This afternoon’s 8.7km opening time trial of the Giro in Herning, Denmark, is the Giro d'Italia’s most distant start from Italy, and - together with the Vuelta’s start in Assen in 2010, at 1,300 kilometres away from Spain, a similar distance to Herning from Italy - is the equal furthest from its home country for any Grand Tour in cycling history.
The Giro is better-travelled than the Vuelta, which ‘only’ had its first foreign start in 1997, in neighbouring Portugal. Eleven years after the Tour’s first start abroad, in 1954 in Holland, the Giro began abroad on foreign soil for the first time, in San Marino.
So are these long-distance starts for Grand Tours really worth it? Reactions vary widely, but one fan is Matt Goss. As an Australian, he is pretty well-travelled:
“On a personal level, for me it’s good, I started my career here,” said the Orica-GreenEdge pro, who first raced at this level with Danish outfit CSC back in 2007.
“It’s always a little bit of a drama because one of the rest days is spent travelling a little bit, and recovering from travel. But it’s also nice to start somewhere different, like we did when the race began in Holland a couple of years back. It gives a bit of a new flavour to it.
“I remember racing up in Holland and there were some of the biggest crowds I’ve ever seen in my career. It’s not always a bad thing, it brings a new light to the race and maybe some new spectators as well.”
As for the terrain itself, the former Giro and Tour of Denmark stage winner says the country’s flat, open countryside will make for “very similar racing to Holland, it’s pretty windy up here. It definitely threw a few spanners into the works [in 2010] there were a lot of crashes, and here it’s the same: the GC guys will have to be pretty attentive.”
Another one of the Giro’s seven Australians this year, Luke Roberts with the local squad Saxo Bank, also believes that bringing the race to Denmark was a good idea, even if he recognises that “for some of the riders, having the rest day so early on is not such a great idea, and having that long transfer down to Italy.”
“But a lot of people get to see the Giro who wouldn’t normally, and that’s a big event for a cycling fans. You’d probably get bigger crowds than you would for some of the starts in Italy.”
As for Saxo Bank, logically enough, starting the Giro on home soil is one of their high points of the year.
“Since it was announced it was going to start this year, it’s a big thing for this team, and for the Danish riders it’s huge," said Roberts. In total there are five Danes racing this year in the Giro, three in Saxo Bank - Anders Lund, Jonas Jorgensen and Mads Christensen. (The other two are Lars Bak, with Lotto-Bellisol, and Alex Rasmussen, one of the favourites for this afternoon’s prologue, with Garmin-Barracuda.)
“For me, I feel in a way that I’ve been adopted by the Danish fans, we’re almost as Danish as the local riders and we’ve had a great reception," Roberts said. "Since we’ve arrived, even people in passing cars stop for photos, there’s definitely more reaction from the public than usual and racing in Bjarne's [Riis, team boss] town makes it more special too.
“We rode part of Sunday’s course yesterday. It’s really windy down by the coast and we’ll see the peloton splitting up for sure. All over there’s already people decorating their houses, ready for the Giro. The whole country’s really behind it.”
Herning itself has all but disappeared under a sea of pink decorations, with hotel staff almost uniformly dressed up in Giro t-shirts, pink bunting, balloons and bikes in shop windows, and even pink napkins and special Giro menus and wine bottle labels in local restaurants.
“It’s actually really good to have the race here because in one sense, Denmark never has a stage race as big as this,” added Adam Hansen (Lotto-Bellisol), “and for the Giro, coming out of Italy is always really special.”