By Alasdair Fotheringham
CORDENONS, Italy (Reuters) - As the Giro d'Italia enters its second week, cycling's top directors have been reminded just how different the race is from the Tour de France.
"It's so unpredictable," Rod Ellingworth, Team Sky's performance manager who is helping oversee Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins' bid to become Britain's first Giro d'Italia winner, told Reuters.
"The Tour is much easier to define as a format. The first week, some mountains, flat again and then more mountains and a time trial at the end while the Giro has a very different structure.
"We've already been up some climbs here in the Giro that are really tricky, there have been some very technical stages too. The Tour doesn't usually do so much of that in the first week."
After Monday's rest day, Wiggins faces a tough challenge in the second mountainous week of racing after enduring his own trials and tribulations in the Giro's challenging first nine days.
The Briton lost 84 seconds after crashing on a tough downhill section on stage seven, slumping from sixth to 23rd overall, as well as losing 17 seconds on stage four.
He had to chase the rest of the field for 10 kms after he was blocked by a crash on stage six and he is currently lying fourth overall behind race leader Vincenzo Nibali of Italy.
"The two races are becoming more similar, but they are still races you have to tackle in a very different way," said Jose Azevedo, now a director with the RadioShack team and a top 10 finisher overall in both the Giro and Tour de France.
ICE CREAM STOPS
"Back when I raced the Giro, on the flat stages a break would go early on, then we'd all ease back and ride very, very gently until about 50 kilometers to go," he said.
"A lot of days, the main bunch would even have cappuccino and cake or ice cream stops mid-race in some of the villages.
"Now it's much more tense throughout, so it's getting more like the Tour de France - really I think since the world tour (cycling's top league] started - in 2005.
"Almost all the teams were Italian before then, and that meant we raced like the Italians liked to do. When the world tour started, and there were more international teams here, it lost that local flavor."
Azevdo said the Tour carried far greater resonance than the Giro with media and fans.
"It's incredible, you can be 100 kilometers from the finish and there's already a huge level of tension in the bunch, the same you'd get when there was 10 kilometers to go in a normal race.
"That's why the Tour is the hardest in the world. The Giro can have a lot of mountains, and we've seen in this first week it's not at all easy, but the way it is raced, going fast all day, makes the Tour the hardest."
"The Tour is harder, but the Giro is different for sure," said Brian Holm, a former professional who rode both the Giro and the Tour and who is now directing top British sprinter Mark Cavendish at Omega Pharma-Quick Step in Italy.
"The Tour is more intense, it's bigger, one level higher and harder. So that makes the racing stranger here. Half the time unknown riders, rather than big names like in the Tour, will win stages. You never know what is going to happen."
(Editing by John Mehaffey)