Monday, May 20, 2013

Classification Clarification at the Giro d'Italia

For many Melbourne cycling enthusiasts, a typical cold and wet morning in the middle of May might start out something like this…

After arriving at the office, the first thing on the agenda (after re-holstering your photo ID lanyard) is to check the overnight results from the Giro d’Italia. While you were sound asleep, dreaming about your next promotion, sales bonus or that cute new girl in marketing, the pro-cycling peloton were racing across a picturesque Italian countryside, possibly bathed in sunshine, but hopefully sliding around on slick, wet roads for your amusement.

The 2013 Giro d’Italia – surely nobody should be forced to work in these conditions.
You scan the headlines to see who won the stage before scrolling down through the results to check on the performance of your favourite riders – perhaps fellow Australians or just Europeans with funny names.

The Iberian riders often top this list (Benat Intxausti Elorriaga & Nelson Filipe Santos Simoes Oliveira would have to be two of my favourites) however, for 2013 I think the Colombians might have narrowly edged them out with Cayetano JosĂ© Sarmiento Tunarrosa, Miguel Angel Rubiano Chavez, Robinson Eduardo Chalapud Gomez and the always-entertaining Rigoberto Uran Uran. Also, an honourable mention this year to Poland’s Przemyslaw Niemiec for a great consonant to vowel ratio in his first name.

After checking the stage results you begin scrolling further down the page to peruse the main contenders in the General Classification. The next thing you realise is that it’s been quite some time since you began rolling you mouse wheel (or executing deftly nonchalant single-finger swipes on your tablet) and, strangely, you have not yet reached the General Classification standings.

My point (which I realise is not being made very succinctly) is that there are a lot of classifications to get through at the Giro d’Italia – but does anybody actually understand what they all are?

Well I’m not Italian so I certainly didn’t, but I was interested enough (and had the time) to try and find out. The official website for the race,, explains everything you need to know. Now sure, there is an English version but if you’re anything like me, then you’ll find it a lot more fun to put the Italian version through Google Translate instead.

For example, while the rules regarding the Team Time Trial might seem fairly straightforward, when translated (badly) from Italian they include references to the “5th runner arrived” (please don’t tell me they’ve turned the Giro into a Triathlon) and how to deal with a “fall and/or drilling in the last kilometre”. As far as I know, there’s only been one pro cyclist with the ability to drill anything during the last kilometre of a time trial, and that was Mario Cipollini. 
Cipollini doing what he always did best - looking great!
Most cycling fans would be familiar with the main classifications at the Giro as they are similar to the other Grand Tours. The General Classification ranks each rider based on overall cumulative time and the leader wears the prestigious Pink Jersey, or Maglia Rosa. The Mountains Classification (Gran Premio della Montagna) leader gets the slightly less prestigious honour of wearing the Blue Jersey (Maglia Azzura) and the Best Young Rider wears the White Jersey (Maglia Bianca), which, although quite distinguished, does stain easily during wet stages.
Cadel’s Mum was apparently “not too pleased” about having to get the stains out of this jersey.
The Points Competition ranks riders based on placings in intermediate sprints and stage finishes (regardless of time) and the leader in this classification wears the very much un-distinguished Red Jersey, or Maglia Rosso, which is not to be confused with the also very much un-distinguished Australian comedy duo of Merrick & Rosso, who have absolutely nothing to do with Italian cycling – although Merrick did lead a “Girls Bike Convoy Ride” in Sydney back in 2009.

Merrick Watts from ‘Merrick & Rosso’ wearing the Poncho Rosa.

In addition to these ‘special jersey’ categories there are a number of other classifications ranging from the tautological (very similar) to the downright absurd. While there's a red jersey on offer for the Points Classification, there’s also an Intermediate Sprint Classification where riders are allocated points for 1st to 5th placings at intermediate sprint points during each stage. This gives riders lacking the intestinal fortitude to contest the fast and dangerous bunch sprint finishes something to aim for…which is nice…and very inclusive.

Next on the list is the Azzurri d'Italia Classification, which offers not only a cash prize, but also a memorial plaque to the rider who accumulates the most points that are awarded to the top 3 finishers on each stage.

Then there’s the Fighting Spirit category, which I find particularly entertaining. This classification is basically a combination of the sprint and mountain classifications whereby points are awarded to the top few riders at the stage finish, intermediate sprint points and categorised mountain climbs. Each day, the rider who accumulates the most points ‘...shall be declared Fighting Spirit of the Stage...’ and at the end of the Giro, the rider with the highest aggregate points ‘…will be declared as SUPER FIGHTING SPIRIT...’ which, I’m sure many of you will recognise as the title of a popular (??) arcade-style combat game*.

*If you do actually recognise this game you're probably not mature enough to be reading this blog – go ask your parents for permission or risk accidentally reading a naughty word (like 'boobs').
One of the stranger race categories is the Pinarello Breakaway Prize (Premio Fuga Pinarello)* which is designed to reward the rider who:

‘…will feature with special courage and tenacity the break away technical gesture’..

[*TPC: For 2014 this has been replaced with the Premio Energy category, which is a prize for the fastest riders in the final 3km.]

This category is ranked by totalling up the number of kilometres that each rider spends ahead of the main peloton as part of a solo or group breakaway. In effect, it rewards the riders who animate the rather boring middle-section of long stages prior to getting caught by the main peloton – it’s kind of like the Giro’s version of an encouragement award. After 9 stages and the first rest day of this year’s Giro, Dutch rider Pim Ligthart leads this classification with a total of 290 breakaway kilometres in his legs (and that’s with 11 more mass start stages to go).

With so many classifications being contested, you can see why it takes so much scrolling to get through the Giro results page...but these are only the individual classifications. There are also Team Classifications, which don’t get any less absurd – and let me stress that none of this is made up, it is all straight out of the official Giro d’Italia rule book.

Firstly, there’s the standard Team General Classification – total time for the best three riders from each team on each stage. Next, is the Super Teams Classification where the top-20 riders on each stage are awarded points, which are then aggregated for each team. Finally, there’s the Fair Play Panathlon Prize, which is just brilliant.

‘The Giro Management, deriving inspiration from the principle of reciprocal fair play in sporting events…intends to emphasize the riders’ behavior thus awarding a prize to the team which members have proven to have better complied with the applicable regulations.

So, it’s basically a prize for the most well behaved team.

‘Therefore, the violations set forth in the disciplinary rules have been grouped in six categories and penalties have been ascribed thereof.’

So, similar to when you were in Primary School and the teacher would put marks up on the blackboard for bad behaviour, each team gets a score based on how naughty they are.

The infractions range from: a warning (0.5 points); time penalty (2 points for each second); downgrading (100 points); disqualification (1000 points); all the way up to a positive doping test (2000 points). It is a wonder that the inclusion of this classification alone has not served as a strong enough incentive to completely eliminate doping from professional cycling. After all, when there’s 2000 ‘naughty-points’ on the line for a positive test, surely it’s hard to justify the potential benefits of doping…except for the fact that the Fair Play award offers up a total prize pool of only €10,000 compared with almost €70,000 for the best teams on time and points while the prize pool for the multitude of individual categories totals over €1.3 million plus a memorial plaque (of questionable value).

But still, you’d have to be crazy to risk all the glory that accompanies the Fair Play Panathlon Prize for a measly million Euro right? Well, after 9 stages and the first rest day of this year’s race, there were only four teams leading with zero infractions – Team Saxo-Tinkoff (whose roster includes convicted doper Alberto Contador and is managed by notorious former doper Bjarne Riis), Katusha (who were initially denied a 2013 Pro Tour license due to doping allegations which has since been overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport), Omega Pharma – Quick-Step (sponsored by a Belgian pharmaceuticals company – seems legitimate) and Cannondale Pro Cycling. I’m guessing the Cannondale team is pretty happy with their decision to send sprint sensation Peter Sagan off to the Tour of California, otherwise they would no doubt have already incurred some negative points in this category – although I didn’t see any specific penalties listed for “sexual harassment” breaches.
Peter Sagan cops a feel (and possibly a few penalty points).
That concludes a hopefully informative explanation of the many and varied classifications in the Giro d’Italia. Well done if you managed to get through this article – you truly have “Super Fighting Spirit” and I have no doubt that you too, can one day make it through the full list of results – it’s probably a good idea to bring some snacks.

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