Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Dutchman back in pink as a Colombian contender takes the stage

Day-by day, climb-by-climb, one-by-one the contenders for this Giro d'Italia have fallen by the wayside as the number with the potential to win dropped from double figures, to half a dozen to five, four and today perhaps just three as the race entered the Dolomites and the general classification was turned upon its head.

It was a 210km epic from Alpago to Corvara, crossing six climbs in total, five of which had an altitude of more than 2,000 metres for a collective 5,000 plus metres of total altitude gain by the riders who spent upward of six hours in the saddle.

And by the time all was said and done we had a Colombian stage winner in Esteban Chaves, another Dutchman in the pink jersey in Steven Kruijswijk, an Italian hanging on for grim death in Vincenzo Nibali, and the likes of Alejandro Valverde, Andrey Amador, Rafal Majka, Ilnur Zakarin and Rigoberto Uran all in real trouble.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Jungles loses pink to Amador...Sky salvage some pride

The big story today was at the top of the general classification as Bob Jungels was finally exposed on one of the final climbs and despite his best efforts to time-trial his way back across to his rival Andrey Amador, it proved to be in vain as the Movistar rider became the first man from Costa Rica to pull on a race leaders jersey at a Grand Tour. They'll be dancing on the streets of San Jose tonight.

That last climb had also caught Amador out, but not as much and he had descended like a demon to get back on and complete his dream. His large group of 14 was led home by Vincenzo Nibali in third place on the stage, who took enough bonus seconds to leapfrog Alejandro Valverde into third place overall by two seconds. Up ahead of them on the stage was Giovanni Visconti and 43sec further ahead of him was team Sky's Mikel Nieve who had salvaged a little pride for Team Sky who seen their GC ambitions vanish when their other Mikel -- Landa -- abounded earlier in the week.

It had been a rough Giro for Team Sky before today. With all their eggs in the Landa basket for the overall title, it left Sebastian Henao as their best placed man overall some thirteen and a half minutes adrift when that basket dropped and the eggs cracked.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

So Greipel hasn't abandoned after all...well, he has now

As of this morning, for reasons I don't quite know, I was under the assumption that Andre Greipel had already abandoned the Giro. Which was surprising to me given the profile of today's stage with not a single rise on the road. If ever there was a day designed for the fast men, then this was it. As a result of my assumption I was trying to think on who might win the days gallop now that Marcel Kittel and Greipel had gone home.

But he hadn't, and no wonder. Imagine though my surprise when I did tune in with just two kilometres to go, with that Italian commentary again, and all I could hear was the name Greipel and all I could see was the Lotto-Soudal team moving up towards the front. The big man was still very much a part of this race and he was going for his third stage win of the race. There was never going to be any doubt.

Caleb Ewan made more of a fist of it than anyone else managed in Greipel's previous two wins, but even he came up a few lengths short, though partly because he had to check his sprint when he decided to come over Greipel's right shoulder and realised there was no room between the German and the barriers. Would Ewan have won had he gone the other way? We'll never know, but now that Greipel is indeed bowing out of the race ahead of the terrain that will never suit him, to rest and recover for other targets over the summer, perhaps Ewan will get his chance on one of the few remaining flat stages.

There was no change in the overall.

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Over in at the Tour of California, yesterday, Peter Sagan won yet again. No longer in contention to win the overall classification, Sagan is sweeping up all other stages beyond that of the queen stage that he lost big time on a few days ago. Stage 5 is underway as I write this, so we'll see what it brings.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Ulissi wins again but Jungels remins king of the Giro

So much for that being a sprinters day on what looked on the profile like a pan-flat stage with a couple of little bumps near the end. Turns out those hilly were harder than they looked and enough to shake virtually everyone not in GC contention from the final shootout for the stage win.

Vincenzo Nibali turned up the pressure on the descent of one of those hills and split it up nicely. For a moment it looked like himself, Alejandro Valverde and Esteban Chaves might take time on everyone else with 15km to go, but the leading duo on GC -- Bob Jungels and Andrey Amador -- soon bridged across...and then attacked. It was an attempt by Amador to take the jersey from Jungels, but the young Etixx - Quick Step rider had more in his legs than they thought and it was soon about the two putting time into the rest with Jungels looking the strongest of the two. With 4.5km remaining Diego Ulissi, he of one stage win to his name in his Giro being quickly dominated by Italian stage winners, sprinted across the small but holding gap to join the attack and set up the potential three man sprint and with the Italian then present it should have been obvious who would win the stage.

The gap held and Ulissi took the win, sprinting around Jungels who was more focused on keeping the chasing group at bay with a huge effort in the final kilometre that resulted in him finishing third of the three. The result gave the Luxembourgian four bonus seconds, though his lead of the Giro was reduced by 2sec with Amador finishing in front of him and gaining 6sec overall. Still the limited bunch that contained the other GC contenders trailed in behind Giacomo Nizzolo at 13sec thus improving Jungels advantage over the likes of Nibali and Valverde by 17sec.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Youth springs forth with stage win and race leadership change on stage 10

It was a good day for youth on day that seen another Italian winner, a change in the race lead, a conflict between team-mates, Tom Dumoulin losing time, and the abandonment of Mikel Landa after falling ill over night. The stage winner was 21 year old Giulio Ciccone, who became the third different Italian stage winner at this Giro and the race leader is now 23 year old Bob Jungles, who became the first rider from Luxembourg to pull on the pink jersey since the great Charly Gaul in 1959.

It's been a mighty impressive Giro for the Italians. On top of having Gianluca Brambilla in pink for a few days, they now have three stage wins from three different riders, and none of them have been sucked up via bunch sprints either. Indeed, if you remove the sprint stages and the two individual time-trials from the equation, Italians have now won three of the four remaining stages thus far.

And it was fitting that it should be this way for I had to stream the final 15-20km in Italian. I had no idea what they were saying other than the mention of riders names, but there was little doubt that they were enjoying what they were seeing. No let up in the shouting and yelling that gave the impression that I was watching the most dramatic race of all time.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Notes from rest day 2, Giro 2016 edition

A pretty decent first week of racing with a little bit of everything and a general classification that is still completely wide open heading towards the mountains. You cannot really ask for much more than that and so I suppose, with a kind heart, those fine athletes deserve a day of rest! Still, there's plenty to muse about both at the Giro and beyond.

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Kittel abandons

Let's start with the German sprinter who lit up the first two road stages in the Neterlands with mighty victories in which nobody else came close. On stage four he arrived in Italy for the first time in his Giro racing career but only lasted a further five stages before failing to take the start at yesterday's time-trial. As a result Kittel leaves the Giro with his record intact of having won four career Giro stages without ever having won the race on Italian soil.

Maybe it was the weather he didn't fancy yesterday or maybe he's satisfied with his two early victories and will now rest up and turn his ambitions to stage wins at Le Tour in July. Still, with Andre Greipel in the assendency it would have been nice to see them go head-to-head a few more times, and perhaps even fight out the red points jersey all the way to a conclusion. Stages 11 and 12 coming up this week look ideal for the sprinter so it's a surprise he didn't hang around a few more days.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Dumoulin fails to gain as contenders remain close

If you'd have told me on Saturday morning that come Sunday night after the conclusion of the long individual time-trial that Tom Dumoulin would be sitting almost one minute off the overall lead and behind the likes of Vincenzo Nibali and Alejandro Valverde, I'd have thought you were nuts. Saturday didn't look exceptionally tough on paper and Sunday's TT was tailor made for the big Dutchman.

As it is in reality, Dumoulin has had a weekend to forgot. An implosion on Saturday clearly left his legs too tired to recover on time for Sunday and while he still bettered the time of his main rivals, he did only finish 15th and is left with his GC ambitions hanging by a thread with all the major climbing stages still to come.

Indeed it would appear that Dumoulin may now decide to lose time in a bid to later win a stage, especially now that the time-trial stage he had hoped to win for himself has come and gone. Perhaps he was right after all when he told us that he wasn't in this GC race for the long haul but to try retain the jersey for as long as he could before accepting his fate, and that he hadn't trained at altitude unlike the others. Maybe he wasn't bluffing. Of course, he remains with a minute of the overall lead and closer still to the men expected to compete for the overall glory, but the mountains are their terrain and Dumoulin looked shaky on that climb on Saturday.

The weather was awful too for the TT, but not that it could be used as any excuse. Sure the surprise winning time of Primoz Roglic was set on dry roads, but others who faced the same conditions put time into Dumoulin while the climbing sort he must have hoped to bury today, did not lose anywhere near what we thought they might.