Friday, January 18, 2008

Review - 2007 Giro d'Italia DVD

Each year I ask for a DVD for Christmas, sometimes more than one. Last year I asked for the 2006 Tour - even with the controversy over Floyd, I felt that the Tour was "entertaining". I never had a sense of who would win, not until the very end.

The Tour in 2007 was a complete dud. With Rasmussen solidly in the lead and no one willing to risk their lower positions to attack him, no one really fought it out. Yes, it ended up the closest top 3 ever, but that's because the head of the body got sliced off. With three guys on the shoulders, they all ended up virtually on equal time.

So, at least for now, I decided to skip the 2007 Tour DVD.

This didn't leave me with much. I wanted a stage race. Vuelta? If you thought the Tour was boring (until Baldy got tossed), the Vuelta was worse. Menchov had to try to lose one of his jerseys - he was even leading the points competition (!). I wasn't too interested in the Tour of California. A nullified crash would have made the race a lot more interesting - if such a crash happened in the Tour, say, maybe on a road that floods every day, no one would have blinked had some favorites lost gobs of time. No Tour of California DVD for me.

Any others?

There is that Italian race, you know, the Giro. I perked up. I thought about it. And I put it on my list.

First of all, I recently bought a Cannondale SystemSix replica Liquigas Team Bike. Although just a replica, I never saw the bike actually ridden by the pros. We don't get cable or satellite at home (by choice) and I didn't see any clips of races or such that featured a Liquigas racer. The 2007 Giro was won by Danilo DiLuca, who races for... Liquigas.

Guaranteed bike exposure.

See, watching the bike being ridden is important. It's much easier to learn movement or technique by watching it performed rather than by reading about it or even looking at diagrams. My violin form was honed by years of watching the equivalent of a Johan Van Summeren play the violin - a top, top professional who was not quite a star. My teacher never really jammed my fingers and thumbs one way or another on the violin. Instead he simply said, "Play like me."

I did.

And now I have irreversibly good form.

Intonation (i.e. playing the right tones) is also important. My mom always set up a half dozen records on the "automatic record player" when us kids went to bed. We'd fall asleep to perfectly in-tune Mozart, Beethoven, and the like. This was much more effective than a teacher saying, "Your second finger is a bit too low."

By listening to perfectly in-tune professional players, I got an innate grasp on proper tone. And naturally I ended up playing, well, in pretty good tune. I always say that I'm better at violin than racing the bike, but curiously enough, I lack speed on the violin.

Otherwise this blog would have had a totally different focus.

Anyway, all that was to illustrate the (tongue in cheek) importance of watching my bike being ridden by the pros.

To be totally honest, it just looks cool to watch a bike like the one you have sitting next to you being ridden on the TV. I don't own a Cervelo or Scott or a tall masted Giant so races with CSC, Saunier Duval, or T-Mobile were, unfortunately, less than fascinating.

Another reason I selected the 2007 Giro was that the race was always in doubt. A non favorite took the Maglia Rosa (DiLuca) and managed, with a few breaks, to hold it to the finish. He was under constant attack, losing time all over the place, but with supreme end-of-stage efforts, he managed to retain his jersey. He never went out and annihilated everyone. In fact, he looked vulnerable right up till the end of the final time trial. The Giro, it seemed, was always "a possibility" for the others.

So how was the DVD?

I found it absolutely fascinating.

Okay, fine, I read live reports and saw the coverage on the various online news sites. But I didn't see it. I've seen a lot of Tour clips, lots of classics in Belgium and France, even classics in Spain. But I've never seen any extended coverage of racing in Italy.

And Italy, I found, is very different from France.

Firstly, the organizers don't mind funneling the field through narrow spaces - one lane roads, an arched gateway (imagine the Tour riding through the Arc de Triomphe instead of near it), impossibly narrow roads with buildings or walls lining them. Spectators and racers mingled freely, to the point that I regularly thought their interaction would result in crashes.

These narrow roads give a new meaning to the importance of position, of dedicated teammates, and of those teammates' strength in maintaining point position during the crucial run ins at the end of stages.

Second, apparently in Italy they have no rules about a sprint being on a straight road. Okay, I know Bethel ends on a curve, but it's uphill. A field sprint on a very narrow (see Point 1 above) snaking road is something to see.

Third, the organizers want field sprints. They get them. Wild and crazy sprints, tight finishes, crashes, everything.

Fourth, the racers seem, well, "normal". The Giro is held in May, with the weather still in a period of transition from Winter to Summer. It's unusual to see the blazing heat of the Tour in the Giro. Instead, the racers are out there with wool caps under their helmets, knickers, long sleeve jerseys, booties, long finger gloves, stuff like that. As a racer in New England, this totally reminds me of the beginning of the race season, simply because I wear things like that. I have a hard time relating to the Tour racers because they're always in semi-transparent water soaked jerseys - if it's that hot outside, I typically ride indoors.

A bonus to this "pros are normal" bit is that at the top of climbs they all put on wind jackets. In the Tour this doesn't happen, but in the Giro, due to the cooler temperatures and the inevitable rain, they do it all the time. One guy, precariously balancing his bike while trying to get his jacket on, screws up his zipper. He had to chase back on, descending with his jacket lopsided and mainly unzipped.

Makes the pros seem somewhat human.

Fifth, the Giro itself seems like a more "regular" race. It seems they have a lower budget than, say, the Tour. Ads are pasted all over the time trial start ramps. Ads flash behind the podium. There's a limit to the girls on the podium. There aren't that many cones or crowd control gates for the course - so there are marshals waving flags in the middle of the road just before it gets divided. There are cars parked on the course. The broadcast TV graphics are less fancy. The officials get in the way (inadvertently I hope). Spectators push racers (well DiLuca anyway).

And finally, as a bonus, the 2007 Milan - San Remo race is included at the end of the three disc set. Talk about a fast race, tight climbing, and crazy tactical racing. There is one guy who crashes so bad I can't even watch the TV, but other than that, I remained glued to the screen until the racers crossed the finish.

Okay, so the DVD had some disappointments. The biggest was the non-involvement of the Italian fans, prior notes not withstanding. I first read about the "tifosi", the rabid Italian fans, in a book that described what they'd do to non-favorites who led the Giro. They'd spit on him, throw chlorine or hot water (if it was hot) or cold water (if it was cold) or bleach or other clear liquids on him as he passed by. They'd push the favorites up the mountains so hard that even other Italians would complain of the "elevator of hands".

Just imagine that.

You're some racer, distinctly un-Italian, racing for an Italian team, with an Italian teammate who has won the Giro. The teammate somehow drops off the pace and you inherit the Maglia Rosa.

The next day, for hours and hours, they spit on you. Loogie after loogie comes your way, courtesy the very pissed off tifosi. People throw all sorts of unidentifiable liquids on you. They yell names at you. They push your teammate up hills, perhaps some other Italians they feel you have slighted.

And it continues each day. The mountains are the worst because you ride by the spectators slowly. The loogies find their mark all the more often. You have more saliva on your face than sweat. If you climb better than the favorite Italian, mountain stages are mysteriously canceled "due to snow". Yet curious non-Italian journalists find that the mountain passes are sunny, the roads clear, with nary a hint of a snowflake in the air.

Yet, you persevere. You destroy your opponents. You chase down guys being pushed up the mountains. You time trial with a TV helicopter induced 50 mph headwind while your opponent time trials with a 50 mph tailwind from a second TV helicopter.

At the end, you stand triumphant (although it took years for the 50 mph headwind TT guy to do this), having overcome all that the tifosi, the organizers, everyone can throw at you. They begrudgingly give their respect. To have beaten the racers, the race, and the spectators, that takes incredible strength and perseverance. Although they may not want you to win next year, they at least acknowledge what you've accomplished for now.

I never saw this on the DVD. That was my only disappointment.

The other disappointment, which I blocked out until I read this, was that DiLuca was one of a few racers who had virtually no testosterone in his system in a surprise drug test. It's been implied that he might have put some protein destroying substance in his urine, making it impossible to do an accurate testosterone:epitestosterone test, and even if you could get a ratio, it would be impossible to test for synthetic testosterone.

However, overall, in this era, the 2007 Giro is a highly recommended DVD.

Some things to look for:
- How much Petacchi skips his rear wheel sideways when he pushes down on the pedals. The guy is powerful!
- The guy whose TT bars break just as he crosses the line
- The excellent pre-sprint helicopter shots
- The intense lead ups to the sprints
- Petacchi leading himself out - you'll know it when you see it. Hint: two AG2R guys take themselves out just before he goes.
- The champagne flubs
- And finally the awful crash in the Milan - San Remo. Horrible but totally predictable, given the guy's apparently innate inability to corner properly.


Anonymous said...

I really enjoy your blogs. This one made me think about some things Merckx said when people got tired of seeing him win all the time. They'd spit on him, throw tomatoes at him and he even got punched in the ribs.

Aki said...

thanks for the note on the blog.

Re: Merckx, yes, he got punched once hard enough to break his jaw. He dropped out after a couple more days of an all fluid diet (in the Tour). A different Tour he also got punched so hard in the torso his liver got screwed up. I don't remember how he did, but there's a picture of him in agony in some private locker room after the stage, looks like a POW type picture. Although it's a pity, I guess that's how things were back then. I can't imagine such a thing happening now.

Anonymous said...

I thought the broken jaw incident was from a crash.

Aki said...

You're right, I stand corrected, he'd fallen with Ole Ritter (who was made famous in the Hour Record movie).

Ron said...

Brilliant post. I don't know how you managed to capture the excitement in a few words, but you've done it! I can also relate with your ideas for choosing the Giro.

At first, I was skeptical about the Giro not being at par with the Tour.

Part of the reason, atleast according to me, as to why the Giro seems to be a smaller affair, is probably because cycling culture is huge in Italy. They have races all year round, each one of them is important in a way. While the Giro is the single biggest race event in the calender, its not like the officials want to milk every drop in their budget for the Giro. Another reason could be that the Giro really stemmed from the original Tour de France model for a nation wide race. So you would think that the country where this scheme originated would pour more focus into the race, in this case, France.

Petacchi skipping rear wheels? I believe you he's powerful. Another thing it shows is also how stiff the bike he's riding is. Too much stiffness can be somewhat dangerous I believe.