The true connoisseur appreciates nothingness: A message for the slow stage haters

In defence of Grand Tour stages where nothing happens.

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“I’m sorry but what is men’s racing,” my esteemed colleague Amy Lauren Jones texts as the peloton sets off from Budapest for the first few metres of the 2022 Giro d’Italia.

“RIP that’s so dead. Two seconds and the break is established, 193km to go and everyone sits up. Dudes having a wee.”

This theme has continued. Mathieu van der Poel described stage six in the title of his Strava entry as “maybe the easiest race I’ve ever done.”

Amy’s point is valid, despite her pre-eminent and borderline extremist disinterest in the men’s side of the sport. Grand Tours are dull. It’s a bunch of blokes cycling hundreds of kilometres across entire countries for weeks on end, a spectacle designed for written embellishments in l’Auto. It’s not the fast-paced, made-for-television action provided by the NFL, it’s not the circus of Premier League football, where fans will shout ‘wanker’ at the goalkeeper simply for kicking the ball, AKA, just doing his job.

Road cycling is a sport for gentlemen and gentlewomen. The passage of the peloton through adoring towns decorated to welcome the arrival of the race, the spectacle of the vast mountain ranges conquered by climbers, the history stored in every cobble in Belgium. A rich tapestry of sporting and sociological history is contained within a multitude of pedal strokes.

The broadcasting of entire stages from start to finish isn’t a new phenomenon. Another colleague, Ronan McLaughlin, has watched the Road World Championships from start to finish every year since 2006, and earlier this year did the same with the 300km-long Milan-Sanremo. However, this is par for the course for a man who’s completed more than one Everesting and is clearly just a glutton for punishment. He can’t be relied upon to pass sound judgement.

This year’s Giro d’Italia has hardly been a blockbuster so far, the peloton didn’t really race in Budapest and the GC contenders mostly just watched each other up Mount Etna as Ineos mounted their defensive train once again.

But on stage six things really hit another level.

After a flight down from Hungary and then further complicated ferry-based transport over from Sicily, the peloton decided a day off was in order for stage six, especially with the treacherous stages 7, 8 and 9 fast approaching.

With 192km of road between the start and finish, it wasn’t too much of a shock when no one fancied a day off the front in the breakaway. Eventually, EOLO-Kometa’s Diego Rosa relented, potentially having received stern orders from the team car that they were missing out on valuable television time for their sponsors.

Reluctantly, the Italian flung himself up the road for more than 100km of solitude. Later, Gianni Savio then commanded three of his Drone Hopper-Androni Giocattoli riders to also make a move, he has a quartet of title sponsors to keep happy, as well as a race organiser who looks to the smaller teams to animate the race.

These were token gestures, of course, and the online dumpster fire of Twitter dot com was quick to criticise the scenes being beamed into their living rooms after weeks and months of yearning for Grand Tour racing.

“This stage is a terrible viewing experience,” was one view. “Today’s combativity award should go to everyone who’s insane enough to watch this Giro stage from start to finish,” was another.

Throughout the day, TV commentators apologised for the lack of action, giving explanations for the wall of drying paint being shown between ad breaks.

Maybe the sheepishness comes from the superlative build-up that basically all bike races receive these days, but the fact of the matter is that Grand Tours are usually fairly dull affairs. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

The beauty of bike racing is that you can have it on in the background, incrementally stopping for longer and longer in front of the television as the race reaches its crescendo. Those opening kilometres are like the bread a waiter gives you before your starter. Nice if you’re hungry, but you don’t really need it. The only exception is if you have a monstrous hangover, at which point seeing other humans undergoing great physical exertion has a very restorative effect.

“Am I the only one who loves a day like today?” Eurosport’s Orla Channaoui tweeted. “You need stages where you can chat, catch up on life and have the guys keeping you company in the background. It’s like a comfort blanket of a day.”

“The true connoisseur appreciates nothingness,” added CyclingTips Editor Caley Fretz on Slack. “Like that artist who sold a blank canvas.” This is why he’s the boss.

So, as we progress through these next two weeks of Giro, can we all agree to keep complaints to a minimum? Like settling in for a cricket test match, relax yourself into the void of sporting action. Feel blessed that you live in a time where the image of a cycling fan running up a mountain in a mankini bounces off a satellite and down into your home, where you sit on your sofa in peaceful tranquillity.

And remember that even on the slowest days, the real easiest race is always yours.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.