Was there a race-winning moment? Vincenzo Nibali used the first week to put himself in the ideal position and took the race lead after the time trial in Saltara. From this point onwards the cast of potential rivals began to shrink and fade.
But if you had to chose one moment to define the 2013 Giro, what better than the one pictured above? It’s Stage 14 and the final climb of the Jafferau above the town of Bardonnechia. Snow forced a late change to the route and the bad weather even blocked the TV coverage. It’s a scene from winter but in a race defined by bad weather, the only concession to the cold from Nibali is toe covers. He attacks and behind the others think of giving chase but only Mauro Santambrogio and Carlos Betancur will be able to follow.
Nibali above all
This was supposed to be a race defined by three time trials and a series of high altitude finishes where time triallists could take time in one field and climbers in another, a battle of science versus art. But Nibali outrode everyone everywhere, taking time against the clock, winning summit finishes and even sprinting for time bonuses.
Not that he breezed it but who could attack him? Rigoberto Uran rode away on the stage to Montasio but partly because everyone was expecting Wiggins to do something and Uran had some room being ninth overall at the time. Cadel Evans hung on and Michele Scarponi surprised in the time trials but wasn’t launching any mountain raids. We expected the Colombians to shine in the mountains but Team Colombia were collectively overshadowed by compatriots Carlos Betancur who came close to a stage win and Uran who becomes the first Colombian on the podium of the Giro.
If there was a “fight for pink” it was Nibali’s aggressive riding, turning defence of the race lead into attack. Each time Nibali was under pressure he didn’t ride tempo, he upped the tempo.
Did the cold play a role? Perhaps but it was the persistent rain that got to the riders. Many fell ill and in a sport long defined by the manipulation of red blood cells, maybe it was the white blood cells that made a difference? Certainly Nibali seemed immune to attack, whether viral or from rivals. So if some stages were altered to avoid snow and one was scrapped there’s no doubting the result. More mountains would have meant more time gaps between Nibali and the rest although we could have seen more fighting amongst the top-10 and for the white jersey. Plus the red jersey could probably have been out of Cavendish’s reach had Nibali been given another summit finish. In short the snow was there to be endured but it’d probably didn’t change the result.
Nibali’s a complete rider, able to win one day races and grand tours alike. It’s notable how steady his career progression has been. He picked off one day races first, then started delivering quiet results, for example a top-10 in the final time trial of the Giro in 2007, his first ride in the race. Overall wins in the Giro del Trentino and Tirreno-Adriatico, the Vuelta in 2010 along with third place in the Giro and the Tour de France podium last summer. This begs the question of where next? France of course but in 2014. He’s not going to ride the Tour this year but will target the Vuelta with the aim of winning the Worlds in Florence soon after. He’s also the complete package off the bike too, courteous in interviews and available for fans although his tax-exile status in Italy is a sore point.
The other favourite Bradley Wiggins went home ill, as did defending champion Ryder Hesjedal. The Italian media struggled with their pair at times. Wiggins’s multiple personalities – one day the British gent charming the media, the next his shyness and unwillingness to work with journos – earned him a blasting from some although the toughest words there were aimed at his team’s PR skills and not the rider. Meanwhile if Hesjedal rarely has much to say this time he couldn’t let his legs do the talking and left the race unable to explain what was wrong.
Running counter-factual scenarios is theoretical at best. You can end up like a dog chasing its tale but let’s imagine Wiggins had stayed healthy in the race. Two points stand out, first his descending problems could have continued and second he’d have lacked team support with only Rigoberto Uran in the front group in the mountains so surely Nibali would have won too?
Who else impressed? Well first Mauro Vegni, the race director of the Giro. Michele Acquarone might the boss but Vegni – pictured – is the man who decides the route and other technical elements. His mother died at the start of the race and since returning he’s had to alter two stages and cancel another, all this after the wintry Milan-Sanremo too. The whole team at RCS did a good job. It’s hard enough closing down parts of Italy on a normal day.
Was the race too ambitious with its ski-station visits? No and the race will return in 2014. The Giro’s slot on the calendar has been pushed back a week but regardless the weather has been exceptional, topping TV bulletins in Italy and causing trouble for many outside of the Giro bubble, whether seaside hoteliers, city café owners or farmers with rotting crops. By some measures Northern Italy’s had the coldest and wettest spring since 1987, others say since the 19th century. With this it was impressive to see the riders soldier on but antibiotics, infections and soreness in the tendons and ligaments. Sadly for some if the race is finished the illness and injuries are not.
Mark Cavendish of course. Having seen him dropped in the Tour de Romandie I thought the time cut could be a problem during the Giro but he kept getting better as the race went on. Superlatives run out but he’s surely the greatest sprinter of all time and his career is only at the halfway point. Five stages and the red jersey means he’s one of the few riders to have won the points jersey in all grand tours.
Adam Hansen’s stage win was great to see and over at the Rapha website Herbie Sykes pays him a nice tribute, all whilst hoping Hansen won’t ever win again. I also enjoyed Enrico Battaglin’s win in Serra San Bruno. I’d tipped him to win that day and it was all the better to see the bunch catch Danilo di Luca within sight of the finish line, passed by young hope of Italian cycling. Italian cycling is having a tough time and Di Luca reminds us why but the economy is suffering. Many of the best Italians in this race ride for foreign teams, in this race we’ve seen Nibali with Kazakhstan’s Astana, Giovanni Visconti with Movistar and Luca Paolini with Katusha. Once race won’t turn this around but Nibali’s home win will do plenty of good.
Last but not least, Davide Appollonio of Ag2r is the maglia nera, finishing 168th and 4.28.36 down on Nibali.
The 2013 Giro might have lacked a fight where the overall lead kept changing unpredictably right up until the final below the Tre Cime di Lavaredo but that would have required weakness from Nibali. Instead the Italian was simply stronger than the rest but not crushingly so. Watching his progress was satisfying but would you buy the highlights DVD?
The weather played its part in dampening spirits but Mark Cavendish, Movistar and others took full opportunity to shine whilst the Giro itself seems to have grown in stature thanks to RCS’s superior marketing skills and its work in luring the big names. Viva il Giro!
Final Overall Classification
1 Vincenzo NIBALI ITA AST 84:53:28
2 Rigoberto URAN URAN COL SKY +4:43
3 Cadel EVANS AUS BMC +5:52
4 Michele SCARPONI ITA LAM +6:48
5 Carlos Alberto BETANCUR GOMEZ COL ALM +7:28
6 Przemyslaw NIEMIEC POL LAM +7:43
7 Rafal MAJKA POL TST +8:09
8 Benat INTXAUSTI ELORRIAGA ESP MOV +10:26
9 Mauro SANTAMBROGIO ITA VIN +10:32
10 Domenico POZZOVIVO ITA ALM +10:59
11 Franco PELLIZOTTI ITA AND +11:35
12 Samuel SANCHEZ GONZALEZ ESP EUS +12:13
13 Yury TROFIMOV RUS KAT +12:55
14 Tanel KANGERT EST AST +12:57
15 Robert KISERLOVSKI CRO RLT +14:27
16 Sergio Luis HENAO MONTOYA COL SKY +18:19
17 Wilco KELDERMAN NED BLA +20:18
18 Darwin ATAPUMA HURTADO COL COL +28:56
19 Damiano CARUSO ITA CAN +30:56
20 Francis MOUREY FRA FDJ +32:22…
…168 Davide APPOLLONIO ITA ALM +4:28:36