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.
I have never before, in 37 attempts, had a Group Ride fall apart within minutes of clicking the Publish button, but last week, that very thing happened. It couldn’t have been ten minutes between the moment I finished writing about Angelo Zomegnan’s failure to invite Team RadioShack to his Giro di Lombardia, and the moment the VeloNews alert hit my in box, declaring the whole thing a misunderstanding.
The only misunderstanding going on, I think, is the powers of the pro peloton thinking we didn’t see through the last minute reversal. The story here, of course, is not really about Zomegnan and RadioShack.
Yes, the Shack stood the Giro d’Italia up, turning down an opportunity to race Italy’s most important race. Yes, Zomegnan was pissed off, offended. The decision not to field even a second string squad for the Giro was offensive, even if it was obvious that the Shack’s American sponsor was going to be more interested in appearing at the Tour of California, which ran concurrently. This is a pissing match between a team without sufficient diplomatic nous to appear humble even when they are not, and a race director looking to plant a stake in the ground as regards the importance of his race.
More than that though, this is about traditional cycling pushing back against the tide of modern cycling. Whether you view the Giro as an old world race and the Tour of Cali as a new school impostor, or you view the doping allegations that dog Lance Armstrong and his cadre of red and gray riders as a sign of the coming apocalypse, this little tiff over the Tour of Lombardy encapsulates many of the tensions seething within pro racing.
Are Zomegnan and his Vuelta a España counterpart, Javier Guillen, objecting to RadioShack’s general comportment, or is this a not-so-subtle way for the Europeans to push back against the globalization of the sport? Are they trying to keep suspected dopers out of their races, or are the doping allegations simply a pretense for playing out their prejudices against the nouveau riche of the sport?
By chalking this little flap up to a clerical error, a breakdown of communication, is to paper over the cracks.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
In Italian bike racing, Angelo Zomegnan is an important, powerful and sometimes sensitive person. The former Gazzetta dello Sport writer is now race director for the Giro d’ Italia, Milan-San Remo, Tirreno Adriatico and the Giro di Lombardia, all owned and organized by RCS Sport. You will recall that, having been notified that Lance Armstrong’s RadioShack team would not be attending the Giro, choosing the Tour of California instead, Zomegnan chose not to invite the Shack to Tirreno Adriatico either.
Apparently, there was a subsequent agreement, made after Armstrong called Zomegnan directly, to allow Radio Shack to ride in the Giro di Lombardia. In fact, according to the Shack, a contract of some sort was signed guaranteeing them an invitation. Then, Zomegnan decided not to invite the American team after all, and now they have filed a suit in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) seeking to be admitted to the last big Italian race of the season.
It has been alleged that Zomegnan’s pique with the Shack began when Armstrong did not appear for Milan-San Remo, as expected. Then, when Armstrong’s team opted out of the Giro, the Italian director wrote the squad off entirely. Whether or not this is the case, and remember that Vuelta a España director Javier Guillén also chose not to invite RadioShack to his race this year, is only conjecture, until Zomegnan steps forward and confirms it.
Shack rider Janez Brajkovic finished second at Lombardia in 2008, so RadioShack believes it deserves to be at the race start. Armstrong himself never planned to be at Lombardia, but Levi Leipheimer had the race on his schedule, so two riders with legitimate chances for the overall win suggests the team was taking it seriously.
This week’s Group Ride asks the question: What should have happened here? Should Zomegnan have invited the Shacks? Or has RadioShack peed in the proverbial pool? Has their decision not to race the Giro given European race organizers the reason they needed to cross the team off their lists? Is it about Armstrong personally? Or is it about the way the team has conducted themselves?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Putting aside the controversy du jour/semaine/mois/année, can we all just agree that this Giro d’Italia has not only been the best race of the 2010 season, but the best Grand Tour in recent memory? Can we? If not, there’s a comments section. Lodge your protest there.
For me, this race has been a huge breath of fresh O2. Between successful breakaways (enough that I’m questioning my stance on race radios) and unexpected results (Richie Porte anyone?) and strong men on steep hills, I am beginning to think that Angelo Zomegnan (race organizer) is something of a genius. And they haven’t even crested the Gavia yet!
This week’s Group Ride is sort of a compendium of questions. Where does this Giro stack up against other recent Grand Tours? Why do you think this one has been so good? If Ivan Basso wins the overall, how will you feel about that? Do you think someone else will take the GC? Are Italian podium girls prettier than French ones? Has the Tour of California hurt or helped the Giro? Does Andre Greipel deserve to ride the Tour de France? What happened to Team Sky and Bradley Wiggins? Does it matter? What did you think of the Dutch prologue? Too much road furniture? Has Carlos Sastre’s 21st Grand Tour been disappointing, or is Charlie just passed it now?
Let’s talk about it. Let the craic ensue.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International