The trouble with remembering Marco – Giro 2014 week 2 round up

Giro d’Italia 2014 week 2 (ish) – stages 10 through 16

Before we look at the racing consider the unhappy anniversary that was ‘celebrated’ during the second week of this years Giro; Marco Pantani died ten years ago. If the circumstances surrounding Pantani’s death in a Rimini hotel room weren’t uncomfortable enough to remember the sense of awkwardness has been increased as todays riders and commentators have tried to walk the line between recognising his talent while acknowledging his doping.

Marco Pantani - Saint or Sinner?
Marco Pantani – Saint or Sinner?

Marco Pantani’s legacy seems to exist in an in between state, like some kind of lycra clad fallen angel. On the one hand a climber (albeit EPO fuelled) of verve and passion who, at least at the time, was the antithesis of Lance Armstrong. On the other a tragic case who struggled to cope with the literal and figurative come down of his ban (for a high hematocrit rating)  during the ’99 Giro. It might seem ghoulish to wonder how Pantani would be regarded now if he had lived, but it’s reasonable to assume he wouldn’t be venerated quite as much as he is by certain sections of cycling fans and the media. You only have to look back at last years Giro and the subsequent ban of Danilo Di Luca to see that there are no pedestals for the majority of grand tour winners who are Italian and have a chequered history of PED use.

Pantani’s death however tragic and some would argue avoidable has also provided his reputation with the kind of metaphorical cleansing that a Di Luca or Ballan would (if you will allow it) die for. Pantani remains a hero for many, particularly in his native land. Even if the organisers hadn’t pitched this years edition as a Pantani celebration the graffiti that adorns the climbs of the Giro would still have appeared. Not everyone has appreciated the retrospective however. Knowing Pantani’s past, it’s difficult to look at the footage that has been served up as an example of the rider at his best without asking “Could he have done the same thing clean?”. Certainly there are sections of fans out there that feel that Pantani isnt a rider that should be celebrated. Thus after criticism came their way after one Pantani ‘epic’ was shown, commentators had to admit that the celebration was at the very least dividing opinion.

In many ways Marco Pantani reminds VCSE of a (Paul) Gascoigne or (George) Best type figure. Undoubtably talented but how much more or less was achieved due to his substance abuse can never be known. He probably deserves his elevated status as cycling icon as much as he should be condemned as another rider who doped to win. In a Giro where it’s looking increasingly likely that a rider from the new generation will win, might the organisers reflect on the irony of 2014 being the year of Pantani.

This years race entered week two with Cadel Evans in the Maglia Rosa, closely followed by Rigoberto Uran and Rafal Majka around a minute or so further back. Stage 10 following the rest day didn’t offer much of interest for the GC but did see another win for Nacer Bouhanni who continued as the chief beneficiary of Marcel Kittel’s early exit. It was business as usual for the GC on stage 11 too, but in this Pantani year an interesting ‘doping’ (or not) vignette played out when Tinkoff Saxo’s Mick Rogers attacked off the final climb and managed to stay away for the stage win. Rogers has just returned to racing after being cleared of taking a banned substance following a positive test in last years Tour of Bejing. The story behind why Rogers left Sky at the end of 2012 for the then Saxo Bank squad is one we will leave for another day, but it was clear to see that the win meant a lot to the Australian and demonstrates that for many riders who were active in the 2000’s the act of winning has changed.

All of which took us to the individual TT and a change in the lead. Colombian riders have been known to surprise in TT’s and this year it was Uran’s turn to show he had the speed. Evans had a test to forget losing the over a minute on the stage and the GC lead to Uran. Diego Ulissi missed out on a third stage win so far in this years Giro after occupying the hot seat for much of the stage. Nairo Quintana, last years Columbian TT surprise package was further down the order and trying to shift a cold before the peloton reaching the mountains at the weekend.

After two stage wins for wild cards Bardiani, including a repeat stage win for Enrico Battaglin the peloton moved on to the Pantani stage to Montecampione. Winner here was Astana’s new team leader Fabio Aru, just going to show that being tipped for a low profile performance by this blog is the perfect ingredient for serving up a stage win. The curse of VCSE similarly struck Domenico Pozzovivo who dropped to 6th on GC after struggling on this stage and the one before. The home fans, eager to pin their hopes on someone, thus transferred the allegiance from Pozzovivo to Aru after the star performer of the previous weekend saw his form dip. Uran remained in the Maglia Rosa, but his grip seemed as unconvincing as Evans’ had done before him.

And so to today’s (Tuesday) stage. Featuring the Gavia and Stelvio passes that had proved so snow bound the previous year that the race enjoyed another (unscheduled) rest day, this year the peloton would be forced to negotiate not only these two, but a finishing climb to Val Martello, a 14% series of S bends.

The weather almost conspired to neuter the stage. The descent off the Gavia had proved difficult although (for such a injury strewn race) crash free. Snow falling at the top of the Stelvio led to confusion over a neutralised descent. What appeared to happen is that some riders wanted to race despite the conditions and did so. Notable among the hardest of the hard men (everyone was today) was Sky’s Dario Cataldo, first over the top and eschewing dry clothes and food to race away to the valley floor 25km below.

Behind Cataldo a split had developed between the Maglia Rosa group that included Evans and Pozzovivo and an elite selection that included Quintana, Pierre Rolland and Ryder Hesjedal. Quintana was always going to be the strongest climber out of this group and as Uran fell further behind and out of the race lead it was Rolland who cracked first. Hesjedal who had abandoned his decidedly retro eyewear somewhere in a Stelvio snow drift had seemed to be suffering back on the pass yet somehow managed to stay on Quintana’s wheel until almost the bitter end. For all of that, his reward was only to get back into the top 10, Rolland did better to jump from 8th to 4th at Aru’s expense.

So the lead has passed from one Columbian to another. VCSE suggested that Uran needed to prove his worth as a GC contender to his Omega Pharma team at this Giro and to an extent he has. Taking the jersey on the TT shows another side to his climbing and with another (uphill) TT to follow Uran may have another card to play. If he’s to have any chance of wresting the Maglia Rosa from Quintana however, his team need to do a much better job of protecting him. Uran is currently using too many matches trying to match the pace and tactics of his rivals who often have a rider to spare.

Evans somehow remains third and may yet stay there if he can continue to hold a wheel. This is pretty much the tactic he employed at last years race, but the suspicion has to be that he will be less succesful doing this with Quintana than he was with Uran. Uran, until today, managed to ride into the lead and keep it by riding conservatively and not losing much time. He has enough of a lead over Evans in third that suggests that a repeat of last years second place is possible if not the outright win. Quintana, over his cold, looks like the man to beat.

Third place is harder to call. There’s less than a minute between Evans in 3rd and Hesjedal in 9th. It’s easy to see Rolland, Majka or Aru having a good day or two and taking the final podium place, but for all that he has disappointed in week two Pozzovivo is well placed to strike at 3.49 in 7th place.

Tomorrow’s stage should be a bit of a rest day for the GC, but it’s followed by two mountain stages bookending the uphill ITT stage 19. We will see the final GC shake out on Saturday on Monte Zoncolan and if first and second places looked nailed on, the minor places are still wide open. But this is the Giro and the weather and the race may still have some surprises in store. The key stage may yet prove to be the TT on Friday.

VCSE’s Giro 2014 Preview

The first of this year’s grand tours begins on Friday in Belfast. Unless you’re a resident of the Emerald Isle the 2014 edition of the Giro d’Italia feels a bit low key. Last year’s route promised epic stages with classic climbs like the Stelvio and Gavia and a match up between Vincenzo Nibali racing for his home tour against the 2012 Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins. As things turned out Wiggins never really offered much of a challenge for the Maglia Rosa and mother nature intervened to curtail or even cancel the marquee stages.

Vincenzo Nibali - Giro 2013 Winner
Vincenzo Nibali – Giro 2013 Winner

There’s been something of a changing of the guard since then with Wiggins pretty much finished as a grand tour GC contender and with Chris Froome how seen as the man to beat Nibabli will not defend his title, choosing instead to race against Froome in the Tour. Giro organisers will miss Nibabli but will somewhat happier if they manage to avoid any positive drug tests this year (even posthumously). Last year’s wild card entry Vini Fantini had questionably included admitted doper Danilo Diluca in their line up and his subsequent positive for EPO suggested that this particular leopard couldn’t change it’s spots.

So this years race lacks much of a narrative outside of the three stages that will take place in Ireland over the coming weekend. The GC contenders aren’t from the first rank (with the possible exception of Joaquim Rodriguez) , but this could actually make for a more interesting race and the chance that the final GC positions could be decided in the final week.

Riders to watch at the 2014 Giro

With Nibali missing Astana have handed the team leadership to Michele Scarponi. He’ll be backed by a decent group of domestiques, but it’s hard to see him as the potential winner. VCSE is surprised to see Scarponi attracting stronger odds than Garmin’s Dan Martin, although this is probably due to Scarponi’s likely consistency which should see him safely inside the top 10. Martin is Garmin’s GC leader for this years race, even though 2012 winner Ryder Hesjedal is also present. Jonathan Vaughters wants Martin to step up and show he can be a feature in a three week stage race and the ‘Irishman’ seems to be taking some form into the race. VCSE suspects that Martin will fade early on, but may come back with a big stage win towards the end of the race.

The bookies favourtite is Movistar’s Nairo Quintana. The Columbian who swept up a podium place and the KOM and young rider jerseys at last years Tour still has to play second fiddle to Alejandro Valverde in the Spanish sponsored team so he leads at the Giro. The story unravels a little when you remember that Quintana hasn’t done anything much this season. Last year he could point to a stage race win in the Basque country. This year; nothing like that. It feels a little bit like Quintana is being promoted on the back of his results from last year. Undoubtably talented, VCSE just isn’t sure Quintana has the legs this year. He might be a rider that stays out of trouble until the big mountain stages and then come to the fore, but if Quintana doesn’t work it’s hard to see Movistar snatching stage wins the way they did in 2013.

We’ve already mentioned Joaquim Rodriguez who targeted the Giro early in the year in the hope that he could make the step from podium to winner in a grand tour. He’s collected a podium at all three grand tours now and feels that he has unfinished business at the Giro after going so close in 2012. Trouble is he’s carrying an injury from his classics appearances and unless he’s undergone some sort of miracle cure in the last two weeks he isn’t going to figure and might even be an abandon before the race is over. J-Rod isn’t attracting great odds, but the bookies money looks safe based on actual racing.

Another rider who targetted the race early is BMC’s Cadel Evans. Unlike Rodriguez, Evans has form too with a win in the Giro del Trentino in the last few weeks. Evans was a bit of surprise package in last years race, pretty much written off beforehand, but doggedly clinging on in the GC to finish a distant third to Nibabli. In the absence of stronger opposition and supposing VCSE has got it right so far with our predictions Evans should be disappointed if he doesn’t get a repeat appearance on the Giro podium and maybe even go one or two places better than 2013. Last years podium triumvate was rounded out with Rigoberto Uran, then of Sky now of Omega Pharma Quick Step. Subject of the OPQS ‘are we a GC team?’ schizo transfer policy Uran must have thought he had arrived when he joined the team. Unfortunately, for Uran it’s been ‘Mo’money.. mo’ problems’ as his form has dipped and he looks emasculated by Michael Kwiatowski. The saving grace for Uran is that Kwiatowski will race the Tour and Uran will lead in Italy. Can he forget that his team wonder why they spent the money and do something (maybe even remind them why they spent the money in the first place)? It will be interesting to see which Uran turns up on Friday.

There’s a few outsiders to keep a look out for; good bets for the top ten or a stage win or two. Tinkoff Saxo will be led by Nico Roche who came of age in last years Vuelta and who has really grown in stature since joing Bjarne Riis’ team. Roche kept up bravely when the climbs went into double digit inclines in Spain and unless he’s developed an extra gear in the off season he will probably come similarly undone in Italy. He’s a good shout for a medium mountain stage and top ten finish. Leading Roche’s old team AG2R is Domenico Pozzovivo an Italian in a French team, a possible KOM or stage winner and a likely top ten contender.

Last years points jersey was taken by Mark Cavendish, giving him a points victory in each of the grand tours. As with the Tour the points jersey in the Giro is not a shoe in for a sprinter and many expected Cavendish to abandon his attempt rather than take on the highest climbs. The fact that his nearest rival for the Maglia Rosso was Evans indicates how hard Cavendish had to work, right up until the final day, to win. It’s less likely that a sprinter will claim the prize this year unless Marcel Kittel decides that any Cav can do, he can do also. Rather like the GC, the remainder of the sprint pack are of the second rank, although Elia Viviani’s recent wins in Turkey suggest that he could do damage. Doing damage, if not actually winning anything the two wheel equivilant of hand grenades with their pins removed are FDJ’s Nacer Bouhanni and Lampre’s Roberto Ferrari.

VCSE’s Giro 2014 GC Tips 

1. Quintana 2. Evans 3. Uran 

Stages to watch at the 2014 Giro 

Stage 3 – Armagh to Dublin 

OK so this stage is proceeded by another sprint stage but when the race crosses the border into the south we’ll see how much the Giro has really been taken to Irish hearts. This is stage to be watched as much for the crowds as it will be for the actual result. Kittel could claim the Maglia Rosa ahead of the peloton’s return to Italy on Tuesday.

Stage 6 – Sassano to Monte Cassino

Scene of some of the bloodiest fighting of the second world war this is one of the longest stages in the race and finishes with a climb to the monastery. Mostly flat for the majority of the stage, it’s not much of climb so might fall to a puncheur or a late break.

Stage 8 – Foligno to Monte Copiolo

A cat 1 followed by a cat 2 with another cat 1 summit finish should see the first GC selection and round of the first week proper of this years Giro.

Stage 14 – Aglie to Oropa 

A week after stage 8 and another cat 1, 2, 1 combination and summit finish to further shake up the GC. If the race does follow a similar pattern to last year, we will know the winner at the end of this stage. If…

Stage 16 – Ponte di Legno to Val Martello Martelltal

The stage that never was from last year with the Stelvio and Gavia tackled in one day and a summit finish thrown in for fun. RCS will be praying for good weather.

Stage 19 – Bassano del Grappa to Cima Grappa

To get over the climbs of the Giro and lose the race in a time trial could seem unfair, but this TT is straight up. If some GC riders can take an advantage through a stronger team this stage is about one rider against the climb and the clock only. If stage 19 does decide the outcome of the 2014 Giro the winner will deserve his victory.

Stage 20 – Maniago to Monte Zoncolan 

The race may have already been one, but the finish will still be spectacular. Perhaps the only marquee climb that was missing from last years race and given star billing this year.

Giro 2014 Route

The all encompassing end of season round up – World Championships and UCI Election

2013 World Championships – Tuscany 

It’s been a while since our last post where Wiggo and Cav were leaving home shores to support Chris Froome in his tilt at the world championships in Tuscany. Ahead of that Sir Brad was heading for his seasons goal (if we all forget about the Giro) of the individual time trial. Would he assist Froome in the road race a few days later and what exactly would Cavendish be doing, other than proudly representing his country.

Individual Time Trial

VCSE isn’t aware if there was a representative from every nation on the globe at this years world championships, but in the category for ‘country with quite a lot going on at the moment..’ Syria managed to enter a rider in the men’s Elite TT on the fourth day of the week long cycling festival in the Tuscan hills. Nazir Jaser propped up the field in 77th place, which isn’t the point really. While you ask, “How does he manage to train?”, if not where it’s worth noting that last place was only a shade over 15 minutes behind the winning time of Tony Martin and his average speed over the 57.86km course was nearly 43kph. We will never know if would have beaten the two Ugandan entrants as unfortunately they did not start.

English: 2011 UCI Road World Championships – M...
World Champion – Tony Martin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The much trailed match up between the (relative) elder statesmen of the test, Wiggins and Cancellara, was won by the Englishman. This was the undercard though; Tony Martin was the man to beat from the earliest of time checks and Wiggins second place suggested both riders were peaking at just the right time. Cancellara had opted not to take time information (neither had Wiggins), but the battle for second and third places seemed to come down to his fast out of the starters hut approach verses Wiggins slow(er) build to a peak in the final quarter.

Wiggins has been less bullish as the sands of this years racing have ebbed away and seems more comfortable with the fact that he has been beaten by the better man, at least in terms of performance on the bike by Martin and perhaps psychologically earlier this year by Froome as he lost his number one status at Sky.

Cancellara had bested Martin in the Vuelta as Wiggins in turn had beaten the Radioshack rider in Poland shortly after the Tour. The edge that each protagonist sought over his rivals ebbed and flowed as the main event approached. There is a sense of drama, even in what is to some people the dullest of cycling disciplines when watching Wiggins or Cancellara. Martin however is a metronome, even if below the skinsuit and aero helmet the physical and mental toll is playing just as viscerally for him.

As Martin took more than 15 minutes out of our Syrian friend Jaser so he took the best part of a minute out of Cancellara and Wiggins. The Sky rider who had gone to Tuscany to win announced that he was “..happy with second”. Watching Tony Martin that day who could have doubted he meant it.

Women’s Road Race 

As it must have been when Eddy Merckx was at his peak Marianne Vos’ name on the start sheet casts a long shadow over the rest of the field. That she began the Elite Women’s Road Race as favourite was unsurprising. Of more interest as the race started was the race strategy of some teams to deploy almost their entire teams to try and beat the dominant rider in the field.

First the Americans and as the race reached the final stages the Italian team attempted to set a pace to try and split the field and tire out, if not Vos then her Dutch teammates. The climbs that suggested the possibility of a GC contender taking the men’s race the following day played their part in the womens’s race also as the sole remaining US rider Evelyn Stevens attacked on the penultimate climb. This wasn’t the final ascent of the Mur de Huy in the 2012 Fleche Wallone and the small advantage gained was soon gathered in by the remaining group.

Arguably it was the Italians who held the most cards, with three riders the largest group by nationality in the selection. But it was Vos who attacked on the final Salviati climb a short, straight and steep ribbon of freshly laid tarmac covered in so many fan’s messages they had become almost indecipherable. The ease with which Vos reached, overtook and then rode away from her rivals left you wondering if you had just seen every other rider drop the heads and concede the race there and then. There had been no shortage of effort thus far and the selection contained some of the greatest female riders currently racing. Did the fact that she made it look so easy, so effortless sow an immediate seed of self doubt that Vos could not be beaten.

You cannot dislike Marianne Vos, despite her dominance. Her joy as she crossed the line was not because of the margin or nature of her victory. In her mind this was another milestone, a back to back world title. Her search for the next milestone may take her into other disciplines next year (mountain biking is rumoured), but surely the next challenge for the road would be a hat-trick of rainbow jerseys on the road.

Men’s Road Race

Helicopter and wide angle tracking shots were not in evidence or in fact possible for Sunday’s Elite Men’s Road Race. The heavy rain that had characterised much of the Giro created conditions that meant that the selections and abandonments from the peloton came on each of the ten laps of the Florentine circuit the women had raced the day before.

Mark Cavendish’s role was of hare to the hounds of the peloton the strategy of the British team and those countries protecting a GC type rider to try and exhaust the classics specialists like last years champion Philippe Gilbert and Fabian Cancellara. The pace, perhaps more so the weather, led to the early abandonment of many of the field as riders got dropped and decided it was infinitely preferable to be inside and wearing something other than sodden cycling gear. Chris Froome’s tilt at the title was possibly not as serious as he suggested, although he hadn’t shown much form on his return to racing in the continental US. Ultimately, the entire GB squad got off their bikes and the suggestion afterwards that the race had been used as preparation for the Olympics two years hence was as welcome as the Italian weather. A Froome in better form might have been able to freelance to a better place, even if a win was unlikely.

The win was taken by this years medium mountain specialist, the winner of the Tour de Suisse and two stages at the Tour Rui Costa. He had been in a the select group of riders left contesting the race on the final lap that also included his Movistar teammate Alejandro Valverde (Spain), Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali and Valverde’s compatriot Joaquim Rodriguez. There was almost an even split of GC to classics riders with Gilbert and Cancellara joined by Peter Sagan and Simon Clarke.

As with the women’s race the day previously the Italian’s had some strength in numbers as the finish approached and Nibali seemed well placed if not in a position to dominate the selection. If anything there was an echo of his performances in the Vuelta where he seemed to lack that final 5% that had made him so strong in the Giro. Would this have told at the line? No, Nibali slipped off in the wet and was left to contest a placing. Ahead Rodriguez had attacked and was doing his approximation of time trialing to the finish with Costa in pursuit. Purito might have expected fellow countryman Valverde to cover Costa. Although they were trade teammates at Movistar, Costa had already announced a one year deal with Lampre. Surely, Valverde wouldn’t be complicit in letting Costa catch Rodriguez? Costa had shown his strength in the final kilometres of a race in France in July and he reached Rodriguez’s wheel with time to spare. The little Spaniard and the Portuguese engaged in conversation. It’s not unknown for one rider to offer an inducement (read bribe) at this point to throw the race. Purito may just have enquired if Valverde had put up any fight at all to prevent Costa from getting away.

Based on the relative ease with which Costa had caught him it wasn’t much of a surprise that the seemingly perennial runner up Rodriguez continued his run of podiums while Costa took the win. Purito, who can seem happier with a second or third than many race winners was more subdued this time, a mixture of bafflement and frustration with third place man Valverde. Nibali was an anticlimatic fourth with a “disappointed” Cancellara rounding out the top ten, one place behind last years winner Gilbert.

Brian Cookson wins UCI presidency

The world championships coincided with the UCI presidential elections, also held in Tuscany so delegates could be reminded of what it’s all meant to be about. VCSE hasn’t covered much of the political side of the sport and won’t subject you, the dear reader, to much more than a summary here.

Incumbent Pat McQuaid had been on shaky ground ever since the USADA ‘reasoned decision’ that led to Lance Armstrong’s lifetime ban and stripping of his Tour titles. Even if McQuaid’s handling of the Armstrong affair in particular and the wider question of doping in the sport had been blemish free he couldn’t escape his associations with the Armstrong era. His position was further undermined by the impressive grassroots campaign to overturn his presidential nomination in Ireland and the subsequent messy attempts to get an endorsement from other nations.

Brian Cookson had emerged as his rival after initally endorsing McQuaid. Cookson’s campaign looked well managed in comparison to McQuaid’s, but concerns surfaced about Cookson’s tactics as the contest drew closer. Ultimately, cycling decided on at least the appearance of a break from the past. The rise in prominence of the sport in the UK during Cookson’s time at the helm of British Cycling would be good news for potential sponsors if he is able to raise the profile of cycling in an equally positive way in the next few years.

Like McQuaid, he will be judged first and foremost by how he deals with the legacy, if not the current issues of doping within the sport. Early signs are good with the promise of a closer relationship with WADA and suggestions of some kind of ‘truth and reconciliation’ process. Cookson has shown himself to be a pragmatist by offering to reduce Armstrong’s lifetime ban in return for him lifting the lid on his doping (Armstrong, at least publically, has so far refused to name names). While Armstrong is the tip of the iceberg, it’s the lack of a coherent approach to previous and existing dopers like Danilo Di Luca that cause concern.

Should anyone caught doping get a lifetime ban? Precedent in other sports suggests not, although multiple offences equaling a life ban seem to be accepted as an appropriate response. The standards applied to ‘irregularities’ also seem inconsistent and many riders can be misplaced into the category of dopers where there can be other reasons for this. It’s interesting to compare the current situation of Sky’s Jonathan Tiernan Locke with that of Charly Wegelius for example.

If Cookson is unable to make progress on lifting the Omerta that still exists around doping during his presidency he may end up being viewed as much of poor steward of the sport as McQuaid. He will require the cooperation of the riders and the teams along with the former players, but earning that is what being a politician and administrator is all about surely?

He has at least shown signs of increased support for women’s cycling with the appointment of Tracey Gaudry to Vice President. The introduction of a 2.1 category women’s Tour of Britain from 2014 offers the prospect of a more equal footing for the women’s professional peloton, but more needs to be done to deliver marquee events alongside the men, with a high profile stage race in France being the obvious example.

Another positive (or should that be negative?) for Vini Fantini

Mauro Santambrogio
Mauro Santambrogio (Photo credit: Petit Brun)

It’s been announced this afternoon that Vini Fantini rider Mauro Santambrogio has failed a doping test for EPO. Unlike his erstwhile teammate Danilo Di Luca Santambrogio’s test was carried out in Italy. The findings were discovered at a Rome laboratory after the test was taken ahead of stage 1 of this years Giro d’Italia, held in Naples.

VCSE has picked up on the story this afternoon via social media. At present there hasn’t been any comment officially from Santambrogio’s no doubt soon to be ex employers Vini Fantini, but his DS at the Giro Luca Scinto has already hinted that it could spell the end of the team, stating; “It’s the end of our project”. It’s a blow to VCSE as well after we had backed the rider as one to watch following his performances in early season events like Tirreno Adriatico and his stage 14 win at the Giro last month.

The positive test raises many questions, chiefly would Santambrogio have achieved the same results if he had ridden clean? Although no longer with a world tour team, the move to Vini Fantini at the age of 28 provided a fantastic platform to lead a team and ride for general classification results in addition to stage wins. Assuming Santambrogio offers no defence to the positive test he will have, in effect, ended his career.

How so? If the noises from the peloton are to be believed there appears to be a shift towards lifetime bans for dopers. This was certainly the consensus when Di Luca’s positive test was reported. In practice it is unlikely to happen, if only because sanctions aren’t applied universally. Take the example of Garmin where David Millar is not only an ex doper, but also part owner of the team. In addition to Millar there are riders on Garmin like Christian Van de Velde and David Zabriskie who served bans in the off season after their part in the Lance Armstrong / USADA case. Garmin maintain a transparent anti doping stance and where formed as such. The riders on the team who have doped in the past have ultimately come forward and cooperated with the anti doping authorities. This is not the case with other teams, where although an anti doping stance is implied it is not always explicit how this is applied.

Team Sky’s zero tolerance anti doping policy is the other high profile example from the world tour. This has proved to be a blessing and a curse for Sky as it essentially relies on the preparedness of team members to be open about doping. Prior to the Lance Armstrong ‘reasoned decision’ Sky had unwittingly employed ex dopers who subsequently left the team when the Armstrong story broke. As far as VCSE is aware there aren’t any other world tour teams who maintain such a highly visible anti doping stance as Garmin and Sky. Garmin’s approach appears to have its merits in that riders who admit to having doped in the past can remain with the team, although the emphasis here is ex doper. Former professional rider turned DS Matt White was sacked by Garmin after recommending a doctor closely associated with doping to a rider on the team.

Sky’s zero tolerance policy seems simple enough, but it was easy for riders and staff to circumvent it by just not saying anything about their past. Where zero tolerance falls down for VCSE is that Sky have lost talent from the team (back room staff in particular) by not allowing the chance of rehabilitation. It has also led to questions being asked when someone leaves the team under ‘unusual’ circumstances.

Students of the cycling biography (Tyler Hamilton & David Millar being obvious examples) will know that teams historically employed some kind of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ approach. The reality of this was probably that don’t ask and don’t tell was the grey, middle area between teams that openly employed a doping strategy (open within the confines of the team bus that is) and teams that left the riders to make their own arrangements, safe in the knowledge that a professional rider would always ‘prepare’ properly for a big race.

VCSE believes that road racing is pretty clean at present. The fact that riders are testing positive suggests that the anti doping controls that are in place are working and the teams are taking appropriate action if a rider tests positive. The problems begin when considering the wider impact of a positive test. Mauro Santambrogio looked like a rider on the verge of a great year, if not greatness having joined a new team. Tyler Hamilton talked about how he achieved some of his greatest results riding clean, but as a doper all of his results carry that taint. It’s the same for Santambrogio, who finds himself, quite legitimately under scrutiny for every placing this year, if not in previous years before that.

VCSE wraps up the 2013 Giro

Giro stages 20 & 21 – Silandro to Tre Cime di Lavaredo & Riese Pio X to Brescia 

One of the recurring themes of this years Giro, if not the entire season so far, has been the (unseasonal) weather. Perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised anyone for it to have snowed in the Alps and the Dolomites, but heavy snowfall in the run up to and morning of Stage 19 saw its cancellation. With earlier stages effected by the route changing or being shortened, losing what had promised to be one of, if not the most iconic climbing stage was a massive blow. Probably the only rider in the peloton unhappy about getting an additional rest day was Vincenzo Nibali. Although he had dominated the second time trial, the chances to demonstrate his superiority via a stage win shrank by half with the loss of the Stelvio and Gavia from the race.

RCS wouldn’t have asked for the story that did come to dominate the day instead; Danilo Di Luca’s positive EPO test announced at almost the same time as stage getting cancelled. Di Luca was without a team at the start of the season and the was only 72 hours between the test being carried out and the announcement that he would be riding for Vini Fantini at the Giro. His attempts to animate the race, if not pick up a stage win had fizzled out pretty quickly so an immediate conclusion to draw was; doping to what advantage? Di Luca himself was pretty tight lipped. There was talk of ‘B’ samples to be checked. His team were more decisive, sacking him on the spot. The comments, from those members of the peloton that chose to, was (at least) unequivocal in condemming Di Luca as an example of once a doper always a doper. On a scientific note, the positive test was carried in a German lab where  rumour has it that micro dosing of EPO can be established. If this is fact rather than speculation it raises a couple of interesting points. One, in the doping ‘arms race’, are the testers edging ahead of the cheats finally? Two, was this a rider of a previous generation unable to race without taking performance enhancing drugs or not sophisticated enough to avoid detection?

After losing the previous days stage and the dread of a doping story the likelihood was that the organisers would have run any kind of stage the following day. To circumvent the worst of the weather the stage stayed in the valleys before taking in the climb to Tre Cime di Lavaredo. Although this resulted in 90% of the stage feeling pretty dull, the final kilometres more than made up for it. In fact, the route climbed steadily for most of the day, although the gradient was barely noticeable most of the time. As the km’s clicked up the temperature began to fall and the riders began to add the layers. The contrast between the conditions at the start of the stage and at the finish line gave the appearance of two separate races held on two separate days.

English: Vincenzo Nibali, winner of the 75th V...
Vincenzo Nibali in his first Grand Tour win – the 2010 Vuelta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For Vincenzo Nibali this was his last chance to cement, barring accidents, overall victory with a stage win. While the previous years winner, the now departed Ryder Hesjedal was recognised as a great champion, his win had been achieved without an individual stage success. For Nibali, the sense was a stage win would provide the required backdrop. His Astana teammates, who got stronger as the race went on got him into a great position for the final climb, emphasised by their own high placings at the finish. As the weather closed in, Nibali just seemed to get stronger with only one of his GC rivals, Rigoberto Uran who finished nearly 20 seconds down, in touch at the finish. Cadel Evans had looked broken on the stage, although he later cited a mechanical that caused him to give up his second place overall to Uran. It was a good day all round for Colombian riders with Carlos Betancur and Fabio Duarte finishing 1,2,3 (in fact 4, 3, 2 respectively) behind Nibali. He could smile through the cold as he took part in three separate presentations (he also took over the points jersey from Mark Cavendish) knowing that he had all but won the 2013 Giro.

The final stage of the Giro, unlike the Tour, is not run neutralised. With the destination of most of the jerseys resolved however, the peloton seemed happy enough to cruise into Brescia on the last day. No champagne or even prosecco was in evidence although there were some pizza deliveries being made from the team cars. Vincenzo Nibali was resplendent in pink, happy to up the quotient to socks and helmet if not to make any changes to his bike which stayed resolutely white and blue throughout the race. Carlos Betancur had ridden into the young riders jersey the previous day, which left just the Maglia Rosso points jersey up for grabs.

Mark Cavendish had been in and out of the points lead for the three weeks of the race. We had touched on the difficulties for a sprinter to win the points competition at the Giro in our Giro preview, going so far as to say that the challenge would probably see Cavendish abandon before the mountains. A look at his rivals for the jersey indicated the challenge; Nibali, Evan, Betancur etc. If he could take both intermediate sprints on the final stage,  Cavendish would be back in the lead and virtually assured of taking the Maglia Ross0. A flash of the legendary Cavendish temper ahead of the second sprint. As the peloton began their laps of the Brescia circuit a lone Andrioni rider made a break. Cavendish having reached a gentlemen’s agreement with Nibali that he (Nibali) wouldn’t race for the points, shot off in angry pursuit. Cue much gesticulation and no doubt profanity as attempts to marshal the recalcitrant wild card rider back to the group, Cavendish forced to sprint hard for the line.

On the second lap, another Cavendish sprint and general cussedness as the line was crossed; what was the cause of all of his frustration. The guilty culprit appeared to be the roadbook, certainly Omega Pharm at least didn’t appear to know at what distance the second intermediate fell. All of this was forgetten fortunately when it really mattered as Cavendish easily overhauled the much depleted from three weeks of hard racing sprint field. Elia Viviani probably the only recognised first line sprinter left to rival Cavendish at the death.

And so to the celebrations. Nibali emotional, yet dignified also. Hard to appear so in the hot pink throne that the organisers placed centre stage for him. Cavendish all smiles, 2012 avenged and one a select few riders to have won the points competition in all three grand tours. Betancur, winner of the young riders jersey a great prospect for the future, but here and now celebrating a relatively unsupported result; AG2R finishing the race with only four other riders.

Giro 2013 – postscript 

VCSE always tipped Vincenzo Nibali for the GC ahead of Bradley Wiggins. The spike in the popularity of cycling as a sport in the UK is largely fueled by Wiggins stellar 2012. It’s unfortunate, but somewhat inevitable also that this also polarises a lot of the coverage the sport gets in the UK mainstream media. It’s a good thing that, for example, the BBC covered the Giro the same way it would cover the Tour this year. It’s less positive that the lens through which everything got covered was Wiggins shaped. In fairness VCSE gave up on the daily BBC podcast for just this reason after about stage 4 or 5, so if the tone changed; mea culpa. The focus on Sir Bradley, as the BBC insisted on calling him, across the majority of the media in the UK meant that the reasons to celebrate British success (of which there were plenty) felt airbrushed from coverage more concerned with Wiggins descending difficulties.

The VCSE argument against a Wiggins victory in this years Giro was based on his relative to 2012 poor form coming into the race. Compared to the previous year where he had won pretty much everything he entered, in 2013 Wiggins didn’t have so much as a podium place to celebrate. Sure, things didn’t always go his way; the mechanical on the queen stage of the Trentino, his last race before the Giro a good example. The only crumb on offer was the line offered from Sky that his ‘numbers’ were “better than last year” or that he was climbing better than ever.

With the benefit of hindsight Wiggins climbing wasn’t the issue. There were some surface cracks in the Sky gameplan when their team leader seemed to lack protection that would have prevented him losing time in the early stages due to other riders accidents. Things fell apart on stage 7 with Wiggins inoccuous looking slide on the descent into Pescara. In the wet conditions that seemed to become the default for the rolling stages, Wiggins  remounted but proceeded at a snails pace. Nibali had suffered a slide of his own on the same descent, but the difference in the speed in which he remounted and then got on with things compared to his then joint GC favourite was palpable.

Sky would have expected to go into the first TT with Wiggins positioned to take the GC lead. Although the parcours was not particularly friendly to him, his testing abilities should have given Wiggins the platform to put time into his rivals. Instead, he suffered another mechanical and didn’t gel with his replacement bike, a completely different model. In spite of his bad luck and difficulties with his second bike this was perhaps Wiggins high point in the race. After the inevitable time loss at the first time check he recorded the fastest time over the second (longer) section. Although denied the stage win, Wiggins was back in contention. Unfortunately, the following day the rain was back and with it his descending woes. At one point Wiggins was out the back, but a massive turn from the Sky diesel domestiques got him back to Nibali’s group by the finish. Stage 10, the first summit finish was the big test to see Wiggins could hold onto Nibali who had gone into the lead after the TT. As things turned out Wiggins lost more time on the stage won by teammate Rigoberto Uran. With ramps of 20% in places VCSE’s view is that Wiggins performance on the stage was pretty strong for a rider who climbs at a steady rate, rather than with explosive accelerations. He lost time on the steepest sections, but was coming back at the finish, certainly fairing better on the climb than some his rivals.

Wiggins didn’t lose time the following day, but by the end of stage 12 he was gone. A difficult day where he lost time in heavy rain and the virus he had been suffering from getting worse led to Wiggins departure and Rigoberto Uran’s elevation to team leader. Uran had already leapfrogged his erstwhile team leader on GC at this point and he had unwittingly pointed to what would become the Wiggins narrative following his withdrawl when he (Uran) described himself as “..not like Froome”. There had been speculation before the Giro about what Wiggins would do at the Tour. Wiggins had fueled some of this himself when he declared in an interview that he wanted to lead Sky at the Tour and defend his title. In the week between the end of the Giro and the start of the Dauphine the story rolls on.

Vincenzo Nibali would probably be the first to admit his overall victory would have been enhanced by a fit Bradley Wiggins. Some may feel his achievement was also diminished by the enforced route changes and even cancellation of one stage. This would do him a disservice. Nibali looked the class of the GC field from the outset and while his team looked to have rode into some good form by the end of the race to support him during the final days, Nibali is the kind of rider who is well capable of looking after himself. His next target, supposedly is the Vuelta a race he has won before. Last years Vuelta top 3 were missing from the Giro, but if Nibali can maintain this form he should be a genuine contender for Spain’s grand tour.

The weather and viruses that swept through the peloton caused an attrition rate of nearly 20% including defending champion Ryder Hesjedal. This years Giro was a race to be endured rather than enjoyed. An ambitious and exciting parcours that included climbs of the Telegraphe and Galibier in France as well as the Stelvio and Gavia deserved to be raced and will hopefully feature again, although probably not next year. The doping story was an unfortunate reminder of the darker side of Italian racing, but the way it was handled by the organisers and the effected team gives confidence of the new attitude to drugs in the sport.

There was more British success with Alex Dowsett’s victory in the first TT. Dowsett moved to Movistar from Sky at the beginning of the year and his new team could justifiably claim to be the team of the Giro with stage wins for Giovanni Visconti and Benat Intxausti also.

Bradley Wiggins departure from the Giro spoiled the plans of much of the UK medias editorial which missed an arguably greater British achievement at the race. Mark Cavendish took 5 stage wins on the way to becoming only the fifth rider to win the points classification in all three grand tours. He had to overcome the equal weighting for points finishes on each stage in the Giro as well as getting himself over the climbs. Bradley Wiggins will always be the first British winner of the Tour de France but our greatest stage racer is Mark Cavendish.

Movistars – VCSE’s Racing Digest #10

Giro stages 16, 17 & 18 – Valloire to Ivrea, Carrvaggio to Vicenza & Mori to Polsa 

The curse of VCSE struck Mauro Santambrogio on stage 16 as our tip for a Giro podium place lost significant time on his GC rivals. While the Vini Fantini rider admitted he had a bad day, he was philosophical about his Giro so far saying, “I can’t complain how my Giro has gone.. it’s been great so far” His Vini Fantini DS Luca Scinto felt the loss of time was more a result of a tactics glitch where riders who had gone up the road to cover breaks weren’t available to support Santambrogio on the final climb of the day.

The possibility of bunch finish also fell away as the remaining sprinters in the peloton struggled over a category 3 climb that was harder than it looked in the road book. The GC protagonists had swallowed up the break on the ascent and the went into line astern on a technical descent that allowed Vincenzo Nibali and Cadel Evans to show off their lines.

Benat Intxausti-IMG 2021
Benat Intxausti (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the road flattened into the finish at Ivrea a game of cat and mouse ensued as riders attempted to break out, but in the main the group remained pretty much shackled. Robert Gesink, by this point well down on GC made an attack that did stick, only to suffer a heartbreaking mechanical with less than 2 km to go denying Blanco the consolation of a stage win at this years race. The eventual winner was Benat Intxausti giving him a stage to go with his day in the Maglia Rosa and Movistar their second win in 24 hours.

Stage 17 offered another crack at a win for the sprinters and decent weather again after the snow of the weekend. The weather forecast remained in the headlines ahead of the stage however. Snowfall in the Dolomites had put the mountain stages due later in the week at risk of course alteration and possibly even cancellation.

The parcours was similar to the previous day, with a ‘bump’ in the road to negotiated before the potential of sprint finish for Mark Cavendish to contest. As the GC group reeled in the break on the climb a sense of deja vu was palpable as Cavendish began to weave across the road and lost touch with the group. You have to feel for him in these situations, as with the previous day Cavendish had remained in contention with the peloton only to see his hard work unravel on supposedly gentle climb.

At one stage it looked like it would be Danilo Di Luca who would deliver the self styled ‘killer’ blow, but then a rapid acceleration out of the group came from Sunday’s stage winner Giovanni Visconti. He rode past Di Luca like he was standing still and crested the summit with a half minute advantage. How much of Visconti’s second and Movistar’s third victory in as many days was down to a lack of interest from the GC contenders might be seen as a diminution of the win. Movistar are rapidly becoming the team of this years Giro and the mood in the team must be fantastic at this point with four wins and Benat Intxausti’s day in the Maglia Rosa to celebrate.

Whether or not his rivals would rue their opportunity to put some time into Vincenzo Nibali come Sunday remains to be seen, but for the Astana team leader stage 17 was another step closer to winning this years Giro. With stage 18’s time trial to come, Nibali predicted he could be putting time into Cadel Evans and Rigoberto Uran ahead of the mountain stages on Friday and Saturday.

The TT with an uphill course was never going to favour specialist testers, instead promising the chance of the GC contenders to move up (and down) the leader board. Winners and losers on the day? The rider to emerge with the most ‘credit’ was Nibali, clear winner on the stage and increasing his overall lead to more than 4 mins. That advantage was held over Cadel Evans who lost so much time on the stage Nibali must have entertained thoughts of overtaking him. The difference in both riders body language as they crossed the line was clear to see, but Evans was classy in conceding the stage, if not the race later “Nibali in a class of his own.. Evans, if I may say so myself – abysmal”. He went on to say it was “good training”, a not so subtle note to Tejay Van Garderen about BMC leadership at the upcoming Tour perhaps?

One more bit of news as the day closed was the announcement that poor weather had forced the route for stage 19 to be altered. The prospect of the peloton taking on the Gavia and Stelvio will have to wait for another year.

Where’s Wiggo? – VCSE’s Racing Digest #6

So the Giro is the first grand tour of the year and with that a slightly different spin on the Racing Digest. The Digest is normally put together on a Sunday (or Monday latest) to reflect on the previous weeks racing or for the classics the same day. The challenge with a grand tour and even with some stage races is to try and reflect the big stories without missing the fractional elements that can later be described as ‘this was the moment when..’ etc. For now, we’re going to continue with the weekly post but this will be a compilation of the notes made on the actual day of the stage. This might lead to the kind of unforeseen circumstances where a rider can be described as super strong on one day, only to be out of contention the next. For a stage by stage narrative VCSE thinks it will make more sense to leave the notes on each stage unedited each day, instead of applying hindsight perspective at the end of the week.

Is this the right approach? If you would like to see daily grand tour updates please comment at the foot of the post.

As promised in the Giro preview VCSE will also be posting Giro highlights on our dedicated playlist. Where possible we will use footage with commentary in English but in some cases the best footage available is the official Giro video and this has Italian comms only. The playlist can also be viewed at the foot of the post.

Giro Stage 3 – Sorrento to Marina di Ascea 

The Giro’s fourth longest stage at 222km is just an aperitif for the second longest the day after. Leaving Sorrento Eurosport picked up the live feed before the stages two principal climbs sparing VCSE 70k’s of mostly straight roads (good choice!).

Français : Présentation des coureurs au départ...
Luca Paolini (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The peloton had chased down the break by the start of final climb at Catona. Maglia Rosa Salvatore Puccio was minutes down at this point but the main contenders were all at the head of the race. Ryder Hesjedal looked super strong and made a solo break on the climb but sat up pretty quickly, perhaps just laying down a marker. The race got really animated on the descent. When a rider in the Kazak turquoise sped off everyone thought; Nibali. But no, it was Agnoli closely followed by Hesjedal. Hesjedal’s attack on the climb, followed by him leading on the descent fermented debate that went from pure speculation to pretty well informed. Garmin have ex pro Charly Wegelius as DS for the Giro and Twitter stalwart and Garmin owner Jonathan Vaughters pointed out that the safest place to be on a descent is often out front.

As the race came together again Het Nieuwsblad winner Luca Paolini pushed on. As opportunistic a win as his sub zero semi classic earlier in the year Paolini was more concerned with celebrating his victory than taking time off the rapidly closing pack. Nevertheless his advantage at the line (plus time bonuses) was enough  to put him into the leaders jersey. On a satorial note Paolini’s win was the first in a grand tour for the new style of ‘aero’ helmets* (well since the late 80’s). Most people have accepted the ‘science’ that there’s some kind of performance advantage to wearing one but are equally in agreement that they are not a good look.

With additional time bonuses on offer for the first finishers there was something to Paolini’s pursuers still to race for. Winner of the bunch sprint for non sprinters was.. Cadel Evans! A canny result and a few of the BMC leaders critics silenced. Evans remained outside the top 10 on GC but there’s lots of racing left. The biggest loser on the day was Lampre’s Michele Scarponi, losing his front wheel and ending up at the side of the road with a broken rear mech for his trouble. Your worst nightmare as a GC rider becoming reality and shared with a global television audience. Scarponi can shrug off the road rash but will need to dig deep to make up the time.

Bradley Wiggins remained in second, 17 seconds down on Paolini maintaining his 14 second advantage on Nibali. Hesjedal rode himself back into contention and was only 3 seconds down on Nibali in seventh.

*This may or may not be a fact. VCSE hasn’t seen one of the ugly things cross a line first this year but we are open to correction!

Giro stage 4 – Policastro Bussentino to Serra San Bruno 

With the benefit of hindsight this was probably not the best stage to watch live. Picking up the race with around 100 kilometres to go the remainder of the stage was run along the coast on pretty much entirely straight roads until the final two climbs at 40km from the line. Was the modern black top following the route of some ancient Roman road? We weren’t enlightened and made do with spotting ‘things you can see in the peloton’ for the first hour or so of Eurosport’s coverage. Even the moto’s were looking for ways to keep themselves amused and we were treated to an upside down shot of the field at one point. With Paolini in the Maglia Rosa, Sky were happy to let another team do the work on the front for a change and Katusha put in a big effort. Wiggins was able to sit back in the pack and catch up with Cavendish; cue much conversation on social media about whether or not Cav would be asking about the leadership at the Tour this year.

There was an early break which included the Giro’s first ever Greek entrant; Euskatel’s Ioannis Tamouridis. The main excitement this caused was when Androni’s Emanuele Sella was unceremoniously sent back to the peloton in disgrace for daring to take the virtual GC lead. The stage came back together with around 40km to go as the road began to climb properly. There were a number of brave solo efforts on the stage that warrant a mention. Euskatel’s Miguel Minguez Ayala managed to stay away the longest out of the original break, despite being handicapped at one point by his DS’s bizarre decision to hand him half a dozen bidons. As the final climb wound its way up around near 180 degree hairpins AG2R’s Sylvain George made a bid for a glory gaining nearly a minute twenty at one stage.

These two solo’s were topped by Vini Fantini veteran Danilo Di Luca (he does have an older teammate actually) who showed some class to get over the summit with something to spare and then provided a lesson in how to descend at speed in very wet conditions. It was always going to be touch and go for Di Luca to take the win and he bowed to the inevitable with a few hundred metres left and was overhauled by the group that included Paolini, Evans and Hesjedal.

The irony for Di Luca and Vini Fantini was that the stage was won by another Italian from a pro-conti team, this time a rider at the start of their career: Bardiani Valvolve’s Enrico Battaglin. A big win for the team after losing a major sponsor last year and a massive one for the rider. Paolini could look forward to another day in pink, but the big GC mover was Nibali who recovered from a late wheel change and picked up 17 seconds on Wiggins who dropped to 6th on the same time as Hesjedal*. Cadel Evans, who was in the mix at the finish picked up more places and moved into the top 10, 42 seconds down.

* Wiggins got caught up in someone else’s crash with less than 3km to go. Ordinarily he would have been awarded the same time as the group he had been in (Paolini etc.) but transponder info suggested Wiggins had already been dropped by the leading group at this point. The time lost could be crucial over a 3 week race.

Giro Stage 5 – Cosenza to Matera 

A similar profile to the previous days stage albeit shorter by 40 kilometres. The penultimate climb at Montecaglioso wasn’t worthy of a profile in the road book but proved enough of a challenge to shell some of the big names in sprinting. Beforehand the stage was at its most animated at the finish in Matera as torrential rain turned the finish straight into a fast flowing river.

There was a break up ahead but the peloton were in a relaxed mood on pretty much straight roads. The lack of action provided ample opportunity to discuss the ‘controversy’ of Bradley Wiggins losing time on yesterdays stage. Wiggins later admitted that he had been gapped on the run in which meant that one of the more lurid theories, Rigoberto Uran in league with Nibali to upset his team leader, could be discounted.

The English TV feed has featured a DS from each of the teams speculating on what types of rider the day’s stage will favour. Today’s representative Dirk Demol of Radioshack fancied a sprint finish and as the break was reeled in ahead of the final climbs it was the sprinters teams leading the chase. The best laid plans of Omega Pharma and Orica Greenedge fell apart going up Montecaglioso. Mark Cavendish, despite the attentions of three teammates was reduced to riding zigzags as the peloton split apart.

The riders had endured a downpour of their own at this point and the run in the finish in the hilltop town of Matera was still wet. With a series of 90 degree corners into the final uphill finish there was always the chance of a crash. The final bend featured rather more white road markings than you would choose if you had to take them at speed in the wet. One of John Degenkolb’s Argos Shimano lead out was down and in trying to avoid him another (larger) crash ensued. On the finishing straight it looked for a moment that a Bardiani rider was going to take another win but Degenkolb who had avoided the carnage too overtook and was a clear winner at the line. After yesterdays win by one of the new generation of pros; Battaglin it was fantastic to see Degenkolb take his first win since his anti doping statement issued last weekend.

With the final corner crash occurring within 3km of the finish the same time was applied to all finishers in the first group and with no splits the GC did not change from yesterday so Luca Paolini remains in pink for a third day.

Giro Stage 6 – Mola di Bari to Margherita di Savioa

A plan flat stage run on arrow straight roads in warm sunshine had the the peloton in end of term mood. One for the sprinters then, but John Degenkolb didn’t figure today, perhaps the Argos tactic will be to wait for something a bit more lumpy. So the contest would be between Cavendish and chief rivals; Bouhanni, Goss and Viviani.

Some scenes from the first 130 kilometres. Taylor Phinney in recovery mode at the back of the peloton performing the now obligatory ‘let’s do something amusing with the new Giro aero helmet’ with one of the Garmin riders. Not intentionally so, but much funnier were the three riders whose misplaced route saw them on the wrong side of some impressive looking central reservation barriers. The televison director delighted in providing lingering pull back shots from the helicopter to illustrate the hopelessness of their situation. Likely to find themselves needing to dodge oncoming traffic when the closed section of carrigeway was reopened the three eventually surrendered at the feed station and clambered over after handing their bikes over first.

The all Australian breakaway of Cameron Wurf (yes, him again) and Jack Bobridge (Blanco) were reeled in as the stage entered its criterium phase with two laps of a circuit around Margherita di Savioa. Taking in a tight turn before a narrow finishing straight a big crash involving most of the rear of the peloton created a real brain teaser as mechanics worked out how to unpick the interlocked riders and bikes from the pile blocking the road. Caught up in this was most of Team Sky who had gone back to escort Bradley Wiggins after a bike change. As the other teams realised that unblocking the road and matching bikes to riders was going to take some time, shuttle diplomacy began at the head of the race as riders with teammates back in the crash took turns to slow the peloton down. There’s a link to video of the crash below.

Things had sorted themselves out as the final lap started. Wiggins mindful of what had happened a few kilometres earlier and of the 17 seconds lost on stage 4 provided the lead out for the sprinters until the race entered the final straight. It’s an aside, but seeing Wiggins like this; really pushing for the line, is a reminder of just how good he looks on a bike. With a big look of his shoulder to confirm that, yes he had gone under the 3km banner Wiggins relaxed guaranteed the same time as the first finisher.

And first over the line wasn’t really in much doubt as Mark Cavendish had Omega Pharma teammates in front of him. Unlike stage one, Cavendish didn’t really have to work for this one, only launching when the line was in touching distance. Elia Viviani was second again, but convincingly beaten this time. With Matt Goss third, the rider bashing the bars on the line was Nacer Bouhanni of FDJ who had been blocked on the run in. With no change in the GC Paolini retained the Maglia Rosa.

Giro Stage 7 – San Salvo to Pescara

Saturday’s individual time trial was meant to be the day when the Giro really started. Instead it was Friday’s stage to Pescara on a hilly route through the Abruzzo region that served up the drama. With no more than a category three climb to deal with the 177 kilometre stage could have been seen as fairly innocuous, but this is a part of Italy often crossed by the Tirreno Adriatico and what the hills lack in size they make up for gradient. For this stage changeable weather conditions added to the potential for error, unforced or otherwise, that could derail the GC chances of any of the main contenders.

With a six man break up the road including Lotto’s Adam Hansen the peloton were happy to let locally sponsored Vini Fantini do the work at the front. With one rider in contention for the GC and a local rider in Danilo Di Luca early expectations where for Vini Fantini to try for the stage win. For Maglia Rosa Luca Paolini this was a virtual last stage of the race as he fully expected to lose the lead after the time trial. Planning to ride the stage “ a one day race” Paolini entertained hopes of retaining the leaders jersey for one more day.

As the break away began to ride into the showery weather there were more and more riders sliding off on a combination of hairpin descent and greasy road surfaces. The climbs were having an impact too with the break fragmenting and the peloton shelling riders out the back with regularity. With 20km left Adam Hansen, one of handful of riders to have ridden all three grand tours in a single year was alone after his last breakaway companion crashed. Riders were attempting to escape the peloton with varying degrees of success as the lead group became strung out on the climb.

With around a 4km descent after the final climb it was no surprise to see Vicenzo Nibali attempt to get away from his rivals. The favourites had got up the last climb with varying levels of support as team members had fallen away after doing their turn. Sky had looked less organised than normal, seldom running at the front and Uran falling off after touching Wiggins wheel at one point. Watching Hansen on the same roads minutes earlier it was clear that the descent was sketchy. First, Nibali slid off on a bend but he was back on his bike within seconds. Wiggins someway back negotiated this corner without difficulty, but came to grief on a hairpin further down. Getting back on slowly, he was all alone by the time he reached the bottom of the hill such was his speed in comparison to the other riders. As the road levelled out Wiggins began to push the pedals again and rediscovered his teammates who prepared to pull him to the finish.

While all of this was happening Adam Hansen was crossing the line for a fantastic solo win. In the break for nearly 150km and on his own for the last 20km for VCSE this was the win of the first week. Chapeau! The chasing group came in over a minute down but included Evans, Hesjedal and Nibali. It also included the new Maglia; Benet Intxausti of Movistar who had been ‘sitting’ unobtrusively in 3rd place @ 26 seconds since stage 4. Nibali moved into second with Hesjedal third. Evans cemented his place in the top 10 and Robert Gesink moved into the top 10 from 12th.

And Wiggins? 23rd place @1.32. The plan must have been to not lose any time on his rivals today so that he could press home his advantage over them in the time trial on Saturday. Instead there is the real possibility that any time gained will be needed just to get back on terms with Nibali. Added to the 17 seconds ‘lost’ on stage 4 it’s fair to say it hasn’t been a great week for Sky, with the result in the TTT on Ischia squandered through mostly bad luck, but potentially some tactical errors too. Wiggins has often found himself alone after a problem and the team have appeared to be slow to react. At least Wiggins will know that, barring a mechanical, what happens in stage 8 is down to him. In the time trial you’re racing against yourself as much as the other riders on the road and it’s not known as the ‘race of truth’ for nothing.

VCSE will have more updates after the weekends stages with a rest day coming up on Monday. Check out our YouTube channel for a dedicated playlist with all of the action from week 1.

Lucy Garner wins Stage 1 of the Tour of Chongming


Argos Shimano had more than one thing to celebrate this week with Britain’s double world champion Lucy Garner winning stage 1 of the Tour of Chongming in China. Still only 18, Lucy out sprinted Emma Johansson and Shelley Olds to take the win.

The photo (from Argos Shimano) really captures Lucy’s elation at her victory; seeing a rider without their sunglasses in this case really helps to communicate the emotion and excitement she was feeling. Speaking afterwards Garner said; “I’m so happy I took the win today”

Yet another women’s world champion Giorgia Bronzini of Wiggle Honda took the second stage in bad weather with the final stage to be run in criterium format.