The decisive stage of the 2013 Giro? No, let’s not hype things up too much but after a week of light sparring, time for the first heavyweight contest.
Stage 8 will define the race for some time to come but it shouldn’t determine the race. But it’s made the race what it is because the prospect of a 55km time trial was an invitation for Bradley Wiggins to ride. Only Wiggins is now late to the party, his losses yesterday change the script for the race.
Yesterday’s Stage: on paper an exciting stage but it looked like it wouldn’t come alive. After a lot of fighting in the first half an hour of the race an early breakaway got away and it all looked so predictable. The tempo set by Vini Fantini suggested the move could be caught but when their rider Fabio Taborre rode away he didn’t pull out much of a lead. It began to rain and the road turned into a skating rink, cutting the chase. Ahead Emmanuelle Sella and Adam Hansen had dropped their breakaway companions. Sella wiped out on a corner but got back to Hansen only for the Australian to drop him à la pédale on the penultimate climb. Hansen was in the best place, alone and pacing himself over the treacherous roads.
Behind, carnage as riders slid all over the road. It wasn’t just the race, the roads seemed to have a slippery film with spectators and following cars slipping at times. Some would say Bradley Wiggins was the biggest loser but arguably Team Sky lost the most because if Wiggins lost time, so did Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran.
The Route: if the distance is the obvious point, the secret is in the detail. Glance at the profile above and it almost looks tame and within a set range of altitude. But the course twists and turns and finishes on a steep climb with cobbles.
It’s a tough route that is technical in places. If the distance was designed Wiggins the course isn’t what he’d pick. Normally he’d like a flatter, faster course to put the likes of Vincenzo Nibali far behind. But the way the course changes direction and incline means pacing yourself at, say, 430 watts, is a tough task. Instead riders have to constantly change gear, brake, corner and accelerate. Now this isn’t wild but look for yourself, the route takes a road that twists like a corkscrew on the way to the first time check in Pisaro, it’s said there’s a corner every 200 metres.
Can you count the bends? And if this section isn’t hard enough, take a look at the finish. In short it’s not like the final time trial of the Tour de France or the Olympic time trial.
And if the maps, profiles and words are still not giving you an idea of what happens, here’s a useful overall summary from Daniel Lloyd and the production crew of the GCN channel on Youtube.
The Scenario: a voyage into the unknown. Today’s stage is the longest flat-style time trial to feature in a grand tour since the 2006 Tour de France put on a 57km stage. Consequently very few riders in the bunch have raced over such a long distance although Bradley Wiggins did and also rode the 2007 Tour where slightly shorter distance features. Of course plenty can be replicated in training but it’s still a long distance, a unique effort in the year.
The stage is for two types of riders, the TT specialists and the overall contenders. Given the course is so technical it’ll suit the overall contenders who can change pace rather than those who can turn a big gear for an hour. Still, we can expect the likes of Alex Dowsett (Movistar), Stef Clement (Blanc0),
George Bennett Jesse Sergent (Radioshack) and possibly a recovering Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) to set the early fast times. Watch for Astana’s Fredrik Kessiakoff who’s become a TT expert in the last year.
As well as the battle for the stage win, there’s the fight not to lose too much time. It’ll be interesting to see how the likes of Michele Scarponi, Robert Kiserlovski and Mauro Santambrogio fare. But the real interest is in Vincenzo Nibali, Cadel Evans, Ryder Hesjedal and Robert Gesink. Nibali’s spent time training on his time trial bike and working on his aerodynamics but this is still not his event, however he’s now in a prime position. Visually Hesjedal looks like he should perform well only he’s usually top-20 material in a time trial, good but not world class… although until last year he’d never won a stage race. Evans has been encouragingly visible this week, sprinting for time bonuses and now we’ll get the big picture. Gesink’s improved a lot in time trials, what will he do today?
As for Wiggins, the mystery remains. Just as his mood varies in interviews, now we’re not sure what legs he’s got. Much has been made of his crash yesterday and the problems descending but he was dropped before the misfortune struck. Was he in the wrong position after a nervous descent off the previous climb or is he simply not in form? I thought he’s looked a bit pale at times but it’s hard to tell with the TV cameras. You can have your theories but the answer will come today. Either way he’s now starting the time trial with a significant deficit on his main rivals for the overall and even if he wins big today his cushion over the others will not be as planned. The course might not be the flat route to leave Nibali floundering like a fish out of water but Wiggins is an obvious expert at pacing himself and if there’s climbing that won’t cause problems. Will he be the hero at five o’clock?
Finally Beñat Intxausti. The maglia rosa has been knocking on the door of stage racing for sometime with a string of top-10 placings in one week stage races and even a time trial win in the Vuelta a Asturias in 2010, one of his two career wins. Can he keep his jersey? I suspect not, there are too many riders within close range for now.
Daily Routine: some riders will do the course twice today. It might seem odd doing 55km in the morning but it’s one way to stretch the legs and, crucially, to check the course. Others will get driven over the course in a team car but could perhaps ride a section too. A mix of riders have checked the course before but others, for example Cadel Evans, have not. This makes a difference because it’s not a flat race where a rider just paces themselves in a big gear. Knowing which corners to ride into at full speed makes a big difference, the same for that little hill that turns out to be a long drag.
Weather: it’s been easier forecasting the winner than the weather. Yesterday’s weather forecast said rain all day but this only appeared at the end of the stage. Rain is promised, with showers early in the day turning to heavier rain later in the day. Only light winds are expected and the course is sheltered by buildings and vegetation for most of the way.
TV: often a time trial doesn’t make for great TV but this stage will determine the overall classification. The last rider is expected for 5.15pm but tune in earlier to see who is setting the pace and who is losing the race. If you can’t find it on TV, cyclingfans.com and steephill.tv will cater for your internet feed.
Word of the day: maxichrono because a chrono is a time trial in Italian only today’s stage is a giant. A time trial specialist is often called un chronoman which is distinct from un passista which means rouleur or literally someone capable of pacing themselves. Maxi is used before other words and this week we’ve had maxicaduta, maxi-crash.