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!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Best of the West – Tour of California Preview

Until very recently the Tour of California has mainly been the preserve of US based racers and US teams. Taking time out to fly the States for a week-long race in May has not often been high on the priority list for European racers and the list of previous winners reflects the US-centricness of the event. Only 7 of the 24 available podium places have been taken by foreigners since the inaugural race in 2006. The first four editions of the race were held in early February before a move to May in 2010 then brought the race into direct competition with the Giro d’Italia.

It was assumed that this would lead to a further decrease in the number of European pros making the Trans-Atlantic trip but as of 2012 the race seems to be growing in popularity with teams seeing the benefit in the race as a both a useful training block in the lead-up to the Tour de France and as a marketing tool.

California is the worlds 7th largest economy and, like France, is blessed with stunning scenery of hugely varying terrain. Both these facts contribute to make the race a more attractive prospect and this year we may be seeing a tipping point with high-profile riders such as Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish heading for the Golden State to compete alongside the top US riders.

2012tourof cali flag

Sky have targeted the race as a big priority for former Tour de France champion Wiggins this year. Although British by registration and perception, the team are bankrolled by 21st Century Fox, the media arm of the split-apart News Corp, which owns Sky Broadcasting. The teams media appearances on Fox TV’s morning shows and at the company’s film studios have been widely shared in what appears to be a targeted media strategy to raise the profile of the team in the New World. With both Dave Brailsford and Fran Millar in the U.S. for the race, their determination to launch the TeamSky brand into a huge, largely vacant, market should not be underestimated.

Cavendish won the points jersey at the Giro last year meaning he has won that particular competition in all three Grand Tours. With the triple accomplished he too is looking for new goals and a better lead-up to Le Tour where he will be aiming to wrestle back the sprint crown from German man of the moment Marcel Kittel. With Tom Boonen and Niki Terpstra on board as well as favoured lead-out man Mark Renshaw, Cav will be looking to continue the improved form he showed in the recent Tour of Turkey

Wiggins has spoken of wanting to “Break America”- a statement that sounds as if it has been crafted by his new agent Simon Fuller, who more famously represents Victoria Beckham and the Spice Girls. Wiggins will be as focused on winning here as he was in France in 2012 and in the Tour of Britain last year. We all know what he can achieve when he puts his mind to it and the course is well suited to him. The two mountain finishes are not viciously steep and the short race includes a 12.1mile time trial.

2012tourofcalifornia

Other strong teams are BMC in their home race, Sagan and Orica-Greenedge. BMC bring local hopes Taylor Phinney and Peter Stetina along with greg Van Avermaet and Thor Hushovd. Sagan – who appears in a ridiculous poster for Cannondale’s Tour of California team with an eye-watering crotch bulge of Spinal Tap-like vegetable-based explicitness – loves racing in the States. He won Stages 1 and 3 here last year and four stages in the US Pro Challenge which is run in August. After a relatively underwhelming Spring Classics campaign he will be looking to get back to winning ways. Orica bring young Brit Adam Yates – hot from his win in Turkey – along with more experienced heads such as Matt Hayman and Matthew Goss and will be looking to carry on the great work being done in the early stage soy the Giro by the team.

A couple of other British names to look out for are Tao Geoghegan-Hart, who is riding in his first year as a pro in the Bissell Development team, and Scott Thwaites, who is riding for NetApp-Endura.

There is no Baldy again this year (neither the famous mountain of the same name or Chris Horner feature) but lest we forget him in his final year of racing, someone who is racing is Jen Voigt. It was in this race last year that Voigt, when asked why he was still getting in breakaways at his age, replied “Because I’m mother-fucking Jens Voigt”. There still is a Wild West out there and it feels like Jens and the boys are gonna have some fun finding it.

The Tour of California runs from Sunday May 11th until Sunday May 18th. The Tour have a really comprehensive app available for iOS and Android that is worth a download if you want to get into the heart of the action.

AmgenTourofCalifornia.com

 

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.

quintana

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.

pink sheep

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.

Wheels of Steal – Pro-teams suffer spate of stolen equipment

In what is becoming a regular feature of the early and late season races, pro-teams have again suffered a number of large scale equipment thefts in the past weeks. After Garmin’s high profile withdrawal of the Tour Mediterranean in February last year following the loss of 17 bikes from a team truck, 3 World Tour teams have lost significant amounts of bikes, wheels and other items this year. Garmin’s loss was estimated at €250,000 and was described as the work of ‘well-organised’ thieves. In a trend that will be causing huge concern to teams and suppliers this specific targeting of teams by seasoned criminals has continued in the recent weeks and months.

bicycle_thief

Garmin were by no means the only losers last year. Radioshack had 8 bikes stolen in Flanders and Europcar lost all theirs at the Euro Metropole Tour in October. Russian and Danish teams were also targeted separately at the World Champoinships in Florence losing more than 40 bikes between them. In each case team trucks were broken into. In the case of the Danish team many of the bikes were from the Junior squad who have to pay for the their own equipment.

Team Sky were latest to suffer with 16 bikes lost at the Tour du Haut Var last weekend. Once again professional thieves targeted a team truck during the night at a hotel. Unlike Garmin last year, Sky were able to source replacement bikes and make the start line . TheJerseyPocket spoke to  Team Sky mechanics and riders who were at the race to learn more.

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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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“Another Fine Mesh” – Pro-cycling clothing debate hots up

Cyclists are often a bit funny about their tan-lines. Cultivating a set of razor-sharp transitions, which switch instantly from the deepest mahogany to a blinding alabaster white, half way along a thigh or bicep is seen as one of the heights of being ‘pro’. Tan-lines like these tell of days in the saddle, not days on the beach. They are worn with more than just pride; for many they are a badge of honour.

Last week however, we saw a couple of cases of cases of pro team ‘tanning’ getting out of hand and raising questions about protection and performance.

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