FGR#24 Wrap

Wasn’t this guy supposed to burn down Italy?

I already have Grand Tour hangover, that malaise that settles in when there isn’t a daily race to follow by television/live web feed or text updates. This just-finished Giro d’Italia was simply the best three-week tour in my memory. Constant lead changes, ferocious crashes, valiant and successful breakaways, the GC boys spinning away at the steepest climbs in Europe—these are the things that cycling fans want to see, and this year’s Giro delivered them all in spades.

Ivan Basso, he of the curiously rehabilitated reputation, earned what had to feel like a highly redemptive maglia rosa. Between a wishy-washy half acknowledgment that his previous approach to high-end racing had left something to be desired and signing up with Dr. Aldo Sassi, the hottest trainer in the pro peloton, Basso is back in a big way, not to mention his Liquigas squad, who came in as contenders and rode away as champions, with Basso on the top step and Vincenzo Nibali in third. Basso danced in the pedals when he had to, but his team also did an excellent job of sheltering him from wind and the predations of three weeks in the saddle.

Nibali and Basso showed that having multiple captains can work on the road, and also that the younger rider will, eventually, win a Grand Tour, perhaps with Basso as his super domestique. Stranger things have happened on teams not called Astana.

Pre-race favorite Cadel Evans fared not so well, ending in 5th place in the general classification, though he consoled himself with the points jersey. Evans did the World Champion’s jersey proud by racing strong, attacking when he could and generally behaving as though he belonged on the front of the pack. Unfortunately, his BMC squad was nowhere when Evans needed them most. Evans’ former Lotto team perfected that trick. BMC just picked up where they left off. You have to wonder what might have been for the scrappy Australian had he been paced into the big climbs as Basso was.

Other talents also announced themselves. Young Richie Porte of Saxo Bank and Matthew Lloyd of Omega Pharma-Lotto, both Australians, forced themselves onto the scene with some daring rides and some stiff defenses of colored jerseys. This writer really enjoyed watching them ride and make names for themselves over the withering efforts of older riders like Alexandre Vinokourov and … um … well … I’m just glad Vinokourov didn’t win anything.

Mention must be made, finally, of David Arroyo. The 30-year-old from Caisse d’Epargne emerged from the shadows of his better known teammates to take the biggest prize of his career, a second place in a Grand Tour. The Spaniard was gutsy all through the Giro, and dug deep to defend the maglia rosa when he had it. In the end, Basso was too much for him, but Arroyo has laid down a marker with team management, now that Alejandro Valverde has been consigned to a two-year ban.

As regards the questions floated in the Group Ride, let me just float some opinions on questions not already addressed above. First, Italian podium girls are not hotter than French ones. They are equally hot. If my VO2 Max wasn’t closer to my shoe size than to the population of your favorite restaurant on a Friday night, either one would serve as ample motivation to earn a post-race peck.

The Tour of California, for me, detracted from the Giro, which is deeply unfortunate because the ToC is a great race. Still, what if George Hincapie had been riding for Cadel Evans instead of riding loops around downtown LA? A concurrent ToC forces the big teams to make decisions that hurt cycling fans. Scheduling fail.

Andre Greipel definitely deserves to ride the Tour de France. Just not for HTC-Columbia. For sale, one rather large, scary-looking German dude. Real fast on a bike. Somewhat whiny. All serious offers considered.

I don’t know what happened to Team Sky under the blazing Tuscan sun (and rain). Bradley Wiggins pulled a real Sastre on this one, disappearing almost before he’d even really announced his presence. Perhaps the couch cushions on the super plush Sky bus are just a bit too comfy. Perhaps their espresso maker went on the fritz. Or perhaps they really were just out on a training ride. Doubt it though. I think they just sucked.

That brings me to old Charlie Sastre, who I maligned in the last paragraph. I like Charlie. He just keeps riding and riding, and yeah, that Tour de France win was probably as good as it gets for him, but damn it, you gotta respect a guy who can finish 21 Grand Tours. You just gotta.

And with that, I officially turn the page on the Giro and begin to stare out of windows wondering how in hell Christian Prudhomme can possibly put on a TdF better than what we’ve just seen.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. Touriste-Routier

    I am not convinced that teammates (in the manner in which Robot describes here) would have helped Cadel Evans much; one needs to be able to follow the wheels, be they your teammates, or your competitors, and he wasn’t quite able to do that.

    While having someone fetch bottles is important, as is having someone to cover attacks, ultimately Evans needed to stay on Basso’s wheel, which happened to be glued to his own teammates wheels, until it was time to launch.

    Outside of the TTT, having a strong team makes its presence known in defending the leaders jersey, which admittedly BMC didn’t do well the day they had their chance to. So the team let him down to the tune of 2:07 of his 3:27 deficit, but all prior to the mountains.

    So he certainly required a stronger team, but not necessarily in the mountains. But then again, he should have assessed the team prior to signing the contract; as many teams prove time and again, signing a GC contender does not turn a classics oriented squad into a Grand Tour one.

  2. Souleur

    I agree wholeheartedly Robot, the Giro de Italia was a great race. As memory has it, it will rank high in my minds eye.

    I for one saw a great up and comer in Nibali. Liquigas had a conundrum on their hands in that this will lead to a real contention within ranks if…IF…Nibali is a true GC’r person. Basso deserves the respect for now, but when one like Nibali comes up, has the legs and could have done more but did not, in support (ie..stage 7) it will be something he has slept on by now and will continue to until next season. I will be interested in seeing how it goes, and what Liquigas will do too. Nibali is a definite asset to the team and Italy.

    As for Evans, I agree w/Touriste-Routier. Evans in essence proved to me and the world that he really is not a true GC’r in heart and ride. He is a great one day rider and perhaps ought to turn to classics or spring rides. Sure, he had a 1/2 team with him, but he could have had a kenworth diesel pulling him and I don’t think he had it. I have been holding out for Evans to FINALLY put a Grand Tour together and he simply isn’t going to ever do it. I picked him to win this one, and frankly in this shallow field he should have…BUT did not. This Giro was his to lose. So, he won’t do anything in July either. Sorry, I am not a pesimist here, simply a realist.

    Then Arroyo, kudo’s to him. If nothing else, he showed a huge heart, tough as nails attitude that was willing to spill his guts if needed to stay up w/the front…and he did. A great ride by him.

    The Tour indeed has its work cut out to out do this Giro, and I just am not sure it can be done in my minds eye. France does capture our attention without a doubt, its beautiful but the Giro is a special race to me.

  3. grolby

    I have to disagree on Evans not being a true GC rider. I think that second place in the Tour (twice!) has him pretty firmly established as a GC rider. Whether he’ll ever be able to pull it together for a win, I don’t know. Apparently he got sick halfway through the Giro; that’ll put a damper on anyone’s race. Whether he would have been able to win, we can’t know, but a spot on the podium seemed probable. I think the competition in the Tour these days is probably just a bit too deep, with Contador and the Schlecks to contend with, but he’s certainly strong enough to win a Vuelta or Giro.

  4. Big Mikey

    Grolby has a fair point, in that Cadel can pull off a consistent top 5 in grand tours. Clearly he can ride a GT as a contender. But the question is, should he? Why waste most of each year training for a race you’re extremely unlikely to win, when you can focus on other races and shorter tours, with an reasonable expectation of winning?

    Wiggins will not win the tour, and he’s likely not going to podium. He was last years star in the making, and each year the annointed rider fails to impress (Julich, CVV, Mayo, Heras, Rogers, etc.).

    Sastre is a stud. You’re right about that, Robot. 21 grand tours? Insane. Is that the most ridden by any rider ever?

  5. J

    I truly believe Carlos Sastre is a fellow who just loves riding his bike- as for racing… well, I’m sure he likes it but it seems he’d be just as happy riding Grand Fondos as Grand Tours. And as bizarre as it seems I can totally respect and empathize with that predilection.

    Sky sucked and will continue to do so throughout the year.

    California was the antithesis to the Giro; predictably suffocated by the large pro tour teams to the detriment of any thrilling racing. Sure we saw some great “sprinting” in the last k by DZ, MR and LL but save for the continental teams (who as it appears will no longer have a place in the TdC)the pro tour teams failed to impress. It’s to bad as the TdC is a great race but after this year’s affair not even a flashy web viewer will be able to draw more viewers next year.

    And how can we not love Basso. He’s the paradigm of how to return to the top echelon of racing after a doping suspension; quietly and humbly. Domestique for a year for your teammates all the while plotting a sensational comeback. Oh and while destroying your competition do it with cool and again humbly and you’ll forever be loved. Valverde, take notice.

    Oh Evans… Thus far he’s been a more worthy world champion than many in recent memory. For that we can and should applaud him. Evans will never relent on his (futile?) quest for a grand tour. But for this again we love him. How can we not love a rider who has a shell of a team, chronic bad luck and yet manages to ride horrid expression onto his face consistently in hopes of reaching the apex. That is, just as long as he isn’t whining… Cadel- that little bit about getting sick on stage 11 and offering that up as an excuse is getting dangerously close to the behavior that many have come to dislike in the past… Just keep your mouth shut.

    BBox rocked it. Period.

    Lord, please let Scarponi ride somewhere not in Italy- what a scrapper and an honorable rider…! ASO- dis-invite Astana and Radioshack and maybe even Rabobank. Hell, drop Lotto while you’re at it and find another system to allow the truly aggressive and exciting teams to take part… A few more Brunyeel-style TdF’s and July will become the most boring month of racing on the calendar.

    Diatribe over… 😉

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  7. Bob Cesca

    The men who finished that race are the true Giants of the Road. They all deserve a special place in cycling history.

    How many uphill finishes in the TdF this year? Five? A Sunday club ride for the veterans of the 2010 Giro.

  8. Michael

    I like Charlie Sastre. Classy rider, as anyone who has seen his teary apology to his team in last year’s TDF Cervelo documentary will agree with. He could have easily packed it in what with his wonky back and all (I an sympathize, I have a horrible back and will for life).

    He honored the race and his teammates by sticking around, and his daring move from another time zone is to be commended – he tried. Anyone who has done 21 GT’s and finished Top 10 in what, 13 I believe at last count, deserves our admiration and respect.

    With no Valverde, and assuming Cuddles races the Tour, the Vuelta should be wide open this year and a podium by Senor Sastre in that race (and dare I dream a win) would be a fantastic golden handshake to ride off into the sunset with.

    As for the Giro in general, I think it was a great success for Evans. Points classification, stage win on an epic stage, media-prize trophy from the Italian press mob….and legions of new fans. I will say this again, he is honoring the WC jersey like no other rider has in my adult lifetime.

    Nibali 3rd with no specific training for the Giro? AWE. What a talent!

  9. SinglespeedJarv

    Strike the above comment, it wasn’t in my name

    I’m taking a different approach here, enough has been talked of the Giro and seeing as you mentioned Wiggins and Team Sky. Looking at how Brailsford ran the British Track team, I really don’t think they expect to win the Tour and they didn’t go to the Giro to win, they really did go there as preparation for the Tour.

    Now I’m not saying I agree with their approach…but much of the hype is nothing to do with the team, it is mostly the media to which Wiggins will play up to and to which the team principles can not disagree with because it is negative.

    I think Team Sky will be quite happy with their year so far, especially given the injuries to their big names. They do seem to be coming up short in sprint finishes and from the outside there appears to be some rough edges, I’m guessing they will probably get ironed out as contracts expire. But they are a team that will target the big races and any other wins that come along are just a bonus, or development for younger riders. It’s the younger riders who have showed what Sky are about this year and the Team will be a classics force in two years time, it will just take longer for the younger riders to show in the stage races. Brailsford said five years to win the Tour, he’s not planning to win it this year.

  10. todd k

    No complaint about Evans coming up short from me. The Giro actually would have been a lot less memorable had he not been there racing exactly as he did.

    Sastre came up short, but I still like the man.No complaint about Evans coming up short from me. The Giro actually would have been a lot less memorable had he not been there racing exactly as he did.

    Sastre came up short, but I still like the man.

    One thing that got me to thinking, though, is that folks tend to talk a lot about race radios making for boring racing. I’m starting to think it 9 member teams is more significant. Liquigas arguably had the strongest team, but, they were not
    able to control the peloton day to day. They did do so when it ultimately mattered, but not in the Bruyneel manner of stacking 8 men up front and drIving the pace, or in the HTC/Colmbia manner to get the sprint train rolling. Absent Liquigas the other teams that stood the most to gain suffered a lot of contrition over the race. I think this lack of bodies on given teams further insured for more lively racing.

    One thing that got me to thinking, though, is that folks tend to talk a lot about race radios making for boring racing. I’m starting to think that in grand tours it is strong 9 member teams that is more impactful. Liquigas arguably had the strongest team, but, they were not able to control the peloton day to day. They did do so when it ultimately mattered, but not in the Bruyneel manner of stacking 8 men up front and drIving the pace every day, or in the HTC/Colmbia manner to get the sprint train rolling effectively day to day to reel in breaks. True weather played a role, but absent Liquigas the other teams that stood the most to gain suffered a lot of contrition over the race and could not control the the race in the manner we now associate with the Tour. I think this lack of bodies on given teams further insured more lively racing due to a greater likelihood for for breaks to succeed or for more interesting results day to day. I’m starting to wonder what capping teams at 6 or 7 starters could do got making the racing more interesting.

  11. Rono

    40. Bradley Wiggins (GBR) Team Sky at 1:47:58

    … is a bit more than a Tour ’09 Sastre/Evans style meltdown, it’s borderline being irrelevant. I’m with Robot on this one: Sky just sucked. The pre-Giro British media hype sucked even more. The poor Brits really do have a chip on their shoulder–Simpson, Millar, Boardman, guys who made a big splash but in the end just didn’t have the goods. TdF time will be fish or cut bait for Brailsford and Wiggans, they need some results or else the Sky Program starts to look like a serious joke.

    Respect also to Robot for calling even shots on French vs. Italian podium girls, personally I’m waiting for Spain and yes I’m speaking from experience. As for the racing, I loved this Giro more than anything else in recent memory. Tour of CA should return to a February tweak-up for bigger/better things in Old Europe and would gain some credibility if the title sponsor was not a manufacturer of EPO. The Giro organizers are really on a roll: Stradi Bianchi, gravel time-trial, Gavia, possible 2012 start in DC–if these folks could up the Giro prize money to TdF proportions riders and fans would ignore that *other* bike race in July.

  12. Lachlan

    I’ve gotta put a bit of a defence in for Simpson/Millar/Boardman. They all were champions of high order. World record holders / stage winners / KoM etc etc Not just hyped wanna-be’s!

    So I guess you mean they didn’t win the tour. That’s a pretty high cut off point of saying they don’t have the goods! Bascially meaning everyone but 10 guys at most every decade suck (assuming the tdf gets 10 different winners in a decade).

    As for Wiggins – he will have to live up to his own goals and hype in July, but mostly for now its about the media, us fans and some of his sponsors PR machine that are responsible for hyping it up. (which is kind of their job, and all harmless fun). They were pretty clear in saying Giro was prep work, with the obvious desire to try and do something here and there if they could- specifically at the start as he did. Part of that chat from teams is simply out of respect to races. You might well be using the Giro just to build for the Tour… but you have to talk it up a bit out of respect.

    But even if he doesn’t make it as a ongoing tdf contender the guy is already a major champion in cycling. How well he continues to transfer that talent to grand tours after last years break through – lets see. I’ll be very surprised if he’s right at the top, but last year already showed very good top 10 GC potential in his legs.

  13. Robot

    In my view, Sky is sending mixed messages. On the one hand, Brailsford talks about slow and steady progress, developing young talent, etc. On the other hand they splashed a bunch of cash to free Mr. Wiggins from his contract THIS year, which implies they expected to use his wins this year as a real launching point.

    They’re not off the ground yet.

    And let’s not forget Ed Bo-Hagen. That kid was dynamite last year. Did he die of whatever minor injury he sustained in the early season? Wha happened?

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