Giro V. Tour

Tour de France 1952 Alpe d'Huez

Fausto Coppi leading Jean Robic up l'Alpe d'Huez in 1952.

Years ago, I used to argue with a friend about what constituted a sport. We joked that we ought to have a cable access show called “Sport or Not?” Generally speaking, we agreed on the big ones: Football, basketball, soccer, track and field, swimming and, of course, bike racing were all sports. Baseball and golf? We could argue those for hours.

But what about within cycling? Which are the greatest races? It’s hard to find a rider who won’t tell you Paris-Roubaix is the greatest one-day race, but I’ve been challenged to a duel. I have a friend who insists the Giro is a better race than the Tour.

Readers who have followed my work since the days of BKW already know my love for the Tour de France. Stated simply, I think the Tour de France is what happens when you make bike racing a lifestyle.

Bill McGann of excellent site Bike Race Info asked me to contribute a piece to a debate on which race is greater, the Tour de France or the Giro d’Italia. Bill is a man who loves a great debate (I once tried to defend rock music against his belief that big band music is vastly superior). Larry Theobald, the owner of the tour company Cycle Italia made his case for the superiority of the Giro. It’s a great argument, but I’m still not swayed. The points are academic, but the arguments are no less impassioned for it.

You can see Larry’s piece on the Giro here and my rebuttal here.

Photo: John Pierce, Photosport International


  1. Robot

    I think the main difference between the Giro and Tour is the way they’ve evolved. Without getting into food, scenery, fans, etc., I think the Tour just opened itself to the world sooner than the Giro did. My impression of cycling in Italy in the early 20th century is that it was very parochial. The Italians raced for the Italians and against outsiders, whereas the Tour became a more open and accessible race earlier on, which allowed its prestige to develop across the world from an earlier date. Thus, I think this is a question of perception, rather than reality.

    The Tour is perceived as the biggest and most storied, when in fact the Giro and the Vuelta are both its equal in all other ways, food, scenery, routes, hospitality, etc.

    And I think cycling would benefit a bit (I heard Lance say this in an interview, which makes me naturally inclined to disagree, but…) if the TdF stepped back just a little and made room for the other Grant Tours to shine a bit more.

    A rising tide, after all, floats all boats.

  2. Brad

    Shameless plug for one of my writings on “Sport vs. Activity”

    You’ll find some criteria there on what constitutes a sport and what is simply an activity.

    Sorry for using your site to link to my own writing, but I felt it was fitting given the opening sentence of your entry.

  3. Bandobras

    It’s like asking if apples or pears are the better fruit.
    Apples are more popular but are they in themselves better.
    The answer to this debate can best be found by sitting down with friends and bottles of good wine and debating till all are unconscious.
    Grapes Rule!

  4. lachlan

    the giro can never be a better race, irrespective of course / fan / anything differences such as they are, because of one thing: The best riders in the world peak for The Tour. It’s a market economy in any sport… the one the pepole want to win most wins… same reason why the olympics mean comparitively little to cyclists (although gaining a bit).

    By all means, i love the giro, and want it to gain in popularity, but not by holding back the tour… bring ’em both further on I say! :o)

  5. bikesgonewild

    …fully agree w/ all the posted reasons as to why “le tour” is, was & will undoubtedly remain #1…

    …but if i had the wherewithal to follow both races to my heart’s content, while i’d pick a week based around the mountain stages during ‘le tour’, i’d willingly follow “il giro” from beginning to end…

    …i’d wanna go through every city & tiny village the ‘maglia rosa’ must ride through…smell the smells from every shop & bakery as we passed by or stopped to quench thirsts or slake our hunger…feel the vibe, the joy or disappointment emanating from every ‘tifosi’ & the heat from every kilometer of tarmac…

    …’il giro’ has always felt more personal from this distance & photog & journalist friends have always spoken of an intimacy there, not really found at ‘le tour’…it’s understandable but i’m sure it’s also to ‘il giro’s’ benefit…

    1. Author

      Thanks everyone for your great comments; you all made great points: the rising tide, wine with friends, etc.

      Brad: Thanks for sharing; this is the beauty of the web. For me, the debate lost its luster once I realized I really only had two criteria: If you can do it at a professional level without possessing either amazing strength or aerobic fitness, it can’t be a sport.

  6. Willem

    lachlan made a great point. Everybody brings their A-game to the tour, the sponsors pull out all the stops bringing the best equipment and all the colored bikes. The athletes s well; you never hear anybody using the tour to prepare for another race. The Giro is often used to prepare for the tour and the vuelta is always used to prepare for worlds. Like it or not, the tour is one of the only races where a cyclist can’t use the excuse (and we love our excuses) that their using the tour to prepare for something else (maybe leadville).

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