Ah, May in Italy… and that means one thing… it’s time for the Giro d’Italia! Bellissima! In case you missed the first week (and a few stages), here’s a brief recap to get you up to speed as we rocket into the second half of the race.
This year’s race, with 22 teams of 9 riders each and 198 anxious souls, began in Belfast, Ireland. After another two days on the Emerald Isle, and then a rest day, the race left the land of potatoes and Guinness and returned to the home of pasta and Chianti wine. After a few days of relentless rain (duh, it’s Ireland), the peloton eagerly returned to warmth and sunshine… well, mostly more rain and lots more crashes. We’re now at the halfway point and tings are beginning to settle down slightly, but it’s just a lull before the final fireworks of the last week. Things are truly about to get loud, as only the Giro can. Mamma mia!
Here’s a brief rundown of things, stage by stage … ultra-condensed.
Stage 1- Team Time Trial
Orica-GreenEdge takes the win putting renowned hardman and genuine nice guy Svein Tuft into the pink jersey- maglia rosa- on his birthday. Could hardly write a better script than that. Sadly, the script was less kind to Garmin-Sharp, with a massive crash that saw the departure from the race of their top rider, Dan Martin, and key support rider Koldo Fernandez. For Irishman Martin, leaving the race on the opening stage on home roads was a gutting loss.
Stage 2- Kittel kills’em
Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) showed that he was capable of living up to the pre-race hype of being the sprinter to beat at this year’s Giro. He did not disappoint and rocketed out of the final turn and made the other sprinters look kinda silly. The big German was the sprinter of reference at last year’s Tour and seems to be ready to prove it was not a fluke. Svein Tuft’s teammate Michael Matthews took over the maglia rosa and the rest of the GC contenders largely avoided drama.
Stage 3- (see Stage 2)
More rain and more crashes, and another stage win for Kittel on his 26th birthday. This time, Kittel had to scrap for the win after losing contact with his feared leadout train. Proving that adrenaline is a powerful drug, Kittel again showed more speed than any of the other “sprinters” could match, flying from behind the in-process sprint to overhaul the others at the line. Sehr gut! Matthews stayed in pink and the GC picture remained intact.
Stage 4- Bouhanni asserts new dominance in sprints
Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr) took advantage of the fact Marcel Kittel abandoned the race after picking up a fever during the first rest day and transfer from Ireland to Italy the day before. Bouhanni has been knocking on the door of a big win, and this time he got it right… but thanks to Kittel’s absence. The race saw the finish neutralized after riders protested about the dangerously slippery roads, due to the rainy conditions. The finish was largely ceremonial for the sprinters with everybody receiving the same finishing time, to mitigate the risks. Sorta… I mean, it was still a sprint and sprinters do crazy things to win. GC unchanged… duh.
Stage 5- Ulissi lights it up
Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) lit up the sprint in the final climb and hilltop finish to take the win ahead of Cadel Evans (BMC), as the GC contenders showed their first signs of life. The final climb was neither terribly long, nor terribly steep, but it was the first stage not suited for the sprinters remaining in the race. Ulissi took advantage of the impetus of others, like Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), and captured the win. Showing great class, Michael Matthews- a sprinter normally- finished in 6th to retain the race lead, proving that pink can make a fella feel pretty strong. The rest of the GC picture began to take shape with Evans moving up to 3rd and the other contenders at least giving hints of their form.
Stage 6- Matthews wins UPHILL sprint as Evans and BMC show cunning
Michael Matthews won the UPHILL sprint- a Cat 2 climb- to retain the pink jersey, proving he’s no fluke and that he’s got tons of class. This Aussie should be able to add a few zeros to his paycheck next year. Another Aussie making headlines on the stage was Cadel Evans and his BMC team. On the final ascent, near the finish, a huge pileup took down many of the main GC contenders and caused absolute chaos in the field. Evans, as always, was stationed near the front of the field with his teammates. Knowing that the finishes of stages in the first week are always messy with nervous riders fighting for position, Evans was perfectly positioned ahead of the crash. There was plenty of debate about whether Evans and BMC should have waited for the other fallen GC riders, given the proximity to the finish line, but … racing is racing. A few feathers were ruffled, lycra was shredded, skin was lost, and some GC hopes were shattered. Joaquim Rodriguez sustained rib and thumb fractures and was forced to abandon. Evans scooted up to second on GC and showed that he means business, even if it’s not exactly popular.
Stage 7- Bouhanni again?
Nacer Bouhanni again proved that without other top tier sprinters like Kittel (or Cavendish) around, he’s pretty fast. Matthews showed continued class in taking 4th on the stage to continue to retain the GC lead. Perhaps because the next day’s stage contained numerous categorized climbs to shake things up, the GC fight was pretty much placed on hold. The usual daily breakaway spent a lot of time in front of the cameras, before getting swept up by the hungry sprinter’s teams. All in all, it was a fairly routine day… other than the fact a French sprinter was tearing up the roads in the Giro.
Stage 8- Ulissi again!
Diego Ulissi capped off a great ride to take the win in fine form as the Giro hit its first day of real climbing. Still early, and still not as daunting as the climbs of the final week, two Cat 1 and one Cat 2 climb put the hurt on many legs. With the finish at the top of the final Cat 1 climb, it was a day to shake things up. Which it did. Ulissi won the day, but Evans moved into the lead and into pink- perhaps too soon, some would suggest. Matthews, who had fought so gamely on the earlier stages, finally cracked and relinquished the lead to the real GC fighters. Michele Scarponi (Astana), also cracked a bit on the stage and suffered the loss of more than 9 minutes, essentially forfeiting any chance of a decent GC position. Citing soreness from the crash on Stage 6, Scarponi’s GC aspirations were essentially squashed.
Stage 9- Weening is the winner
Finally, for the first time in this Giro, a break survived to the finish of this unsuspectingly difficult stage. Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEdge) outsprinted his other break companion, Davide Malacarne (Europcar), as Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R-La Mondiale) rocketed out of the GC group on the final climb to get third. Pozzovivo’s move on the steepest part of the finish climb gained him 26 seconds on Evans, moving him up to 4th on GC and making him a legitimate threat. A stage winner in the Giro in 2012, Pozzovivo is proving that his small stature is not the measure of his class or intentions. AG2R rode an aggressive race and also showed that their ultra-aggressive racing last season was not a one shot deal. BMC, and the rest of the peloton, took notice. The rest of the GC picture remained essentially unruffled, as the other contenders showed no desire to attack Evans.
Stage 10- Bouhanni?
After a second rest day and a largely flat stage with just a “bump” before the finish, compared to the previous day’s climbs, it was pretty much assured to be a sprint finish. With the top of the last climb less than 10km from the finish line, it was going to be a fast ride to the line. Sadly, as is often the case, there was a crash inside the final 3km, involving Garmin-Sharp’s Tyler Farrar. The Ginger Ninja got tangled with another rider in one the final corners, sending several riders to the ground. Farrar is far too often involved in crashes, certainly making his sprint win opportunities vanish, along with his skin.
Stage 11- Where’s the beef?
For some, Michael Rogers is a “questionable” winner, given the Clenbuterol ban he served before it was lifted by the UCI, citing contaminated beef from racing in China at the Tour of Beijing. Or his hasty departure from team SKY during their “housecleaning” efforts a few seasons ago. Still, on the final descent to the finish line, just over 20km remaining in the race, Rogers attacked the field of GC rivals as they eyeballed each other. Putting his TT World Championship skills to the test (Rogers is a 3x TT World Champ), Rogers quickly opened a gap and never looked back. Finishing 10 seconds ahead of the charging peloton, Rogers was able to savor his first win since being stripped of his Japan Cup win, due to the positive Clenbuterol test. Since it IS the Giro, it wouldn’t be proper to go without a bit of controversy. Gianni Savio’s Androni Giocattoli team missed out on the day’s breakaway, so much to the annoyance of the GC teams, they chased to bring the break back and set up Franco Pellizotti for the possible stage win. Even maglia rosa Evans could not convince Androni (Savio) to relent. The post stage media had a delicious feeding frenzy, and the outspoken Savio was quick to shut Evans and BMC down. (I LOVE THE GIRO!)
Stage 12- Uran over Ulissi and Evans!
Rigoberto Uran (OPQS) scored the biggest win of his career, taking the stage victory and pushing Evans out of the maglia rosa. Evans, who is no stranger to disastrous TTs (anybody remember how he lost the 2008 Tour to Carlos Sastre?), was clearly off his best form, and suffered numerous errors of judgment that sent him off the road. The wet conditions of the day helped nobody, especially Tobias Ludvigsson (Giant-Shimano), who crashed over a barrier and had to exit the race. Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) looked like a possible winner after scorching his way into the lead with his ride, until Uran blew him out of the water by 1:17. All eyes then turned to Evans, who was behind at every time check and began to take increasing risks on the course. After finishing 1:34 behind Uran, the Columbian rider took over the lead, pushing Evans to second place by 37 seconds. With crucial mountain stages beginning Saturday, every second is going to count … and Evans will want those 37 back.
Stage 13- Canola? The oil?
Marco Canola (Bardiani CSF) sprinted out of a three rider remnant of an all day breakaway, taking the biggest win of his young professional career. On a day that looked destined for the sprinters, it was the suicidal breakaway stealing the victory by a very narrow margin. It was the Garmin-Sharp team, attempting to set up Tyler “Crash” Farrar for the win, chasing the break in desperation. In the end, the breakaway remnants had time to play games with each other, jockeying for position prior to the sprint, and still held off the field. Farrar, fortunately, managed to stay upright today, which gave him a great view of Bouhanni winning the field sprint for 4th. So he’s got that going for him.
Big weekend ahead …
The weekend is gonna be decisive in settling the score and the final GC of this Giro. With two epic mountain stages on Saturday and Sunday, before the final brutal stretch to Trieste. Saturday has over 40km of categorized climbing, over four major climbs, and a summit finish on the final Cat 1 climb. Sunday brings one brutal 20km climb with a summit finish up the Cat 1 monster. Time gaps could be race-altering. But if Saturday and Sunday don’t put the final nails into GC coffins, stages 16, 18, 19, and 20 certainly will. The final week of this Giro is packed with painful climbs, crammed close together. It could be the springboard for somebody like Nairo Quintana or Domenico Pozzovivo, or the Waterloo of dreams for riders like Evans. If Uran falters even slightly, there are riders ready to pounce. It’s gonna be one helluva week, and likely more exciting than anything we’ll see in July during the Tour.
There you have it! You are now up to full speed for watercooler conversations in the office to bore your non-cycling coworkers to tears… like their endless conversations about Game of Thrones does to you. Revenge is sweet, is it not?!