A Giro d’Italia Preview

May 1, 2013

“Like the generations of leaves, the lives of mortal men. Now the wind scatters the old leaves across the earth, now the living timber bursts with the new buds and spring comes round again. And so with men: as one generation comes to life, another dies away.”
Homer, The Iliad

Few cycling events have a distinct soul, one that is visible despite the phototropic glare of the media and the beaming personalities of its protagonists. Some are a product of their past champions; but others transcend the winners and losers, and even geography, to display an indelible watermark of cultural significance.

For the Giro d’Italia, the floating signifier is the colour; pink represents so much more than winning in the Giro d’Italia. It signifies Italy in a way the maillot jaune will never be able to match with France. It is as irreligious as it is sacred, it glows with frivolity yet has the tight weave of history and combat. Sadly the maillot jaune has been co opted by Lance Armstrong — he has made it purely the colour of winning at all costs. The maglia rosa has never been owned by any one rider, nor would any dare try. It belongs to the terrain, to the tifosi, and to our unabridged collective memories. The riders are custodians, servants of a race that often seeks to destroy its peloton yet leaves them with the beauty that the memory can conjure long after pain has left the body.

The Belgian classics can achieve a terrifying crescendo; the undistilled brutality that racing delivers when it is crammed into a single day. The monuments funnel expectations, fear, victory, devastation, and life-changing results into a shallow crucible. The frantic few hours that might elevate, bolster, or signal the end of a career are uniquely compelling yet lack the sustained tension of a grand tour.. The grand tour is Ravel’s Bolero, the classics are Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor.

As a way of previewing the 2013 edition of the race, I’d like to focus on one stage that is indicative of why this race stands above the others. Stage 2 on Ischia, the largest of the Isole Flegree, is a team time trial. No doubt the logistics will be tortuous, but that the race directors have the imagination to put a stage on a small island is the real point. Ischia, once home to Phoenicians, where the oldest inscription referencing Homer’s Iliad was found, is to classical history as the maglia rosa is to cycling. These floating signifiers, as nebulous as a nation’s flag, mean different things to different people. The Giro d’Italia is a prism through which to view professional cycling, it expresses the beauty of a nation, and it is a rock for riders to batter themselves against.

“Give me a place to stand and I will move the earth.” ― Homer, The Iliad
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