No one can stay on their bike at the Giro d’Italia this year. From the roll out in Denmark, it’s been bodies on the road. Mark Cavendish took stage 2 after a crash in the closing 150 meters. Theo Bos lost his front wheel and took out a slew of others. This was after Pink Jersey wearer Taylor Phinney crashed with 8kms to go, and then chased back on to save the shirt.
Stage 3 saw Matt Goss win, but the big story was behind him, where Roberto Ferrari of Androni-Giacottoli made a sudden dart to the right, taking out Cavendish, Phinney and others. It was Phinney’s second time on the ground in two days, and the toll would show on the youngster’s face in the TTT on Stage 4 where he relinquished his leader’s jersey to Ramunas Navardauskas of Garmin-Barracuda.
More bad luck for the American on Stage 5, where he was caught up behind a crash 35kms out, but fought his way back to the lined-out group.
Then it was time for Garmin-Baracuda to get theirs, as Stage 6 saw the abandonment of Tyler Farrar. Thor Hushovd and Roman Feillu got off their bikes too, though the circumstances of their exits was still unclear.
There was an interesting piece about all the pile-ups in today’s sprints on Bicycling.com the other day, touching on some of the themes we hear regularly now. Too much speed, too little respect, the UCI’s stupid rules, all of it contributing to the chaos.
But, what do you think is going on? A year on from Wouter Weylandt’s death, how will top-level racing get safer? Or is this just how it is, a sport for tough guys and girls, willing to sacrifice skin and bone for elusive success? Is this the downside of pro-racing, or is it just part of the entertainment, sick as that may sound?
As teams at the fringes of the ProTour struggle to find and keep sponsors, a few super teams have risen to the top of the sport. BMC, Team Sky and RadioShack-Nissan have thrown their large budgets at cadres of the best riders, and conventional wisdom suggests these are the teams who will be vying for the lion’s share of the podium spots in the year’s biggest races.
But things seldom go to script in top level racing. Despite the financial clout wielded by the super teams, talented racers from other squads will certainly muscle their way into the spotlight.
For example, BMC have Philippe Gilbert and Thor Hushovd for the Spring Classics. Fabian Cancellara rides for RadioShack-Nissan. Those three riders will go on every favorite’s list for each of the big spring flings. But OmegaPharma-Quickstep believe their one-two punch of Tom Boonen and Sylvain Chavanel can pull off big results, surrounded as they are by northern European strong men.
No conclusion is forgone, unless of course the Schlecks are involved in a two-up sprint against my grandmother, in which case grammy is going to need some help shaking up that magnum of champagne.
All kidding aside, there are dark horses that aren’t so dark. Who are they?
It would be ridiculous to call Alberto Contador a dark horse, but, assuming he’s not suspended, he’s the prohibitive favorite to win the Tour de France this summer. BMC’s Cadel Evans, RS-N’s Schleck brothers and Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins will have their work more than cut out for them, and that is pro cycling’s top prize.
If Boonen were to take either Paris-Roubaix or the Tour of Flanders, or as last year, Garmin-Baracuda were to pull of the tactical coup they executed at Roubaix last season, that would take another shiny bauble off the table.
Mark Cavendish will be the favorite for Milan-San Remo glory, but does anyone think Matt Goss and Greenedge won’t be there to contest? This week’s Group Ride asks: Who are the riders who will ruin the party for the super teams? Who are the dark horses? And where will they win?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International