The Giro d'Italia (Tour of Italy) is one of the three "Grand Tours" of professional bicycle racing: three-week stage races combining flat stages, tough mountain climbs, and time trials pitting the riders against the clock, to determine an overall winner. But while there are major elements in common among the Giro, the Tour de France, and the Vuelta a Espaņa, each race has its own distinctive character. The 2003 Giro d'Italia showcases the unique flavor of Italy's Grand Tour, with a course that encourages aggressive tactics from the contenders for the overall lead, while also offering a generous helping of outstanding sprint stages.
I don't say this lightly, but WCP's coverage of the 2003 Giro d'Italia is perfect, with each and every stage of the three-week race given exactly enough time, no more and no less. The race is narrated entirely by Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, who always do an outstanding job of providing interesting commentary. The coverage gets right to business in each stage, with no intervening "fluff" at all. We get to see a course map for each stage, and for most stages, also a profile of the race route, which is very useful as it lets us know whether there are any major climbs or uphill finishes coming up. Liggett and Sherwen also do a great job of quickly outlining what the stage will be like and what we might expect to see, before jumping into the live coverage.
The Italians love their sprinters, and the Giro d'Italia always has a generous number of stages intended to showcase the "fast men" of the peloton. Usually, I'm not a big fan of sprint stages, preferring the mountain stages, but the simply outstanding coverage of the Giro's many sprints really shows how exciting a sprint can be. In each of the flat stages that could potentially end in a bunch sprint, the coverage picks up about five kilometers from the finish, or sometimes a bit further out if there's a breakaway that's trying to make it to the line before the main peloton catches up. This allows Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen ample time to comment on the way the tactics are shaping up... and it's very revealing to see how much goes on in the kilometers leading up to that final bunch sprint. While the final push for the line requires pure speed (and a generous helping of nerves), in the lead-up to the sprint we can see how the teams fight for dominance, each one trying to get their leader into the perfect spot for the final rush to the line. But while the lead-out is largely a team-orchestrated affair, that's not to say that an individual rider, unsupported by his team, can't steal the thunder of an exquisitely arranged lead-out... and in the Giro's sprints, we see several instances where smart tactics from an individual rider allows him to make the winning move.
One of the highlights of the 2003 Giro, in fact, is the sprinters' battle between the current World Champion Mario Cipollini (out to beat the 60-year-old record of 41 total stage wins in the Giro) and the brilliant newcomer Alessandro Petacchi, who in earlier seasons was never able to beat Cipollini in a sprint finish. Watch out for Petacchi!
The mountain stages are also given excellent coverage. We see the key attacks and counter-attacks, of which there are many: this is no passive race! Gilberto Simoni is highly motivated to win the "maglia rosa," the leader's pink jersey, and he's both willing and able to be aggressive in pursuit of that goal. He's a leader on the road as well as in the pack. Meanwhile, Stefano Garzelli is equally determined to put in a fierce challenge: after a year out of competition, he has a lot to prove, and he never gives up. Other riders put in strong challenges as well: up-and-coming rider Yaroslav Popovich, Dario Frigo, and even past winner Marco Pantani, in search of a return to his former greatness.
Ironically, the battle for the lead in the overall classification is not as dramatic as the battles for the individual stages, due to Gilberto Simoni's dominance over the race. But even with Simoni's dominance, the Giro remains very interesting. Simoni's Saeco teammates are solid riders, but the nature of the Giro is such that none of the teams is able to "lock down" the race at any time. It's up to the team leaders, like Simoni, to win or lose the race on their own strength and wits.
The 2003 Giro d'Italia is a three-DVD set, packaged in an attractive double-wide keepcase.
The 2003 Giro d'Italia is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, as the footage is taken from television broadcasts. The overall image quality is quite good. Colors are excellent throughout the race, always appearing bright and vibrant, without any smearing. This is especially important for racing, as it allows viewers to easily identify riders in the peloton by the colors of their team jerseys. Close-up shots are very clear and detailed, and overall the picture is clean and free of noise or dirt. Medium- and long-range shots are a bit less detailed, with some blurriness appearing at times; overall, the 2003 Giro isn't one of the very best WCP DVDs in terms of image quality, but it's squarely in the "looks good" category.
The Dolby 2.0 sound is handled well throughout the race. Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen are always clear and easy to understand; a few times I caught a bit of distortion when Liggett got enthusiastic and spoke at a higher than usual volume, but this was very faint and only occasional. Overall, we get a nice clean soundtrack that highlights the commentators while also giving us an enjoyable touch of the race's atmosphere, from cheering crowds to the humming wheels of the bikes in the peloton.
WCP has done a very nice job with the packaging and menus for the 2003 Giro d'Italia. The cover of the DVD shows the winner of the race, but I am pleased to report that it doesn't reveal the other podium places, which is important since the battle for the second and third spots is very exciting. The individual DVDs are conveniently labeled with which stages appear on which disc. The menus are nicely done, with attractive non-spoiler images from the race. Each of the stages can be selected individually, and the menu lists them by number and location, making it easy to find the stage you want; again, there are no spoiler images associated with the stage menu. All in all, the 2003 Giro DVD has the nicest, most user-friendly DVD design of any of the WCP releases so far.
There are no special features.
The 2003 Giro d'Italia is a true delight for devoted cycling fans: three and a half hours of brilliant coverage of one of the most exciting races on the cycling calendar. WCP has a tradition of providing great coverage of the Giro, with an uninterrupted run from 1993 to 2000 of Giro productions, though 2001 and 2002 were skipped; with this outstanding 2003 release, let's hope that we're back on track for a Giro DVD every year (as well as filling in that gap and releasing older Giros on DVD!). In short, the 2003 Giro is a must-have for any cycling enthusiast.
Though it's not as explicitly newcomer-friendly as the 2003 Tour coverage, the truth is that the 2003 Giro d'Italia is very accessible for new viewers as well. The coverage is extremely well presented and clearly explained; the DVD is long enough to show all the action in depth, while being short enough to encourage repeat viewing. Highly recommended for both devoted fans and viewers who want to get a start on watching professional bicycle racing.