2017 will be the second year in a row that there will be no Team Time Trial at the Giro d’Italia. This comes after a decade of them being a regular feature in one of the first five stages of the race. As someone who enjoys a team time trial I’m hoping they make a return in future editions. You used to be able to count on one being in the Giro and Tireno-Adriatico which was good as the Tour de France and shorter French stage races hardly ever bother with them.
I enjoy them for a number of reasons. Firstly, they are incredibly photogenic. Lines of colourful riders on shining TT bikes is to me top class bike porn. Watching the lines break up as the riders start rotating can also be quite mesmerising to watch. However you can quickly snap out of this meditative state as any rider who crashes will often take down a number of his teammates with him.
This sense of it being a team event is another thing I like about the team time trials. A rider with ambitions for the GC will only get the same time as his teams fifth fasted rider so everyone has to pull together. When they do it presents an opportunity for one of the lesser riders to get a great reward. Usually gregarios grind themselves down in service of their leader and have little to show for it. If their team wins the time trial though they can get given the chance to become race leader. In recent years Svein Tuft, Salvatore Puccio, Ramunas Navardauskas and Marco Pinotti have benefited from being allowed to be the first across the line of the fasted team thus donning the Maglio Rosa the next day.
There was one edition of the race where the riders finishing time contributed to who won the race in every single stage.
In 1912 the organisers of the Giro d’Italia decided the battle to be overall champion would be contested between teams rather than individual riders. That means if you look through a list of previous winners of the race you will see the name of Atala-Dunlop given as victors and no mention of the fastest rider Carlo Galetti (nicknamed ‘Il Scoiattolo dei Navigli’ or ‘The Squirrel of the Canals’) who was also the individual winner the previous two years.
As with the first five Giri the competition placings were decided by points rather than the shortest overall time for each rider. Since the scandal which hit the 1904 Tour de France where some riders took car and train rides during stages it was thought by both Grand Tours that making the competition points based would make it easier to supervise the riders. More importantly though it was easier and therefore cheaper to tot up points once the riders finish a stage rather than use a timekeepers and stopwatches. The points a rider gained each stage in the first three Giri were the same as their placings so the rider with the lowest overall points at the end was the winner. The allocation of points was a little more complicated in the 1912 team competition though. (More of this below). Along with the rules about the points were regulations saying each team were only allowed four riders and if more than one rider abandoned then the team couldn’t remain in the race.
Atala-Dunlop were the pre-race favourite, they had the previous Giro winners Luigi Ganna and Carlo Galetti riding for them. Legnano and Bianchi were seen as their closest rivals but it was Peugeot who gave them the most competition in the end. Atala-Dunlop dominated in the first two days of racing before Peugeot reduced their deficit in stage 3. The fourth stage which started in Pescara as planned was cancelled before the riders reached the finish in Rome. Heavy rain throughout the day had turned the roads into rivers which caused many of the riders to take a wrong turn at one point. Realising their error, 50 km later, they asked the race jury to cancel the stage and when this was agreed they took the next train to the capital. Of course, the 20,00 or so spectators who had paid good money to see their arrival on two wheels were not to happy. Peugeot took over the lead in the 5th stage despite Galetti and Giovanni Micheletto of Atala finishing 1st and 2nd in Firenze. Their lead only lasted for one day though as Galetti, Micheletto and Eberardo Pavesi rode strongly enough over the next three stages for Atala to retake the lead and hold it till Milan. This was to be the race finish when the riders set off from Milan two weeks previously but because of the cancelled Pescara to Rome leg the organisers decided to add on another stage to take the number of them back to the original 8. The route for the final day would follow the course of the Giro di Lombardia. Atala-Dunlop had a decent but not unbeatable lead of 5 points but their big problem was Giovanni Micheletto falling ill before the stage start. Ganna had already abandoned the race after crashing during the stage 4 deluge so if one more rider from the team quit they would all have to stop. Eberardo Pavesi convinced his teammate to tackle the undulating 8 hour stage and Micheletto even managed to finish 2nd. With Galetti 3rd the team had ensured their points tally was unassailable. “The Four Musketeer” as the riders became known had ensured that Atala-Dunlop became the first and only team to win the Giro d’Italia.
How the points were awarded
As I was researching this article I found a few sources which explained the points were awarded as such: The team which the stage winner came from got 4 points, 2 points were given for having more than one rider finishing in the top four and 1 if three riders finished the stage.
Looking through the records though I saw that Vincenzo Borgarello had won three stages and Ernesto Azzini one. They both rode for Legnano who only finished the race with 3 points. So with the help of Herbie Sykes I tried to work out what caused Atala to win. As far as I can tell each stage 4 points were awarded to the top team, which was the team with the highest 3rd placed rider. 2 points were given to teams that had three riders in the top 10 and 1 point was given if four riders completed the stage for the team. The result of this was that in all the stages one team got six or seven points and the rest only one or none at all.
The team competition was hugely unpopular with race fans. They were confused, unsurprisingly, with the way the points were awarded and couldn’t tell who was winning at any one point as the race jury only announced the points on the rest days which were between each stage. Most importantly, just as today, followers of cycling are fans of individual cyclists first and teams second. So it was no surprise that the Giro organisers reverted back to making the Giro d’Italia a competition contested by individuals.
Thanks for Herbie Sykes for helping me to get my head round the whole points mess.