The opening week of the Giro is done and time to look back in order to help look ahead. It’s been a lively week of racing, perhaps with some dull moments if you followed the stages live on TV for too long but otherwise the outcomes have been varied and thanks to the Blockhaus the race has been shaken up.
The start in Sardinia was scenic but once you’ve seen an hour of azure waters and sandy coves you’ve seen enough although before all of this started the race was shocked by two Bardiani-CSF riders testing positive for growth hormones in an A-sample. The B-samples get tested this week. If the race was rocked, it was a small wave rather than tsunami and wasn’t enough to spoil the party. Team management put out a clumsy press release saying they were ready to fire the riders while sponsor Bardiani was much more articulate with a statement explaining their attachment to developing young riders.
Youth was a theme for the first week as neo-pro Lukas Pöstlberger made a name for himself with a stage win and the maglia rosa. André Greipel got his stage win to keep up his record of winning at least one stage in every grand tour he starts this decade and then the third stage was part bike race, part sailing regatta as fierce crosswinds split the bunch and Quick Step amassed on the front like they were in De Panne to set up Fernando Gaviria for the stage win and let Bob Jungels take time which would propel him in the overall lead.
Etna loomed but if it’s an active volcano it doesn’t erupt every day nor is it an open cauldron of fire and brimstone. Instead it’s a high peak exposed to the wind and we got the sight of the front group spread across the road in echelon formation on a mountain top finish. While they huddled, Jan Polanc took the stage win on his training roads. The next day they rode to Messina and after a pounding across the potholes Fernando Gaviria won another stage thanks to his speed and team work from Quick Step.
Silvan Dillier won the stage to Terme Luigiane, beating Jasper Stuyven in the uphill sprint. The finale was exciting and the stage itself was instructive because if many teams have come with plans for the overall classification, some have not and they can’t afford to miss out on days like this so we saw the likes of Willier-Selle Italia and Cannondale forced to chase but this just cost them kilojoules and wooden legs. Willier manager Luca Scinto roared at his riders and told La Gazzetta he was minded to send half the team home. Certainly knowing that if you miss the move you’ll have to chase anyway is an incentive for some to go clear.
Caleb Ewan finally took the stage win he needed in Alberobello after a string of mistakes by him and his team in stages prior but worth remembering he’s still eligible to ride in the U23 ranks and despite the hiccups he seemed to keep his cool.
Movistar lost Ion Izagirre to Bahrein-Merida but brother Gorka stepped up with a stage win in Peschici after a very lively stage and what the French call une course de mouvement with the scenario constantly changing. It took an hour of 50km/h racing for the move to go clear. No sooner did it go did Luis Leon Sanchez bridge acrosss. No sooner did he get across did Gazprom give chase. No sooner did the chase peg the group back did several riders use the slopes of Monte Sant’Angello to bridge the narrowed gap and so on. But for all the action the race reached Sunday and the stage from Montenero di Bisaccia to Blockhaus with 16 riders within 23 seconds of Bob Jungels.
Sunday’s stage to Blockhaus was set to be the first shake-up for the overall classification. Mikel Landa crashed soon after the start. in a lively start to the race that saw Cannondale try to get Pierre Rolland into the lead group by chasing down the breakaway: let Rolland bridge to the move or we’ll chase you down. But the breakaways came to nothing as Movistar thundered along the approach roads to the Blockhaus climb.
They rounded a bend and suddenly there was a motorbike of the Polizia Stradale parked on the edge of the road. The officer had been told to stop and let the front group pass so that he could protect one of the many smaller groups of riders that had already formed behind from riders ejected by Movistar’s pace. Only the officer didn’t get off the road and was stopped on the tarmac. The riders rounded the bend and found the motorbike in their path ahead. Tom Dumoulin managed a feline swerve around the bike but Wilco Kelderman caught the side boxes and the bars, fell and set off a wave of crashes that brought many others down.
It wouldn’t be the Giro without a polemica but there’s one thing that’s certain: the motorbike should not have been there: it should have either been off the road completely on the grass verge or if you have to park in the road then the habitual place is on the right side of the road (you’ll always see riders with a puncture and team cars stopping on the right). It was a mistake pure and simple and frustrating on the simplest of levels because if you can’t count on the police, who can you? But the police regularly do a great job and themselves take risks as they speed down descents to open the road for the riders, no easy task on a 250kg motorbike laden with police kit and they collectively deserve support for their work. This wasn’t an institutional fault, just a human error but one that had a big price and it casts a long shadow on the race as it took out Geraint Thomas, Mikel Landa and Adam Yates. All would finish the stage but at 5m08s, 26m56s and 4m39s respectively.
“Game over” said Thomas after the finish line. He limited his losses well after reports he’d dislocated his shoulder and rode up with his clothing and skin shredded. We’ll see what Thomas does next, as suggested in the pre-race preview the Giro was a test for him in several ways, to prove he could lead a team and to cope with the three weeks as well as “fight for pink”. The first two objectives still stand if he can hold; in the past we saw the likes of Richie Porte fade on a setback so Thomas can still prove resilience, especially as the boss seat on the team bus at the Tour de France and the Vuelta are reserved for Chris Froome. Sadly this incident spoils some of the sport and removes three contenders, all because of a badly parked motorbike.
Should Movistar have sat up? There’s an unwritten rule where it can happen but this is cycling and even the written rules are applied inconsistently. The unwritten ones are a palimpsest of circumstance, mood and precedent. It could have been a nice gesture but crucially Movistar had been driving the pace already, they didn’t seemingly accelerate to profit from the misfortune but kept doing what they were doing on the approach to the climb. Both sides have their merits when reviewed on a Monday morning in an armchair with a copy of La Gazzetta in your hands, let alone in the broiling heat on the flanks of an Abruzzo mountain.
Back to the racing and Nairo Quintana could not be matched on the climb. Yet he only took 24 seconds from Thibaut Pinot and Tom Dumoulin, both superior chronomen. So Quintana has established himself as the best climber on this one finish but he hasn’t gained the time needed. Pinot and Vincenzo Nibali both followed Quintana’s moves as best they could but Nibali paid the price for this and cracked. Behind Tom Dumoulin did his thing and evenly pacing himself up this uneven climb saw him end the day only 30 seconds down on Quintana overall which will be very encouraging ahead of Tuesday’s Montefalco time trial.
Wilco Kelderman left the race and if he wasn’t going to challenge overall he was going to be Dumoulin’s lieutenant in the mountains and given Dumoulin paces himself having an even wheel to rely on is so valuable only this is gone. But like the 2015 Vuelta the question is whether Dumoulin can keep going for three weeks but we’re only posing this because he looked so smooth on the climb yesterday. Bauke Mollema didn’t look so comfortable but he never does and sits fourth overall to face the same question about his ability to hang on in the third week. The third Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk is now three minutes down but he’s come good later in the race before.
Pinot looked good on the climb yesterday and can fare well in a time trial but could well be caught between two stools, one minute watching Nairo Quintana float away up the road, the next looking over his shoulder to find Dumoulin. Pinot has beaten Dumoulin a time trial before at the Tour de Romandie but it featured a steep climb into the vineyards above Sion and a risky descent whereas tomorrow’s Montefalco course might have a few vines but it’s all about who turn spin the biggest chainring possible while tucked into the most aero position.
Meanwhile Nibali is doing well, he might have cracked yesterday but that’s only because he could follow Quintana and Pinot when others could not or dared not. But he’s down a rider after Javier Moreno’s expulsion and even the Bahrain-Merida team bus has broken down, but no worries since the team started with two: one for the riders and another for VIPs and the guests are presumably slumming it on a rental bus. This position suits Nibali, he can bide his time and gives hope to the Italian fans still hoping for a home stage win, a topic La Gazzetta Dello Sport has featured a lot already.
What next? The time trial on Tuesday, it climbs in places but for the most part is a test of brute force. Wednesday promises a lively transition stage through Tuscany and a big battle just to get in the breakaway, perhaps the fuoriclasse Valerio Conti will recover for a home win? Thursday and Friday are blogger’s rest days, aka sprint stages and also time for wounded climbers to heal. Saturday sees the race reach the Alps with the punchy Oropa finish before Sunday’s small Giro di Lombardia, a mini classic mid-race. That’s plenty of racing and the weather forecast for Italy looks good for the week with warm sunshine predicted. Then the snowy peaks arrive.
Finally a revision of the picks for the Giro. We’ve only had one summit finish and with so much more to come things are still vague. Quintana tops because if he can poach 30 seconds on a climb here or there then that will stack up in the final week. Dumoulin looks likely to assume the overall lead but holding off Quintana is a tall order while Pinot can chip away on the climbs too. Mollema and Nibali can each have their say too, Mollema is capable of a good time trial while Nibali will plan his surprises and wait for the descents. Thomas still gets a chainring because if he can time trial his way back and show what could have been then he can close the gap.
|Thibaut Pinot, Tom Dumoulin
|Bauke Mollema, Vincenzo Nibali
|Zakarin, Kruijswijk, Thomas