The early stages of a Grand Tour can be a bland bore, says the Doc. So why not invent them?
Aaargh! Boooring!” “Dull, dull, dull…”
“Can we please have some adverts instead? Preferably the weird kitchen-extractor one with Peter Sagan?”
“Is this an art installation?”
Had Etna erupted and buried the whole race I don’t think many of us would have minded. And in 2,000 years when archaeologists uncovered it, they would gaze upon the petrified peloton and say, “Well, this isn’t actually as exciting as we’d hoped.”
Things have improved in the Giro since then. At the time of writing, some bike racing had occurred. But the first week lacked zip, and I say that as a time trial specialist.
But, depending on your age, let me either tell you something or remind you of it. The first week of a Grand Tour was always traditionally a sort of ride-through sensory deprivation tank.
The Tour de France, for most of the 1990s, started with a sequence of 250km sprint stages where nothing ever happened. Nothing.
In the UK we didn’t care because we didn’t know. The only coverage was a Channel 4 highlights package that included no more than: 1) Miguel Indurain getting a birthday cake; 2) Mario Cipollini arriving at the start dressed as Caesar (the emperor, not the salad); 3) A feature on how much fan-mail Richard Virenque used to get via the Tour post office; 4) any good crashes; 5) the last 5km.
Watching paint dry
In recent years, the amount of coverage of big races has grown longer and longer. Paris-Roubaix felt like it went on for days, and much of the Giro felt the same.
The problem is that the early parts of most races aren’t even supposed to be interesting. They’re only there to wear down the field a bit — from a physiological point of view, they’re meant to produce a level of fatigue.
This hopefully makes the whole thing a bit more of a challenge, and makes the bit at the end more unpredictable. You’re not really supposed to actually watch the wearing down process — it’s like watching Banksy doing undercoat.
We all enjoy a sprint finish, but no one with any sense wants to watch one being made.
Go back a bit further into the pre-TV age and races were reported only in the written press, generally by a reporter who, if he was especially diligent, might have seen the last 100 metres.
The bald result was padded out with a bit of general whimsy about the nobility of suffering, the loneliness of the broken roads, and the heroism of some random also-ran. People absolutely loved it.
It was always absorbing, because the reporter could invent whatever was required to make it so.
It’s rather like a friend of mine who used to ‘watch’ cricket on Ceefax, because the game that he could imagine from no more than the runs and wickets was much more interesting than the reality.
The Tour this year will see stages televised from beginning to end, however flat and sprinty. It’s as if protesters stormed the broadcasters’ HQs demanding an immediate end to insomnia.
I can only offer the suggestion that if you think a stage is boring, you go and do something else.
You’re a cyclist, so there’s a good chance that the garden could do with some attention.
Use social media to update yourself on nothing more than the gap to the break, and imagine for yourself the crashes, the plunges into ravines, the rogue dogs, and the wild unexpected attacks from, let’s say, Vasil Kiyrienka.
There will never be another dull race.