Nairo Quintana leads on the stage to Val Martello. He’d gone clear on the descent of the Passo dello Stelvio launching a post-race controversy – one of many to mark the race – but it was on the climb to the finish that he built his lead.
This was a race with plenty of action with no team was able to control the race either in the plains or the high mountains. Here’s a look back at events and some thoughts on the race.
Was the weather the biggest tactical factor? It was certainly consistent, typing each stage preview seemed to involve copy-pasting the previous day’s forecast: cool , cloudy and the chance of rain every afternoon. It poured in Ireland as expected but in logistical effort to transport the race back to Italy it was as if someone packed the clouds too.
The opening weekend in Belfast and Dublin shouldn’t be remembered for the rain. The giant crowds were so impressive. Garmin-Sharp’s collective crash gave an early moment of the drama and chaos that we’d get for the next three weeks.
Michael Matthews had a great first week. A prodigious talent, it’s said he got lazy after signing a good contract, that the hunger had gone. But he went back to work and the results were obvious before the Giro with a stage win in the Tour of the Basque Country before several days in the maglia rosa. Now he’ll ride the Tour de France, a challenger to Peter Sagan for the green jersey.
Another early success was Nacer Bouhanni, the sprint king. It could have been different had Marcel Kittel not vanished. Certainly the German’s sprint win in Dublin was among the best we’ve ever seen, he surged from nowhere in what the Italians call a fucilata or gunshot to leave his rivals stunned and collapsed after the line where a fan – a member of Nicolas Roche’s development squad – posed for a selfie with the broken rider to generate another Twitter storm. But Bouhanni was no consolation poaching wins, instead he was clearly the fastest and boldest rider left in the race. All this occurred as L’Equipe reported daily twists on his employment future with FDJ just as Arnaud Démare was sporting a maillot rose, this time as leader of the Four Days of Dunkirk.
We got more rain and a fresh polemic with the Montecassino maxicaduta where many riders crashed with less than 10km to go. Only a small group of riders were left upright at the front of the bunch. Matthews won the day and Cadel Evans took time on his GC rivals but the stage continued for hours as riders lay in hospital and fans debated the outcome on social media and forums. These debates raged in the bunch and team cars too with different views on what caused the crash and what should have been done. Cadel Evans mid-race reign came to an end in the Barolo time trial thanks to Rigoberto Urán’s surprise win. The Australian had a great race but now finds the media talking about retirement, legacy and more.
It might be hindsight but the mountain stages looked cleverly designed, each progressively harder and more decisive. The two stages in the Apenines were selective but not conclusive, aggression by Domenico Pozzovivo, Julián Arredondo and Pierre Rolland would be a theme for the rest of the race with the Frenchman given room to attack because he was so far down on GC but turning these moves into time-grabbing escapades to finish fourth overall.
Montecampione was the first true summit finish and we had a surprise with the triumph of Fabio Aru. He enjoyed front page billing on La Gazzetta Dello Sport, eclipsing Diego Ulissi’s twin stage wins.
Then came Stage 16. The same stage was cancelled last year and the Giro could not afford a second no show. But the forecast was grim and the ok to race was only given hours before the start. Snow by itself isn’t a problem, it’s the damp and the windchill which makes it so hard. Going up the Gavia pass Quintana was so cold he thought of abandoning, unable to eat because of frozen hands it was left to Ion Izaguirre to ram a sandwich into the Colombian’s mouth. Onto the Stelvio and Dario Cataldo lead to win the Cima Coppi prize but there was talk of neutralisation on the descent. Only it was vague and when safety required certitude, we got a game of telephone. The word “neutralisation” was used in the Italian broadcast on race radio and if instructions were given out not to overtake on the descent, apparently it was only for the initial hairpin bends near the top.
What is certain is that Nairo Quintana and Pierre Rolland had got away from the other GC contenders and had a team mate each for company along with Ryder Hesjedal. The team mates helped to drive the pace and by the foot of final climb Quintana’s group had two minutes on the chasers with Urán included.
Rolland blew – he confessed to not eating during the stage – and then Hesjedal cracked. Quintana might have hoped to ride to glory and even history but he found himself in a storm over the how and why of his escape down the Stelvio.
Will the Stelvio incident be remembered? Quintana seemed visibly affected by the controversy in the press-conference that followed as he accounted for his actions but his stage win on Monte Grappa helped to show he probably was the best climber.
Team owners and managers were understandably upset at Stelvio controversy. But their cries for greater professionalism were ironic given an amateur response. An open air public meeting of managers resembled inmates gathering in a jail yard rather than a business conference and it took over 24 hours to put a statement out by which time the story had gone as cold as the Stelvio’s banks of snow.
For the sake of arithmetic, let’s imagine Nairo Quintana had not gone clear on the Stelvio and finished next to Wilco Kelderman on the climb to Val Martello. You might think he’d have gone faster up the final climb but since we’re already speculating, let’s not complicate things. It would mean Quintana gaining 39 seconds on Urán – just like Kelderman - and so ending the day 2.01 down on Urán. On Stage 18 above Valsugana Quintana and Uran both finished on the same time. Come the Monte Grappa mountain time trial and Quintana put 1.26 into Urán meaning the OPQS would still be leading the GC by 35 seconds.
All these calculations are arithmetic rather than what would have happened. But note had the team managers had their way with the call for the times to be rejigged by cutting the time taken by Quintana on the Stelvio descent but allowing him to keep the advantage gained on the final climb to Valmartello then this means adding roughly 90 seconds: putting Quintana in pink by a minute.
Enough speculation, back to some actual numbers from the race:
The chart above shows the podium finishers standing on GC throughout the race, as measured on the y-axis by the number of seconds behind the maglia rosa. As you can see Quintana reached a trough of 209 seconds (3m29s) after the Stage 12 time trial and climbed his way out. If Stage 16 to Val Martello was crucial, see how Urán and Aru continued to fall away after.
Quintana is an elusive personality and hard to get the measure of on the bike. He wears a mask of concentration and without many visible pedalling traits. There’s a slightly slower cadence to the others giving an impression of force. If we can’t tell what’s going on inside it’s what happening to the others that makes him irresistible to watch. Go back to the 2012 Dauphiné and the Col de Joux Plane where was the only rider who could attack Team Sky’s mountain train. Race organisers will be designing routes to suit.
We should also salute the team effort. Movistar are one of only two teams (Trek) to finish with nine men and they started with the sole objective of winning the race. They were visible at all times and it was only when the lead group was reduced to i big that Quintana was without a team mate but so were the others.
Missing in Action
Other teams had a tough time, notably Orica-Greenedge who shrunk to two riders but the Aussie squad had a great race. By contrast several teams been largely invisible for three weeks. By this I mean they’ve not been on TV, this isn’t to knock the suffering, endurance and sheer hard work only it never paid off with glory or visibility. Katusha, Cannondale and Lotto-Belisol stand out for their absence although Moreno, Belkov, Viviani, Basso and Wellens were sometimes on TV.
Team Sky were racing à la française: sending riders up the road in the hope a move could stick rather than trying to shape the race. This was always going to be the case once they started without an obvious leader, Enrico Battaglin’s sprint against Dario Cataldo crystallised the story. Lampre-Merida almost fall into this camp because without Ulissi they weren’t visible.
De Boyacá en los campos, el genio de la gloria
As well as teams this was a race marked by a nation. The Colombians were all over the race with Quintana, Urán, Arredondo and more. Even the Colombia team had a good time, no stage wins but in Duarte they came close.
Confirmations and Revelations
Julián Arredondo and Fabio Aru are the two obvious picks with the latter being essential for Italian fans. The humble Sardinian will find enormous pressure and interest. We had Nacer Bouhanni finally winning grand tour stages with confidence. What about Diego Ulissi and his two stage wins? Wilco Keldermann too? In fact all these names are really confirmations rather than revelations as they’ve won races and surprised before. But this was Arredondo’s first grand tour and he’s set to achieve more.
Actual revelations were Ag2r’s Alexis Vuillermoz, 26 today and sitting 11th overall after serving Domenico Pozzovivo. There’s Sky’s Sebastian Henao, a 20 year old neo pro who had two top-10s in the mountains.
Enjoyable with a variety of race leaders and different tactical scenarios. Beyond Ag2r’s efforts in a mountain train we hardly ever saw a team control the race and the result meant attacks, reversals and surprises on the crucial stages. However at times there was too much drama, with crashes, polemics and protests – oddly most of these could have been avoided had the weather been better – culminating in the Stelvio incident. Quintana’s subsequent stage win extinguished doubts about the moral winner. As well as beauty, art and history Italy is a land of exaggeration and crisis and perhaps the polemiche of the race are another reflection of the nation?
Like Zhou Enlai’s misquote on the French revolution it might be too soon to judge the significance of the 2014 Giro as several of the best riders on GC are also under-25, with Fabio Aru, Rafał Majka and Wilco Kelderman all set for success in the years to come. Nairo Quintana won the white jersey too and is the youngest Giro winner for a decade. His next target race is the 2015 Tour de France, an impossible wait. There will be intermediate goals before then but after this race with the Alps, snow, rain as well as the media, surely the only thing that can test Quintana is the Tour de France?
1 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team 88:14:32
2 Rigoberto Urán (Col) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step Cycling Team 0:02:58
3 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:04:04
4 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar 0:05:46
5 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale 0:06:32
6 Rafał Majka (Pol) Tinkoff-Saxo 0:07:04
7 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling Team 0:11:00
8 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:11:51
9 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin Sharp 0:13:35
10 Robert Kišerlovski (Cro) Trek Factory Racing 0:15:49…
…156 Jetse Bol (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling Team 5:15:19
Red Jersey – Points Competition: Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr)
Blue Jersey – Mountains Competition: Julián Arredondo (Trek Factory Racing)
White Jersey – Best Young Rider: Nairo Quintana (Movistar)
Team Prize: Ag2r La Mondiale