Monday, June 20, 2016

Next up: The Tour de France

The final warm up races ahead of the Tour de France concluded this weekend with Miguel Ángel López winning the Tour de Suisse and Nairo Quintana the Route du Sud. The later was as expected, though López winning in Switzerland may have come as a bit of a surprise to those who expected the winner to come from the likes of Warren Barguil, Tejay Van Garderen, Rui Costa, Simon Spilak or Geraint Thomas.

Each of them except for Thomas finished in the top ten with Barguil on the lowest podium position behind Ion Izagirre. Thomas lost big time on the final day and dropped out of the top 10 finishing 17th, twelve and a half minutes down on López. What that means for the Sky riders form ahead of the Tour where he will be expected to be the right hand man of Chris Froome remains to be seen, though there's still time for that form to round into shape.

Nairo Quintana's performance at the Route Du Sud proves he's very much on form and he's my pick this year to win the Tour. Sure Froome is looking good after his win at the Dauphine, but there's something about Quintana's approach this year that gives off the impression that he's throwing everything at it and given how strong he was last year after a difficult first week, there's certainly reason to believe he'll have gotten better still twelve months on, especially with a first week that isn't as challenging than of that in 2015.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Froome shows he's still the man to beat with commanding Dauphiné victory

This time last week we were wondering about the form of Chris Froome in this the final preparation race ahead of the Tour de France. The Sky rider had been beaten by his rival Alberto Contador in the uphill prologue of the Criterium du Dauphiné with former team-mate Richie Porte even finishing in front of him.

Fast forward a week and it is clear that any fears as to his form were unfounded. Froome bounced back in style winning the first big mountain stage of three over the final three days of racing to seize the yellow jersey before taking more time from his nearest rivals a day later and marking them tight on the final stage that seen him wrap up the overall victory ahead of Romain Bardet and Daniel Martin with Porte and Contador back in 4th and 5th respectively.

Following that prologue win by Contador, stage victories on flat to rolling roads were taken by Nacer Bouhanni, Jesus Herrada, Fabio Aru (in a superb opportunists move to attack late and hold off a charging peloton in an attempt to take something from his race after losing a heap of time in previous stages) and Edvald Boasson Hagen, while the GC remained largely untouched as the contenders kept their powder dry for the three mountain stages.

And as he likes to do, Froome struck on the first of those three stages to Vaujany. He left Contador for dead and only Porte could remain close as Froome took the stage and a 7sec lead over Porte with Contador dropping to third at 27sec. Only Froome's former lieutenant Porte was of a serious threat.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Attention turns towards the Tour

After almost a week to allow the dust to settle on a fantastic Giro d'Italia, thoughts slowly began to turn towards the next Grand Tour of the season: The Tour de France. And with it comes some week long stage racing to fine tune those who consider themselves favourites as each looks to lay down a psychological marker on his rivals or perhaps see how much work he still has to do.

The first of these is the Critérium du Dauphiné and it's already underway. Two stages in now and you would have to say already, it's advantage Alberto Contador. The Spaniard won the opening up-hill prologue in spectacular fashion putting 13sec into Chris Froome over the 3.9km, 9.7% average gradient climb. Richie Porte only lost 6sec, but others lost a lot more: Mikel Landa, 44sec; Thibaut Pinot, 52sec; Fabio Aru, 1min 8sec.

I'd expect Froome to start to come good later in the week and you'd certainly expect better from Aru. Contador looks sharp though, skinnier than in many years and surely desperate for one last crowning glory in July. Froome might hope that the Tinkoff rider is peaking a month too soon, but the fact is, Contador knows what he is doing. There's some huge climbing stages in this race towards the later part of this week however and that's where we'll truly see each pretender to win the Tour's form.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Giro look back

Shark attack...the rise of Dutch Luxembourger on the block...predictions other lists and thoughts

It was a good Giro, though when again, most of them are. The organisation clearly hoped that the race would come down to the Alps in the final few days, and so it proved to be. But they were a little lucky too for going into those Alpine stages the Giro seemed won and done by Steven Kruijswijk only for his crash to throw the whole thing wide open again. With so many key stages packed into the later part of the race it meant for wide open results in the early going but with the acceptance that there may not be any major shake ups. Indeed, it took about half of the race to whittle the GC contention down to a handful of riders and even that was due to the likes of Tom Dumoulin, Ryder Hesjedal and Mikel Landa abandoning the race. Still, the pink jersey changed hands eight different times among eight different riders and with 17 different stage winners over the 21 stages, we can't say we didn't have variety. Throw all that in with the story of Nibali and what was wrong with him before the story of his superb comeback and there was plenty to talk about and discuss across the three weeks.

I'm not going to sit and review the race in depth here. I wrote about it almost every day and those articles will stand up as my review of each stage as it is. I tended to write in the hours after each stage, sometimes a day later, and my memory was fresher then than it is now and so more details were covered. What follows here is a generic overview of the race, some thoughts on Nibali's achievement and the usual reaction to it on the likes of social media, a word on Kruijswijk, a look at how the other jersey's played out, how the Italians done, where each man to wear pink finished up, and a dreaded review of my predictions!\

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Controversial sprint to end fantastic Giro won by Nibali

The Giro rolled into Turin today, the final act of the three week show piece. No threats to the pink jersey today, this one was for stage hunters, or sprinters more like...what's left of them. Gone are the Kittels and Greipels and so it was over to the secondary men to step out from their shadow and grab a little glory on the final day. Call it a watered down version of the final day of the Tour de France in Paris if you like. Some might say the Giro as a whole is a watered down version of the Tour, and that might be true in the sense that there was no Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, Nairo Quintana, Peter Sagan or Mark Cavendish, but it certainly isn't the case with regards to entertainment, good racing and edge of the seat action.

That isn't to say the Tour isn't all of that too, but the Giro certainly offers a race of its own that is just as worthy. It's for no reason beyond that of sponsor obligations, name status and perhaps prize money that some of those names I've just mentioned prefer to focus on the Tour more often than not (Contador and Quintana, the past two winners of the Giro respectively, being a slight exception).

Anyway, I digress. The stage indeed came down to a sprint with Giancomo Nizzolo finally getting his way, or so he thought. About half an hour after crossing the line with his arms aloft and yelling out in relief, the Italian was disqualified for changing his line and his victory handed to German Nikias Arndt.

All that was left was the pomp and ceremony and the presentation of that beautiful trophy to Nibali. An Italian winner...they certainly love that, and given how he went about fighting back in the Alps when it might have been easier for him to say he wasn't feeling right and abandon the race earlier in the week, you have to admire him. Some will maintain that Steven Kruijwijk deserved this Giro victory, but in a three week Grand Tour, the man who wears the race leaders jersey over the line on the final stage, tends to be the deserving winner.  It's not always the strongest who wins, but the one that negotiates the course the fastest. And that was Vincenzo Nibali.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Nibali cracks Chaves, grabs pink and wins the Giro

Vincenzo Nibali has won the Giro d'Italia. 4th place and almost five minutes behind overall on Saturday morning, he goes to bed on Sunday night with the pink jersey hanging in his hotel room closet and a lead over Esteban Chaves of almost a minute. Steven Kruijswijk, the man who looked nailed on to win this race as they rode towards the Alps, comes out of them two days later, off the podium. Shades of fellow countryman Tom Dumoulin's late collapse at the Vuelta last year, also at the hands of an Italian on the Astana team.

Let's get the niceties of the stage result out of the way first: Rein Taaramae took the victory. He got into the early break before shedding his fellow contenders and rode in alone, 52sec ahead of Colombian John Atapuma and 1min 17sec up on American Joe Dombrowski. A day for so nears yet so fars for the Colombians.

And it was the so near yet so far of Esteban Chaves that stood out the most. Stage 20 was the final mountain stage of this Giro and the Colle Della Lombarda its final major climb and for Chaves it proved a day too many; a ridge too far.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the Alps...

We should all know by now never to concede the outcome of a Grand Tour when there are mountain passes still to come. Not when there's a Shark in the peloton itching to find his form and take a bite out of this race. He is leaving it late, but Vincenzo Nibali has waited until the highest mountains of this years race to find his form and launch his attack. He went into the Alps with a place on the podium in question; he now has one day to find 44sec and pull off an incredible come back victory.

So what happened? How on earth did Steven Kruijswijk not see it through considering he had a 3min lead on second place Esteban Chaves and 4min 43sec on Nibali? Can the Colombian, Chaves, with the feel of the pink jersey upon his shoulders really pull it off? Today was into the climbs with high altitude, made for a man like Chaves; it is also the long climbs that surely Kruijswijk could defend on and see it out?

But cometh the hour, cometh the shark. It was a day of high drama, massive excitement and brilliant bike racing in every sense of the word. And there's more tomrrow.