The Explainer: It’s Giro time!

Dear Explainer,
This weekend’s opening time trial at the Giro is listed as “Stage 1.” To me it looks like a prologue. What makes it a full stage as opposed to a prologue?
― Allan

Dear Allan,
A quick question and quick answer for this one. The UCI’s Rule Book defines a prologue as anything less than eight kilometers. Beyond that, it has to characterized as a full stage.

The name is not the only difference, though. If a rider suffers a crash or a mechanical that keeps him from finishing a prologue, he is still able to compete the next day, being credited with the same time as the last finisher.

If the same thing happens in a time trial that exceeds the 8km prologue limit, the rider who doesn’t finish is eliminated from competition.
― Charles

Dear Explainer,
Aside from the Tour de France, a lot of riders – especially sprinters – seem to drop out of the “other two” grand tours, leaving the Giro to prep’ for the Tour or leaving the Vuelta to get ready for worlds. Isn’t – or shouldn’t there be – a rule that keeps riders from scoring wins and then leaving in search of greener pastures?
― Randall

Dear Randall,
Well, there is a rule that keeps riders from leaving a stage race and immediately entering another event, but that’s about it.

UCI Rule 2.6.026 makes certain that if a rider drops out of a stage race like the Giro, he cannot participate in another race until the Giro is over. There is an exception, which allows the UCI to grant special dispensation if the rider and his team director make a request and the director of the race the rider has abandoned agrees.

I know a lot of people who think it should be even tighter than that. There are some who think a rider who doesn’t actually finish the stage race shouldn’t be credited with stage wins he scored on the way up to his abandonment. Certainly, that’s the practice with riders contesting the jersey competitions. Even if a rider were to have an unassailable lead in, say for example, the mountain jersey competition, he would not be given that prize, even if he were to drop out on a flat stage on the final day. To me, that seems a bit harsh, but it is what it is.

As for taking that draconian step with stage winners, I am not so sure. I do understand fans’ frustrations when they see a Mario Cipollini, Alessandro Petacchi or Mark Cavendish leave when the race hits the mountains, I still think forcing them to finish a three-week tour just to be credited with stage wins won two weeks earlier would be an extreme measure. It would certainly change the character not only of that particular race, but of the entire grand tour season.

I guess one rule change might be to extend the ban on racing even beyond the finish of the particular stage race – say an extra two weeks for “rest” – if the rider didn’t have to abandon due to injuries suffered in a crash. That would certainly keep a lot more riders in the Vuelta at season’s end, no?

I actually don’t mind seeing the sprinters dominate the opening week and then take a flyer out of the race. I used to love watching Cipo’ rack up wins and then have him come hang out in the press room or VIP tent as the Giro hit the Dolomites. That said, I really do admire those sprinters who ride through all three weeks and then make a run at winning on the final day in Milan, Paris or Madrid.
― Charles

Dear Charles,
I am a long-time reader and big fan of the Explainer and, especially of your Live Updates.

First, I want to ask what your plans are for the Live Update Guy as the grand tours kick off this year. I know since you left (that other cycling publication) you’ve been practicing law. Are you still going to do the Giro, the Tour and the Vuelta?

Second, after all of the years you got to cover those races, which of them is your favorite? While I know you don’t always do “Live” from location, you must have been to a few. Which is the best?
― Richard

Dear Richard,
At this point, I am planning to do Live Updates from each of the three grand tours this year. I’ll be starting off with the Giro on Saturday and, hopefully, commenting on all three this year. A lot of it depends on my trying to find a successful economic model that allows me to do that. Yes, I do enjoy practicing law, but I have to admit that I love LUGing the grand tours.

Red Kite’s Padraig and I are working with a couple of my former colleagues from the old days at VeloNews on the sales and technical sides. I honestly think that we’ll get this set up so that it’s not a purely volunteer effort.

By the way, I’ve also signed on to do some Live Update work during the Tour of California for CyclingNews.com, which should be fun and interesting, since they were our chief rivals during my time at VeloNews. Those folks have turned out to be terrific and were also quite supportive during my illness last year … as were my friends and colleagues over at VeloNews in Boulder.

Anyway, as for your second question. Yes, I did go to all of them and yes, I enjoyed every minute of it. In the 17 years I worked at VeloNews, I attended at least part of seven Tours de France and did two complete editions of the Giro and once covered the Vuelta in person. Of the three, I would have to say that it was the Vuelta I enjoyed the most, but that may have been due in large part to the fact that I took my then-10-year-old son, Philip, with me to the 2004 Vuelta. To use a hackneyed old cliché, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

As for the Tours, I think my favorite of all time was the 1998 Tour, which gave us the infamous “Festina Scandal.” It was that race that put me on Velo’s “doping beat” from that point forward and probably even led to my decision to go to law school, which has come in pretty handy since I left. I was part of the media scrum assigned to cover the judicial part of that Tour. It was fascinating. I still remember my favorite one-liner from that year, which ranks among my favorite.

While waiting for the start of the seventh stage individual time trial from Meyrignac-l’Église to Corrèze, we heard that the Festina team was planning to compete, despite having been ordered off the race the night before. There was a big flurry as reporters divided their crews into covering the race and sending people to chase after the team, which ultimately had a press conference at a local restaurant. For some reason, that day I got the job of covering the racing, which seemed like the lesser story at the moment.

Standing around in the parking lot used by team busses, a German reporter and I stood under the hot mid-day sun and talked about the scandal and what we were probably missing at the time. At one point, he kicked at the dirt with his boot, smiled and said “Well, at least no one’s talking about how much weight Jan Ullrich has gained in the off-season any more, eh?”

The following year was fascinating, too. Not because it was the first in Lance Armstrong’s unprecedented string of seven Tour wins, but because I spent the entire three weeks driving – and staying at hotels – with Rupert Guinness, John Wilcockson and the man who would eventually become the biggest thorn in Armstrong’s side, David Walsh, of the Sunday Times of London. As you might imagine, there were some interesting conversations over those three weeks.

Anyway, if I were to recommend going to either one of the three … it would be a tough call, but I would have to suggest you pick the Vuelta. All three are spectacular races run through beautiful countries, but the Vuelta seems a little more relaxed. I think fan access if better and it seemed, to me at least, that it was more fun for some of the riders because of that.

Okay, folks, it’s time for me to start Live Coverage of Stage One of the 2012 Giro d’Italia. Have fun and I hope to see you throughout the season.
— Charles

The Explainer is a weekly feature on Red Kite Prayer. If you have a question related to the sport of cycling, doping or the legal issues faced by cyclists of all stripes, feel free to send it directly to The Explainer at Charles@Pelkey.com. PLEASE NOTE: Understand that reading the information contained here does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Charles Pelkey. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained therein without first seeking the advice of qualified legal counsel licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.

Follow me on Twitter: @Charles_Pelkey

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4 comments

  1. Jesus from Cancun

    It would be extremely amusing to read a Pelkey Live Update at CyclingNews.

    I think their Live Update people do a fine job, but they lack the personal touch and reader & guest interaction that make LUG so unique. They are just fine to read when LUG is not covering, though.

    What I am curious about: Will Charles Pelkey have to spell “labour at the front”, “extremely hot at 30 degrees”, “jersey colours”, etc?

    And I also have a lot of respect for sprinters who suffer through the mountains in respect for their sponsors and fans, and of course, a shot at the last stage sprint. But I also understand when they don’t see a point in being just another guy in the grupetto.

    Not everyone can be a Sean Kelly, who won pack sprints, uphill time trials, green jerseys, and even a stage up Luz-Ardiden.

  2. Eric

    Charles,

    Your discussion of prologue v. stage got me wondering, is there any UCI regulation that would prohibit the first stage from being a team time trial? While cycling is thought by many to be an individual sport, at the professional level, it is very much a team affair. I would think a good way to highlight this would be to have a TTT as the first stage. When else would you have the opportunity to have the GC listed in team order? Just a thought.

  3. High Plains Drifter

    Cipo is famous for dropping out of le Tour. Didn’t realize he dropped out of the Giro as much. Thought he won more than a couple of points jerseys there.

    42 stage wins, yeah? That makes my head — and legs — hurt.

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