways like Cadel Evans and BMC Racing
last year, in that they weren't assured a start at the Tour de France,
not one serious Tour contender has decided to make the pilgrimage to
Italy.

No-one can deny last year's Giro being anything other than
a showstopper. It was a one-in-every-twenty-years Grand Tour: the
windswept legs in Holland that immediately created havoc; Evans'
unforgettable stage win to Montalcino, raced in apocalyptic conditions;
on another foul-weather day, the fifty-man break to the
earthquake-strewn town of L'Aquila that saw Richie Porte in the maglia rosa;
eventual winner Ivan Basso duelling with Evans on the mighty Zoncolan;
and the individual time trial on the vertiginous slopes of the Plan de
Corones.

Simultaneously, it's made bona fide Tour de France contenders shy away.

Basso,
Evans, the Schleck brothers, Robert Gesink, Jurgen Van Den Broeck,
Ryder Hesjedal, Christian Vande Velde and Bradley Wiggins – all have
steered away from the Italian Grand Tour this year. Instead, they've
opted for the week-long and testing though far less arduous Tour of
California, again running concurrently with the Giro from 15-22 May, or a
recon mission in the French Alps and Pyrenées, to familiarise
themselves for what lies ahead this July.

And until sometime last
week, when, more than a tad curiously, Porte found himself in the Saxo
Bank line-up, it may also explain the smallest Australian presence at
the Giro in almost ten years.

Mark Renshaw (HTC-High Road),
Robbie McEwen (RadioShack), Cameron Meyer, Jack Bobridge and Matthew
Wilson (Garmin-Cervélo) were our only five representatives, and if we
consider the Antipodes, then we can include Julian Dean (also
Garmin-Cervélo) to make six.

From 2010-2003, Aussie numbers at
the Giro were: 14 riders – 6 – 9 – 8 – 9 – 12 – 8 – and 6. It was only
in 2002 when representation dipped below a handful; Evans, McEwen,
Graeme Brown and Mat Hayman were our awesome foursome. A year before
there were just two: Nathan O'Neill and Tom Leaper.

Why not just
ride two weeks of the Giro, I asked last year's revelation at the Tour
Down Under, or do you feel the California-Tour de Suisse/Dauphiné route
is a better way to prepare for the Tour?

"I guess you see guys
like seasoned professionals who did the Giro as preparation for the Tour
and it didn't really work for them," Porte told me. "So for a
second-year professional, it's not really the smartest move. And I have
to have faith in my team. I like my race program, and I think that's
going to set me up pretty well to have a good Tour."

So California then Tour de Suisse or Cali and Criterium du Dauphiné?

"California
then Tour de Suisse, at the moment. But I mean, we'll change the
program if I am tired or whatever. It's pretty free and open to change,"
said Porte.

Change it did.

Sometime between RCS' 21 April
press release and the end of the Tour of Romandie, Saxo Bank chief
Bjarne Riis made two subtle changes to their Giro line-up, substituting
Gustav Larsson and Benjamin Noval with Porte and Michael Mørkøv. So that
makes six Aussies; nothing compared to the fourteen of 2010, but better
than five.

But why did Riis do this? Is he sending what looks
like their Tour de France team to the Giro for a dress rehearsal? Or, in
the back of his mind, does he think Contador has a good chance of being
suspended by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, who has assured the
public a decision on the Spaniard's fate will be made by the end of
June, and is thus treating the Giro as if it were the Tour?

"We
have a strong line-up but we also know that we will find very strong
rivals on the start line whose indisputable objective is to achieve the
overall victory of the Giro," said Contador in a team press release
dated 30 April. "However, I'm confident we will do a good job and we
will be fighting for the win."

Either way, for Riis to include
Porte at the Giro and not save him for the Tour – just as the rest of
the TdF contenders are saving themselves – it seems the Scandinavian
feels Porte does not yet hold the capacity to lead Saxo Bank to a high
finish at the Tour. Given the team's enviable track record, Riis would
be aiming for the podium at the very least in July.

And if that is his belief, I tend to agree with him.

While
this year's Giro is not devoid of marquee names – apart from Contador,
Stefano Garzelli (Acqua e Sapone), Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC), Mark
Cavendish (HTC-Highroad), Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) and Vincenzo
Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) are but a few – other riders like Evans and
Vinokourov, simply by their presence, race panache and non-European
background, make the race special.

For the Giro not to become a
victim of its own doing and be trumped by a star-studded Tour of
California, maybe it's time for a rethink.

Follow Anthony on Twitter: @anthony_tan