The Moment The Race Was Won: The Giro

Monte Ologno

Was there a winning moment? Alberto Contador won the 2015 Giro d’Italia after beating his rivals day after day, both out on the roads and in their minds. There were moments where he could have lost the race but these were used to muddle his rivals. Take the climb of Monte Ologno where Contador attacked not because he needed to or because there was a stage win waiting, he went because he wanted to teach Astana a lesson.

Contador wins the Giro after winning the Vuelta last year and now bids to win the Tour de France which starts in five weeks.

There are shorter routes from Sanremo to Milan. The Giro took the scenic tour and right from the start the course provoked action. Italy’s geography means the race is never more than one stage’s ride away from ambush country hills and high mountains. The first week war between Astana and Tinkoff-Saxo needed this terrain.

Orica-Greenedge won the first week thanks to two stage wins and passing the maglia rosa around three riders. Davide Formolo took the thrilling stage to La Spezia, an impressive win while behind the bunch was shredded and team mate Ryder Hesjedal lost over five minutes.

The first summit finish on Abetone saw Lampre-Merida’s first stage win thanks to Jan Polanc. Alberto Contador took the overall lead after he, Fabio Aru and Richie Porte finished ahead of the rest, a scenario to be repeated with Aru aggressively sprinting as if to make a point of who was top dog. But the repeat wasn’t certain after Contador crashed the next day, a spectator with a camera lens caught Daniele Colli and a wave of riders dashed Contador onto the road. He was too injured to put on a fresh jersey on the podium.

Contador was dominant. By far the best of the GC candidates in the Valdobbiadene time trial he’d been leading the race before. If the four pretenders for the win among Aru, Uran and Porte he was the obvious pick after the first week and then proved the strongest in the Alps. He cracked on the Colle delle Finestre but this probably boosted his popularity, the public prefers to know the winner has been tested and fought back. At times it seemed as if Contador was riding without a team and even Oleg Tinkov was joking that Contador alone was worth more than Astana’s nine. Contador never had that sidekick to ride shotgun in the high mountains but did get plenty of help elsewhere, see the help he got to the foot of the Mortirolo or when he launched the Verbania Vendetta attack up Monte Ologno just after Michael Rogers had stopped pulling.

Even a subluxated shoulder was used to Contador’s advantage. Psychologists talk of “loss aversion” where people fear losing something rather than not having it in the first place. For example find and then lose a €100 note and you’ll end the day unhappy despite being no worse off than you were earlier, you finish the day kicking yourself about the loss. The same with Contador’s shoulder, he and his team were happy to let the story snowball into tales of a dislocated shoulder. When Contador was spotted leaving Castiglione with his arm in a sling champagne corks must have been popping in the minds of his rivals who though the biggest obstacle to victory had been removed by a banal crash. Only Contador was dashing the hopes of his rivals in days, turning an injury to him into a mental blow for others. For a moment they thought they had the edge on him then they lost it and probably ended up in a worse place than before. This didn’t win the race for him but it’s a useful case study in Contador’s total approach to grinding down his rivals. See him sprinting for time bonuses to increase his already large time gap or his attack on Monte Ologno, Philippe Gilbert won his second stage but behind Alberto Contador took off just because he wanted to make a point to Astana.

Fabio Aru Sestriere

Fabio Aru lost the race but gained in popularity, barrels of paint have been consumed to paint his name on the roads. A promising support rider in 2013, an impressive stage winner in 2014, he’s now a fixture in Italian cycling although the excited mentions of his during the first half of the Giro dampened as he fell apart later on but the collapse was small, a wobble in Imola, a few seconds lost in Vicenza. Aru’s Mortirolo ride was an example, he was destroyed by Alberto Contador and left by his own team mate Landa but if he lost time on the Mortirolo he limited the damage on the road to Aprica. He’s still 24 and wins the white jersey with almost two hours over the next rider. Cohabitation on the Astana team with Vincenzo Nibali won’t be easy. Even if they were best friends – and they are not – their ambitions and race programmes are bound to overlap although for now Aru is sure to aim for the Vuelta and next year’s Giro.

Aru had to cope with Mikel Landa’s ascending form just as his own form was coming off the boil. Some are saying Landa’s come from nowhere but he’s been rated as a top climber for years. He was just behind Nairo Quintana and Andrew Talansky as the best climber of the 2010 Tour de l’Avenir. As a neo-pro in 2011 he skewered Juan-José Cobo and Joaquim Rodriguez in the Vuelta a Burgos, a week before the Vuelta a Espana where Cobo won and Rodriguez took two mountain stages. Loyal readers will remember he was this blog’s number one pick to replace Spain’s ageing “musketeers”. None of this is proof of a pure diet and bread and water either, just that he’s been tipped for the top for years. Landa bombed in the time trial but seeing him being caught by Contador and then limit his losses suggests he just needs practice.

Astana took five stages but remember this is a partly an Italian team funded by Kazakh money so they’ve been excited by the domestic aspect. It’s one thing to boss the Giro’s relatively weak field, it’s another to do it in the Tour. Tinkoff-Saxo will have a much stronger team with Rafał Majka and Jesus Hernandez while Sky will show up with Nicolas Roche and Geraint Thomas although Vincenzo Nibali with Jacob Fuglsang will be there.

Rigo Uran

What next for Rigoberto Uran? If things go his way he make the top-5 in the Giro and Vuelta every year which is valuable but climbing higher seems difficult. It’s lucrative niche to fill but one that attracts lesser teams keen to win points rather than Etixx-Quickstep which wants to be seen one of the best teams.

Richie Porte

Richie Porte had the worst time of all the contenders. There was that puncture and the time penalty but his crash in Jesolo made all the debate about UCI rules academic as he lost yet more time and got injured. To leave a race that was his big goal of the season because of a crash was terrible. But as the failure was rooted in bad luck rather than proof – if one grand tour is enough – that he can’t win a grand tour and it keeps the flame burning for another tilt just when his contract is up. But he needs to work on his public image, L’Equipe’s Philippe Brunel was virulent in his criticism of Porte in two articles, excessively so perhaps but the kernels of truth were that for all of Sky’s spending on helicopters and motorhomes they lost two minutes because their leader didn’t know the basic rules that are free to download; and Porte often vanished after every stage rather than meeting and greeting the media so the public never warmed to him, he was the foreigner who rejected the race hotels to some.

Richie Porte Motorhome RV

The motorhome is a good idea on paper. Recovery during a stage race is dependent on nutrition, rest and sleep and being able to improve the last factor can bring enormous gains. Especially in a three week contest where the hotels vary. But it was taken the wrong way by some, as if Sky wanted to insulate their rider from the Giro’s travelling caravan. At least ASO and the French press are warned if the vehicle shows up at the Dauphiné and Tour de France.

Among the contenders that’s about it. Before the race the field looked shallow with four obvious picks for the podium and Domenico Pozzovivo. Now the race is done glance at the top-10 overall it’s more Lieutenant Classification than General Classification, a list of luxury sidekicks gregarios rather than champions and stars in the making. Take Movistar where the likes of Ion Izaguirre, Jesus Herrada and Beñat Inxausti looked good for stage wins; Inxausti delivered but the big surprise was Andrey Amador who had looked set to shield the others from the wind on the flatter stages but his consistent riding put him high on GC. All good but can he return in 2016 to win or is he really an ideal lieutenant for Nairo Quintana? Another telling factor was the time gaps, only 18 riders finish within an hour of Alberto Contador and if there a few close examples along the way you have to go back to the 1950s to find so few riders within an hour of of the first rider illustrating just how hard the race was and suggesting a wide variance in the level of the riders concerned.

Beyond the GC Lampre-Merida were big winners with four stage wins. In the Tour de they’ve often been one of the most invisible squads, the kind you almost forget are there but the Giro is their home race and it worked out bettter. For the Giro this year FDJ weren’t so visible although Alex Geniez was huffing and puffing his 72kg carcass over the mountains. But the invisibility cloak was shared by Southeast and CCC-Sprandi who barely made the breakaways. They can take some comfort in the domination of a few teams, of the 22 teams in the race less than half won a stage. Bardiani-CSF were the only wildcard team to win a stage thanks to Nicola Boem but they’ve got some explaining to do in front of the MPCC in the coming days.

The Verdict
A thrilling race with action from the start to finish enabled by a good course and two teams who started the “fight for pink” early. If there was a DVD of the highlights it would need to be a box set. Alberto Contador was already in control by the stage to Aprica but this day demonstrated his grip on the race whether physiological with the speed of his ascent of the Mortirolo or psychological for the way he turned a disadvantageous injury into a mental win over his rivals.

As good as the match was it was the equivalent of watching a B-movie. Beyond Contador there were no superstar challengers. This was a race that began with supporting actors like Uran, Porte and Aru as GC rivals and when two of these fell away the cast looked even weaker. Contador hadn’t even finished the race before talk turned to the Tour de France. July will have a cast of stars but will the drama be as good?

86 thoughts on “The Moment The Race Was Won: The Giro”

  1. It was an exciting race to watch and the brilliant coverage provided here further increases the enjoyment. Just like the riders, you will need adequate recovery before another sustained effort in July. Well done Inner Ring.

    PS there is a typo in the first sentence about Aru, unless they have started painting toads…

  2. How can you watch that entire race and provide a review without mentioning the gritty and classy riding of Ryder Hesjadel? His final placing may not have been on the podium but that doesn’t reflect just how impressive his efforst were.

    • Everybody has a personal favourite and a personal take on things. But it’s a piece about how the race was won. If you start like this and want a retelling oft the race (additional to the daily wrap ups), then what about Kruswijk?

      • Indeed, too many names to mention. Kruijswijk and Hesjedal had a great time, Kruijswijk especially deserved a stage win or the mountains jersey while Hesjedal was good in the third week… but did his presence change the race much? He didn’t alter the battles between Contador and Aru/Landa although perhaps his aggression helped crack Contador on the Finestre?

        Watching the race on ESPN Latin America from time to time they were obviously impressed by Amador along with Betancur and Atampuma; on BeIn’s French coverage Alex Geniez’s regularity was exciting for them.

    • Hesjedal was the highlight of the third week, moving from 20th to 5th place, leapfrogging many riders without any mention of painted toads! A joy to watch.

  3. Good review, once I correct for my unabashed Italian bias. The “B-movie” comment is perhaps a bit harsh as what is RCS supposed to do in an era when LeTour is like the NFL Superbowl…an event hyped to the hilt and watched by viewers who don’t know a crankarm from a crankpin? And just like the Superbowl it’s rarely a contest anywhere near the hype. This year RCS even included (to me) an overly long chrono stage to attract the Tour faves, but go no interest in the double except from Contador. Pistolero’s got plenty of time to recover though I’m sure the chorus of “Well, X didn’t ride the Giro!” will start the second a GC challenger gains some time on him come July…and grow to a thunderous racket if he comes up short in Paris. As to highlight reels, RAI’s going to run one next week and I have a tough time believing it won’t be available on DVD soon after. I wouldn’t be surprised if it includes an English commentary option! Until then, W Il Giro!!! And of course, W Inrng!!!

  4. Good read, great race. Proves you don’t need the star names to have a brilliant race. Give me that Italian B movie any day over the Hollywood action film with the same names and predictable story.

      • Fabretti, the current capo of RAI Sport, went on (and on) on the Processo about how pleased they were with the TV ratings. I’m not so convinced “the wider public” is all that desirable. I don’t think bigger and richer is always better. My thoughts turn to the BigTex effect at LeTour – all kinds of multinational sponsorship money lavished on the race while for 7+ years a huge fraud was perpetrated. I believe a side effect of this is what has come to look like an unsustainable financial model for teams, created by the likes of ol’ Heinie and Phat Pat. As long as RCS can survive I’m quite happy with “the world’s toughest race in the world’s most beautiful place” no matter who turns up. W Il Giro!

        • I agree: expansion and more popularity isn’t always the best thing – not for the sport anyway. OK, so most of the best riders are not going to do the Giro. Fine, accept that and watch a race between very good riders over a parcours that is often better than the Tour’s. Usually, a rider of the calibre of Contador is not there, so the race is actually closer.

        • I for one would like to see RCS get “bigger and richer.” It runs other races that I actually follow more intently than the Giro, MSR, Strade Bianchi, and Lombardia, and I want to see these races reliably and fully funded.

  5. It’s interesting you note that only 18 riders finished within an hour of Contador. Looking at the final GC, we see that last place finisher Marco Coledan ended up 6:40:13 down on the race leader after 3481 km, whereas in 2014 (3445 km) Jetse Bol finished 5:15:19 behind the Maglia Rosa over what was, on paper, a harder parcours what with the uphill TT and Stelvio/Zoncolan stages. Perhaps the amount of breakaway stage wins played a part or just that the tempo was that much more intense?

    • Marco Coledan fought hard for that last place! Even getting fined, as he was waiting in front of the finish for Roger Kluge, I think, to make sure no one beats him to it!

      • Not wanting to cause a fuss but is this any different to throwing tennis or football matches when many online bookmakers now bet on the winner of the lantern rouge???

  6. Inrng- thank you, fantastic.

    There are indeed shorter routes from Sanremo to Milan!

    You make a good point in reminding that Contador won the Vuelta. If he wins the Tour, that’s 3 grand tours in a row.

  7. For years, sports teams faced with an upcoming match against their main rivals, have used the ‘our star player is fighting to be fit’ line in an attempt to lull the opposition into a false sense of security. With Contadors previous form, you’d think no one would fall for it again but as you point out, it would seem most did.

    Fair play to Contador, it’s all part of the sport and he’s proved himself again as a master of not just Grand Tour racing but the psychological aspects as well.

  8. Great piece Inrng, I think if Nibali or Froome had been present this may have gone down as one of the very best Grand tours for some time. Fantastic race aside and full marks to Contador, he really “won” this. Other potential candidates need to take note that scruff of the neck racing makes the difference! lets hope we see no RV’s again.

  9. What a brilliant three weeks of racing! Great to see a successful break on the last day.
    I’m looking forward to the Tour now, hopefully it will be just as exciting- I’m sure Brailsford’s first job today will be to print out nine copies of the rule book, and an extra one to go on the bedside table in the camper-van.

    Huge thanks to INRNG for the excellent coverage- your daily previews massively helped me pick my daily fantasy teams…

  10. Great coverage and writing as usual. I nevertheless don’t think it is very right to qualify such a splendid race as a B-movie. For a start, the grand champion against an array of Italians or riders from Italian squads, or riders who prefer the Giro, is the classic plot. Merckx and Hinault’s fantastic Giros were the same. And 2015 was every bit as good. Froome, Nibali and Quintana were not there, just like Ocaña, Zoetemelk or Thévenet were not there in 1974. But, honestly, who cares?

    • I think praising the course is also deserved. Contrary to what the Vuelta and now the Tour are proposing, the idea of placing the hardest climbs at quite some distance from the finish, coupled with serious time-trialling (eroding riders and spacing the GC), and with very diverse terrains and stage distances, has definitely provided for classic racing, over a classic course.

  11. Generals and Lieutenants! Blerry brilliant kidder.King Kelly would be proud of that, when he’s talking about the General Class-a-mont. Thanks for the wrap up and we are all a lot wiser for the pearls you havebrought to the surface these last 3 weeks. Can’t help but think one of the rising French lads would do well to have a crack at the Giro. They’d be just slightly off radar , with just a little less pressure heaped on them

  12. Thank you for a really well written piece which summed up a race which for me, watching on Eurosport, was an exciting and eventful Giro. An amazing race …. and can’t wait for the TdF.

    Thank you also for your great tweets. Really informative and entertaining, and I read them daily.

  13. An interesting footnote note menitioned. Adam Hansen completed his 11th successive grand tour – a record. No small feat when few riders even do 3 grand tours in a year.

  14. Great race and many thanks for the so well written and timely (p)reviews. As you can read, my english is far from perfect, but still I can appreciate the wording and phrasing from the pieces.

    I agree that this was a bit like a B casting regarding rivals. However, I think Kontador finishes the Giro tired, and I don’t know whether he will be able to fully recover for the Tour, where rivals as Froome, Nibali and Quintana will come in their peak form. He repeats that an important part of “the doppieta” is psychological, but I am not sure this is it only.

    Anyway, even if there will always be some doubts about Kontador’s carreer due to the steak from Irun episode, it must be admitted that his attitude and his way of racing make cycling races more enjoyable to watch. The mortirolo stage and the posterior unuseful vendetta “pan per focaccia” on monte Ologno were simply sublime.

  15. One comment on Landa: next to his ITT abilities, I think he is also quite weak in the psychological aspect (based on different interviews he gave to spanish press). This may be a hurdle in coming years.

  16. Fantastic to see Keisse winning the final stage – and a true sporting moment when the first thing he did after crossing the line was give a conciliatory hug to Durbridge, having just beaten him in the sprint.

    • Yes, that was great! Keisse appears to have had a pretty hard time over the years, good to see him winning, and then honouring his breakmate so openly. Chapeau!

  17. I enjoyed the race and Inrng’s coverage immensely. There is, however, a giant elephant in the room. Astana’s collective strength fails the pub test. If something seems too good to be true it generally is. A few short weeks ago this team was facing oblivion and now they’ve regrouped and blown everybody away, expect the redoubtable Contador.

    • As others have pointed out, a strong team who used their gregarios well: some Astana riders were always at the front, but it was always different ones.
      Aside from Landa and Aru, only Kangert finished within an hour of Contador overall.
      Doesn’t mean they’re clean, but doesn’t prove they’re dirty.

      • As a long term fan of pro cycling I have every right to be sceptical about any outstanding performances, as cynical as that might appear. I don’t discriminate on the basis of where a team is registered. Second and third on GC, five stage wins, second in the ITT and numbers en masse on all the major climbs definitely raises suspicion.

        • First and second on GC, six stage wins, first and second in both ITTs (and fifth in the second one) and numbers en masse on all the major climbs.
          And all that against the strongest riders that teams could put out – no second strings.
          So, you are suspicious of Sky’s 2012 TDF performance then? Fair enough. Personally, for me neither record is proof of anything.

    • “If something seems too good to be true it generally is.”

      No disputes about that, but is failing to win really “too good to be true”?

    • I’m probably more cynical than most, but I find it hard to understand the logic of implying Team A is doped to the gills while (it can be argued) the captain of Team S wiped the floor with all of them without much help from the rest of his team. In the past when this WAS the case (of course we only knew for sure much later) that dodgy team put THEIR leader in the jersey in cycling’s biggest show 7 times. And then there’s J Evans question about the Team S who wears the black and blue kit.

      • Agree Larry. I think it was a great race and thoroughly enjoyed it. But I also thought is was the most obviously dirty race for years. Yet there is very little chance of catching any of them currently. Can’t help feeling that the ‘clean’ era is really a million miles away.

        • A strong odor of double standards is coming out of my keyboad. The record of the team in light blue is certainly dodgy at best, including the period when Il Pistolero himself was there. BUT when Contador on a different team pretty much has his way with all of them, what does that say about him? “The most obviously dirty race for years” is an interesting claim Joel. The light blue guys went very fast, then blew up now and then..most famously the 2nd place guy, while the winner was slowed only by crashes and injuries and really didn’t ever look to be in too much trouble, even on the penultimate day, when had 4 minutes in hand over his rivals despite not having much of a team behind him and ended up winning pretty handily overall. What would you imply from that? Finally, (I promise no more comments on this!) the winner was caught and sanctioned in the past for violating anti-doping rules while (at present) none (correct me if I’m wrong on this, I didn’t do a lot of digging around) of the light blue team racing at this Giro have been caught or sanctioned during their careers. Should we imply something from this?

  18. The Giro has to be the greatest stage race for drama, action, polemica and the sheer uncertainty of what is going to happen next. Almost half the stages were won by break-aways, and most of those were the most inlikely to survive.. INCLUDING the final stage! Ok, teams didn’t have their top riders, the sprint trains weren’t fully functional.. Cav wasn’t there. But as a pure cycling spectacle it was simply amazing. Every year the Giro gets better. And so what if the top riders don’t all join in.. Let them wait for the Tour.. and those long slow boring flat stages where the formulas work 100% and the excape is almost always caught.. The only intnerest there will be the cobbles really.. as those long grinding climbs have nothing on the savagery of the “Colle delle Finestre”.. The Giro also has the best commentary of any stage race.. sadly in Italian.. Well, sad for you non-italian speakers.. But if you really want to know what’s happening in a bike race tuning into RAI is a sure way to do it. I’m really sad it’s over, but boy did I enjoy it. Yes, I’ll watch the tour.. and the BIG will all be there, and it will be a true show-donw.. but the Giro is where my heart is!

  19. I really enjoyed this race, it had plenty of drama even though Contador ruled the general classification and seemed untouchable at moments.

    Kruijswijk and Hesjedal animated the race in the final week and showed they were among the best, together with Contador, Landa and Aru. The fact that it took some time for them to get into top form (or was it just bad luck that first week?) might make them serious contender’s for the Dauphine or Suisse. I remember Kelderman impressing in the Dauphine after a strong Giro. Looking forward to see what these two races will bring!

  20. For me the excitement of this year’s Giro was more about all stages being worth watching in their own right. Sure the GC battle failed to deliver, but it barely mattered one jot.

    The variety of stage winners and the manner in which each stage was raced and won was even more compelling than Contador’s masterclass.

  21. As usual great write up – thank you inring.

    I thought the Parcour was amazing this edition as was the television coverage by the Italians the only fly in the ointment for me being the finish at Imola.

    Bring on the TDF

    • Out of interest, what was so bad about Imola? They didn’t lap the motor circuit all day but used a hilly route with local roads as the finishing circuit and this came after a tough stage with a lot of climbing including many awkward uncategorised climbs.

  22. I agree that it’s a bit harsh calling the Giro a ‘B movie’. In terms of cast maybe, but you can have all the best actors in the world, if the script is no good it will still flop. In terms of quality the Giro was very much first class, a contender for best screenplay at the Oscars you might say. Plus it still had Contador, who’s the top man for the GC most probably, and a couple of rising stars in Aru & Landa. In terms of the sprints it makes little difference who’s there in terms of viewing experience. Modolo pipping Nizzolo and Viviani is exactly the same as watching Kittel pip Cavendish and Greipel. If anything not having the inevitability of 3 massive sprint trains dragging back every breakaway is more entertaining. Still, the cast is better than what it was. At the turn of the century the Giro was nearly exclusively Italian, you had Simoni, Garzelli and Savoldelli arguing over GC and then Cunego turning up and beating all of them when he was about 14. It’s a level up from that nowadays I would argue.

    I found it a little odd on yesterdays stage how Lampre briefly attempted to haul the breakaway back. They were a bit late but Richeze and Ferrari managed to wittle down the gap by 30 seconds or so but wore themselves out. Whilst this was going on though Ulissi and a couple of other Lampre riders were thumbing round at the back of the peleton doing nothing. It seemed odd that such a prestigious win was there for the taking and they didnt commit the whole team.

      • +1
        Or even better, like a Leone d’Oro in Venice Film Festival… A prize with erratic quality, but with glimpse of greatness. The generalistic news on TV and press will always be thrilled by the Oscars, but most cinema lovers will be more interested in Venice (Cannes is a different thing, the Tour isn’t *that better* 😉 ).
        Or maybe the Giro is some black and white neorealista movie (“Miracolo a Milano”?) with maybe a Magnani playing the top star as Contador is, the rest a good bunch of non professional actors doing just great exactly because they don’t play along the Hollywood handbook. Laughable FXs, when they’re there, little money, great stories.

          • I found that unexpectedly good, too. But, hey, the writer was a huge professional, though maybe not an *artist*, and the director was… how was it that sentence by Larry? “A man who has got more cinema in his little finger than most Oscarized wimps”. Nomads. Predator. Die Hard (neither Red October nor Last Action Hero were bad, although they were some steps down).

    • What was Lampre doing and what part did Trek have to play in it? It was quite the row between the two in the final stage.

  23. This year’s Giro proves the old adage that it’s the riders that make the race. Contador showed his class as a true GC champion. I liked him since the time he was on the same Astana team with LA at Le Tour where he showed true grit when LA and Johan ganged up on El Pistolero trying to make him throw the race, but he still won. Allez Contador pour Le Tour!

  24. Winning moment: it had to be the ITT. There was heaps of drama after that, but it was clear who would wear pink. As to your other question about how the Tour will compare, the drama in France doesn’t often live up to the hype.

  25. A couple of footnotes.

    First of all, the course: impressive. Hats off to Vegni. Great variety of terrains and landscapes, great to watch from any point of view. And with very reduced transfers between stages. It’s always about how you race the race, but, hey, if a good course is designed I believe it helps.

    Second (and third 🙂 ): Astana super-performance polemics.
    I find utterly incredible that people go on with that. We could debate about Landa, but inrng said enough above. Aru shouldn’t be any surprise. He was one of the fav four, to start with. Last Vuelta he was able to deliver effective attacks against the likes of top form Valverde and Purito, plus fast recovering Froome and Contador – and they weren’t precisely having a rest. He got a double top five in two GT during the same year at 24.
    They had a strong team, period.
    Tanel Kangert, 13th in final GC in the 2013 Giro (14′ back), 13th in GC this year (28′ back); 6th in 2013 Tour de Suisse, 11th in 2013 Vuelta, top 20 both in Dauphinée and Tour during 2014.
    Diego Rosa, 23rd in the 2013 Giro (40′ back) – riding for a different team! – , 23rd in the 2015 Giro (1h25′ back).
    Dario Cataldo, 26th in the 2014 Giro (1h05′ back) – riding with Team Sky – , 25th in the 2015 Giro (1h35′ back); he’s got two 12th final GC places both in the 2011 and 2012 Giro, riding with a third different team. Stage win on the gruelling Cuitu Negro in the 2012 Vuelta, second last year on the myhtical Oropa climb: neither with Astana.
    Paolo Tiralongo, no presentations needed, I hope. 19th in GC. He was 15th in 2006 (with a different team), 18th in 2011, 23rd in 2012. He got 8th in final GC during 2009 Vuelta (with a different team). 3 stage wins.
    These were those performing strongly. Please show me the big jump in performance, I just can see quite impressive consistence with previous results, often obtained through the years and/or with a variety of teams.
    Zeits and Malacarne worked hard. Hats off to them, but during this Giro neither *ever* entered in a top thirty (30!) on any stage, bar the TTT.
    Hummm… I’m missing one. Let’s see.
    Yeah. Luis León Sanchez was good, too, and got a nice 2nd place in the ITT.
    Well, maybe we should remember we’re speaking of an athlete who has won some four stage in the Tour de France with two different teams in four different years, besides winning the GC in minor races like Paris-Nice or Tour Down Under, with plenty of stage wins there, too, and a couple of San Sebastián classics.
    Top ten in final GC in Tour de France (2010), Vuelta a España (2010), País Vasco (2009) etc.
    Two times ITT National Champion and two times second, too. Third in the Chartres ITT in 2012 Tour, only behind Wiggo and Froome. Top-tens in ITT in World Championship, too, and Tour de France again, Vuelta, Dauphinée…
    So, ok, he got 35th in the Giro GC this year and found a nice 2nd place behind Kiry and we’re all amazed.
    Add to that the form “rotation” I’ve stressed before, the fact that Tinkoff Team did a lot of hard work in the starting part of every single stage you don’t get to see on TV, especially but not limited to the first week, and more notably during that famous La Spezia stage where Astana impressed the most.
    What are these people speaking of? What’s so different from the way this guys have been performing through the years, or, at most, from what everyone was expecting from them?

    No need to say I’m not implying they’re clean and I also acknowledge that Landa’s results, however far from being unjustifiable, were at least marking a change from his more recent years (he’s only 25, anyway…!). But all the fuss we go on reading and listening to is utter nonsense, when – Landa apart – nobody at Astana overperformed at all.

    • Thank you Gabriele – once more it’s good to read some solid common sense on the internet. I much appreciate your (and Inrng’s) knowledge, and balance throughout most threads on here.

  26. Just wanted to say thanks for the fantastic coverage. I didn’t participate in the discussion but as always your blog is my daily routine during the big races. Great insight and discussion.

  27. I’m not even that sure about the *big name* thing as an absolute truth.

    I’m sure that, generally speaking, anyone able to give his best shot at the Tour will do it (Contador and a few others apart, maybe), because the big money and the big show still lie there. And always will.
    Yet, I believe we’re kind in a transition period, and maybe many riders and teams aren’t that sure about what they could achieve or not in a given moment, hence they sometime give a try to the Giro even if they could probably prove themselves as good in the Tour. But they don’t see that clearly enough, and it’s hard to get the full picture.
    A couple of Italian fans in the forum of a pretty good website (Cicloweb) worked out some interesting statistical work comparing the relative values of GT depending on the palmarés of the best riders in GC (or something like that). With fairly studied rolling averages and so. I commented about it here, and the results were indeed surprising.

    This Giro maybe looked like as it is also because the *crazy* Astana (and Tinkoff) first week pushed a lot of player well away from the table. It’s not only lack of competition, it’s that they eliminated them in an unusual and possibly unexpected way. I’ve noted that several times before.

    But let’s give a look to some riders.
    What about König’s performance? He has had a very similar Tour and Giro with a more or less carbon copy result. And what about Hesjedal? Was he performing that bad in the TdF? And what about Trofimov? A good Giro for him, but he was 14th in last year’s Tour, not that bad, just as he got 13th at the Giro the year before. Nieve has been 17th in the Giro, 18th in the 2014 Tour. He has been 10th and 12th in the Giro, before, and 12th in the Tour.
    Monfort has an historical record of placing 11, 14 and 33 in the Giro, whereas he was 14, 16 and 26 in the Tour. Van den Broeck? 3, 4, 13, 13 in the Tour, 7, 12 in the Giro. Kreuziger? 5, 15, 28 in the Giro, 5, 7, 8 in the Tour.
    Cunego and Basso produced twin results (in every sense) both in Tour 2011 and Giro 2012.

    If you look at consistent riders, of different level, who made both races you don’t get the impression of an overwhelming technical difference.

    Quintana and Rodriguez were the ones on the podium with Froome, in 2013, and they both were at the Giro in contiguous years.

    Although it’s very easy to say who are the four big names in stage racing, one of them is still very young; another one had a late start of his career and has in fact won just a GT, even if it was the big one; Nibali is looked at as the weakest of the four, ’cause we feel he doesn’t excel climbing nor in TTs; Contador has shown a lot, but many feel he is fading. The strongest riders from the previous period are retired (Evans, Schleck) or more or less such (Basso). In this situation of uncertainty it’s also quite difficult to state the exact value of the “supporting actors”.

    Is Urán that bad? After all, he got second behind Nibali and Quintana, two of the big four.

    Zubeldia, Brajkovic, Voeckler, Danielson, Dani Navarro, Ten Dam… they were making the top ten in the Tour during these last years. Are we really sure that they would have done better in the Giro? Or that they’re that better when compared to the already named Urán, or to Majka, Kelderman, Pozzovivo, Rolland, an albeit declining Evans, Henao etc.?

    I suspect that we’re assuming that, since the Tour is the big thing, they’ve got the best cast. But that’s theory, in part based on the fact that we think that Tour riders who don’t give a try to the Giro are better and maybe would do quite good in Italy, too.
    Whereas I really doubt that the likes of Mollema, Van Garderen, Fuglsang would be that sure to come, see and triumph. I’m not that sure neither about riders who’re on paper more suited to the Italian race, like Valverde, Bardet, Pinot, Peraud. I suspect they probably would end up getting the same GC they get in France, one way or another.

    And I’ll finish with the big guns. On paper the Tour had the big names, but truth is that we never got to watch a real top-level challenge. Both Quintana and Nibali were still “growing up” when they crossed swords with Froome in the Tour, Contador wasn’t on form at all in 2013.
    I fail to see a factual difference in terms of *real* competition, in *technical* terms if you want. Last year’s Vuelta was perhaps the only (partial) exception. It’s maybe very different for the media (…they didn’t even know who Quintana was…), or with hindsight, when you have up there Froome and Quintana – but, hey, the latter was practically a neopro in his first Tour. Same goes, with different reasons, for Nibali 2012, a still developing athlete, with no team against Sky, on a totally unbalanced course.
    Hence, I really fail to consider as technically far more excellent and proof of a great cast the podia like Nibali-Peraud-Pinot, Froome-Quintana-Rodriguez, Wiggins-Froome-Nibali (Van den Broeck 4th), Evans-Schleck bros (Voeckler 4th) when compared to Quintana-Urán-Aru (Rolland 4th), Nibali-Urán-Evans, Contador-Scarponi-Nibali… Hummm, yeah, maybe Hesjedal-Purito-De Gendt was indeed the odd one 😛

    The Tour has a better cast? Yes, and absolutely so when we speak of the extras, the background actors (no offence intended) that represent the big mass of gregari, helpers, sprinters, one-day fighters. But in this specific historical moment (4-5 years) I wouldn’t defend such a neat superiority of top-level competition in the Tour.

    • Gosh, I *really* exaggerated… o__O
      It doesn’t look like that when you see 8 lines at a time in the small writing window ^__^
      Sorry inrng!

      • Hahaha! Well, I was very interested – and the page down button is always there for those who aren’t. I think you make a good point: I think the Giro has moved on from being a GT largely for Italians or a warm-up race for the Tour – as it was a bit (no offence).

        • No offence received – it’s a fact. It’s what it had recently been for some years, and what it happened to be in several separate occasions, along stints of 5-7 years, during his history from the ’60s on.

          From 2000 on, the Giro lived some of its “darkest” year from a technical point of view, especially when we look at the startlist’s quality.
          It wasn’t that bad at all during the ’90s, it shared some top ten riders with the Tour (Indurain when he felt he was strong enough to make the double, Rominger, Zülle, Jalabert, Ugrumov, Olano… plus good home riders who had their say in the Tour, too, like Chiappucci, Bugno, Pantani).

          The change was brutal.
          Funny thing, with hindsight we can imagine that the strong pressure in terms of antidoping policies by institutions which were external to cycling (who did that with other interests in view, not for the riders’ or cycling’s sake) were discouraging some of the *top teams*. Nor the Giro has the same influence on politics the Tour can have. Not even by far.
          In fact, we had a lot of doping investigations, but what was discovered wasn’t by far comparable to what we later knew it was happening in France during those same years. The risk/benefit balance in the Giro was definitely a disaster.

          Things started to change again from 2006 on. In many ways. And because of different reasons. But a change was ongoing, and it is now, too, even if it looks like we’ve reached a plateau – or have we even passed through a turning point in the process?

    • I do not like to enter into this suspicion game, but I think Gabriele is being, unusually for him, a bit disingenuous here, by cherry-picking elements of reality.
      – The GC results of Tiralongo, Rosa or Cataldo do not say much for themselves. The least we can say is that they were obtained, as opposed to the past, while working their butts off ahead of suffering pelotons. In Tiralongo’s case, it comes with a visible physical transformation, and with a brute-force stage win. These guys were in front when other riders, supposedly superior, were being left behind.
      – The whole Astana performance in the Giro comes after months of not showing anything much, while their case was under scrutiny.
      – It also comes after their Roubaix number last year, when they showed tremendous, and unexpected, out-of-nowhere, collective stength.
      – Aru’s miraculous recovery after Verbania is difficult to understand. It defies what should be the normal evolution of a rider during three weeks. You can get better as days pass (like Hesjedal), you can get worse as days go (like Trofimov), and you can even get better through the second week and then be cooked by the end (like Betancur), but to begin in top form, then plunge, then be back on top, like Aru, does beg questions.

      I do not like to dwell in this, but it all raised my eyebrows, and raised they will stay.

      • In a debate, things tend to get polarised. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like Astana’s performance were something you see everyday from every team, nor that I believe they don’t deserve a closer look by authorities (who are, I suppose and we’re told, already keeping them under stricter scrutiny).
        But they weren’t out of the boundaries of normality, as it has been written, nor can they be matched with previous collective shows by some teams, some of which have been subsequently revealed as recurring to team doping, some who weren’t. No sudden change of technical characteristics by any rider (not even Tiralongo, who raised my eyebrows getting a faster sprint these last years, but didn’t show it in this Giro, nor would it be something *brand new*), Landa landed a very bad ITT, nor Aru’s one was that good despite huge amounts of specific training.
        Just tell me what other teams had lined a similar high quality team in terms of gregari, what is more, mainly focused on hilly or uphill terrains.

        The problem most analysis have – and yours too, at least on a single point – is being obsessed with the trade outfit and not focusing on riders. The “Roubaix” stage last year, for example, had very different protagonists (still I would be ready to consider it a bit more strange than this Giro: but it must also be said that the pavé is not so much about sheer physical power; and subsequent stages didn’t show an overly dominant Astana, so how does that work?).

        Tiralongo and Cataldo’s GC results also came when working as gregari. Not all the best ones, who just show their potential (and were better than this year’s, indeed), but those similar to this Giro’s. In 2013 Rosa had more freedom, but he was working for Pellizotti, too – and he was 24, a first year pro.

        I didn’t go in greater detail, but I well could. Nor is that true that “these guys” were always on the front while so many others (or riders that strong) were being left behind. “These guys” were different from week to week (and know what? One week is different from two or three, ask Richie Porte), and, for example, before Kangert came in, no impressive selection was *ever* made by Astana during the last fourteen (14!) days of race. They didn’t prove so strong nor chasing Contador towards Verbania, nor trying to distance him towards the Mortirolo (being chased by a Tinkoff team which was in reduced numbers, not in brilliant form and which had worked a lot during the first part of the stage).

        On a couple of occasion, like Mortirolo’s, they took advantage of a broken peloton due to race circumstances, but it wasn’t they who caused the split; their steady rhythm, before Kangert moved on the front, was never enogh to produce any serious selection, with weaker and/or numerous riders following the wheels without showing utter distress.
        I’ve broke that one down, too, in these same pages, with great detail, and I won’t repeat it again.

        Aru’s recovery… well, it was just very far from being absolutely spectacular. He still was “weaker” than present Hejsedal or Urán or Kruijswijk, which, however good these guys can be, isn’t the level he showed in last Vuelta not at the beginning of this Giro. He won, and in an impressive fashion, thanks to race evolution – most notably, but no limited to, team strategy – and thanks to his specific characteristics. I’ve gone in details on this before, there’s plenty of material to see that.

        The fact that they weren’t showing that much in previous months doesn’t say much. If they were, we would be raising our eyebrows to their dominant season. Most of them, didn’t race much before this year: the “objective focused” preparation I don’t really like, but that they’re applying consistently (and they’re far from being th only team). However, Rosa had a great Strade Bianche and was just out of the top ten in Trentino (13th), where Cataldo was 4th in GC. Tiralongo made a couple of stage top-tens in Catalunya and won a stage in Trentino. What exactly were you expecting from them?

        However cherry-picking could I be (not that much, and mainly to have *shorter* posts), that’s still better than simply ignoring reality.
        It’s just a Gestalt problem, or, as Madonna would put it, “you only see what your eyes want to see”.
        Ag2R presented way more worrying/surprising team performance in the past, nor its doping record is crystal clear, but nobody cried wolf. Luckily.
        I’ve said way more than enough. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if some Astana was caught doping, being a top team and being now object of special attention.
        All the same, I’m convinced that what we saw from them in this Giro wasn’t due to a significant doping gap between them and their rivals. More often than not, cyclists dope, yeah, but that doesn’t explain most racing, and reasons for what happens on the road lie elsewhere. Though, people apparently find so comforting to spare cognitive efforts and consider that they’ve understood it mastering ons single variable, the doping one. And if a positive test comes out, that confirms every sort of theory!

        • Oh, but I agree with you on AG2R and on Team Sky 2012, and I would on Katiusha this year. Which in turn brings about the rest of the field… So I’ll leave it at this.

  28. As always great job inrng.

    Only good thing arising from the ending of this great Giro is we are closer to the start of the TDF.

    Congratulations AC you were measured, yet never extended.

  29. Rather than a “B-movie”, I think this could be described as a good independent film – not a Hollywood blockbuster, but a high-quality, extremely entertaining film with a smaller (better informed?) audience.

  30. A strange race in many ways as the overall win was, it could be argued, very predictable but the racing every day was utterly unpredictable. Perhaps the course and the teams not necessarily having all their strongest riders riding meant that the race was often difficult to control. I got in from work each day and watched every stage and can’t remember a grand tour where I was as interested in the racing that was happening within each stage. Thoroughly enjoyable. As always thanks to Inrng and the below the line discussions for being the perfect accompaniment to the racing

  31. In Terms of movies, the giro is an ideal spaghetti western: a pistolero as foreign star, lots of italian cas, gritty & bloody (bent leg) and the odd canadian lumberjack attacking suddenly out of the woods. but who is ennio morricone? tour is a classic large scale western. Family friendly, not too much risk, foreseeable story, defined roles & setting, but carried out in a sometimes impressive way anyway. lets hope for a John Ford as director this year.

    • Nice!
      Morricone would be Vegni, providing the great background which makes it all way more emotional. It was visual and geographical instead of musical, but it worked alike. Whereas the director (sportive), our Sergio Leone, would be Martinelli, designing the duels and narrative turns as he likes.

  32. I’m sure many will have seen it on the Cycling Tips site. But the latest post from the ‘Secret Pro’ is pretty damning about the performances in the Giro. In particular of Astana. Two quotes stood out for me:

    “There were days when you’d just despair. I know myself, my teammates and many of the guys in the peloton aren’t crap riders — we’d trained, eaten and prepared for the race 100%; we’d had the best form it’s humanly possible to achieve. And then we came up against guys who simply took the piss.”


    “Astana had a great race didn’t they? Six riders in the top 25, and with guys that I’ve not seen that high up on a GC list before. They sure rode out of their skins! I’ve said it before but it needs stating again — especially after how they dominated the Giro in the mountains — but it amazes me (and many of the other guys in the peloton) that Astana still has a WorldTour Licence.”

    I know several have defended Astana’s riding in the Giro, gabriele in particular. I am not an expert, nor do I have a view of the data to draw scientific conclusions. However, this ‘inside’ view does seem to speak in support of what several have said here with regards to their strong performance. An interesting perspective.

    • “…Six riders in the top 25, and with guys that I’ve not seen that high up on a GC list before…” o__O
      Man, go and check if your memory ain’t good enough before you write something like that, I’d suggest him. Unless you’re desperatley trying to do one more “Goebbels” to make cycling culture among fans even worse than what it’s becoming.
      However, this gives the exact measure of the value of Secret Pro’s words i. e. “the Billings”… somewhere between 0 and the mandatory minimum.
      Generally speaking, it’s not like if you’re an insider you’re credible. And the Secret Pro has shown he isn’t. Nor that being a pro cyclist you have any accurate knowledge or perception about doping in other teams.
      “90% of dopers” as Di Luca used to say or “I feel Lance is clean” as Pinotti did?

      Curious enough it looks like the Secret Pro doesn’t even know rule one of cycling… valid in 99% of cases: no matter how good is the “form of your life” you just achieved (through hard training and whatever), there will always be someone else who can go faster – and someone else who goes slower 😛
      This simple rule just makes the first quote utter nonsense. Astana riders, bar Landa, performed as they used to or even slightly under par. Their performance in the mountains was far from impressive during the last decisive week, and the second, too, was really nothing special.
      I guess the Secret Pro was *very* far behind from the action in the hard stages, probably since the speed started to raise slightly, that is, I’d say, not among those 40-50 riders who survived “Astana selection”. So… how can he say anything about that? I suspect he didn’t spend hours watching again video of race broadcasting.

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