The Tour de France has been the undisputed premier grand tour in modern cycling. The biggest names in the sport routinely craft their seasons around the July race. While this has been the status quo, there is no denying the intense spotlight has been turning the Tour into a downright boring event. With the surprising amount of next-generation blue chip general classification riders announcing they will be targeting the Giro d’Italia in 2019, Italian grand tour is taking steps to overtake the Tour de France in terms of quality of the field and on-the-road excitement.
The most exciting young grand tour riders in the peloton have recently announced they are choosing to target the Giro instead of the Tour. Since the two races unveiled their respective routes, there was speculation about which race up-and-coming grand tour star Tom Dumoulin would target. It was a tough decision for the young star to make with the Giro offering three time trials, while the more-prestigious tour is set to feature a heavily mountainous route with only one individual time trial.
Dumoulin ended that speculation when he revealed he would be targeting victory at the Giro d’Italia in 2019 (some riders like Dumoulin have expressed interest in doubling up at the Tour. However, it will be more difficult for them to animate the race in 2019 compared to 2018 when riders had extra time between the brutal events due to the Soccer World Cup.). Reigning Vuelta a Espana champion Simon Yates followed suit by announcing he would also be putting his energy into a redemption ride at the Giro instead of targeting the Tour. After losing his lead by surrendering over an hour in the final three stages of the 2017 edition, Yates certainly has unfinished business in Italy and is placing emotion above rational thought in his schedule selection.
In addition to Dumoulin and Yates, Vincenzo Nibali will be chasing a third Giro victory while Movistar’s grand tour ingenue Mikal Landa has confirmed the Giro as his main 2019 goal. Lotto-Jumbo’s Primož Roglič has also confirmed his intention to the target the Giro, along with an appearance by Sky’s wunderkind Egan Bernal. Even defending Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas is now rumored to be kicking his title defense to the curb to line up at the Giro.
Giro d’Italia GC Contender Startlist
Tom Dumoulin (28 years old)
Simon Yates (26 years old)
Vincenzo Nibali (34 years old)
Mikal Landa (29 years old)
Primož Roglič (29 years old)
Egan Bernal (21 years old)
(Rumored)-Geraint Thomas (32 years old)
Tour de France GC Contender Startlist
Chris Froome (33 years old)
(Possibly targeting Giro)-Geraint Thomas (32 years old)
Romain Bardet (28 years old)
Nairo Quintana (28 years old)
Richie Porte (33 years old)
Thibaut Pinot (28 years old)
This lineup of young, exciting stars (plus one old exciting star) stands in stark contrast to a Tour de France that is set to feature the old-man Sky duo of Geraint Thomas (if he starts) and Chris Froome, Romain Bardet, Nairo Quintana and Richie Porte. Bardet and Pinot will be considered contenders heading into the race, but both rider’s usually aggressive style consistently wilt under Sky’s infernal pace and the bright lights of the Tour. In theory, Quintana and Porte could add spice in the mountains, but Quintana has struggled to hang, let alone attack when things get serious on the climbs, and Porte has struggled to finish grand tours since leaving Sky in 2015. The Australian has only finished two grand tours since leaving to lead the BMC squad.
With this Tour lineup, it isn’t difficult to imagine the race providing little action with Sky setting a searing pace on the front while Froome and Thomas subtly duke it out for the win while insisting they are racing for the other. The race could very easily be even more a snoozefest that it has been in year’s past, with a significant chunk of the young talent siphoned off by the Giro d’Italia’s more dynamic race.
An Ascendant Race
While the Giro and Tour were on somewhat equal footing throughout the 1970’s, 1980’s, and early 1990’s, with non-Italian stars such as Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Stephen Roche, Tony Rominger, and Miguel Indurain all nabbing wins at the Italian race. However, the Armstrong era of the 2000s saw the international spotlight shift north of the Alps and the French grand tour took center stage. This shift saw the Giro become a local affair that failed to net a non-Italian winner between 1997 and 2007.
Alberto Contador, barred from the 2008 Tour de France, lined up at the Giro and broke the Italian winning streak. This began the slow emergence of international stars at the race. The organizers lured Lance Armstrong the following year during his highly-publicized comeback and have been expanding its profile ever since. This is apparent in its blue-chip winners in every edition between 2013 and 2018 (Vincenzo Nibali, Nairo Quintana, Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali, Tom Dumoulin, Chris Froome).
The expansion has been quietly been serving up the best grand tour racing over the past few years and the Giro has emerged as the more exciting alternative to the lumbering, rigid Tour de France. The Italian race looks to expand on on this growing profile by luring the young, exciting talent away from the stranglehold Sky has had on the Tour in recent years.
The irony of major players choosing the Giro over the Tour in 2019 is that the Tour specifically designed next year’s route to minimize the effect Sky could have on the race. But by stripping out time trial kilometers and making the race more focused on the high mountains, they have alienated riders like Dumoulin and Roglic who rely on the ITT to create time gaps between them and the rest of the field. Even Yates, who would greatly benefit from the Tour’s TT-lite, climb-heavy course is opting to head south of the Alps for his major grand tour goal of the season.
The Giro’s relatively recent profile rise is undeniable and it stands to deliver the most exciting grand tour field of the 2019 season. The Tour is too powerful, wealthy and holds a far too valuable slot on the calendar to ever truly lose its title at the most important grand tour, but that doesn’t mean ASO should refrain from glancing over their shoulder. At least for this year, the most exciting young stars in the sport won’t have the Tour de France circled as their main target. It is clear the lack of competitive balance has caused the Tour’s sporting value to suffer. This has never been more clear by their lack of ability to demand the full attention of key grand tour stars. This is an issue that needs to be swiftly and effectively addressed by the top brass at ASO before the Tour begins to lose its position as the season’s premiere event.