This great monument of Europe’s three Grand Tours continues to produce exciting racing, a little drama, and a real display of dominance by its current leader as we now complete 6/7ths of the race today (knew those math classes would come in handy some day!). This 94th edition of the Giro, which will ultimately cover 3,490 kilometers (2,169 miles), will officially be finished with the final, 21st stage in Milano, Italy Sunday – a 31.5 kilometer individual time trial. However, many a racing fan and participant has already come to the conclusion that this race is already finished given the commanding lead currently enjoyed by the Saxo Bank’s Alberto Contador (ESP). Here’s a brief synopsis of some of the key action over the last 7 days.
Stage 13, Friday 20 May, 167 km – The Shack Can Find No Answer Yet
Not only did we race on Friday the 13th this year, a quirk of scheduling put a 13th stage on the program on this following Friday. Team RadioShack along with all of the other pro teams competing this month might just be thinking that there is some supernatural hex placed on them between these Fridays as they struggle to find a chink in Contador’s armor. He continues each day to increase his time gap on his main rivals seemingly at will with powerful, confident climbing that leaves nothing but second place to fight over. At this stage of the Giro, the only thing that seems to tire Contador out is climbing up so many podiums each day, donning various jerseys and lifting heavy champagne bottles. RadioShack’s top rider, Tiago Machado (POR) continues to ride hard coming in +3:13 on this difficult mountain stage and is now sitting in 27th place overall at +12:46.
Stage 14, Saturday 21 May, 210 km-190 km-170 km!–The Ever Changing Route
Talk about scheduling quirks, a late – and controversial – change by race organizers rerouted the race away from Monte Crostis to Tualis for safety reasons. Only trouble was, the 100s of spectators who had camped out overnight on Crostis, marched over to Tualis in anger with a real threat of attempting to disrupt the race in protest. So during the stage (actually some 120 kms into it), officials cut out the Tualis climb and shortened the stage by 50 kilometers. While directors sportif were surely doing some rapid recalculations in the chase cars to alter strategy along with the dramatically altered distance, the outcome of the stage was not much altered from other mountain stages – Contador climbed, almost everyone else followed. The Shack’s Tiago Machado finished only +4:03 down, but the minutes start to add up at this point placing him in 25th on the GC at +16:28 back.
Stage 15, Sunday 22 May, 229 km – Nearly 8 Tortuous Hours in the Saddle
RadioShack’s Yaroslav Popovych once again animated the race, kicking out in a breakaway that assembled a large group of contenders on this climbing torture-fest of a stage. They were given almost 10 minutes lead at one point, on this extreme parcours with a bunch of climbers along with the pink jersey, biding their time in the peloton realizing there would be plenty of time to whittle down any pretenders over such a long course. And a long day it was with the winner Euskaltel’s Igor Anton (ESP) taking nearly 7-and-a-half hours to pedal up 5 major climbs and cross the mountain top finish. The climbers caught the breakers with names like Garzelli, Contador, Scarponi, Nibali, Rodriquez, Kreuziger, Menchov and Arroyo, doing what they do best in these steep Dolomites, proving that it takes a mountain goat to contend these stages. Popovych hung in to finish best for Team RadioShack in 29th, with Ivan Rovny right behind in 30th, with Tiago coming in +16:14 down on this horrible stage. The last rider to finish, Garmin’s Matthew Wilson (AUS) needed over 8 hours and 12 minutes to get to the team bus on a day in Italy that everyone was happy to put in the rearview mirror.
Stage 16, Tuesday 24 May, 12.7 km – Individual Time Trial
After a much deserved rest day, it was on to a mountain finish time trial going up some 700 meters in total, with serious grades. The last 7.3 kms averaged 8.2%, with the last 4 km averaging 10%, with one ramp going as high as 14% – seems there’s no level ground in this part of Italy. Once again, it was the same climbers excelling this day that had been getting TV time for their sponsors on all the other climbs. Might’ve been nice to throw in a flat stage to mix things up a bit and highlight some real time trial riders, but the organizers evidently didn’t see it that way. We’re not likely to see too many different names in the top ten each day now until we get to the final TT in Milano this Sunday. But by then, the huge time gaps amassed by pure climbers in the Dolomites will be insurmountable. RadioShack’s Tiago Machado came in just 1:53 down on the winner of the stage – Contador, but the distance from 1st to 10th in the GC right now is 11 minutes. Back to Tiago, it’s a mind-boggling +32:52 – and he’s been riding well! One begins to wonder if the TV audience is beginning to wane with the predictability of the top 10 finishers each day. In another freak tragedy to occur during this tour, the cycling world was shocked to hear that Movistar’s Xavier Tondo (ESP) had died. While preparing to go on a training ride in Granada, he was apparently crushed to death as his car rolled forward pinning him against a garage door as a helpless, horrified teammate, Benat Intxausti looked on.
Stage 17, Wednesday 25 May, 230 km – A Pushy Sprinter Gets Penalized
Another extremely long stage, classified as a mountain stage, but with a long flat at the end, it had the potential to allow a determine breakaway to post some new names on the day’s top 10. And that’s what happened, with a big break getting away and being allowed to stay up front because of the lack of threat to the GC contenders, with their large time gaps. The break had a couple of riders that could crack the top 10 if too big a gap was tolerated so there was some reeling-in by other teams, but Saxo Bank sure didn’t feel pressure to do much work. The break got thinned out at the finish and just 3 contended for the line, when excitement and tension got the better of Italian champion Farmese Vini-Neri Sottoli’s Giovanni Visconti, who was caught on camera using his hands to fashion a better sprint lane for himself. Following behind Lampre’s Diego Ulissi (ITA), Visconti tried to slingshot into a tiny gap near the barriers, didn’t like the little daylight he saw, and immediately blamed it on his rival. He pushed him twice, nearly causing an accident. The organizers took immediate action, giving the win to Ulissi and relegating Visconti to third behind the other contender Movistar’s Pablo Lastras (ESP). Visconti was lucky he didn’t suffer a worse disqualification, but to the Giro officials’ credit, they justly bounced their Italian national champion quickly and decisively once they saw the taped replays. RadioShack’s Fumiyuki Beppu had a good ride on the day, along with Yaroslav Popovych coming in just 2:59 back in a large group. Tiago lost a little more time coming in +4:16 on the stage.
Stage 18, Thursday 26 May, 151 km – One Very Fast Ride
The pace for this stage was extremely fast as some riders sensed their last opportunity to gain some time back from the race leader with a stage that didn’t completely cater to the pink jersey’s strengths. With a serious climb and descent about three-fourths through the stage, the course once again flattened and allowed some other riders to showcase their skills. A large break got away finally in this stage but they were pared down drastically on the ascent of the Passo de Ganda, a category 2 climb about 30 km from the finish line in the town that is home to the sparking water, San Pellegrino Terme. After the tragedy of the Stage 3 death at this Giro, it was scary watching the high-speed descent of the riders after that climb. Three racers contended right to the line, but Liquigas-Cannondale’s Eros Capecchi (ITA) took the win handily on a brief sprint finish. Unsurprisingly, there is not the slightest change to the top 10, not one second. The Shack’s Machado is sitting in 24th place at 34:09 behind the leaders. Probably the biggest news on this day was the un-decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport to postpone a hearing on Contador’s banned substance case. It may not happen until after the Tour de France. Seems everyone involved is looking for a way out of making a negative ruling on the sport’s current superstar. Wonder if such careful deliberations would be granted an unpopular rider?
Stay tuned; there could still be a twist or a turn yet in this year’s race. Okay…I ‘m reaching here; you can probably etch the current top 5 on a stone tablet. This one’s over. But hey, it’s still fun watching some of the best in the world push each other to the limit. And after a difficult month in the mountains, the TT in Milano will be great entertainment.
George Hurst, staff writer