When it comes to deciding the trials and tribulations facing the riders of the Giro d’Italia, the buck stops with one man: Mauro Vegni, the Giro’s Race Director. He, ultimately, has the power to send them up the toughest climbs in Europe, and to decide just how the selection for the Maglia Rosa, the leader’s pink jersey, is made.
Vegni took time out in the week before the race to let us in on a few secrets of how to program a thrilling stage, and what to watch out for this year. He believes that the Giro is the most exciting Grand Tour in the world – “the Giro has a competitive advantage compared to the Tour, and maybe the Vuelta, which is called Italy!” he told us.
What are the considerations when programming a mountain stage?
“There are three things to be taken care of. The first is that you need to consider not only how the mountains are placed in a standalone stage, but in the general project of the whole race. You cannot think one stage at a time, you always have to think it through.
“The second consideration is the position of the climbs compared to the finish line. I’ll give an example. If you put the Stelvio in a stage but the finish line is well after [the village of] Prato di Stelvio, riders will have the time to recover from the climb itself, and so the technical factor of the climb will be diluted. This is absolutely a consideration that needs to be taken care of. And then of course the consideration finally is how hard it is – the difficulty that the climb presents.
“I always think not only of the difficulty of a single climb, but of the sequence of climbs in a stage that make the stage incredibly hard. You could have, I don’t know, five climbs that aren’t that difficult, but it’s the sequence and the frequency with which you place them – and the average of speed of the riders – that will make it dramatic or not.”
Is there such a thing as a ‘philosophy’ when it comes to taking the Giro into the mountains?
“Yes, there is absolutely a philosophy. The philosophy is made of two parts. The first part is tradition:
It’s incredibly important to consider the tradition,
because the history of this sport was built on the most traditional climbs – we were talking about the Stelvio, for instance, or the Gavia.
“On the other side is innovation. I’ll give you a very precise example. Think about the Zoncolan. You can consider it as a traditional climb now, but it was introduced only at the beginning of the 2000s. So at the time it was innovating, but the Zoncolan immediately became an instant tradition.
“Another one you can consider is Colle delle Finestre. It’s considered already a traditional climb but it was only the second time they were racing last year, so it was innovative. You’re always mixing tradition and innovation.
The Giro is reputed as being more inventive than the Tour de France – do you believe this is true?
It is true – we believe it is true. But the Giro has a competitive advantage compared to the Tour, and maybe the Vuelta, which is called Italy!
In Italy you’ve got the full spectrum of the Alps, and the Appenines as well, so the reality is that Italy has thousands of climbs, thousands of different sceneries, and so it’s much easier to innovate in Italy because you’ve got the scope to do it.
“In this edition of the Giro, for instance, [spectators should] have a big look at the stage in Friuli, which has Matajur and the Valle, because that stage is something innovative for the big audience, but it’s going to be very important.”
Is there always a pressure to be bigger, tougher, more extreme?
“Is there a need to be more extreme? Actually, no… Because the reality is over 21 days you already have a hard race, so you don’t need to be extreme. It’s already extreme doing a Grand Tour!
What you need to be is well balanced and to give the fans and the riders the chance to challenge themselves every day in the stage. It’s much more important to innovate than to be extreme.”
This year you have Passo Giau, Colle Agnello, Col de la Bonette and Col de la Lombarde in the race. What do the highest mountains, the magic 2,000m peaks, bring to the race?
“The highest mountains in the Giro are tradition, and as we were saying before, the tradition is one of the two founding elements of the race. It’s fundamental to have climbs like La Bonette, or climbs like the Stelvio, the Agnello, the Giau, to have them in any edition of the race. What they bring is the aspect of tradition and the aspect of magic, the mystique of the Giro.”
Can you pick out some climbs this year we should all watch out for?
“I don’t think about the individual climbs – as we were saying earlier, it’s about the sequence. So if we look at the sequence, everyone is talking about Agnello and La Bonette, and the last week.”
“But the reality is that the weekend when you’ve got the stage in Friuli and then the stage in the Dolomites, and then the TT, basically if you fail on the first of the climbs this weekend, you will lose minutes and minutes and minutes, and the risk is your race could end on the Friday [before the final week] of the Giro d’Italia.
“That sequence of stages and in each stage the sequence of climbs – imagine the stage that goes on the Maratona course you’ve got six Dolomites climbs! So that in my opinion is the key moment of the Giro d’Italia this year.”
What is your favourite Giro climb?
“The Stelvio is my favourite climb. The Stelvio is the Giro d’italia, it’s the history of the Giro.”
Feel inspired by Mauro’s words? Climb 21,000m – half the height the pros will do in the Giro – and prove it by joining our Giro d’Italia Climbing Challenge. Your legs will thank you for it!
Photo credit, except for Mauro Vegni portrait: Gruber images