What if the Giro disappoints?

Friday, 6 May 2011

Giro crowds

I feel like a bit of a party-pooper but for all that the Giro promises, what if it doesn’t deliver? There are two main concerns for me: first that 2010 was so good it’ll be hard to beat. The random, ever changing race was thrilling. Second, and maybe it’s my problem and not yours, is the presence of Alberto Contador. He could dominate the race… and there’s also the possibility of the results being rewritten by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Random racing and ever changing circumstances
First, last year’s race was very exciting and unpredictable but this owed itself partly to random events. Let’s take one example, the big breakaway on the road to L’Aquila last year propelled Richie Porte and David Arroyo up the GC and the move turned the race upside down.

Porte in Aquila

Porte's surprise was one of many great stories in 2010

But this happened in part thanks to a freak chain of events, with bad weather and weak teams as much to blame as attacking riding. On the day it started to rain. The some riders found themselves at the front. But one rider was struggling with a rain jacket, he was Alexander Vinokourov and in the pink jersey. As he stopped by the road to fiddle with the zip a big group of riders went clear and meanwhile the rest of the bunch looked to Astana to chase but Vinokourov was still at the back of the race and so no chase was organised. Similarly BMC had a light squad and couldn’t chase by themselves from so early in the stage as the were, put bluntly, a weak squad. Thus the “L’Aquila Hold Up” happened. Now we can’t pin this on Vino and his jacket alone but it was a strange chain of events.

The Contador factor

Alberto Contador’s shown he’s a level above the other GC contenders when ever he starts a stage race. He famously won the 2008 Giro after an apparent late call up when lounging on the beach. Now he’s really targeting the race and it could well be that he romps away with the race. Last year’s race was so exciting because the pink jersey was like a butterfly, flitting from the shoulders of one rider to another and back several times. By contrast if Contador takes a minute on Etna then it’ll be hard to haul the time back. We might have to look for excitement elsewhere.

Contador Giro

Will El Pistolero massacre the opposition?

In addition, there’s another element to Contador’s presence, the CAS appeal. The Court of Arbitration for Sport is due to rule the two appeals to the RFEC result delivered earlier this year. As such we could see Contador dance around Italy only for a courtroom to rewrite the result. It’s getting to the point where second place in this race could be crucial.

Now perhaps you can shut this out but for me the appeal is casting a big shadow on the race, I suppose Contador’s just trying to do his job and this is my problem… but it’s far from ideal. Maybe the Zoncolan decides the winner but I fear a court in Lausanne might have the final say.

Summary
It could be a magic race but sometimes a word of caution can ensure we don’t expect miracles. This is a three week stage race where, with luck, the story will unfold over time before a conclusion in the Alps and the final time trial.

It’s now up to the riders. For me a grand tour is a bit like a complex soap opera, with plot lines and stories on many levels and you can dip in an out. The Giro promises to be great and I hope to cover plenty during the next three weeks. But the 2010 vintage will be hard to beat.

Auguri to all the riders taking part, to the organisation and all those working on the race from team staff to the media.

Dave May 6, 2011 at 9:01 pm

I fear the same. I wish Contador wan’t there, given his dominance in grand tours over the last 3 years and given how CAS almost always seems to rule against athletes in drugs cases it really looks like it’s going to be a rewritten podium.

And how many times rewritten if another investigation involving Scarponi comes up with something?

Still the racing should be thrilling and I will enjoy it at the time regardless of any drama that may follow

Luc Prévost May 6, 2011 at 9:07 pm

OI!

The fact that AC might tandem Giro & TdF could have an effect on the race for the podium. AC could employ minimum talent to keep some juice. He might also jump out of race if he feels that the Giro is not that easy. But to have the Giro in the musette at the start of the Tour must be a nice FU insurrance…

Dave May 6, 2011 at 9:07 pm

It also has to be said, is having a descent where they’re having to erect safety nets a step too far?

Jeff May 6, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Clearly having Contador gain lots of time early would be disappointing, but given his uncertainty, shouldn’t we look to the fight for 2nd as possibly just as important?

Velonista May 6, 2011 at 9:33 pm

Add to the two points above: a relative dearth of GC contenders. After Contador and Nibali (both of whom are bringing strong teams), who else is likely to compete? Rodriguez, maybe Anton, possibly Menchov. But after that? What made last year’s Giro so exciting (in addition to the break to L’Aquila) wasn’t just that there was no clear favourite, but also there were at least ten riders who felt they had a legitimate chance at winning as the race got underway.

While the course looks terrifying (and wildly entertaining), it seems as though it will simply crush any would-be contenders. I expect we’ll see a few surprises. I’d love to see someone like Löfkvist find himself in the thick of things by the third week. And it would be great to see Brice Feillu take advantage of his late call-up. But it really feels like a race with something of a foregone conclusion…

edh May 6, 2011 at 10:17 pm

pulling for gadret. if anyone can ride like a moth to the flame its him.
he may not have the squadra- but things get interesting when he’s in that single track mindset.

cigo May 6, 2011 at 10:31 pm

I sometimes wonder if, now that he is under added scrutiny, Contador doesn’t have the same ‘preparation’ and as a result is more vulnerable. Or at least more exceptional, rather than other-worldly.

jza May 6, 2011 at 11:59 pm

Good point….tons of big climbs can mean ‘death march’ rather than aggressive racing. Always gotta be saving something for tomorrow. Hilly, winding courses tend to make for more exciting racing than 6000m of climbing.

I think you’re right. If AC gets a minute or two on Etna….we could be watching 2 weeks of defense.

Alex May 7, 2011 at 12:12 am

I also fear the overly difficult route may lead to more defensive racing. Who wants to attack all-out on Zoncolan when he knows of another brutal stage the next day? I guess we’ll see a lot of group rides through the mountains with attacks in the last kilometer only.

However, I look forward to the first week, those rolling stages promise animated racing by teams that don’t have a GC contender.

Larry T. May 7, 2011 at 1:39 am

Everthing’s relative….La Corsa Rosa was easily the most entertaining of the Grand Tours in 2010 and will likely be so again in 2011. Will it be as interesting as in 2010? That might be too much to expect but Zomegnan and Co. have pulled out all the stops to try to make it so…in the end it’s up to the riders to make the race – though there will be dramatic scenery and amazing courses for them to race on…should they decide to really make a race of it.
I too wish somehow “Il Pistolero’s” case could be decided BEFORE, rather than after Il Giro, as it will be truly sad if he’s atop the podium in Milan only to be sanctioned and stripped of his results soon afterwards. I think Vincenzo Nibali could have won in 2010 if he’d not been in the service of the boring (and in my book, undeserving) Ivan Basso. Will he have the form and get the support from his team to win this year? I doubt Scarponi can hold it together for three weeks but look forward to seeing some exploits from him. Who knows what other contenders might emerge to challenge Contador? VAI NIBALI!

thierry May 7, 2011 at 3:02 am

The CAS cannot retired Contador of the podium afterward. He’s not in the same situation as Valverde. He has never been banned of racing. It’s the UCI and WADA who appeal a non banned sentence. The decision to suspend him wont’ be retroactive… if they suspend him.

JATri May 7, 2011 at 7:52 am

Safety nets: a great addition…in that an otherwise perilous section will probably now be safer than the average mountain descent. I imagine that similar action in GT’s past might have avoided serious injury/fatality.
I agree with JZA: significant risk of a “death march” for GC…although I hope not. Although there are only a few GC contenders for the win…that generally is the case at a GT. However there is a quality field battling for a top 20 and that should provide stacks of interest. I sure hope so. Allied with the difficulty of the parcours, is the possible decimation of the field. Maybe the smallest finishing peloton in years. And that would be a shame.
AC DQ’d? If CAS reverses RFEC then Giro win will bite the dust, IMO. CAS likely will suspend AC for 12 months or more…from date of positive sample.

Here’s to a great race…and if it approaches the quality of last year? Fantastic!

Pedaling the road May 7, 2011 at 8:16 am

Valid points you bring up Matt. There is an old saying that riders make the race, but I see Alex’ fears take place too. I still hope that riders participating in the giro, give their all. There is no way you can be combative in both the giro AND the tour this year, at least if you go for the win. Last year proved that, both Basso and Menchov off shape. So why did AC choose the Giro? Does he suspect CAS to make a decision he fears? So why start? See your point of him doing his job, but if CAS judges in favour of the UCI and/or WADA, AC has may have taken the glory from another rider. As well as creating a potential disaster for the sport.

SQUADRA May 7, 2011 at 9:16 am

for Riis to supposedly change mind and decide to take Riche Porte to the Giro as support for his ‘star’ Contador, is a puzzle.

the Giro this year is supposedly the hardest stage race of the season – (on route) and if raced that way, then explains why so many other TDF contenders are avoiding it this year.
Riis, has a potential stage racing talent that can or could continue his team record.
Like him or loathe him, Riis has turned around a few riders, and developed others that surprised many.

Porte, had a great debut season – for a second year pro he has expectations, perhaps more than is fair.
He also has (if rumours are believed) an A grade prize arsehole for his agent – who, supposedly annoyed Riis with his ‘negotiating skills’ and these backfired.

So, faced with that, and obvious interest from GreenEDGE i wonder if ‘using’ Riche at the Giro and the TDF is as a result of interest elsewhere, and a consequence of an agents actions….

Sprinting4Signs May 7, 2011 at 10:23 am

As a bike racing fan I’m split. I think that this is too hard and the riders will suffer with the brutal stages, long transfers I fear only one outcome – the best ‘prepared’ rider will win. I’m a Dreamer, and I’d love to see a ‘Clean’ rider triumph, but if the peloton is laying off the magic orange juice we should see some amazing collaspes over the the weeks, and with the Jersey only going to the winner in the final few stages.

I think it’s not just down to the strongest rider, but the strongest Team. That’s maybe a reason why Porte has been drafted in, regardless of any sideline politics. Geox may surprise a few, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain by going full gas. I’m pleases that Mencov is the man as Sastre is past his best but could be a useful domestique for him in the Mountains. Will it beat last years edition, no I doubt it as too many good riders has opted for the (easier) Tour. Things on paper don’t always transpose into real life and I’m not expected the great drama of last year, but I think it’ll be hard and very tough. Good luck to all the riders and I hope they stay safe.

Touriste-Routier May 7, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Even if the GC battle turns out to be a conservative/defensive slog, stage victories have major meaning to riders’ careers; I would expect to see many a rider not in the service of a GC contender looking at stages as 1 day races, with the breakaways having fierce battles to stand on the podium each day.

william d heidenreich May 7, 2011 at 11:58 pm

well what about Nibali, Menchov and Scarponi? They can’t win simply because Contador is present?
I refuse to believe this, sure Contador is a great bicycle racer and one of the best climers. But with eight, count um, eight mountain top finishes anybody can win. So, it will be as exiting as the ’10 Giro and possibly even more exiting. There are some very strong teams, good luck to all the racers and good luck Alberto Contador!!!

grolby May 8, 2011 at 8:38 pm

No, thierry – standard procedure is to strip all results subsequent to the date of the positive control itself. Which means that Contador, if he loses the 2011 Giro in court, will lose the 2010 Tour and every result since then as well.

snappy don May 9, 2011 at 4:29 am

My problem with this Giro is that it’s potentially two distinct and unrelated events.
For stages 1-12 the sprinters grab whatever stages they can before hanging up the cleats early, knowing they aren’t expected to contribute beyond the mid-way point anyhow. Meanwhile climbers and GC riders quietly sit back, knowing whatever happens in the first week and a half doesn’t matter at all. They’ll only tighten the straps once the flat-landers have gone home.
Sure, a lot of Grand Tours tend to unfold this way, but this course is so extreme it will be more pronounced for Giro 2011.

James May 9, 2011 at 5:13 am

don: not quite sure what you’re talking about. Yes, that is how most grand tours develop, but there really are not many sprint stages even in the first 12 days of racing. Or at least, there is real potential for some GC separation. Stages 5, 6 and 11 are fairly hilly and could produce some gaps- particularly if someone takes real initiative there. Stages 7 and 9 have long climbs and mountaintop finishes. Of course, the hardest is still to come (in heaps), but it certainly doesn’t look as boring as the first week of the TdF often is.

benDE May 9, 2011 at 8:55 am

With all the climbing and mountaintop finishes is it not possible that we get a lot of success from the next generation of Sellas, Riccos, Mosqueras and DiLucas? Just a thought. Maybe the podium would then look a LOT different in July after the tests are all sorted out.

Bundle May 9, 2011 at 1:52 pm

It would be most unfortunate if Contador wins and the CAS rewrites the results. But we can’t take it for granted. If AC wins, he will be putting additional pressure on the CAS. The CAS could decide not to sanction AC (on the grounds that there is no proof that he enhanced his performance through the use of banned substances, since the amount found is not significant in terms of performance, thus challenging the regulations that don’t take into account the issue of levels of concentration of substances) or, alternatively, decide to ban him only as of the date of its decision (and not to disallow his possible Giro victory, thus challenging the practice of retroactive suspensions). This last option seems quite sensible, since it is not Contador’s or the Giro’s problem if the clenbuterol process has not been finalised more than 9 months after the end of the Tour de France. Imho, retroactive suspensions are crazy practice, that really hurts the sport without bringing any benefit. The CAS should (and I think it will) think about this seriously.

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