Welcome to Ungheria!
Finally, the Giro left its borders and embarked on the pre-holiday, or the Pr-acation if you will, in this almost neighboring country where the race will start in style. I have to admit that I know next to nothing about Hungary, Budapest or their cycling traditions before Attila Valter. Which makes the following exercise (admittedly heavy on Wikipedia) all the more rewarding.
Throughout the duration of the Giro we will be posting stage previews in blocks, as every day can be a race, but races also have phases, where the one day race is affected by the stage that has preceded or after, or both. Today we make the easy choice to start with the Hungarian phase.
Going abroad is still a phase now. I had thought the pattern of starting in one country, then taking a day off, then picking up in Italy was a recent invention, but it’s actually something they’ve done every time they start outside of Italy, since the 1973 Giro Grande Partenza in Verviers, Belgium (Hi Eddy!). The only exceptions are the Giri which started a relatively easy distance from the Italian border, like the start in Nice in 1998 or the kick-off in Monte Carlo in 1966. Technically Hungary is not that far away, but it’s a 7 hour drive from Budapest to Venice, and it just doesn’t work for tired athletes, assuming you want to retake the Giro in Venice, which isn’t exactly great for Week 1. So yeah , we have a three-day phase, a rest day and a flight to Palermo, and then we start the next chapter.
Here are the three Hungarian stages.
Stage 1: Budapest – Visegrád, 195km
What is that? The excitement of opening day…with real excitement at the end! Why give the maglia rosa to the guy who won by half an inch, when you can try to get the riders to split up in pursuit of glory?
Detailed description: A funny thing happened on the way to the finish of the peloton… It’s about as smooth a stage as possible, until the last ten minutes. No climbs, barely any corners, and no doubt very relaxed racing, only with a nailed finish at the end to make things fun.
Budapest and Visegrád are about 50 km apart by car, probably less because
Raven The saker falcon flies. So naturally the route has a certain weekend loop feel to it.
As I said, not much to see here, until the outskirts of Visegrád, which seems to be at the end of some sort of gorge on the Danube. After flowing gently from the Slovakian border, the Danube rises, bends south towards Budapest, and in doing so, weaves its way through Visegrád. The race ends on the climb to the castle on the south bank, but both sides of the river seem quite hilly.
Here is this final ascent in detail:
Did you know? That Visegrád Castle is super old and has a lot of history? Either way, you will be overloaded with this while streaming. So I’m going to talk about the bird overlooking the Grande Partenza. As the race slowly exits its start area and crosses from Pest to Buda on the west side of the Danube, it will pass Buda Castle, on top of which sits the Turul, a mythological falcon, seen there holding a sword in its greenhouses. It is there because it appears to have been a symbol used by the House of Árpád, the founding rulers of Hungary in the late 9th century, having moved from central Russia to the Carpathian Basin, yadda yadda yadda, modern Hungary exists.
Anyway the Turul is said to have dropped his sword to the ground to indicate where the Magyars should make their country which is a cool story but like most good founding myths it tends to get co-opted by the wrong people. So it’s better to pivot to the real bird on which the Turul is believed to be based, the Saker Falcon. The national bird of Hungary is also the national bird of the United Arab Emirates (hi Joao Almeida!) and Mongolia, which gives you a good picture of its range. It can reach speeds of around 120 km/h, which puts it just outside the top ten of the fastest in the world. They are about 20 inches long with a wingspan of over 40 inches and do a good job of keeping local rodent and pigeon populations under some control. [Or would if there were more of them, though they are listed as endangered.]
Profiteers: OK, so who’s going to take the win here? Bad analogy, because like Il Falcone himself, former Giro winner Paolo Savoldelli, it involves an offensive descent, not a climb. Either way, the goal of the stage is to raise someone worthy of overall leadership, maybe for just one day, and it will take a mix of power and boldness to win the day. That’s why everyone thinks it will be Mathieu van der Poel. By the time you read this, this might be old news., Should be exciting regardless.
Stage 2: Budapest individual time trial, 9.2 km
What is that? The complete mini-ITT from Pest to Buda, a very fun urban time trial with twists and climbs to create an intriguing, if not terribly decisive stage.
Detailed description: With only 9.2 km to go, the race heads a little straight towards the Danube, although with a small integrated detour, before arriving at the river, going up the right bank, crossing the Margit Híd (bridge Margaret), descending by the left bank, then climbing a little behind Buda Castle. The Danube promenade is apparently one of the city’s landmarks, and castles are castles, so it’s likely that the local chamber of commerce will approve the design of this route.
The final climb amounts to 64 meters over 1.3 km, a grade of just under 5%, so it’s a tasty little piece of a Strava segment for road heroes. But it will certainly create a few seconds of separation, even among the best.
Did you know? You’ve probably heard that Budapest is the unification of Buda and Pest, just 149 years ago when Alejandro Valverde was fresh out of Juniors. Apparently, and I say this because I am only reading on the Internet, which does not replace scientific research, the city was created from Buda, Obuda and Pest, and was previously called Pest-Buda, from the same way as my local Airport is called Sea-Tac. Except Seattle and Tacoma haven’t been merged into one city, and probably won’t be anytime soon.
Anyway, it seems the Buda side of the city is a bit more hilly, and those same low hills stretch all the way to Visegrád via the Duna-Ipoly National Park, making for a nice ride which I should assume. It is believed (but not known) that Buda may have been named after Bleda, one of the early rulers of the Huns and the founder of Buda – and brother of Attila the Hun. Who could have killed Bleda, but supposedly not before Bleda tried to kill Attila first. Anyway, let’s not quibble over who killed who.
Profiteers: I mean, is there any how can we bring Attila Valter to victory here? Probably not, as the starting roster has its fair share of ITT specialists and strong runners who can handle a 9k effort. Again, this will be a good way to separate the wearers of the different jerseys – each of the first two stages ends in Category 4 climbs, so even the KOM jersey will have a rightful owner.
Stage 3: Kaposvár – Balatonfüred, 201 km
What is that? A glorious, glorious stage for sprinters, one of the… checkpoints… I don’t know, four legit sprint stages that don’t just fall into a big mountain climb? It’s also a relaxing way to start the long transfer to Italy. And enjoy a beautiful spring resort.
Detailed description: Starting in Kaposvár, the race turns clockwise towards Central Europe’s largest body of fresh water, Lake Balaton, where the peloton will hug the sometimes hilly lakeside before thundering up to a sprint finish in the seaside resort of Balatonfüred. The lake itself is a major resort and recreation center for the entire region, approximately 230 square miles, roughly similar to Lake Mead in Nevada, although it is quite shallow (being a natural body of water ), with an average depth of only 10 feet.
It looks like a fairly quiet course with quaint little towns along the way, especially Kaposvár, but otherwise there are few competitive aspects to this race. And fighters, facing a long drive to Palermo, will like it that way.
Low stress throughout.
Did you know? Kaposvár looks like an interesting place for a number of reasons, with a history around the formation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a history of viticulture and a pretty town square. And like most of Hungary, the second largest ethnic group of people found there are the Roma.
Europeans are probably much better educated about their ethnic identities and travel patterns than Americans will ever be, but since we Yanks are almost all from somewhere else (or literally all of them, if you count the land bridge of the Bering Sea), we should be better at understanding where other people have been to and from.
Hungary’s 10 million people are 83% ethnic Hungarians – who came from the Urals 1100 years ago – and the rest are smaller groups of various origins, the largest of which, the Roma ( estimated between 3 and 8% of the Hungarian population), originated in Punjab and Rajasthan originally, but migrated all over the world. I guess their presence is noticeable in places like Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, where they are maybe 4-9%, in countries with few cultural minority groups. But the largest Roma populations are…yes, in the United States, followed by Brazil. Either way, it will be interesting to see if the Giro celebrates Hungary’s ethnic diversity, even if numerically speaking it’s not as diverse as many western nations.
Profiteers: The sprinters. Cavendish is back for another helping of Giro glory, but a new generation of sprinters, led by Gent-Wevelgem winner Biniam Ghirmay, aren’t just going to turn around for the former Manxman.