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.

Play it again Cav – VCSE’s Racing Digest #9

Giro stages 13, 14 & 15 – Busseto to Cherasco, Cervere to Bardonecchia (Jafferau) & Cesana Torinese to Col du Galibier

To paraphrase Casablanca; at least we will always have Cav. The deliberations on the Team Sky Death Star after stage 12 were over and the news before stage 13 was that Bradley Wiggins was going home. Cue frantic emails to the nicer hotels on the remaining route as sports editors and TV news reporters from the British media cancelled their travel plans. The conclusion that could be reached if the mainstream UK media was your only source was that the Giro was going to be a Wiggins benefit, so at least we are no spared the need for them to find ways of squirreling a Wiggins ‘angle’ into every report. The ‘failure’ of Wiggins attempt to win the Giro raises some interesting questions for the way the sport is covered in the UK however.

An increase in coverage, even at a superficial level is no bad thing and the Giro ‘story’ has held it’s own against some pretty seismic events in other sports. National radio has covered the race in a way that would normally only be seen for the Tour. The decision by Sky to show a daily highlights package, having previously shown the Tour de Romandie hinted that the satellite broadcaster could start making inroads into the TV rights for road racing assuming a similar level of success for ‘their’ team. Wiggins departure will not stop the rights discussion although a contrast will no doubt be made between the ratings that a Wiggins / Sky win would have achieved in the UK as opposed to the likely Nibali victory next Sunday.

There are some parallels in other sports. Sky purchased the rights to domestic Test Cricket around the time of the England teams resurgence in 2005. Could Sky be betting on the desire of Cycling fans (and Team Sky fans in particular) to watch racing live and therefore be prepared to pay for the privilege? ITV, who picked up the rights for the Tour from Channel 4 will continue to show the race free to air until 2015 at the earliest. Whether or not British riders build on the successes of 2012 (a Froome victory in 2013 at the Tour?) will have a massive influence on how we follow the sport in the future.

Which brings us to Mark Cavendish. While Wiggins decline and subsequent fall was being pored over Cav was busy winning his 100th stage as well as becoming the leading stage winner on the Giro 2013. At the time of writing (the second rest day) Cavendish remains in the race, having got himself up and over some fearsome climbs in the process. He has also seen off some of his key challengers for the sprint stages with John Degenkolb (Argos) and Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) both abandoning, Bouhanni the day after finishing second to Cavendish at Treviso.

Cavendish has railed against the lack of coverage he received in the past and it would feel somewhat disrespectful if the mainstream media turned away from the Giro and what he is achieving because of Wiggins departure. He remains points leader going into the final week and assuming he can get over a ‘bump’ at the end of the stage has an opportunity to increase his win tally ahead of the pan flat final stage on Sunday. The Giro doesn’t favour sprinters for its points classification and Cavendish is up against some strong opposition among the climbers and GC contenders. With only a fleeting opportunity to wear the Maglia Rosa after his win on stage 1 Cavendish should have the motivation to go for the Maglia Rosso, particularly after just missing out last year.

Vincenzo Nibali’s grip on the GC looks pretty unshakable at the moment. He was able to put more time into his rivals on the shortened stage 14 and takes a lead of over a minute into the final week. After contending with mostly wet conditions the move into the alps coincided with snowfall to add to the riders misery. Organisers RCS had cut part of the stage 14 route, the climb to Sestriere due to the conditions but this provided minor comfort to the riders who made it to the finish. The stage was won by VCSE favourite Mauro Santambrogio from Vini Fantini who managed to out drag Nibali to the line on the Jaffrau. Nibali had turned the screw on this one though, putting time into Cadel Evans and yet more into Robert Gesink ending his hopes for the race. Consolation then for the race leader, although it’s unlikely that he would want to win the overall without taking a stage win himself. The two mountain stages in the week ahead should provide an opportunity.

Of course last years victor Ryder Hesjedal famously took the win without taking a stage. Hesjedal’s chances this year were long gone when he abandoned to rather less fanfare than Wiggins ahead of stage 13. Other notable withdrawals; stage 4 winner Enrico Battaglin following an accident and a rider who had seemed out of sorts right from the start, Garmin’s David Millar.

The weather intervened again for stage 15. A regular feature on the Tour, RCS had inserted one of the more interesting examples of cross border grand tour route planning by including the Col du Galibier on Sundays stage. Nibali seemed content to leave his powder dry for this one and the GC contenders crossed the line in a group about a minute down on Movistar’s Giovanni Visconti. Movistar are having a pretty good race so far with Benat Intxausti in the top ten and a spell in pink to go with two stage wins.

For the final week the GC looks like Nibali’s to lose. Cadel Evans remains the surprise package and finishing second would be no disgrace for a rider many (including VCSE) had written off beforehand. VCSE suspects that the limit of Rigoberto Uran’s ambitions is a podium place, although his win on the first summit finish on stage 10 suggest he can take it to Nibali. Sky would no doubt like to wrest the victory from Astana, but Uran has already had to take on a mind shift of epic proportions in becoming team leader. Can he step up? VCSE thinks not (this time). Uran will also be looking over his shoulder at VCSE podium pick Santambrogio.

Tour of California 

Great to see Tejay Van Garderen take the overall in the TOC. Van Garderen who took the lead from Janier Acevedo on stage 5 won from Saxo Banks Mick Rogers a previous winner at the tour. Van Garderen had finished in a group including the sprinters who had expected to contest stage 5, six seconds down on living legend 41 years young Jens Voight. Voight, who had been discussing the finer points of attacking the previous day (see the video below) struck as the stage entered its final kilometres. This was Voigt’s 99th win and afterwards he joked about signing on “..for another year”. He was also pretty vocal this week about the lack of an equivalent women’s TOC suggesting that any plans to extend the duration of the men’s race should include a women’s event on the undercard.

The penultimate and queen stage to Mount Diablo saw Net App Endura’s Leopold Konig take the win. It’s a great result for Net App for have secured a wild card entry to the Vuelta later this year after missing out on a place at the Tour. Acevedo came in second, but Van Garderen was close behind only five seconds down.

The final stage ended in another sprint and almost another win for Net App with Daniel Schorn just beaten by Peter Sagan. Sagan extended his lead for stage wins at the race, but might reflect on some opportunities missed during the week. He will continue to improve as a rider but has looked a bit jaded at times here which makes for a potentially intriguing match up between him and Mark Cavendish at this years Tour. Cavendish has been able to deliver on the sprint stages the day after finishing a debilitating climbing stage, whereas Sagan perhaps trying to race everything has not left enough in the tank for the stages where he is a genuine contender. In terms of outright speed Cavendish still has the legs, while Sagan is perhaps more of a sprinter in the mould of Thor Hushovd.

Tejay Van Garderen will also have much to think about ahead of the Tour. Prior to the Giro a Van Garderen win in California would have given him leverage to be chosen as BMC’s leader for the Tour ahead of Cadel Evans. Evans’ return to form at the Giro created a headache for the Swiss backed US team before Van Garderen’s victory on the west coast. Now all eyes will be on Evans to see if he can maintain the form shown in the first two weeks and cement his claim for the leadership at the Tour.

British winner at the Giro (not Wiggins)

English: Alex Dowsett after winning the 2009 R...
Alex Dowsett (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s not clear how many mirrors Bradley Wiggins smashed last week but he arrived in the starting hut for stage 8, the individual time trial, at the Giro d’Italia in 23rd place and a minute and a half down on general classification. Ahead of the race the prediction had been that Wiggins and Sky would target the TT to put time  into his rivals for the GC and potentially take over the Maglia Rosa. Wiggins lost time after getting caught behind a crash earlier in the week but suffered a bigger setback when he slid of in treacherous conditions on stage 7. Rather than putting time into Vicenzo Nibali and Ryder Hesjedal, Wiggins faced the challenge of making time back up on them and hopefully riding back into contention.

There was much speculation overnight; was Wiggins suffering from the same fever afflicting teammate Dario Cataldo? Had he injured himself in the crash? There was also discussion about which TT bike Wiggins would be riding for the stage. Wiggins had at his disposal the new Pinerello Bolide, rumoured to deliver a performance advantage over the existing Graal model. Wiggins had stuck with the Graal for the TTT in stage 2 but with so much more at stake it perhaps wasn’t surprising to see the Sky seek a ‘marginal gain’ from the prototype.

With his fall down the GC on stage 7 Wiggins would be on the road much earlier than the other GC contenders but the time to beat had been set long before that. Riding his first ever grand tour Essex rider Alex Dowsett had taken his own Pinerello to the best time of the day so far at 1 hour 16 minutes. Dowsett, the reigning British TT champion was a Sky rider last year, moving to Movistar this year to increase his chances of riding in the biggest races. Dowsett had shared with followers on social media and via his rider diary on GCN that he had found his first week in his first grand tour hard going. This was reflected in his placing on GC ahead of the stage and the resulting early start time in the TT. Ahead of the stage Dowsett had shared his thoughts with GCN in the clip below.

The Eurosport coverage lingered on Wiggins for much of his run thanks to his lowly starting position. All eyes were going to be on the first time check, early on the course in Pesaro. The first few kilometres of the stage were technical with more up and down and tight turns made harder by showers creating damp patches in places. Perhaps, lacking some confidence after the previous day Wiggins took a safety first approach early on and then bad luck struck again. On a gentle ascent Wiggins began pointing to his rear wheel before hopping off and tossing his mega bucks Bolide into the bushes alongside the road. Reaching the time check Wiggins was 7th fastest; potentially disasterous. The question now was could he make up time before the second check just before the final uphill drag.

Of his rivals on GC fortunes were mixed. Nibali, who is no slouch on a TT bike was ahead of Dowsett on his split. Cadel Evans while not looking pretty was  pretty effective. Hesjedal and overnight leader Intxausti in comparison were well down at the first check and it was hard to see them improving over the following longer stage.

For Dowsett in the hot seat the emotions must have been conflicting. The realisation as more and more riders came in was that the possibility that he was on the verge of his first grand tour win in conflict with the race Wiggins was in with his teammate Intxausti. Wiggins crossed the final split in 4th place. It became clear later that Wiggins was the fastest rider over the second part of the stage. He had already overhauled a number of other riders on the course and dispatched a few more on the final climb. At the line Wiggins, his Rapha skinsuit covered in sweat from the effort, was 10 seconds down. Dowsett puffed his cheeks out and exhaled as perhaps the only man in the field who could beat his time failed to do so.

As the top ten approached it became clear that the early efforts had had an impact, their times at the second check down on Wiggins and Dowsett. Hesjedal had a tough day at the office and crawled up the final climb all in from the effort. Inxtausti, admittedly not in a discipline that favours him, was even further down. Evans and Nibali faired better keeping their losses within a minute that would be reflected in the one-two on GC. For Wiggins, the stage was lost with the bike change, but he rode back into contention a second down on the podium place occupied by Robert Gesink.

A great win for Dowsett although the wait for him must have been a nervous one. An unexpected win also perhaps, but one that puts another GB rider into the limelight alongside Wiggins and Cavendish on the Giro.

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.

http://tinyurl.com/bpljkzd

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 “..like 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

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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.

The super supporters – VCSE’s thoughts on Paris Nice and Tirreno Adriatico

Chris Froome
Settling for 2nd – Froomey (Photo credit: Petit Brun)

Tirreno Adriatico finished with Tuesday’s Time Trail. For Team Sky and Chris Froome there was perhaps disappointment that he was unable to emulate Richie Porte in Paris Nice and win the general classification. 

With talk of a breakaway world series ahead of the start of last weeks races it could be seen that some of the world tour teams were sending coded messages to the UCI by running their A squads in the Tirreno. Sky were led by Froome with most of his helpers from last years Vuelta supplemented by new signings Dario Cataldo and Joe Dombrowski. Froome faced a stellar cast of GC contenders in Alberto Contador (Saxo), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)and Cadel Evans (BMC).

There was plenty of room within the field for other stories to be played out a week ahead of Milan San Remo with the sprinting hierarchy represented by Mark Cavendish (OPQS), Andre Greipel (Lotto) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale).

There were metaphorical raised eyebrows in France that the world tour teams appeared to be placing Tirreno ahead of Paris Nice  with their selections but at the end of both races the teams looked justified as Tirreno led the way for incident and excitement.

Porte had seemed uncomfortable with the leaders mantle to begin with, sometimes looking like he needed to be reminded that he could call the shots. Certainly he had a strong pairing to work for him at the front with the ex Movistar riders David Lopez and Vasil Kiryenka impressing on the climbs also. Sky’s other new signings at Paris Nice Jonathan Tiernan-Locke and Ian Boswell had a tougher time. Brian Smith, JTL’s ex manager suggests that he would be better suited for the classics. but Sky have him earmarked as a GC rider. Other than flashes when the race entered the climbs he cast a rather forlorn figure before abandoning due to illness on stage 5. Boswell was conspicuously out the back on most days and will no doubt be expected to improve.

Porte’s moment of clarity about being team leader probably came at the end of stage came at the end of stage 4 when Andrew Talansky (Garmin) took the yellow jersey and stage win. Porte and Sky were super strong the following day with a summit finish that allowed Porte to demonstrate his superiority on the climbs.

The possibility of Talansky wresting back the yellow on the final day’s TT was demolished when Porte’s time split came on screen. It’s not surprising that speculation about Porte as a potential GC winner at the Giro next year has begun. VCSE wonders if Dave Brailsford can imagine a world where his two GC contenders are Froome and Porte rather than Froome and Wiggins.

As Paris Nice was reaching its climax Tirreno Adriatico was just beginning to warm up. Omega Pharma had Cavendish in the leaders jersey until Saturday after the opening team TT and his consistent sprint placings on stages 2 and 3. Beaten in both, Cav, his lead out, or a combination of the two didn’t appear to be firing on all cylinders. Peter Sagan’s strong start to the season continued with stage wins book ending the summit finish action at the weekend.

Froome had appeared beaten on the climb to Prati di Tivo on Saturday but produced a stunning victory that left his rivals shell-shocked riding up to their wheels, then around, before soloing up to the line.

Sunday’s stage to Chieti with its final kilometres formed of narrow streets and double digit ramps were Froome and indeed Sky’s undoing. As with the Vuelta last year he looks vulnerable to attack on short, steep climbs. As the finish approached Froome burnt all of his supporting ‘matches’ and was spent going too early for the final intermediate sprint. losing out to Contador. Purito Rodriguez rode away from everyone on the final climb which left VCSE wondering about Katusha and ‘ethical reasons’.

Chieti’s climbs were familiar ground. On Monday the penultimate stage visited the 300 odd metres of the Muro di Sant’Elpidio and its 27% ramps not once but twice. The height of the climb was the deceiver in what appeared to be a fairly innocuous stage. The sight of the worlds best riders resorting to walking in some cases and more than fifty abandonments is an indication of just how tough the climb was. RCS, the Tirreno organisers, admitted the following day that yes perhaps it had been too much. Spare a thought for BMC’s Taylor Phinney who at least completed the stage, but at 35 minutes down missed the time exemption.

A second day of this type of climb did for Froome as leader as he again lost his support and even lost out to the likes of Sagan on the Muro. Sagan re bonded with last years team mate Nibali to share the spoils of stage win and leaders jersey ahead of the final days TT.

The Tirreno also saw a renaissance of sorts for Damiano Cunego who starred in a solo breakaway on Sunday and was part of the group break on Monday. His efforts rewarded by the King of the Mountains jersey.

Froome’s challenge at the Tour will be to use his domestiques wisely. While the Tour is unlikely to feature the type of ramps seen in Italy or Spain a double ascent of Alpe d’Huez will not take prisoners. Sky look to have all of the cards with their domestiques this year. Kiryenka and Lopez in Paris Nice and Cataldo in the Tirreno all impressed, looking like the can ride at the front all day and with Porte returning to normal duties in the grand tours Sky’s first six names on the team sheet have probably already been written.