Giro Rest Day Review

The Giro needs a rest after a busy opening week with many stages that have seen the script ripped up. Climbers went backwards on mountaintop finishes and took time in time trials. It’s been a week of skirmishing with riders battling for seconds. The race is heading to the Alps this week and the promise of real battles among the top riders. So far so good.

Tom Dumoulin had a dream opening week after a nightmare start to the year. All those second place finishes might have had him and his team managers waking up in the middle of the night in cold sweats but they’re sleeping like babies. The first stage and the maglia rosa for much of the first week, finally he won a time trial after being beaten so many times this season. With success came questions, could he win the race overall? No he said, he’d not trained for this, it wasn’t a goal but this didn’t stop some thinking he may still try. But he was taken apart at the Vuelta, doesn’t have a team built to help him in the mountains here and the Giro’s mountainous stages dwarf anything the Vuelta offered so everything pointed to him being honest. A saddle sore has worsened his chances further. It’s a constant refrain in cycling, as soon as rider triumphs in one domain questions ask whether they can tackle a new challenge. Win the opening week and it’s not enough: can you win the Giro? Win two bunch sprints but can you get the red points jersey? It’s understandable but leaves little time to dwell on the moment, the joy of victory.

Marcel Kittel

Sometimes this tendency to project is cultivated by riders and their entourage. Days after Marcel Kittel took two stage wins, wore the pink and red jerseys and was splashed on the front pages he’s quit, perhaps the fastest resignation from leadership the Italian peninsula has seen since Cincinnatus in 458 BC. The German sprinter fled with talk of preparing for upcoming races, his eye on the Tour de France and Worlds rather than this week’s upcoming sprint finishes.

André Greipel has proved equally successful, if not the more versatile with with two stage wins on differing terrain. Tim Wellens took a big win too. It all marked a great week for the four Dutch and Belgian teams who have taken eight of the nine stages so far. The other among the nine was Diego Ulissi win for Lampre-Merida in Praia a Mare.

Primož Roglič has to be the revelation of the opening week and perhaps 2016. The Slovenian was fractions of a second from winning in Apeldoorn and won yesterday’s Chianti time trial stage. It was a shock, this was not Primož inter pares but a result skewed by rain which rendered the course treacherous for late starters. The Giro has seen many roads resurfaced in time for the race only the new black robe can be incredibly slippery. Fortunately sending riders off in reverse GC order means those riders in contention for the maglia rosa are grouped and had to contend with similar conditions. The big names lost minutes to Roglič but seconds among each other. Here is a chart showing the gains and losses relative to Vincenzo Nibali arranged by their position on GC.

Roglič may have won the stage but Jungels and Amador took time and Landa saved the day. Ilnur Zakarin fell off and fell apart, tipped to lead the race he toppled down to 11th overall. Rigoberto Urán had an even worse time, crashing and losing even more time.

Nibali is still central to the race but doubts over his form, first raised at the Giro del Trentino, persist. These doubts were crystallised at Roccaraso where Nibali was more basking shark than Jaws. But there’s no point extrapolating too far, Dumoulin beat Nibali on a gentle slope into a headwind, just the kind of place where you’d imagine a beefy rider to sock it to a climber, this wasn’t much of a test of power to weight. His time trial performance was acceptable and even good, more so if you consider he was in tears before and after the stage after learning of the death of a 14 year old boy, crushed by a truck while out riding. Rosario Cost rode for the juvenile team in Messina, Sicily that’s backed by Nibali. The seconds gained and lost here and there are small but enough to reveal fault lines within Astana, a team riven with tensions. The two captains are Vincenzo Nibali and Jacob Fuglsang but they’re going in separate directions, Nibali is set to leave while the Dane is staying put. Sometimes the moment a rider signals they’re leaving they’re persona non grata – this happened to Fuglsang at Radioshack – but a Nibali win would be big for Astana, a triumph to suit everyone. Yet there are still split loyalties among riders and staff alike. The problems spread to the team car where Guiseppe Martinelli was defenestrated last winter only he is still in the lead car calling the shots over race radio. The team’s ambitions for two riders on the podium looks improbable given the crowd of riders still in contention.

Movistar have two leaders in Andrey Amador and Alejandro Valverde but there’s none of the workplace politics that’s so evident at Astana. Amador leads on time but the team has been built around Valverde and the team can play both cards.

Steven Kruijswijk is having an excellent Giro too. If the first rule of stage racing is not to lose time he’s played things just right and almost gone under the radar while Roglič took his stage win. But it’s hard to imagine the maglia rosa hanging on his coathanger shoulders, a scary prospect for Gazzetta journalists struggling to spell a name so devoid of vowels. He’d have to launch a big mountain attack and distance everyone.

One person you can see on the rampage in the mountains is Mikel Landa. By now he was supposed to be playing catch-up having lost ground in the time trial. In fact he gained two places overall in the time trial and is less than a minute down on Andrey Amador and seconds behind Nibali and Valverde and with a comfortable lead on the likes of Rafał Majka, Esteban Chaves and Domenico Pozzovivo. As the Alps approach he’s and Team Sky are in an ideal position, not so far near the top as to assume responsibility for the race, something their weakened team could struggle with.

Among the other GC contenders things are not yet over for Ilnur Zakarin. The Stork of Tatarstan lost minutes in the time trial but his climbing form has been excellent and if his injuries are superficial then he could fly back and take a podium spot. It’s his his tenacity over three weeks that remains unknown.

What of Gianluca Brambilla? A stage win and a spell in the maglia rosa are a dream come true for the Italian but now questions turn to how long he can stay in the lead. Can he win the race? It’s not such a wild question, he is a good climber and word is that he’s got ambitions on the podium. He’s been 13th overall in the race before so a top-10 seems eminently possible.

Damiano Cunego

At the smaller end Nippo-Vini Fantini have been doing their best to enliven the race and get Damiano Cunego in the mountains jersey to the point of annoying the big teams, an exasperatedTom Dumoulin said he’d push Cunego into to the breakaway if it meant he’d go clear. The larger squads talk about “respect”, as if these small teams and their efforts are like mosquitoes whose tiresome buzzing must be swatted away. The Giro’s ecosystem needs these teams, without Nippo-Vini Fantini and Wilier Southeast the race could be a procession. It wasn’t long ago that Giant-Alpecin was begging for wildcards under the Skil-Shimano name and had to resort to identical tactics too. For insight into the struggles you don’t see on TV Genki Yamamoto is doing a diary every day in Japanese and his detailed accounts show the efforts involved just to set up his team mates for the breakaway.

If the small teams are battling for meagre results several riders have bailed already. Marcel Kittel flies home with a suitcase full of jerseys and wolverine soft toys; race director Mauro Vegni will have been delighted with the telegenic, articulate German’s first week but less so with his exit. Normally you’d expect the sprinters to stay another week; surely Caleb Ewan’s going to stop this time next week. Another abandon was Fabian Cancellara, as predicted here last week given he’s got a business appointment next weekend. The Giro might be the second biggest race but the gulf with the Tour de France is evident here, few bail in July if they have a chance of making to the Champs Elysées. We can see this in other ways: prodigiously wealthy teams like BMC Racing are reduced to sending novices and B-list riders and the Giro’s hotels can be mediocre mouldy ceilings and bunk beds but nobody cares yet it’d be a Twitter outrage in July.

What’s next?
Talking of sleep cult directeur sportif Antonin Magne once said you win the Tour de France in your sleep, a nod to the importance of rest and recovery. By contrast you win the Giro by being awake, many stages offer the chance for an ambush or a surprise, the terrain of Italy and the Giro offers more than France. Tuesday sees a mid-mountain stage that could prove tricky, Wednesday and Thursday are for the sprinters and then Friday, Saturday and Sunday promise to be massive days with the Friuli stage, the mighty Dolomites and then the uphill time trial to finish off the week.

93 thoughts on “Giro Rest Day Review”

  1. P.S. are we in a golden age of animal-based rider nicknames? From the top of my head (thinking of current pros) I know of a Stork, a Gorilla, a Butterfly, a Shark, a Lion, a Condor, a Flea, even a Honey Badger.

    Any more for any more?

  2. Excellent write-up.
    Sticking with my original prediction for the top 3:
    Quietly ignoring the fact that I had Uran in 4th.
    Nibali and Landa seem to have recovered from their slightly wobbly starts – and I think they’ll tire less than Valverde over the three weeks.
    Still think that Dumoulin should have gone to altitude and fully focused on this race rather than the Olympics TT. He’s probably got more chance in the Olympics, but for me a grand tour is a far greater victory. Had he put focused more on climbing, who knows?
    Kruijswijk has learned from last year about not losing time in the first week.
    Astana would be mad to go for Fuglsang over Nibali – both on past and present form, but I’m hoping Fuglsang will go for it anyway: got to have some polemica.
    Could Amador win a grand tour in a team that didn’t contain Valverde and Quintana?

      • An economist’s answer! Greater scarcity= greater value. But perhaps a better comparison would be the Worlds vs the Olympics, where the latter might just edge the former (as I’m sure Vino would agree).

          • Apples and oranges comparing a three week tour with a one-day race. Clearly the grand tours are the greater achievements, but most top-ranking riders still aren’t going to win one simply because of their physiology. I think its about right to put it on par with the worlds and the monuments, albeit with added scarcity value, and somewhat higher than a grand tour stage win (though what about a points jersey?!). Also probably better than winning a short stage race e.g. Romandie.

          • Olympic road race?…5 per team max, some nations with 1 or 2, distinctly mixed abilities… I have it TdF, Rainbow Stripes, Giro, Vuelta, P-R, Flanders, and then maybe the Olympics….

        • A cycling Olympic gold in the UK means far more than any cycle race win to the general public and British Cycling/UK sport, as funding is directly related to this “measure of success”

          And yes, that probably means a Gold is worth more than even a TdF victory when it comes to raising the profile of a sportsman or woman.

          • I don’t think that’s right, as far as the public is concerned. Setting aside Wiggins, who confused matters by winning both Olympic golds and the TdF success, I would argue that Froome has a higher profile than the likes of Ed Clancy or Jason Kenny. You’re right about British Cycling/funding’s view of the world.

  3. Bravo Senor Landa! Midweek I was starting to worry I’d picked the wrong horse and when it seemed he was under the weather I was expecting another Team Sky damp squib outside of the Tour. But that ITT yesterday from the Basque rider was pretty great. Probably expected to be something like 3 minutes out of pink he’s instead just over 1 minute down and around 30 seconds off the guys who will actually occupy the podium. That has to give him confidence especially if physically he has now got himself together. I was concerned that this ITT heavy parcours would leave him needing to do too much but now he can go on the attack and see what Nibbles, Piti and the rest have got in the tank. I always thought he would need right up to stage 20 if he was going to win and, as its now set up, it could go right to the last meter. Bravo!

    • I hope Landa and Team Sky are not too superstitious….Chris Froome was 1’18” back in 8th place in last year’s Vuelta when he broke his foot, exactly the same position on GC as Landa is now…

    • Landa had a superb ITT, I think this is the most noticeable result in the time trial. He booked a lot of progression in the discipline.

    • Landa had by thousands of miles the best ITT of his whole life 🙂
      What’s even more impressive is that he hadn’t show any relevant progress in the discipline until now, not even during this same season: in those few occasions where there was an opportunity to see him riding a TT bike, despite being in a reasonable state of form, his showing was always poor (in TTT, too: in those case you need to watch the race – but I did).
      I guess he was having a great day.

  4. I was very surprised that Brambilla was allowed to get in the breakaway on stage 8 as he also finished 13th in the Vuelta last year and threatened the top 10. He seems to do well in the third week too, with better team support I’m sure he could make the podium in a GT and might just pull it off in this Giro.

    • You’re right in a strict sense, they have a German flag but they’re really still a Dutch team when it comes to language, staff, HQ and more. That said they’ve announced Simon Geschke’s renewed his contract for two more years, the minimum given their German sponsor’s needs now that they’ve lost Kittel and Degenkolb is said to be leaving.

      • I’m going a bit off topic here but your comment prompted me to look up all the current German WT riders. Noticeable that they are all rouleurs and sprinters. Are there any up and coming German climbers and GC hopefuls that we should be watching?

  5. Some of these Pro’s must have forgot they started racing at club level. A level entirely run through the interest, enthusiasm and hard work of people doing it buck shee!!

  6. “a name so devoid of vowels”? Even if you don’t count the ‘j’s in Kruijswijk as the vowels they are, he has as many vowels in his name as Valverde or Nibali do in theirs…

  7. I can’t get my head around Roglic. Ski jumpers are tiny weeny waifs, so you’d expect him to be a decent climber. Instead it turns out he’s a bit of a time trial beast, for which you need a massive engine.. something ski jumpers don’t need at all. Obviously he just had this massive aerobic capacity lurking there untapped. I’d love to see Brambilla do well, ideally holding on to the lead for as long as possible a la Voeckler at the Tour in 2011.

    • What he does need as ski jumper is incredible power and core muscles in his thighs. To be able to hold that position, it’s unimaginably heavy. So I think that’s in there. And besides, as you say, amazing natural aerobic capacity.

      • it does seem counterintuitive… I’d imagine gliding through the air like that you’d need to be as ‘non-aero’ as possible as opposed to…etc etc

      • You need to be a good skier/skier racer to be a ski jumper (Eddie the Eagle being the exception – although he could still ski ok) and ski racing demands a lot of fitness. Plus, he would probably be very comfortable at speed and relatively unafraid of crashing. Ski racing crashes are usually far worse than cycling ones.

      • Indeed, almost as if two races were run yesterday. I wonder if it would make it more interesting if riders could pick their start time on the morning of the race, having seen the weather forecast. Maglia Rosa picks first, that sort of thing. Dilemma of gambling on the weather vs benefits of going last etc…Might help attract the attention of some of the fans that struggle to find a TT entertaining enough?

        • I would hate to see that. The current situation ensures it’s pretty fair. This would have the race decided by who has the best weather forecaster.

          • Bradley Wiggins tried playing that game for the 2010 Tour de France prologue when teams could choose the order of their riders. It backfired spectacularly (he finished 74th, 56 seconds behind the winner) and he vowed never to play it again.

    • According to Swiss Cycling’s homepage (11.May) he won’t ride the Berner Rundfahrt this year. But who knows, maybe he will decide differently. Of course he will ride the Cancellara challenge on 11.6.16 – but that’s still 1 month away.

  8. It was odds on that Kittel would abandon at some point, having achieved his goal of arriving in Italy in pink. This time he quit when his team mate won and his team heads the GC. Technically, Viviani was the first to go in failing to make the time cut, but Kittel has opted to spurn the chance of a couple of good sprint contests this week. At least this time he lasted twice as long as his last abandon in his only other Giro, but his modus operandi in 2016 has been exactly the same as two years ago. It’s magpie stuff.

    I agree Kittel has put in quite a few kms of racing this year –apart from Etixx’s out and out soldiers, only Brambilla, Sabatini, Terpstra and Vandenbergh have covered more real estate in races for that team in 2016 to date. But it’s a fair bet that none of them have enjoyed as many armchair rides as Kittel. It is all well and good being kept fresh and easy by the rest of your team on flat stages but sprinters earn respect by paying their dues when the roads go upwards. Greipel, who toughs it out between wins, is a much more thorough-going, versatile entertainer by comparison.

    Cancellara making his excuses seems sound and sensible for his health.

    • Kittel’s ludicrous surplus of sprinting power in this Giro may have cost him the chance to contest a few more stages (won by his compatriot). Having bagged two stages, should he chalk it up as an unqualified success – or self-defeating overspecialisation?

      • That’s a good point. I’ve been debating whether his dominance is good or bad for the sport. Feels like a lot of the finishes (that i watch at least) aren’t that technical and are heavily suited to the sprint train or have an uphill kick or hill close to the line which excludes ALL the sprinters. Would like to see some more flat ones that can nullify the sprint trains a bit and favor guys that jump from wheel to wheel and handle a bike well. I think they avoid this due to the risk of crashes.

    • Cav has also survived plenty of Grand Tours including at least one Giro.

      Winning a sprint stage at the end of a Grand Tour is deserving of substantially more respect.

  9. Great to see the race so close – exactly what I was hoping for….how long can it continue?
    Had to giggle at the mention of dodgy Italian hotels combined with crowing about “ASO” hotels being so much better. As someone who followed LeTour and Il Giro during the same period with the same tour operation doing the same thing with the same budget, LeTour’s hotels had nothing to boast about over their Italian counterparts. In fact, the difference in quality was a big reason we started CycleITALIA rather than CycleFrance back in 1998.

    • It’s not that ASO pick better hotels, nor about French vs Italian hotels. It’s just that a bad hotel in July would be enough to launch a social media outrage but everyone seems indifferent right now. There are good and places everywhere, the problem is when a race comes to town and needs 5,000 beds for the night, it means some people don’t sleep where they’d like.

      • You are correct but the tweets from riders who have no long-term experience makesit seem that ASO takes much better care of their riders than does RCS, which based on my decade + of experience is inaccurate. That is all.

        • To be fair to them, today’s cyclists will be more concerned about current conditions than conditions a decade+ ago. Perhaps ASO have raised their game, or RCS dropped theirs?

          • It’s a perspective thing Nick- “I got a bad room so RCS sucks….” vs “Wow, look at the fancy digs we’re in tonight at ToC courtesy of ASO, so they’re the best…” all based on a small number of experiences. Further, I don’t believe hundreds of great hotels have been put up in France while all the hotels in Italy have fallen into disrepair…. in one decade.

          • How can you compare Californian hotels can’t compare to Italian…. isn’t it impossible… a great mid-range hotel in Cali would be a billion times better than the comparable one in Italy

  10. The stages won by Landa and Frânk Schleck do very well stand comparison with this year’s Giro, and Dumoulin’s performance there was impressive (and the lack of general combativity and audacity by his rivals was also impressive). There’s no rationality in talking of “dwarfing”.

  11. Excelent review as usual.

    My final four for GC

    4. Fuglsgang – If he can avoid a bad day in the high mountains and of the 3 ahead of him falters, he could easily be on the podium. Even with the infighting at Astana.

    3. Nibs. – Has already shown some inconsistency the first week. He is tenacious and a fighter and can come back from an off day to claim a podium spot.

    2. The Human Coat Hangar – Can’t even spell his name let alone pronounce it. He has proven he can climb with the best most days. Has yet to show consistency for an entire three weeks.

    1. Valverde = I feel this is his race to lose. There a six finishes in the second half of the race that suit him. Whether it is a short/sharp uphill finish or a descending Alpine finish where he can out sprint the climbers. Add in the fact they can put Amador in the breaks to force other teams to work and he will have an able bodied lieutenant to leap frog up to late in the climbs.

    • @TdU – that is a good summary although I think Landa’s confidence will now only grow and grow after a great TT result. I can see him attacking in the high mountains (with Chaves perhaps?) if he’s on his best form with others unwilling/unable to follow. Remember he was stronger than Contador last year when the climbing got really tough – he “just” needs to replicate that I think (easier said than done of course…). His team is fairly strong too for the remainder of this race, with no rivals or other agendas: he’s now a very strong chance for the podium I reckon.

      Thanks @INRNG: great posts as ever.

  12. Thanks INRNG. Great piece as always and very nice pic of Amador leading the bunch. Costa Rica is going nuts about the Giro!

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