Giro Thoughts

Well, the 2011 Giro d’Italia is in the books, the most epic, epicness in the history of epic epics. Race director Angelo Zomegnan took a page from Tour de France founder Henri Desgranges’ playbook and turned his race into more of a survival event than a bike race, with many racers and directors saying this version was just too hard. What I think they meant is that it was just too hard for everyone who wasn’t named Alberto Contador.

Alberto Contador – He’s the elephant in the living room or, perhaps more specifically, the pistol in the peloton. He completely dominated. He never looked troubled. He never looked challenged. He seemed to attack at will, often on whim or simply through appetite (the sort that earned a certain Belgian a not-always-complimentary nickname). The Spaniard’s performance was thrilling in a way, his signature attacks both completely fluid and completely explosive.

Of course, the flip-side to Contador’s ride is the lingering doubt that he’s clean. Whether it’s the doping case that will never end, or the whirling dervish of the Armstrong affair that is tarring all of our dominant riders with a tainted brush is hard to say. Regardless, it’s hard to believe in Contador’s flavor of dominance, whether that doubt has any basis in reality/science or not.

Michelle Scarponi – It must be hard to finish second and have everyone ignore you, but of all the GC hopefuls Scarponi made the absolute best pretense of trying to stay with Contador, chasing him off the front, if only to drop back. That so much was said about Vincenzo Nibali is a good indication that the rider who topped Nibali by 46 seconds was a worthy runner up.

Vincenzo Nibali – All of Italy seemed to be pulling for the “Shark,” but he didn’t have it. Known as perhaps the best descender in the pro bunch, Nibali had almost zero pop in his legs when it came to riding up hill. What made the Liquigas rider’s Giro interesting and admirable to me was the way the constantly rode within himself. He didn’t make any suicide attacks. He stayed patient and limited his losses to a clearly superior opponent. It wasn’t always exciting to watch, but it was good, smart racing.

John Gadret – My previous estimation of Gadret was based on his woeful lack of team spirit in supporting Nicolas Roche at the last Tour de France. I thought he was a punk, and he may well be, but in this Giro he showed a massive leap in ability, sticking with the world’s best climbers on some of the world’s toughest climbs. Maybe the French are rising again. No. Probably not.

Jose Rujano – If we turn slightly to our left, Rujano’s doping past will sit just out of our peripheral vision, and we’ll be able to view his 2011 Giro as a massively entertaining ride by a guy very few thought would ride at this level again. Perhaps he has earned himself a move up from Androni-Giacatolli to a bigger squad who can deploy him in the mountains of other grand tours.

Denis Menchov/Carlos Sastre – When Geox-TMC, the team of former grand tour winners Menchov and Sastre, weren’t invited to the Tour de France, I was one of those who thought ASO had screwed up, picking crappy French teams instead of this Spanish squad fronted by this unlikely pair. The Giro was, as a result, their everything, and the ASO is vindicated. Sastre was no where. Menchov was a shadow.

Honorable Mentions – Roman Kreuziger moved to Astana to get his chance at grand tour leadership. Liquigas was always going to go with Nibali and Ivan Basso, so that seemed like a sensible move. Kreuziger didn’t quite make the cut this time out. He remains a potential GC rider, rather than a real threat.

Christophe Le Mevel started strong, finished weak, but did Garmin-Cervelo proud, and provided another glimmer of the idea that French cyclists might be returning to grand tour podiums again one day. Maybe.

Peter Weening, the giant Dutchman, pulled a real Voekler and not only pulled on the maglia rosa in the first week, but then had the temerity to defend it.

Mark Cavendish came, saw, sprinted and then left. It’s sad to me that modern grand tour sprinters do this so often, but this is the world we live in. Specialization is king.

Final thoughts – They say the Tour de France is the biggest bike race in the world and that the Giro is the most beautiful. It would seem that Angelo Zomegnan is looking for more ways to draw even with his counterpart in France, Christian Prudhomme. They are both operating in the environment of modern cycling, which seems to be as much about which riders might be suspended as what the race route looks like. The 2011 Giro was an effort, I believe, to reassert the primacy of the race. In crushing all comers, Alberto Contador undid much of Zomegnan’s plan, and that is too bad.

(Just to be clear, I have no idea whether Contador is clean or not. I am only saying that the ongoing case related to last year’s clenbuterol positive creates doubt in the minds of many.)

Thanks to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and their geologically-timed appeals process, Zomegnan’s problem now becomes Prudhomme’s. How to keep the focus on the racing, when the racers themselves inspire such doubt. Perhaps one day we’ll look back on this time as the “Age of Asterisks,” a time when you couldn’t be sure what race you’d seen until the various governing bodies had a year or two or three to digest what happened and the lawyers had come up with acceptable compromises in Swiss conference rooms.

Regardless, this Giro d’Italia made a valiant effort at challenging the riders in unconventional ways, pushing them well outside their comfort zones. Was it too hard? Clearly, for some, it was. For the rest, it was a great race.

Big points have to go to the organizers for handling the tragic death of Wouter Weylandts with dignity and a minimum of controversy. Their modification of the stage that included the descent of Monte Crostis was another testing moment that passed with relatively few problems. These challenges are testament to the ability of a cycling organization to make good, effective decisions under time constraints.

The ASO, the UCI and the various national federations would do well to pay attention.

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  1. James

    This year I finally got to watch all of the televised portions of the Giro thanks to Dish Network having RAI available as an add on and the ability to DVR each days stage. Living on the west coast and working a swing shift never mad watching on the computer an option. The death of Wouter Weylandt over shadowed the 1st week and a half but I admired the Italian fans who kept his memory in the forefront during the race.
    The stages were great! The racing was kind of dull until Contador decided to ride away from everyone. He was a man amongst boys! Save for Rujano nobody could stay anywhere close to Contador in the hills and even Rujano faded the last week. I can’t believe Contador would be stupid enough to dope in a race while he facing disipline for another (I don’t think he’s of the Ricco mold).
    Anyway it was great to watch, especially since it was commercial free and my Italian vocabulary increased exponentially! Ciao

  2. Anthony

    I realize how important it is in bike racing to ride conservatively and not risk big losses, but I’m a sucker for courage. I admired how Scarponi refused to let the victory ride away from him without at least putting up a fight. He truly deserved his placing, I would have been disappointed to see Nibali on that second step.

    I just hate seeing guys just not respond at all, sit up and race for second place after the first attack. It’s nice to see someone go down swinging once in a while. It’s not good smart racing but certainly good for me as a fan, anyways.

  3. Simon

    The way the sprinters pulled out is another reason to look forward to the death of the Protour. Wasn’t Zomegnan the organiser who refused Cipollini’s team an entry because he was never prepared to ride to the finish because it would hurt his sprinting legs? Yes, I like the sprints too…but it seems unfair to have a bunch of stages in the tours that are the preserves of those who pulled out before the last race got too hard and rested up.

    I find it hard to accept that the CAS and UCI are quite prepared to let contador race and then pull the victory, and force the organisers to rewrite their record books. I think it shows a fundamental lack of respect for just about anyone in the sport who isn’t a lawyer. There has to be a better way.

  4. Dave

    Sadly, the Giro held little interest for me this year. I began watching eagerly, but once Contador showed clear dominance my enthusisam rapidly flagged. Feeling that he should have been serving a suspension, rather than racing, made it so that I could not enjoy the spectacle of his (seemingly effortless) attacks. The prospect of him riding (and probably dominating) the Tour really diminshes my enthusiasm for July… I hope that cycling can find a way forward from the current climate of suspicion and “tainted” wins, but I don’t see how. In fact, I don’t know that I will ever again be able to enjoy watching professional racing as I did a decade ago (I don’t know that one can ever regain lost innocence). Sad, indeed.

  5. Souleur

    I agree Padraig, it was a great event, and I greatly admire the organization and leadership of the Giro, straight up…they got kahoonas to put this race together and by far will have credit for making it the hardest GC going. The Vuelta IMHO recieved laurels for this in the past, but hands down, now the Giro gets it.

    I loved it. Day after day of brutality, watching the PRO suffer, there is just something not right with me liking suffering this much.

    But what about Petacchi? Wow, the old man had it, really, he had it and made the other sprinters really work for it.

    and where was DiLuca? I was hoping for him, but never really saw him

    And how about Movistar, they did a PRO job, did a lot of work and even hit pay dirt at times. Kudo’s!

  6. Jarvis

    Contador: Meh. Scarponi: Meh. Di Luca: Meh. Petacchi: Meh. At least Di Luca was nowhere, but how it might have been different had his seatpin not snapped.

    The Giro should have been a great race. But sadly, due to Contadors presence and then his domination, I was bored of the Giro after the first week. it didn’t help that Scarponi was battling for second. I don’t think I watched anything of the second two weeks and wasn’t too disappointed.

    It is likely that it will be the same for the Tour.

    Simon: Cipollini was blocked from the Tour for that, not the Giro. It isn’t the sprinters fault that the giro didn’t have a flat stages in the last 10 days. Couldn’t agree more with them, no reason to stay.

  7. Mark

    Le Mevel probably shut it down in the later part of the Giro to rest up for the Tour.

    Wiggins did a similar thing when he was with Garmin in 2009 and ended up placing four at the Tour. When they asked Matt White during the 2009 Tour if he was surprised by Wiggins performance, he said that Wiggins was climbing well in the Giro until they told him to shut it down.

  8. Simon

    Jarvis – my bad…I guess the question I’m obliquely trying to ask is that if there was an imperative on the sprinters to get round the whole thing, not just to cherry-pick, then would we be more likely to see a better duel between the breakaway and the peloton on the flatter stages?

    There’s been more than one occasion in recent years when the first week of the tour has had all the interest of televised monopoly, so predictable has it been that any unpredictability is going to be confined to the last few k…

  9. Corey

    Nice reflection. The only suggestion I might make is to offer another tip of the hat to Wouter Weylandt. His fall and death – which I watched live on Italian TV with cameramen who knew what they were filming and kept on anyway – put this most beautiful race in a different, sombering light.

  10. cwcushman

    I am relatively new to watching pro cycling, but where was Saxobank? They hardly had to do any work (at least during the broadcast portion of the stage). For the guys that have been around longer, am I just used to the dominance of the pelaton by a single team, i.e. U.S. Postal / Discovery? Before Armstrong and Brunyeel was the workload shared more evenly amongst the teams?

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