You don’t have to be a cycling enthusiast to recognize the cachet of the Tour de France. It has become the gold standard for cycling races and winning even a stage has your name etched in the storied legacy of the event. If we were equating it to horse racing, the Tour de France would be the Kentucky Derby while the Vuelta a España, and the Giro d’Italia would be the Preakness and the Belmont of cycling’s Triple Crown.
However, there are many who are championing the Giro d’Italia as the most prestigious of the Big Three and the 2021 edition is one of the most highly anticipated in the history of the sport. You can click on any online sportsbook and find odds on every cyclist to win one of cycling’s greatest prizes. If the betting sites are dealing odds on an event then you can be certain there is plenty of interest in it.
One cyclist, in particular, is endorsing the maglia rosa over the Tour de France this year and it is none other than George Bennett. Perhaps it is because the celebrated New Zealander won the Gran Piemonte last year where he got to breathe the Italian air again throughout his windup in the Apennine Mountains. But whatever it is, according to Bennett, he will eschew the Tour this year and participate in the Giro d’Italia.
“We’ve got some young guys and as much as we’ll see how the Giro evolves, I’d also love for them to have some opportunities to go for, you know I’m not going to be an authoritarian leader like that’s, ‘everybody stay with me every day.’ I think it’s cool there are these super-strong young guys that will also be able to take their chances as well,” Bennett said from a team training camp last week.
“Normally I’d be in New Zealand all the way to Paris-Nice. We took the decision to leave paradise early really to come and hang out at the top of a volcano for a couple of weeks.
“But it is the level now. To be really competitive as a GC rider, or as a climber, you want to be with the best three or four guys in the race, you need to do it [altitude],” Bennett said.
“It’s all a bit weird to come out of New Zealand and then you come back here and it’s just like, ‘oh yeah, COVID’s real.’ Little adjusting but in general [I’m] really good.”
This will be Bennett’s third crack at the maglia rosa having no luck in 2013 when he finished 122nd and then failed to finish in 2018. But they say three time’s a charm and Bennett believes the time is right for him to make noise in the event this year.
“Now, if I look at last year’s results, before I crashed in the Tour, you know, the start of the year was really good – Bourgos, Tour de l’Ain, Piemonte, Lombardia – that block there was just a super good block for me,” Bennett continued.
“The team actually said to me, … ‘Look, if you are going to ride at the Giro true to these numbers, then you’ll be in the hunt, at least close to the front.’
“So, I don’t know. I think I’ll be able to do it, but I also look at the Giro start list and I see [Egan] Bernal, [Thibaut] Pinot, [Mikel] Landa, [Emanuel] Buchmann, Remco, there’s so many guys there it’s just becoming like I think everyone just got over the Tour and decided they wanted to do the Giro.
“We’ll see what happens. I’m looking forward to finding out myself.”
If we see more cyclists spurning the Tour de France in favor of the Giro d’Italia then there will also be more mainstream recognition for the event. And that never hurts when it comes to attracting sponsors who will recognize the value of seeing their company splashed in front of an international audience with bigger and bigger ratings each year.
Nevertheless, this year’s maglia rosa will take place on May 8th and finish on May 30th and will begin in Turin for the first time in 10 years and will wind up in Milan with a trip to neighboring Slovenia tossed in-between for good measure. With all of the exceptional talent in this year’s Giro d’Italia, we could see Italy becoming the hub of world-class cycling over its more established neighbor to the north.