Reflections on Stage 11 – 2013 Giro d’Italia

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

Click here to see the full results.

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

Cav to Sky

Today puts an end to one of the biggest non-stories in professional cycling. Even before the demise of HTC-Highroad there were rumours of Mark Cavendish making a move to Team Sky for 2012 and the demise of Bob Stapleton’s outfit only strengthened that perception. After much dillydallying and mucking about, Cav finally announced his new team on that team’s sponsor owned sports channel. There was a minor disagreement over the quality of the steeds provided by Pinarello but I think they were eventually able to convince Cav of their competitiveness. As Mark Renshaw had already decided to graduate to main sprinter with Rabobank, Cav’s move to Team Sky was a no-brainer. Among his many friends at Sky, Cav will also be joined by his best friend Bernie Eisel. I’m already excited to watch Cav race with Geraint Thomas leading him out. With a strong team to support, the victories will flow for our man. Go Cav!

It’s about time

After the World Championships, Pat McQuaid belittled the women peloton by assessing that women cycling is not ‘developed enough’ to demand a guaranteed minimum wage. Naturally it irked the peloton and the top athletes made their feelings known. Currently, UCI president finds himself in the middle of various battles and his ‘know-all’ judgment of women cycling didn’t help his cause. This goes on to show further how disconnected McQuaid is from the very same sport he is supposed to administer. His generic comments and ‘Big Brother’ kind of admonishment reminds me of Indian sports administrators who like him are incompetent and live in an alternate universe.

McQuaid’s naive assessment of women cycling exhorts one to take a deeper look into the sport. Since 2005 onwards, there have been 27 stable teams registered with UCI. The number of registered teams went upto 44 in 2007 but with the realization of economic reality, the figure has now settled to 28 in 2011.  One could safely assume that the teams which survived the financial meltdown or formed after it will be able to continue and develop women cycling in the future. This give a core of around 27 teams each of which roughly employs 7-10 riders. A rough estimate of 250 pro/semi-pro women cyclists is a ‘good enough’ base to start with and McQuaid should work towards improving the sport rather than shirking away from his responsibilities.

Currently there is only one team registered in Great Britain (Garmin-Cervelo) and Germany (Abus Nutrixxion). Given the passion for sport in the country and the size of their economy, UK and Germany should have more women cycling teams. With the news of possible Rabobank women team next season, there will be only two Pro Tour Men team with a parallel women program in 2012. If UCI is serious about women cycling, they should work with big Pro Tour teams like Team Sky, to start similar women programs. McQuaid should rectify his astigmatic vision of globalizing cycling across different geographies and should work equally for improving the sport across both genders.

Get ready for the new champions

Over the next three days we will witness the crowning of new road world champions in professional cycling. Last three days have brought amazing drama and excitement in the form of Junior (Men/Women) TT, U23 Men TT and Elite (Men/Women) TT. There were unexpected winners and deserving champions in the race against the clock. The next three days will bring the next installment of adrenaline-pumping action where in the Junior (Men/Women) road race, U23 Men road race and Elite (Men/Women) road race, we will see the future stars and accomplished riders battle it out for the much coveted rainbow jersey. My bets for the different categories:

U23 Men (168 km)

– Andrew Fenn/Luke Rowe

– Michael Hepburn (if he starts)

– Outside chance: Moreno Hofland, Romain Bardet (because of their current form)

Elite Women (140 km)

Just going by this year’s form you can put all your money on Marianne Vos. She has won almost every big race on the calendar. Marianne is a star athlete and has already won almost everything in cycling at the age of 24. I think Emma Pooley will like to set her record straight with Marianne so it should be a good duel where Pooley will have an advantage over her arch rival.

Elite Men (266 km)

No need to argue here, Cav has it covered this one. Period.

Holy Vaughters

The story just keeps getting better for Jonathan Vaughters, boss of Garmin-Cervelo team. JV, as he is known, has been the face of pro-peloton through his role as the president of AIGCP (group of professional cycling teams). He has championed the cause of riders’ safety and has recently forced UCI to reconsider their half-cooked decision of banning team radios from professional races. He has been equally vocal against doping and his team Garmin-Cervelo practices a strict ‘no-needle’ policy which shows JV puts his money where his mouth is, a rare trait in the cycling world.

The latest shining example of JV’s phenomenal drive to revive professional cycling is the win secured by Thomas Dekker along with Johan Vansummeren at Duo Normand. Dekker was banned in 2008 for using EPO, a charge which he accepted. He is now helping WADA in their fight against doping in cycling. Some time in the middle of this season, there was news that Dekker is planning to make a come back under Chipotle Development Team, continental squad run by Vaughters. Dekker has told that JV has provided his full support to help him make a comeback and to show that he could win races on bread and water. Although the comeback has not been ideal for the Dutchman but his latest win has vindicated Vaughters’ trust in his abilities. There is still some way to go before Dekker makes a full comeback to the peloton but the early signs are encouraging. I hope he is able to prove himself and join one of Vaughters’ team in 2012. If that happens, cycling will take a step forward in David Millar, JV and every other passionate fan’s  vision of clean racing.

Rasmussen explains

Alex Rasmussen, formerly of HTC-Highroad,  who was recently suspended by Danish cycling union after receiving three warnings from UCI for missing whereabouts has explained his side. It appears that he is an unorganised and a sloppy fellow who “couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery.” All this is jolly and good but we’re talking about a professional career here and not some guy missing his birthday party. As we all know, that one has to sacrifice quite a lot to get a professional contract in cycling and Rasmussen was racing for one of the top teams in the world. There are hundreds of young riders who would give anything to swap places with him.

But it appears that it’s not a big deal for Rasmussen as he has cited his callous attitude to be the reason behind missing three out-of-competition doping controls. Being a HTC-Highroad fan, I’m happy to read the news but then it raises serious question about Rasmussen’s commitment to the sport and his team. I would imagine a professional cyclist to be an extremely alert person when it comes to obeying the UCI rules but looks like our man is not one of them. In the pro-peloton it is already very hard to believe people about their stance on doping and against this as backdrop, I don’t buy Rasmussen’s story. I would be happy to be proven wrong but I don’t see it happening.