Reflections on Stage 11 – 2013 Giro d’Italia

Stage 11 – 2013 Giro d’Italia
Distance: 182km, Tarvisio – Vajont

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1. A day after when their leader’s overall classification bid had collapsed, Team Garmin Sharp hit back with venom in the form of honey badger, Ramunas Navardauskas. The lanky Lithuanian powered ahead of his fellow escapees on Stage 11 and won the stage up the climb of Vajont. Navardauskas entered Giro on the back of good form which was evident at Tour de Romandie when he won the Stage 2 in a long drag to the finish line. In his third year with the team, 25-yr old Ramunas has finally started to deliver on the big stage. He is a solid time trialist and despite his big frame can climb well. If we compare, he is very much in the mould of Ryder Hesjedal. He’s well-loved by his teammates for his dedication and hard-work which along with his abilities on the bike, could help him become the team leader in the future.

2. The current maglia azzurra leader Stefano Pirazzi of Team Bardiani Valvole finished third on the stage claiming valuable KOM points. He leads the classification by a handsome margin but it could all change very quickly in the final week when the race hits high mountain passes. His nearest possible rival for the jersey is Robinson Chalapud who has 23 points as opposed to Pirazzi’s 46. It will be interesting to see how the Colombian performs on difficult mountain stages.

2013 Giro d'Italia - Stage 11 Profile

Reflections on Stage 10 – 2013 Giro d’Italia

Stage 10 – 2013 Giro d’Italia
Distance: 167km, Cordenons – Altopiano del Montasio

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1. It was disheartening to see Ryder Hesjedal implode yesterday on the first climb of Cason di Lanza. As mentioned here, he had been suffering of bad legs. The drop meant he finished more than 20 minutes down on the stage winner Rigoberto Uran thus slipping out of the general classification contenders’ group. Last year, he won the Giro with panache and I rooted for him throughout the race. I desperately wanted him to defend his crown and mimic the likes of Binda, Bartali, Coppi, Merckx and Indurain. Sadly, it will not happen this time.

2. But then every cloud has a silver lining. And it was true yesterday too when the current maglia rosso passione wearer Cadel Evans was seen matching every pedal stroke of Vincenzo Nibali on Altopiano del Montasio. Before the Giro, Cadel had suffered bad results at Tirreno-Adriatico and Criterium International. His main stated aim for the Giro was to get back in form and prepare for Tour de France. But as we saw at Giro del Trentino, Cadel was slowly getting back his climbing form and with no general classification expectations, he has really flourished in the race. He has been the revelation of the race and with Hesjedal dropping out of contention, the Canadians on the roadside will be cheering the helium-voiced man.

3. The composition of the break yesterday was mind-boggling. On a difficult mountain stage, it comprised exclusively of sprinters and rouleurs. I don’t know what Jackson Rodriguez of Androni-Giaccotoli was thinking when he was pushing like mad at the front. It was never going to work with his limited climbing prowess. His teammate Franco Pellizotti also tried to break free on the climb of Cason di Lanza but slipped on the descent. That was the end of a valiant effort but may be forgot that what goes around comes back around.

2013 Giro d'Italia - Stage 10 Profile

Reflections on Stage 8 and 9 – 2013 Giro d’Italia

Stage 8 – 2013 Giro d’Italia
Distance: 54.8km, Gabicce Mare – Saltara

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1. This individual time trial stage was included in 2013 Giro d’Italia to lure Bradley Wiggins who romped to victory in 2012 Tour de France thanks mainly to his chrono performance on Stage 9. But unlike the Tour, the parcours of the Giro time trial stage was hilly and definitely not suitable for Wiggins who prefers flatter terrain. Wiggins had already lost some time on previous stages and was under enormous pressure to perform. The tag of pre-race favorite to win the individual time trial only worsened his cause.

The luck has evaded Wiggins since the beginning of this Giro and he once again found himself on the wrong side of it when he suffered a puncture starting on his new TT rig, Bolide. Despite the bike change, Wiggins produced a great performance to eventually finish second, 10 seconds behind the stage winner and former teammate Alex Dowsett of Team Movistar. A stage where Wiggins was supposed to put minutes into his GC rivals, he could only muster to claw back few seconds from the race leader Vincenzo Nibali of Team Astana.

2. Vincenzo Nibali on the other hand suffered no mishaps and produced a performance which was to be expected given the hilly parcours. Nibali was not too shabby in the individual time trial at the 2012 Tour de France and his performance on Stage 8 was indicative of all the hard work being put in by him and his team. He finished just 11 seconds behind Wiggins and moved in to the race lead before the race enters the high mountains territory. The biggest loser of the stage was perhaps Ryder Hesjedal who lost around two minutes to Wiggins and Nibali. Just as the parcours suited Nibali more than Wiggins, Hesjedal was expected to finish somewhere in the region of his rivals. It was a huge blow for the Garmin-Sharp team and their hope of defending the maglia rosa.

3. The hero of Stage 8 was undoubtedly Alex Dowsett who spent hours in hot seat after setting the best time early in the day. Dowsett had spent two years at Team Sky working as a domestique and when Team Movistar offered a place with more opportunities to win races, he didn’t hesitate to leave. Dowsett was vindicated after he beat a very strong field of riders to win the stage. This win will give him more confidence for the rest of the race. I’m sure we will see him on the podium again before the end of this season.

Stage 9 – 2013 Giro d’Italia
Distance: 170m, San Sepolcro – Firenze

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1. The stage was always going to be a legbreaker after the long time trial of Stage 8. As it was the last stage before rest day, small teams were expected to animate the racing to meet their first week goals of the Giro. Pirazzi mopped up most of the KOM points on offer and finished the stage in the maglia azzurra. Two team Colombia riders made in to the breakaway but were unsuccessful to deliver the result for their team. Carlos Betancur who is carrying good form from the Ardennes Classics and Tour de Romandie thought that he had won the stage, oblivious of the fact that Maxim Belkov of Katusha had already won. Belkov had hit out before on the climb of Vallombrosa and soloed his way to win the stage.

2013 Giro d'Italia - Stage 9 Profile

2. The drama has been unrelenting at 2013 Giro d’Italia and Stage 9 was no different. The jagged Apennine terrain of the inland Italy combined with heavy rains once again provided a stern test for the riders. Bradley Wiggins lost contact with peloton 30km before the finish. But with the help of his teammates he managed to rejoin and rolled in with the Nibali group. Ryder Hesjedal further lost a minute on his GC rivals and slipped out of top 10 in the general classification. Losing time back to back on two stages means that all is not good with the defending champion. He couldn’t have asked for a better timing of the rest day but his bid of winning the Giro will be tested on Tuesday with a mountaintop finish.

2013 Giro d'Italia - Stage 10 Profile

3. Stage 10 is the first challenge to test the climbing form of the riders. Cadel Evans who is currently sitting second in the general classification will be thoroughly tested and I doubt he will be able to cope with steep gradients. The stage will be the most interesting for Ryder Hesjedal who will at least like to finish in the Nibali group. Although if he wants to have any hope of defending the jersey, he will have to attack on the final climb of Altopiano Del Montasio.

Reflections on Stage 6 and 7 – 2013 Giro d’Italia

Stage 6 – 2013 Giro d’Italia
Distance: 169km, Mola di Bari – Margherita di Savoia

1. On that day in 2011, Wouter Weylandt lost his life on a high speed descent at the Giro. The organizers have now retired Wouter’s race number 108 permanently from the race. It’s a great gesture from RCS sport and as a fan I respect them for the decision. Cycling is the only sport where athletes, race authorities and fans manage to sustain a close bond. Any of these entities can act in a manner which can influence the sport directly – cue the EGM called by Irish Cycling due to the concerted efforts of Irish cycling fans especially Cillian Kelly of the Irishpeloton fame.

2. The stage was pancake flat and was not to be missed by Mark Cavendish to prove yet again that he’s the fastest man on a bike. It’s remarkable that Cavendish wins the flat stages in grand tours with the surety of a setting sun. At every flat stage, Cavendish is always the favorite rider and he hardly fails to deliver. He’s the best sprinter I’ve seen in the business and has exceptional ability to handle pressure. On every flat stage, he’s challenged by the up and coming riders who are no slouch by any means but Cav beats them almost nonchalantly. Omega Pharma-Quick Step team has to be commended for their almost perfect leadout but Cav still had Viviani and Goss to beat. It will take a couple of more years before anyone can challenge Cavendish for the title of world’s fastest sprinter.

Stage 7 – 2013 Giro d’Italia
Distance: 177km, San Salvo – Pescara

1. This stage had the parcours like the teeth of a hacksaw.

2013 Giro d'Italia - Stage 7 Profile

A stage with some part of the same route was included at Tirreno-Adriatico this year where Chris Froome lost time on his general classification rivals. It was the case of deja vu for Team Sky as their leader at the Giro, Bradley Wiggins also lost crucial minute and 24 seconds to Vincenzo Nibali and Ryder Hesjedal. In the final 20 kilometres, the inclement weather closed in on the peloton. Sir Wiggo has not looked terribly comfortable whenever the weather has gone bad during the race. Yet again he was forced to call upon his descending skills on the wet surface but was caught wanting. He slipped, got bruised and trundled at the finish line some good time behind his general classification rivals.

2. If there was drama on this stage, the hero was certainly Adam Hansen. The peloton’s very own system administrator went up in the breakaway and managed to make it stick till the end, that too solo. Hansen is an affable guy who is loved by his teammates and fans alike. We can’t forget the shenanigans he pulled off at his team’s pre-season training camp. But it’s also clear that he has been putting in solid efforts on his bike. The Australian dropped ex-doper Emanuelle Sella on the steep climbs around Pescara on a wet and soaking finale to take his first grand tour win. Hansen finished all three grand tours last year and he wants to repeat the feat this year again. Will it make him the first rider to finish six grand tours in two years?

Reflections on Stage 5 – 2013 Giro d’Italia

Stage 5 – 2013 Giro d’Italia
Distance: 203 km Cosenza-Matera.

1. There were only two Cat 4 climbs in yesterday’s stage but Stefano Pirazzi of Bardiani-Valvole was eager to mop up the mountain jersey points on offer.

2013 Giro d'Italia - Stage 5 Profile

Pirazzi finished second last year behind Matteo Rabottini who also won a mountain stage. It was naive of Pirazzi to spend energy on going for points on Cat 4 climbs. He should save his energy for later, for more mountainous stages which will be targeted by other mountain jersey aspirants.

2. Giovani Visconti of Team Movistar was the second to take mountain points on at Montescaglioso. The Italian continues to hold the maglia azzurra by the skin of his teeth.

3. Omega Pharma-Quick Step was seen earlier in the stage driving the pace which indicated that Mark Cavendish was in good climbing form. But despite his best efforts, Cavendish wasn’t able to maintain the tempo and was dropped on Montescaglioso. It was disappointing to see Cav losing out on contesting the sprint and repeat the stellar performance he produced on Stage 1. Today’s stage suits him better and we should definitely seem him duke it out with other fastmen.

2013 Giro d'Italia - Stage 5 Profile

4. Yesterday was yawn of a stage and the action picked up only at the ascent of second Cat 4 climb. But even if the parcours was not that exciting, the fickle spring weather added drama to the stage when riders were greeted with slick roads of downtown Matera. Luka Mezgec of Argos-Shimano slipped on the last corner which impeded the rest of the bunch on the finishing straight. Marco Canola of Bardiani Valvole tried to go solo but John Degenkolb was strong enough to haul back the Italian. Degenkolb was completely exhausted after the stage and this photo by Jered Gruber shows how much Degenkolb was in the red zone. It was some terrific bike racing by the German.

6. There was flash flood at Matera and at a point during the race it appeared that the video equipment at the finish will be washed away. But the organizers managed to arrange machines to pump away the water and manage smooth end to the stage. Doff of the hat to Giro organizers who have already faced inclement weather at Milan-San Remo and Tirreno-Adriatico.

2013 Giro d’Italia – Mountains Classification Preview

The 2013 Giro d’Italia begins tomorrow in Naples to finish on Sunday 27 May at Brescia. Since Michele Acquarone took over as the race director of Giro from Angelo Zomegnan in 2011, the Giro has been promoted globally much more aggressively than Tour de France. The Italian grand tour still has some way to challenge the Tour as the biggest race in the world but it certainly is giving the Tour a run for its money. The internet is flooded with preview of the race, the pick of the lot is of course at Inrng. The Inner Ring also assesses the chances of main contenders for the leader’s jersey maglia rosa. In this preview, I highlight the possible riders who will challenge for the lesser jersey, maglia azzurra, the leader’s jersey of mountains classification. Giro d’Italia is famous for its high mountain passes and hence, maglia azzurra is the most coveted jersey for riders who enjoy riding when the road tilts up. It is also the jersey which grimpeur-poseurs like myself look up to.

Given the nature of racing these days, mountains classification is typically won by climbers of aggressive nature who feature out of top 10 in the general classification. The past 5 winners of the mountains classification and their position in general classification is as follows:

2012 Matteo Rabottini (Farnese Vini, ITA) GC position: 60th @ 2hr 29min 35sec
2011 Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone, ITA) GC position: 25th @ 1hr 4min 0sec
2010 Matthew Lloyd (Omega Pharma-Lotto, AUS) GC position: 50th @ 2hr 13min 22sec
2009 Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone, ITA) GC position: 7th @ 8min 43sec
2008 Emanuele Sella (CSF, ITA) GC position: 6th @ 4min 31sec
2007 Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval, ITA) GC position: 14th @ 17min 40sec

Another obvious pattern is that the winners of this jersey tend to be Italian nationals from relatively smaller teams who’re motivated to perform in front of the home crowd and deliver publicity for the team sponsors (but no UCI points!). Keeping the above factors in mind – Italian, non-GC leader team, good climber, propensity to go in long breakaway – the possible contenders for the mountains classification at this year’s Giro d’Italia are:

1. Cristiano Salerno (Cannondale Procycling): With Ivan Basso dropping out of the team due to a lemon-sized cyst, the team will go for stage wins. This also frees up Salerno who was mountains classification winner at Volta a Catalunya where he led the ranking with whopping 109 points over second placed and Vuelta al Pais Vasco winner Nairo Quintana with 51 points. Looking at his latest results, its clear that the Italian from Imperia has been saving himself for the Giro.

2. Manuele Boaro (Team Saxo-Tinkoff): This race will be very different for Bjarne’s boys in the absence of team leader Alberto Contador who is focusing on winning the Tour. Young climber Rafal Majka is the team leader but Boaro could be set free if the Pole is not able to withstand the heat from bigger GC men. Boaro already has a mountains classification jersey this year from Volta ao Algarve and has been generally going strong this season. It will be interesting to see how his team races this Giro.

3. John Darwin Atapuma (Team Colombia): Okay, so Atapuma is not an Italian but is a strong climber and was fourth last year in the mountains classification at Giro del Trentino with an amazing victory on Passo Pordoi. He has had a different season with lesser racing days and will be fresher than other riders to raid the mountain points. Team Colombia will also try to prove a point at the Giro as they’re making an appearance after a long hiatus.

4. Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani Valvole – CSF Inox): Coming back to the Italians, everybody knows that Pirazzi loves to attack and go into breakaways. Last year, he finished second in the Giro mountains classification behind Matteo Rabotini. He has been going decent this season and showed his form when he went on typical suicidal attack at Sega di Ala climb of Giro del Trentino. He will not hold himself back when the road tilts up.

5. Fabio Felline (Androni – Venezuela): Gianni Savio’s team boasts of the Italian road race champion Franco Pellizotti who has just not got going this season without his usual medication. But Savio’s younger charge Felline has racked up decent results. Felline’s teammate Emanuele Sella is not the rider he once was and the responsibility to represent team in the moutains will fall on the shoulders of Felline. Although, the Giro mountains could prove to be too much for him.

Mauro Santambrogio (Vini-Fantini) is in great shape this season. Luca Scinto has also hired Stefano Garzelli and Danilo Di Luca which means that the team has ambitions to take a crack at the podium with Santambrogio. As time-trialing is not Santambrogio’s greatest strentgh, he will try to make up most of his time on GC contenders in the mountains. There’s a good chance that one of his teammates or even himself could run away with the mountains classification jersey.

Other outsiders are Eros Capecchi (Movistar) and Dominico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale) who will also be aiming for a high placing in the general classification but will not mind going for the maglia azzurra if their GC bid falters.

The Forgotten Races – Part 1

In this series, I’ll briefly recall few historical races which have disappeared from the pro cycling calendar due to lack of resources or interest.

Grand Prix du Midi Libre

As is well known, the race was first organized in 1949 by the regional newspaper Midi Libre. It was viewed as a preparation race for the Tour and was traditionally organized in May, before the bigger Critérium du Dauphiné. The relatively sunny climes of the southern France used to attract a strong field, unsurprisingly packed with French grimpeurs. It was a beautiful race which covered the coastal Languedoc-Roussillon region and gave the riders a perfect opportunity to put their legs to an early test.

The race was considered big by the French riders and they usually performed well in it. One of the old pros, Jean-Claude Theillière, recalls his 1966 win with great fondness in the short Rapha video on Massif Central.

Without the backing of a sponsor with deep pockets like ASO, the race gradually disappeared from the calendar because of lack funds. In Sept 2002, the race organizers cited economic difficulties and doping culture of cycling as the reasons to discontinue the race.

The race flickered one last time , when it made an apperance in 2004 as Tour du Languedoc-Roussillon. But when the local council decided to pull the plug on funding, the race was relegated to history books.

Race History Summary
Total editions: 54 (1 void)
Maximum wins: 4 (Jean-René Bernaudeau)
Last winner: Christophe Moreau (2004)
Winners by country: 30 (France), 9 (Italy), 6 (Spain), 4 (Belgium)

Associated book: Grand Prix du Midi Libre.

Start of a new season with Tour Down Under

Finally the pro-cycling season is upon us. After an enduring and very chilly winter of Northern Hemisphere, cycling makes it’s return in 2012 with Santos Tour Down Under. The race which started in 1999 holds an important place in the World Tour calendar, elite cycling blogger Cyclingtips has already emphasized the importance of the race for the spring classics. The week long event also helps the riders to get some good miles in the warm weather of Adelaide. I have special memories of following TDU. I started following pro-cycling in full-blown mode in 2011 and this race was my first of the calendar. As I was a noob at that time, my stream-hunting skills were not really impressive and I ended up following the whole race via audio commentary. It was like the good old days when people used to follow football, cricket and in fact cycling races on radio. I would yearn for Phil Liggett to chip in his mundane observations between the excellent running Aussie commentary. It was a surreal experience which endeared professional road racing to my romantic self.

This year I will miss the race altogether due to my work commitments but hope to find the daily highlights at the end of the day. TDU12 will be special to the Australian public because of GreendEdge’s participation. I hope Matty Goss can get the Aussie team their first World Tour points. With every team boasting an ace sprinter in their rank, each stage will be hard fought. The sight of Greipel, Pettachi, Renshaw, Goss battling out at the finish line will be intimidating. One person who will be hell bent on proving his sprint credentials is Mark Renshaw. In his new role at Rabobank, the previous star leadout man will be trying to show to the Australian public and his team that he could finish the job as well. There’s no doubt about Mark’s ability and it’s just a matter of time before he will start producing results but I reckon that TDU will not be the place. I’m putting down my money on Edwald Boassen Hagen to win the golden jersey and my outside bet is Matthew Harley Goss. TDU marks the beginning of a new season and let’s hope that it’s even better than the last.