Giro d’Italia – Rest Day Roundup #3

Read The Jersey Pocket’s first two Giro Rest Day Roundups here and here.
We finished our last round-up with the suggestion that we were heading for new territory on the Giro GC and the middle week of the Corsa Rosa eventually provided that, but not before more familiar fare had been dished up. More rain, more crashes, more cautious riding by the top contenders still intent on saving energy for the savagery of the final week.
With the race now firmly ensconced in the North of the country, Stage 10 from Modena to Salsomaggiore was the quintessential sprinter’s stage – the flattest of the whole Giro and the six man break was duly bought with 10km left to run. Suddenly though it was Sky and BMC who were leading the charge up a last small incline near the finish. As the road levelled Bouhanni was back after another late drift to the rear of the peloton. For once everyone was in the mix. Right up until 700m to go when Tyler Farrar came down causing yet another monster crash as the group approached the final corners. Bouhanni was on the right side of it and looked to capitalise with ex Pink Jersey wearer Mick Matthews, Trek’s Nizzolo, Sky’s Swift and Giant’s Mezgec. The latter two again faded at the death leaving Bouhanni to take his third win of the Giro in front of the others. Cadel Evans, also noticeably at the front yet again at the sharp end, was not affected by the crash just behind him and came home 9th. He immediately grabbed a towel from a soigneur and conducted his post-race press conference with it wrapped around his neck like a security blanket. For all the talk that he would consolidate his position this week, something didn’t quite feel right.
Stage 11 had been talked about as a ‘breakaway’ stage almost as soon as the route was unveiled. With a first pivotal Individual Time Trial the next day, it made sense for an appropriate group be allowed to get away and for the peloton to cruise on behind. Indeed a  big group of 14 was allowed to get away but crucially it lacked one team – Androni – and they felt obliged to chase it down, fuelling the peloton’s pace. BMC were not too impressed but the Italian’s ignored the bigger team’s general protests and caught the break well before the end of the day despite yet more crashes which left various members of the peloton with shredded lycra or, in the case of Adriano Malori and Chris Anker Sorensson a dip in a mud filled ditch to go with their road rash. With a quick up and down before the finish there was still time for a couple more twists. First Moreno of Katusha and Arredendo of Trek followed an attack by Tinkoff’s Roche before the tiny Arredendo went away again with the giant Preidler from the Giant-Shimano team. The little and large duo crested the climb first but was one of the chasers, Mick Rogers of Tinkoff, who launched away on the descent and opened up a sizeable gap. The 3x Time Trial World Champion was almost caught at one point on the 25km run-in, his lead dropping to 10sconds before growing to closer to a minute by the end. After a winter to forget, during which he was provisionally suspended for Clenbuterol before cleared by WADA, Rogers continued the amazing run of form for the Australians in the race. It was clearly an emotional victory for the big man from Down Under.
rogers
As dawn broke on the Time Trial day so did the heavens. An already technical, lumpy course quickly looked to harder than expected as the clouds opened again. The earlier starters suffered most as conditions worsened and those riders who weren’t threatening the overall took their runs so slowly that occasionally small trains formed. Bt not all went quite so piano; Giant rider Tobias Ludvigsson took a horrific spill on the twisty downhill section, going over the side barriers and lying still, yards away from his bike for a long, long time. Again the emergency support was an awfully time coming but later  his team confirmed that his injuries were not too serious.
Diego Ullisi of Lampre stunned watchers and pundits alike with a fast time that stood almost to the end when the favourites took to the course. Whilst Quintana again fell short of expectations it was left to others to fill the gap and shake-up the GC. Pozzovivo, Kelderman and Majka all made top 10 as the GC started to take on a more defined look. Uran, starting just ahead of Cadel Evans, stormed the course though and never looked in trouble as he showed off improved TT skills in the drying conditions to register a surprise stage win and thereby Columbia’s first leaders pink jersey. He beat an off colour Evans back into third place as the Australian again flattered to deceive on a race of truth. Evans seemed a yard short the whole way round the course and on the day he was expected to put time into all his podium rivals he lost more than a minute to Uran and only made small gains on others. OPQS riders also came 5th, 6th and 8th in the TT showing the work that the team have put into training for this discipline but equally noticeable Uran thanked his bike. It’s very unusual for a stage winner to thank his equipment so some recognition should be turned in Specialized’s direction for what Uran clearly feels is a ride-winning machine.
uran pink
In line with a lot else this Giro, the prediction about how Stage 13 would pan out did not quite go to plan. ‘Bunch sprint’ was the expected order of the day as, with the real mountains now looming very large, the fast men had their last chance for a win until the final day stage in Trieste. Of course there was an early breakaway but no-one believed it would stick. No one except the members of the breakaway itself it seems. The peloton ambled along, confident of catching their prey before the end in Rivarolo Canavese. The break toiled and eeked out a reasonable but not spectacular lead of around three and half minutes. After good work by FdJ.fr earlier the peloton started discussing who should be doing the chasing and the impetus went our for a while. Surely, someone would pick up the pace in time, they all thought. But no one did. They all left it too late and came in 10 seconds back from the three surviving breakaway members who, as well as contesting the day’s podium places amongst themselves, also showed that sometimes, just sometimes, the break wins out. Marco Canolo of the Pro Continental-level Bardiani team took the win – only his 2nd pro victory in a three year career. For his team, this is massive and even if it was their only one of 2014 it would probably justify their whole season.
Stage 14 was already the third Saturday of this Giro but it was still only the first proper mountain stage. A large breakaway of around 20 formed as crashes in the peloton behind saw the retirements of Orica-Greenedges Peter Weening and Sky’s Kanstantin Siutsou, but it was on the slopes of the penultimate Bielmonte climb (with 40km and a first cat summit finish still pending) that the race really began to split wide open. Whilst Pierre Rolland and Ryder Hesjedahl attacked out of the Maglia Rosa group on the lower slopes, up ahead Nicholas Roche attacked from the breakaway to be the first over the top and down the other side followed by small groups all across the mountain side. For once the drama was played out under brighter skies and the race began to look like a Grand Tour instead of an extended set of early season one-dayers.
After re-catching the Irishman, Giant-Shimano’s Alberto Timmer went solo on the final 11km climb with the multiple chasing groups behind holding station. As Rolland and Hedjedal battled in the middle ground Trek FActory’s Racing Julian Arredondo faltered for the first time after initially upping the pace of the Maglia Rosa group. Nairo Quintana, who had put on a spurt to get up alongside the KOM jersey wearer, didn’t want to take up the pace but the pre-race favourite now looked strong for the first time in the whole race after riding in pain for a few days following an earlier tumble. Pink Jersey wearer Uran marked him as their group passed the steepest pasts of the climb with around 4km to go and they let AG2R take up the pacing for their man Pozzovivo. Pozzovivo didn’t hang about for long though; sensing weakness around him he attacked at 3.5km. Quintana, Uran, Belkin’s Wilco Kelderman and Tinkoff’s Rafal Majka followed initially as Evans began an all too familiar slide backwards but then it was only Quintana and Pozzovivo moving ahead alone.
By now there were a number of distinct races going on on the road with breakaway members in-between who were simply forgotten in the melees. Cataldo and Pantano of Colombia were chasing and caught Timmer ahead at the 2km marker. Hesjedal and Rolland were chasing them a further 1km back and it looked as if the win would come from those front three. Somehow Evans had clawed his back up to Uran, who suddenly seemed bereft of teammates and equally bereft of a kick. Back at the front Cataldo put in the first of the final attacks only for Pantano to counter. Timmer came back to them briefly and the three were together again winding it up for the sprint. Catalado looked the smoothest and a Sky win looked to be on the cards. But, almost from nowhere another breakaway member returns to catch them just as Timmer falters once more. It is Enrico Battaglin from Bardiani, team mate to Canolo who took the surprise win the day before. Surely lightning can’t strike twice – even in this latest rain-soaked Giro. Of course it did. Cataldo was in the box seat and took on the sprint but Battaglin came from behind as the Sky rider seemed to hit a wall with less than 10m to go.
bardiani
Pozzovivo and Qunitana finished just after Hesjedal and Rolland, who came in 2′ 22′” down on the winners with seven others of the breakaway including Roche, Timmer and Lotto’s Tim Wellens crossing before them. Quintana, face as impassive as ever behind his shades, burst for an extra couple of secs over his Italian companion and took back 20 seconds from Evans who still had a little in the tanks at the end. By contrast Uran had nothing left and lost 5 seconds to his older rival when he could not raise the pace in the final straight.
It was a great day’s racing, finally delivering some of the panache and derring-do that we so crave from the mountain stages. The myriad plot lines playing out over the slopes made for compulsive viewing as the very best of the stage racing came to fore; multiple battles being fought by multiple (occasionally overlapping) groups. KOM points, Stage win, GC battles and the simple fight against gravity. Bellissimo!
I’m heading to Sicily tomorrow (Sunday) for a week of family holiday and trying to follow the Italian commentary of the climax to the race. Internet connection permitting I will have added in my thoughts on tomorrow’s finish as the race ascends to the hallowed summit of Plan di Montecampione. Much mention has been made of Marco Pantani in the race this year and the Stage 15 course pays homage to his race winning move there in 1998 on his way to the Giro/Tour Double. Perhaps this is time for Quintana to shine..
Extra Extra! Stage 15 update!

If the Italians can’t have an overall winner in pink in Trieste this time next week, then it’s a safe bet that that the stage win they would most crave for a countryman would be this one. The Plan di Montecampione holds a special place in Italian cycling folklore, more so perhaps than the more famous climbs of the Passo del Stelvio, Gavia or Zoncolan, all of which feature later in this years edition. The tree-lined climb up to the Montecampione is where Pantani sealed his ’98 Giro and is a key part of the homage to him that this edition of the race has sought to become.

Having travelled to Italy myself on this day I missed all of the build-up that the 217km stage might have offered before the crucial last 15km. By the time I reached my holiday villa in Sicily and found Rai 3’s coverage, Lotto’s Adam Hansen and Garmin’s Andre Cardoso were already leading on the lower slopes of the Montecampione. The Maglia Rosa group were 21″ behind with Blue jersey (I still can’t used to this) KOM leader Arredondo bridging up to the front pair.
There was still a lot of action ahead though, as my 3 pages of notes for the next 10miles can attest. Arredondo – so strong at the beginnings of climbs – caught them quickly enough and took Cardozo on with him to test the resolve of Uran and the others. All the GC contenders were still in the thinning chase group who doggedly stuck together almost to the catch, which took place at 9km. Sky, freed from the shackles of overall contention, chanced their arm again: this time it was Ireland’s Philip Deignan who slipped away in a familiar, high cadence style that won him 26″ by the 6km remaining mark.

Behind Deignan, the twenty strong group holding all the main players, started to probe and press the pace. Arredondo soon paid for his earlier efforts whilst Ryder Hesjedal and Ivan Basso also cannot hold the pace which Mick Rogers begins to lay down for his team mate Rafal Majka. Suddenly the group is 14 strong and Deignan’s hard-fought lead begins to tumble fast.

Pierre Rolland makes a slight feint at 5km, a move which which animates Uran, who goes on to make the break that the Frenchman could not quite make stick. Evans, Majka and a much stronger looking Nairo Quintana follow the pink jersey, who eases off once the damage has been done and lets Evans sweat on the front for a while again. The former winners’ pace isn’t enough for Rolland though as he goes again at 4km, taking Colombian Duarte with him as he swiftly catches Deignan.

Astana’s Italian rider Fabian Aru, who has clearly been biding his time in the Uran group, makes his move at 3km prompting a change of pace which, initially, Uran seems most able to match. Quintana waits a little longer, regaining with contact with Uran just as he and Aru catch Rolland and Deignan but whilst they then pause in the regroupement Aru strikes alone for the win.

Quintana, looking well recovered from the injury and cold which affected his first couple of weeks in the race, finally attacks with 1.7km remaining as he looks to start to regain his time losses. Rolland goes with him. Evans has momentarily disappeared from sight and when a moto camera drops back to find him, he is suffering mightily, working like a dog on the front of a group of the young pretenders Keldermann, Majka as well as Pozzovivo, fighting to save his Giro.

Ahead Quintana half springs at 900m trying to catch Aru but he is still lacking the explosive force we saw in 2013 and though he drops his French companion Rolland, he cannot catch the flying Italian. Aru takes an emotional home win and is already fielding questions from the media about Pantani by the time Quintana crosses 22″ later. After Rolland and Duarte cross, Uran comes in ceding just 20″ to Quintana. Evans loses another 32″ to Uran and immediately seeks comfort in his security neck towel/blanket.

At the end of the day Uran had consolidated his lead overall, regaining the minute lead over Evans that he had after the time trial. Aru lay in fourth place 2’24” adrift but Quintana had risen again, up to fifth and now just 2’40 back on his countryman Uran. With the hardest climbing yet come he once again looked like the contender that we all expected before the race.

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Giro d’Italia – Rest Day Roundup #2

Read The Jersey Pocket’s first Giro Rest Day Roundup here.
Having flown 2,500km down to the Mediterranean, the gruppo might have been forgiven for thinking that they had left the poor weather behind in Ireland, along with a great deal of good feeling and a fair few hangovers. In fact they were in for a set of rude, and often painful, shocks when the Rain Gods decided that they were having such a fine time following this years Giro d’Italia that they decided to tag along with the transfer and cause chaos for a few more days. Rain in Ireland is one thing it seems. It’s practically obligatory. But rain in Bari, in Viggiano and in Monte Cassino is a completely different story.  
Stage 4. The transfer itself had one significant casualty when Marcel Kittel – plunderer of Stages 2 and 3 failed to make the start. A fever caught during the transfer was blamed and, whilst the German was always expected to pull out of the race early, this seemed entirely plausible given the chance of a third win in a row. Kittel left it until the Tuesday morning to withdraw, meaning there was no time to reprint the points leader’s red jersey with the right sponsor which denied Sky’s Ben Swift a chance to wear it for one day. Given what transpired during the day though, this was the smallest of sideshows in the much larger circus that the stage quickly became. For the rain fell in Puglia and peloton controversially elected to neutralise the racing for almost the entire day.
The problem wasn’t the actual rain itself: it was pretty light stuff that even the shabbiest of rain jackets could deal with. The problem was what the rain was falling onto. Roads that hadn’t seen rain for many months, and which don’t expect a lot of it anyway build up motor oil on their surfaces which isn’t easily washed away. The apparent ease of conditions led to a lot of disgruntled fans berating the riders for their go-slow, especially when, having pootled eight times around the finishing circuit in Bari in seemingly drying conditions, the riders chose to go full gas for the last lap when the rain had restarted. The expected chaos ensued with three major crashes on that single final corner-heavy lap. The build-up to the resumption to racing was increasingly bitter as the initial solidarity of the peloton slowly disintegrated when some teams felt it was OK to race and others – notably OGE and BMC – felt that it was not. The slide-outs that marred the final lap (after the commissaire’s had decreed that the GC times would be taken from the penultimate lap) justified the earlier decision to a degree but a similar amount of ill-feeling remained in the peloton that would now remain throughout the week. Pink jersey leader Michael Matthews had bowed out of the ill-fated sprint safe in the knowledge that his lead was safe for another day at least. Nacer Bouhanni looked to be out of it too having suffered a puncture just at the pace whipped up. In Kittel’s absence Giant-Shimano had transferred their eggs to Luka Mezgec’s basket but gearing problems on the last corner left his final man Tom Veelers alone to continue his lead-out sprint all the way to the line. Bouhanni, paced back on by his entire team, came from as far back as Kittel had done on Stage 3 but the slowing Veelers was no contest and the Frenchman took an emphatic win.
bouhanni
Traversing the length of Italy in a few short days was never going to be all flat and Stage 5 was a day for the rouleurs with a lumpy parcours and an uphill finish. Matthews had targeted this day from early on and he was in the reduced peloton which arrived at the foot of the final climb. Joaquin Rodriguez was looking active but it was Tinkoff leader Nicholas Roche who attacked first. He was reeled in quickly by Cadel Evans who looked good for the win but Lampre’s Diego Ullissi passed him on the last corner to take the first Italian win of this year’s Giro. Matthews was in the same group to retain pink whilst Uran also crossed early to improve his position to fourth.
The familiar term The Longest Day is more traditionally associated with the beaches of Normandy but it was equally applicable to another famous WWII battle site on stage 6. The run up from Sassono to the stronghold at Monte Cassino was already slated to be the longest mileage day even before a landslide forced a re-route adding a further 10km to the tally. But once again it was the weather which took the greatest toll. The rain was more severe than the day before but the racing remained on throughout and eventually the peloton caught a 4 man break who had stayed out for over 200km. The pace was whipped up on the approach to the final climb to the famous Redoute and the rebuilt monastery at the top but sadly a significant number never made it up. Two huge crashes at a roundabout near the base of the climb defined not only the day but also possibly the Giro itself. The first crash looked fairly routine; an Astana, Katusha and two Europcars falling nastily at the left hand side of the road. Whilst the camera lingered on the stricken though, much worse was happening ahead. By the time the TV pictures moved on to the second crash some 100 metres ahead, the extent of the drama was self evident. Bikes and bodies clogged the whole width of the autostrada and, as a small group of just eight riders were able to continue unaffected, it was soon obvious that this was a very big, very bad one.
rodriguez
Team Katusha were the most obviously affected team with a number of riders on the ground and one, Giampaolo Caruso, who was motionless for a sickening few minutes before the race doctors belatedly got to him. His team leader Rodriguez, who had looked so spritely the day before, got back on his bike and laboured up the 10km climb like Jesus on his way to Calvary. Tinkoff-Saxo also fared badly with big hope Nichloas Roche eventually losing 15 minutes whilst other battle-scarred riders were still coming in 25 minutes after Matthews who, in that super select group with Uran, Wellens, Santoromito, Evans and a couple of BMC minders, had nipped in front of his countryman for the stage win. Again the fans questioned the decision making; whereas before they felt that racing should have been restarted earlier, now they were calling for the escapee’s to honour a ‘someone crashes so everyone stops racing’ rule. I’m with the folks who said those few guys were in the right positions exactly because this sort of thing happens further back. It’s called racing smart. Behind, the casualties stumbled in one by in; local boy Stefano Pirazzi being physically pushed up the climb by a less damaged teammate; Svein Tuft, Maglia Rosa on Stage 2, pouring blood from acres of road rash. Ben Swift was the last man to cross. It was suitably attritional for this most famous of locations.
After such high drama and tragedy it was always going to be a quieter, more sombre stage that followed. Bouhanni took his second win with a seemingly impossible dash up close to the barriers. Two more riders did not take the start, joining the five who were classed as DNF the day before. Rodriguez retired with broken ribs and fingers along with teammates Caruso and Angel Vicioso who had the worst injury with a complex triple fracture that could yet end his career. Bouhanni brushed all this carnage aside and won with yet another no-holds barred charge that defies logic, reason and sanity. All of which makes him a fantastic sprinter. Matthews held onto his jersey for one more day extending Orica Greenedge’s wondrous run in the lead.
bling matthews
With Stage 8 came the weekend, the sun and finally fireworks of the racing kind. Readers who follow me on Twitter or Instgram will know that I was otherwise engaged on Saturday at London’s annual Tweed Run, meaning that I missed most of the best action of the race so far.  Trek Factory Racing’s Julian Arredondo animated a large part of the day by getting into the early break and surviving as the numbers dwindled until he was still alone with less than 3km to go. On the first of the bigger mountain stages it was clear that attacks and gaps would define the day. Pierre Rolland sought to catch Arredondo first and, for a short time, seemed to have played the winning hand. But the gradients increased as the distance to the line fell and he too started pedalling squares and was overwhelmed by a chasing group a mere 100metres from the line. BMC’s Steve Morabito had brought Evans and the other main players up to the fading Frenchman but it was the Italians who had the last say on the stage. After a cheeky attack by Dani Moreno – no doubt trying to salvage some pride for Katusha after a truly miserable 24 hours, Lampre’s Diego Ullissi jumped again to steal the stage. Once more the peloton splintered in the final yards to give a couple of seconds here and there but, with Matthews still some 35 minutes down the mountain, the pink jersey was undeniably Evans’ to assume.
evans
Orica-Greenege were back to winning ways on Sunday though as Peter Weening successfully tracked down and caught Europcar’s Italian breakaway man Davide Malacarne to be able to contest a two up sprint. Domenico Pozzovivo and Ulissi made it second, thrd and fourth for the Italians with two super strong showings that Cadel could not match at the finish. Uran also finished strngly to make further ready progress and go into the second rest day in second place overall just under a minute down. Meantime the pre race favourite, Movistar’s Nairo Quintana, who had seemed either happy to follow or unable to attack all week was only placed 9th, albeit only 1’45’ down. The tightness at the top of the GC leader board was apparent with only 2 minutes separating the top ten.
With still two weeks and all the proper mountain stages still to come the stage is set for a ding-dong battle between Evans – who has never had to defend a Grand Tour lead before – and the likes of Uran, Quintana and Kiserlovski, who have never won one before. One thing is certain: we are heading into new territory, and with the Gavia, Stelvio and Zoncolan still to exact their own reckoning on the riders we are a long, long way from Trieste.
Forza!
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Giro d’Italia – Rest Day Roundup #1

So, four days in and the Giro entourage finally hit Italian soil this morning. A massive transfer of cargo planes and charter flights took place last night and today to transfer the 196 continuing riders, probably twice as many support staff and countless more media personnel to the decidedly drier climes of sunny Puglia. Something like 500 bikes and a couple of thousand wheels were shipped by cargo plane overnight with the riders following early this morning. Whilst most of the bigger teams had their second buses already stationed in Bari to meet the riders this morning, a couple of the smaller teams were facing the prospect of the 2660 kilometre drive from Dublin to get some support staff back into the race late on Tuesday.

So, was all this travel and logistical heartache required for the Giro’s Gaelic adventure worth it? . If, for a moment, we ignore the weather that did blight the Grande Partenza to a certain degree, the answer would appear to be “Si” (or in Gaelic “Tha“). That is to say it was worth it.

The whole of Ireland – both Northern Ireland and the Republic – put on a fine show with memorable set-pieces (Titanic and Stormont) and a level of passionate spectator support that generally only seen on the high mountain passes of Grand Tours. Crowds, particularly on the Team Time Trial route in Belfast, were 3-4 deep at minimum and were boisterous in a way more expected of people who have spent 2 days hanging out on Dutch Corner at Alpe d’Huez. The rain certainly hadn’t dampened any spirits in Belfast – though I suspect that some spirits may have been downed in the dampness to help keep warm – and the sight of riders having to wave crowds back in a TTT is not something I’ve witnessed before. The downpour  which affected the middle starters may have lacked lightning but the atmosphere was already electrified.

The entire island seemed to have embraced the unifying colour of pink for the duration, applying it to every conceivable edifice and activity along the route. The sight of ten or more pink-clad jockeys rousing their steeds into a horse-race with the peloton along the beach at Carnlough on Stage 2 will live long in the memory, as will the image of a pink morph-suited waterskier from the same day and the full-size, apparently random, pink pylon from Stage 3.

garmin crash

Sadly blue was also the colour for the home crowd looking for Irish success as they had very little specific to celebrate from the three day visit. Nicholas Roche did well enough but Dan Martin’s disaster in the rain-slicked streets near Stormont broke not only his collarbone but also many of the hearts of the South. Deserted by the luck which, as an adopted Irishman, he should be able to call upon, for the second race in a row his seemingly cursed front wheel slipped out from under him at a critical moment. Though he was at least able to remount and finish at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, this time he could not repeat the feat after crashing hard and taking down three other team mates with him. It was horrible to watch though early indications suggest that the break was clean and he could be back for the Tour.

As expected Orica-Greenedge won the time trial, making the most of their experienced team of TT and track specialists, to take the first pink jersey. They gifted it to birthday-boy Svein Tuft – Lanterne Rouge at last year’s Tour – who wore it for one day before relinquishing it to teammate Michael Matthews who finished ahead of him in the Stage 2 sprint finish. Tuft, a man with huge arm muscles who spent months cycling the Canadian wilderness in his youth, towing his pet dog “Bear” in a ramshackle trailer, wore his pink with pride – though the foul weather on Stage 2 meant it was covered by the ubiquitous black rain jacket for much of the day. For once the usually irritating extra bits of leader’s colour bling were useful as his pink helmet helped identify him amongst the rain-lashed bunch. In contrast Matthews is known as “Bling” and one feels that he will show off the colours whatever the weather.
 
Coming back into Belfast after a picturesque wade around the Northern Ireland coastline Marcel Kittel stormed to his first victory of the Giro in relative ease, outpacing rivals like Bouhanni with apparent ease. Things would get harder for him in Stage 3. The stage had been animated by Belkin’s Maarten Tjallingii’s dominance of the small breakaway that earned him the King of the Mountains jersey and more than a few nods of appreciation for his persistence. He was the last man to be caught when the sprint trains finally got rid of their foul weather cladding and started to motor in earnest.
 
giro in ireland
 
The main GC contenders had had varying fortunes on Stage 1. Evans and Roche were well to the fore with their TTT standings, as was Dario Cataldo, whose rag-tag Sky team put in a monster second half to leave them in an unexpected 5th place. Quintana and Rodriguez in particular had poor days and head to Italy with 1 and 2 minute deficits respectively. Nothing of note would happen to any of them for the next 2 days. Powder was being kept metaphorically dry,  though both Quintana and Evans, were visible at the front of the bunch, staying out of trouble.
 
Stage 3 started in Armagh and crossed over into the Republic shortly after. More rough-hewn coastline edged with green, green fields provided a ruggedly beautiful backdrop for helicopter shots as the peloton snaked along it, pursued by yet more rain. Again Tallenghi made it into the breakaway and again he mopped up the King of the Mountains points but it was all brought back together as they approached Dublin and a technically difficult run-up to the sprint. Kittel, looking for a second win to celebrate his 26th birthday, appeared to have got it all wrong, exiting the final corner in around twelfth place with Ben Swift (Sky) and Elia Viviani (Cannondale) way up the road and already battling each other for the win. The Brit had the beating of the in-form Italian and was on the verge of sealing a great win for Sky when somehow the red-jerseyed Kittel came screaming up from behind to threaten. With 25 metres to go it still looked impossible for him but keep coming he did and he passed Swift on the line to take his second win in a row. If his Stage 2 victory had looked easy this seemed anything but the German collapsed from his bike in the post race melee and lay panting like a ragged dog for many a minute. He had given absolutely everything in a show of of speed and commitment that will send new shivers down the spines of every other sprinter in the pro ranks.
 
Marcel Kittel, left, surges past to win the third stage of the Giro d'Italia in Dublin's City Centre
 
And that should have been that. The craic was there to be had by at least those who weren’t scheduled to be on a flight to Italy at 8am the next morning, leaving everyone with a warm (but undeniably damp) fuzzy feeling about how sport can bring peoples together and be a unifying force in (still) divided communities. It’s a credit to both Irelands that they worked together to bring this race to their countries and it’s a credit to all of the people who turned out in such numbers to celebrate this joint event. So the news this morning of a car-bomb being found and made safe yesterday near the Stage finish in Dublin was both shocking and unwelcome. It needs to be mentioned because it is an important event in the context of bringing a big race to Ireland. Thankfully we can leave it at that and do not have to write more about it.
 
Looking ahead, with the short summit finishes in the Apennines next Saturday and Sunday we should have a little bit of a clearer idea about how the race will develop before it then launches into the Alps the following week. For now the riders will be hoping for a bit of sunshine and some dry days as they switch direction and head North for a change. Let’s hope the heat doesn’t stultify the crowds and that Italy can keep going what Ireland has started. Forza!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Giro d’Italia Preview – Whatever happened to all the heroes?

“Whatever happened to all the heroes? All the Shakespeareos?” –  The Stranglers: No More Heroes

With the Giro d’Italia starting in Belfast on Friday, and the inaugural Women’s Tour of Britain breaking new ground in England this week, there are probably more top-level cyclists currently on UK soil than for many, many a year. But whilst the Women’s Tour has attracted the crème de la crème of female riders, this edition of the Giro has been dogged by some big name stay-aways who are preferring to focus on the Tour de France later in the Summer.

giro-d-italia

If this is your first time watching the Giro check out the Beginner’s Guide at the bottom of the page.

Defending champion Vincenzo Nibali’s decision to fight for Yellow rather than Pink has perhaps caused the biggest concern for the organisers and certainly for the homegrown fans. Italian cycling is suffering from a cyclical downturn and true contenders appear very thin on the ground despite their country-men making up more than a third of the 198 entrants. Previous winners Damiano Cunego, Michele Scarponi and Ivan Basso are riding (as is 2012 winner Ryder Hesjedal) but none have shown the form that would put them into consideration for the top prize. Elsewhere, Joaquin ‘Purito’ Rodriguez, a seemingly resurgent Cadel Evans and 2013 Tour de France runner up Nairo (Nero for this race, surely??) Quintana do bring undoubted quality but there remains a feeling that this is very much a sideshow filled with men who are either deemed too old for a Tour win, or still too young. Quintana, with an occasionally 50-year-old looking face on his 24 year old body, sits in both camps.

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Quintana: the favourite is an old head & young shoulders above the rest.

Injury and accident have also robbed the start list of a couple of key battles. Richie Porte’s early season illness has pushed his goals backwards, meaning we miss out on a potential repeat of a high-level Sky vs Movistar battle that illuminated last years Tour and which had been widely expected. After Wiggins’ disastrous appearance in Italy last year (and Sky’s courting of the American market in the overlapping Tour of California this year) it’s been left to local boy Dario Cataldo to carry the hopes of Sky for this Grand Tour instead. Chris Horner’s incident with a car during recent training has also removed his name from the start list and with it the intriguing prospect of him going head-to-head on the mountains with Quintana whose age is his own digits swapped around.

Visa issues have also blighted the build-up to Belfast’s Grande Partenza. A number of riders have apparently either been denied visas by the UK authorities or simply not received them (and their all important passports) back in time. Cue further last-minute roster re-shuffling. That aside, preparations for the big roll-out in Ireland seems to have captured the enthusiastic spirit that the country is famous for. The Emerald Isle has been turned totally pink – literally in some cases – with fuchsia sheep, rose horses, coral cranes and even the odd mauve mayor popping up the celebrate the coming of the Giro. 1987 winner Stephen Roche has been roped in as the de facto ambassador for the first three days and, with his son Nicholas leading the Tinkoff-Saxobank team and his nephew, Dan Martin of Garmin-Sharp in the hunt for stage wins, he will be hoping to continue celebrating long after the Giro caravan has moved on.

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There will be lots of pink wool to be had in Ireland’s Autumn/Winter fashions.

And move on they must; for after starting from the Titanic museum near Belfast’s famous shipyards and winding their way through North and South en-route to Dublin, the whole entourage faces a long transfer to Southern Italy before beginning the stages ‘up the boot’ towards the Alps and the Dolomites. This year’s finish will be in Trieste on June 1st but there is a whole heap of climbing to be done before the riders reach the final port. And that brings us back to Quintana.

With a favourable course than includes monstrous ascents of the Gavia & Stelvio on Stage 16, a mountain time-trial up the Monte Grappa on Stage 19 and then a penultimate day which ends with the eye-watering ramps of the Zoncolan, the tiny Colombian climber looks set to thrive. Quintana has been given the lead role of a strong team under the pretext of Movistar preferring to develop him in the less pressured environment of the Giro. With the relatively depleted start list though, this plan could backfire as Quintana is now such a hot favourite (10-11 ON at the time of writing) that anything less than the win will be seen as a sure thing thrown away. With such high expectations, and without another potential leader within the team to deflect attention, all the pressure will actually be fully on him from the outset. One hopes that his attacking style is not overly curtailed by the burden of favouritism.

GIRO D'ITALIA 2014

If Quintana can’t land the Giro in a suitably swashbucklingly way I suspect that most neutrals will be hoping that the ever-popular Purito finally lands a Grand Tour. Whatever happens, we don’t want a defensive phoney war through the mountains with one explosive attack on the last 100m of the Zoncolan any more than we did the dull time-trialled victories of Indurain. More than any other Grand Tour, the Giro sets itself up to be about spectacle. Let’s hope it delivers. Forza!

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Beginner’s Guide to the Giro

21 stages, 3 rest days (Mondays), 3,449.9 kilometres.

Key stages: 16 (Tuesday 27th), 19 (Friday 30th), 20 (Saturday 31st)

TdF/Giro Differences: Yellow is Pink, Green is Red, Polka Dots are solid blue, White is still white.

Grand Depart = Grande Partenza, Domestique = GregarioMaillot Jaune = Maglia Rosa

Froome is Porte, Kennaugh, Cataldo. Cav is Swift. Kittel is still Kittel.

The Sky is Not the Limit – the other British riders in the pro peloton

Team Sky (or Sky Procycling as they were until the start of this season) have undoubtedly changed the way that cycling is perceived in this country. Although they were set up from the start as an internationally rostered team – albeit with a very clear aim of initially achieving success in the Tour de France for a British rider – they were often described as a de facto British national road team. The overlapping managerial & coaching staff from the national track squad adds fuel to this conflation, especially for the legions of new cycling fans that the team’s success has turned onto the sport. It was also inevitable that many of the existing and upcoming British riders would find a home at Sky where the people, program and language were most familiar. But what of those British riders who choose not to ‘Take to the Sky’ with Brailsford and Co? Are they getting a fair share of cycle fan’s support when faced with the media-attention black hole that the Tour-winning team creates wherever it goes?

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Three is a Magic Number – The Trials of a Balanced Outlook on Life

“Somewhere in the ancient mystic Trinity, you get Three as a magic number” – Bob Dorough, Schoolhouse Rock!

Trouble, they say, comes in threes. The way the back half of last year went personally I would have to add in a factor of at least 10 to that figure, but the notion of a Triad of Adversity seems to be a well held adage. Once a couple of things have gone awry, we almost expect a third calamity to happen and often actively seek it out in order to discount it as quickly as possible. It is an ingrained expectation of the way that things just are. When you think about it like that, it’s also a pretty depressing outlook to have.

So, in a wild stab at New Year’s, ‘on-the-other-hand’, optimism, perhaps we could ask what if the blighted triple was not only a truism but was governed by Newton’s Laws of Motion in the same way that rider’s movements are. In a world where all actions have an equal and opposite reaction, those same three troubles must be balanced by three happinesses. Each three clouds should have three silver linings. As with the third disaster that we yearn to seek out, surely it’s just a case of looking. I’m aware I’m clutching at some pretty thin straws here.

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Foreign Starts – Grand Tours on Tour

With both the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia set to start outside of their own borders next year it seems like a good time to have a look at this increasingly regular phenomenon. In 2014 the Giro will spend three days in Ireland during May, visiting both Belfast and Dublin, before Le Tour comes to Yorkshire, Cambridge and London in July. Whilst the Vuelta tends to be much more of an insular affair – having only started outside of Spain twice in it’s 60 year history –  a fifth of all the Giro starts since it’s first foray to San Marino in 1965 have been foreign affairs.
The Tour is an even more international event with over 20 foreign starts dating back as early as 1954 in Amsterdam. This began a sequence of around three Tours each decade commencing in foreign parts up until the Millennium. After that they increased again and Tour De France race director Christian Prudhomme clearly stated his aims in 2007 when he said that 3 out of every 5 Tours should begin abroad. Talk during the Armstrong era of a start on American soil may have failed to materialise because of the very real logistical issues of transferring the entire race and it’s vast entourage across 5 time zones of Atlantic Ocean but the appetite to take the Tour ‘on tour’ is self evident.

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