Garibaldi’s Giro I

Here’s the route

Next up it’s the Giro which starts on Saturday. Last year’s version was an absorbing contest played out in dreadful climatic conditions. This year, Italy’s grand tour, with its 40 major climbs and 8 summit finishes, will celebrate the 150 years since Italy’s unification. The route has been described as a climber’s nirvana, so expect the winner to weigh substantially less than me. A mountainous parcours is bound to favour riders such as Alberto Contador. With Basso absent, the weight of Italian expectation will fall on Nibali’s young shoulders. Michele Scarponi, who triumphed in the Giro de Trentino, will also be among the fancied home-grown starters along with Italian champ Giovanni Visconti and former winner Stefano Garzelli. Also riding are former Grand Tour winners Menchov and Sastre, and riders with Tour pretensions such as Joaquim Rodriguez, Igor Anton and David Arroyo. One thing for sure, it’s going to be a fiercely contested and thrilling battle.

Leaving aside the favoured riders and teams which have been beautifully summarised in www.thearmchairsportsfan.com,  let’s look instead at the magnificent route and the challenges strewn along the way. The Giro starts in Turin with a 19.3km team time-trial which will favour well-drilled teams such as HTC-High Road, Liquigas, SaxoBank Sungard, Sky and Garmin-Cervelo. It’s likely that one of the sprinters will pull on the pink jersey for Sunday’s 242km ride from Alba to Parma which is one of the few flat stages this year. Sadly, there’ll be no time for truffle hunting or, indeed, any other gastronomic delights.

The next four days I would classify as moderately mountainous during which the GC contenders will be vigilant but discrete.

  • Stage 3’s 178km from Reggio Emilia to Rapallo goes gently up the Passo del Bocco and the Madonna del Grazie, the latter 8km from the finish line.
  • Stage 4’s 208km along the coast from Quarto dei Mille to Livorno goes back over the Passo del Bracco early on and then it’s flat until the Poggio-like bump 10km before the San-Remo like finish.
  • Depending on the weather, the 23km of strade bianchi towards the end of  Stage 5’s lumpy 201km from Piombino to Orvieto could provoke some time gaps. The favourites will all be marking one another.
  • Stage 6’s 195km to Fiuggi Terme along the Apennines is again very lumpy with an uncategorised climb before the descent to the finish.

There’s the first summit finish on Stage 7, 100km from Maddoloni to Montevergine di Mercogliano,  the climb up Monte Taburno will tire the rider’s legs before the final 17km climb which could ensure a bit of a shake out among the favourites. Stage 8’s 214km to Tropea hugs the Tyrrhenian coastline and is perfect for a face off among the sprinters. In honour of the 1908 earthquake victims, Stage 9 is on Nibali’s home territory of Sicily and features two ascents of Mount Etna which the organisers are hoping will provide more than a few sparks. One would anticipate that Nibali will target this stage which might also land him the pink jersey.

After a well-earned rest day, the route heads back up north on Stage 10, 156km from Termoli to Teramo. In theory, it’s another day for the sprinters’ teams. The coastline can be windy, so the favourites will need to ensure that they’re not distanced by breaks in the peloton. Stage 11 features what many feel will be a key battleground with its many peaks providing scope for attacks, particularly among the GC contenders. The 160km stage from Tortoreto Lido inland to Castelfidardo never goes over more than 600m but it’s a day of tiring, leg sapping, constant ups and downs. On the following day, Stage 12’s pan flat 171kms from Castelfidardo to Ravenna hugs the coastline and has sprint finish written all over it.

Stage 13’s 159km, which finishes at 1,908m atop Austria’s Grossglockner, is pretty much uphill, all day, all the way. First up is the Passo di Monte Croce Carnico at 1,336m, followed by  two further climbs, before the final grind up to the finish. But this is just a taster of what’s to come the following day: Stage 14’s 210km from Lienz to the top of Monte Zoncolan features five tough climbs, by way of 1,982m Monte Crostis, which averages 9% for 15km.  Finally, the main dish of the day on Stage 15, 230km from Conegliano to Val di Fassa, again features five climbs including the Passo Giau at 2,236m but it’s the final 15km on gravel roads to the finish which could prove decisive. Could the overall winner be decided here?

The boys take a well earned day’s break before the uphill time-trial. It’s only 12.7km  and starts with a 1.5km descent before ascending. The middle 4km averages 10% before ramping up to 14% as the road reaches the midway point at Tornante from whence it’s a steady grind to the top which flattens out for the last 2km. Stage 17 is this year’s longest at 246km from Feltre downhill to Sondrio taking in the Passo Tonale and Aprica. It’s unlikely that any of the GC contenders will venture out of the peloton on this stage. It’ll be perfect for a breakaway among those whose GC aspirations have long since evaporated.

Stage 18’s 147km from Morbbegna to San Pellegrino Terme crosses Italy’s cycling heartland which is home to many Italian and foreign riders. Again, it’s probably one for the breakaway artistes but the downhill finish could tempt one of the GC favourites. Stage 19 is yet another summit finish, this time the Macugnaga, 211kms from Bergamo by way of the Mottarone. There’s a fast descent before the final ascent which could be beguiling for those breakaway riders while the GC contenders keep their powder dry ahead of the penultimate stage: 242km from Verbania to Sestriere. Stage 20 is pretty flat for 200km before climbing up the Colle delle Finestre, dropping down 700km and then finishing at 2,035m in the ski station.  The ultimate stage is a 32.8km, simple out and back, flat individual time-trial around Milan.  It’s unlikely to be a decisive stage and will probably be won by someone other than a GC contender.

Bring it on

Hours before the start of the 65th edition (and 75th anniversary) of the Vuelta a Espana, I’m all set and raring to go. Unusually, there’s no pile of laundry to keep me occupied when I’ll be whiling away my afternoons in front of the television. No, I’m going to be sorting out my dressing room, all the drawers and cupboards in the lounge and dining room and rearranging my collection of cookery books. If you’ve visited my apartment you’ll know that these are all mammoth tasks befitting a three-week Tour.

Many more gifted than me have previewed at length the fancied riders and the stages. I’m not going to add to this. Instead, you’ll get, as usual, my take on things: less objective, more subjective. A consensus seems to have built up around perm any three from Nibali/Menchov/Mosquera/the Schlecks/Arroyo/LL Sanchez/Sastre/Rodriguez.

The Vuelta organisers were hoping to tempt Contador to his home Tour and devised a  parcours which would suit him. As he’s shown, it’s possible to do the Giro/Vuelta double, but it’s much more difficult to double up with the Tour de France. It’s not so much the racing itself more the mental demands. In addition, he had concerns over the quality of his support. Valid concerns if you look at the Astana team sheet. My favourite Spanish rider, Samu Sanchez will also be missing, as will last year’s winner, Alejandro Valverde, who’s on an enforced sabbatical. As a consequence, Inigo Cuesta, of the soon to be defunct Cervelo Test Team, riding his 17th consecutive Vuelta, will be honoured with the No 1.

While it’s rare for there to be surprises on the podium of a Grand Tour, I am hoping that maybe either Igor Anton or Benat Intxausti, both from Euskaltel-Euskadi, will shine in their home tour. It’s also an opportunity to look out for talent of the future (Tony Gallopin and Arthur Vichot) and talent that’s shone over the past two seasons, to shine more brightly (Tejay van Garderen and Ben Swift). Of course, there will also be a whole host of riders, without contracts for next season, looking to catch the eye of a Directeur Sportif or two. And, let’s not forget, a whole slew of sprinters, in fact pretty much everyone bar every girl’s favourite bad boy, Tom Boonen, who’ll be battling for supremacy over a possible 8 sprint stages, ahead of the World Championships in Melbourne.

So, stand by your television sets for this evening’s 13km team time trial around Sevilla. Footon-Servetto are off first with teams going at four minute intervals. Local team, Andalucia-CajaSur, will go last. SaxoBank have the advantage of going after other potential winners HTC-Columbia, Garmin-Transitions and (remember the Giro), Liquigas. I do not anticipate any decisive time gaps.

While the first week is uncharacteristically hilly, the key stages are at the back end of the Vuelta: specifically, Stage 15 on 12 September to Lagos de Covadonga, Stage 16 to Cortobello, Stage 17’s 46km pancake flat ITT at Penafiel and, the penultimate test, Stage 20 to Bola del Mundo.

My pick for the podium: 1-Menchov, 2-Nibali, 3-(F) Schleck

Climber’s Jersey: Moncoutie

Point’s Jersey: Cavendish

Combined Jersey: Mosquera

Postcards from Pays Basque I

This morning we set off 50km south-west of where we’re staying in Oiartzun in order to watch the LXXXVII edition of the Ordiziako Klasika. A 165,7km circuit on the UCI Europe Tour, around the town of Ordizia, which takes  in 5 ascents of the Alto de Abaltzisketa and 2 of the Alto de Altzo.

The participants included teams from Euskaltel-Euskadi, Footon-Servetto and Caisse d’Epargne and well-known riders such as Igor Anton, Benat Intxausti, Romain Sicard, David Arroyo, Francisco Mancebo and Ezequiel Mosquera.

Thrashing out team tactics

There was a huge, local, crowd to welcome the riders which swelled considerably as the race progressed. Most proclaimed their support for the Basque riders by either wearing the Basque flag or the orange of Euskaltel-Euskadi. The spectators watched the peloton pass before retreating once again to their local bars, of which there were aplenty.

A  3-man break away was quickly established which was whittled down to just Romain Sicard and Egoitz Garcia (Caja Rural) but they never gained more than  3 minutes on the peloton which broke and then came back together again.  The break away was  finally absorbed but another Euskatel rider soloed to victory ahead of the mass sprint uphill to the line.

To the delight of the spectators, the winner was local boy, neo-pro, Gorka Izaguirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi) who finished ahead of Manuel Ortega (Andalucia Cajasur) and Pablo Lastras (Caisse d’Epargne) to record his 2nd win of the season. His first was the last stage of the Tour of Luxembourg in June.

The winner

Burgos 2016 – Castilla Leon won the team prize, Sicard carried off best U23, most aggressive, the mountain’s classification and the longest escape while Garcia won the points. The winner, Izaguirre, also won the prize for the ¨Most Elegant Rider¨ (I kid you not). I hope Euskaltel bought a large van to carry off all the swag: 6 trophies, 6 bouquets, 6 cheeses, 6 Cava, 1 red beret and 1 framed certificate.

We then hopped  in the car to head back to the hotel to watch the last stage of this year’s Tour de France. While I appreciate that it’s largely a procession, there was still the points (green) jersey to be decided.

As I watched the peloton riding over the cobbles on the Champs Elysees heading, towards the l’Arc de Triomphe, I was reminded of my own recent ride in London-Paris. Those cobbles are painful; no wonder they try to ride in the gutter. To no one’s surprise, Cavendish won at a canter to make it 5 wins this Tour and 15 in total but Petacchi retained the green jersey and becomes one of only 4 men to have won the points jersey in all three Grand Tours.

Radioshack had started the stage wearing unsanctioned special black Livestrong shirts but were obliged by the UCI to revert to their usual authorised grey kit: cue quick roadside kit change. However, as winners of the Best Team, they reprised the Livestrong shirts for the presentation. These shenanigans garnered plenty of column inches which I’m sure was the intent.

Une Edition Record

La Laurentine Andrei Kivilev

The day of the event was warm and sunny: just what we’d ordered. For once there were no professional riders at the start , as the event clashed with their professional commitments.  No matter, a good time was still had by all thanks to the hard work of our vast team (60) of volunteers which did not go unnoticed or unappreciated by the participants.

Andrei’s widow kindly assisted with the presentation of the prizes and her son  performed a splendid job selecting the winning numbers for the tombola. Yes, not only did the participants get a goodie bag with a T-shirt commemorating the event, a bidon, a discount voucher from one of the local sports shops but they stood to win cycling related prizes, including 2 sets of wheels and a Look bike frame, in the tombola.

The event  was graced, as usual, by the Mayor and other local and regional officials responsible for sporting and cultural events as well as a representative from the Kazakh Embassy in France and a reporter and cameraman from Kazakh TV. Our event will be featured in a short segment which will be regularly repeated in the coming weeks on the main TV channel in Kazakhstan. In the spirit of cementing Franco-Kazakh relations, I decided to wear the dreaded white trousers from Le Grand Depart 2009, teaming them with a turquoise t-shirt and yellow sweater, swung over the shoulders: voila, the colours of team Astana and the Kazakh flag.  

We’ll be holding a post-mortem meeting this week to review what went well and, more importantly, how and where we can make improvements for next year’s edition. Ideally, we would like to turn it into a cyclosportif. Easier said than done.

All this hyperactivity meant that I missed watching 3 stages of the Giro, although I did see the final TT. Liquigas must have been delighted: three men in the top ten with Basso taking the maglia rosa , Nibali 3rd  and  Kiserlovski 10th. Equally, Caisse d’Epargne must be pleased with Arroyo’s 2nd place while honourable mentions for Scarponi (4th), Evans (5th) and Vino (6th). The Australians made a clean sweep of the remaining jerseys: points (Evans), mountains (Lloyd) and best young rider (Porte). The organisers are to be congratulated for organising a thrilling Giro.

I spy with my little eye…..

Only hours after having my eye lasered, I can see without glasses. I was a little apprehensive beforehand, but the clinic did everything to put me at ease, including giving me a therapeutic foot massage. Attractively clad in slip on disposable booties, a paper shower cap and blue apron I lay down on the operating table and did exactly as I was told. My charming opthalmic surgeon was ably assisted by a nurse and a technician who reassuringly talked me through the entire procedure.

After anaesthesia in both eyes, my right eye underwent treatment to cure my short-sightedness and astigmatism. It was uncomfortable, rather than painful, and over very quickly. Afterwards my eye felt a little scratchy. I was expecting it to be more painful as the anaesthetic wore off, but it wasn’t.

I declined the post-operative coffee and cakes, settled my bill, thanked everyone and headed off home to watch the Giro. After yesterday’s exciting TT up the Plan de Corones, won by Stefano Garzelli, today’s was a more prosaic stage: 173km to Pejo Terme. The fireworks were provided by yet another lone rider from a breakaway group who landed his first professional win in an 8-year career with Cofidis to give France its second stage winner in this edition. Damien Mounier set off 3km from the finish leaving behind his breakaway companions and held on to take his first ever pro-tour win – fantastic. Arroyo is still in pink and the usual suspects are lurking in the wings, waiting to pounce.

Lazy Sunday afternoons

My beloved returned yesterday evening from a hectic week in the UK. I let him sleep in this morning as there was no pointage, just a club ride to Aspremont. Instead, we decided to ride over to Menton and tackle the Col de la Madone. However, my beloved was feeling really fatigued so rather than ride over to La Turbie, we descended to Menton and retraced our steps.

Thanks to the gloriously warm summer-like conditions, the roads were busy with holiday traffic (Monday’s a Bank holiday here). We spotted 2 Rolls Royces, 6 Ferraris, 1 Lambourghini, I Bentley and only 1 Aston Martin. Yes, we take note of the number of high value cars we see when we ride over in the direction on Monaco. We do not include Porsches, Mercedes or BMWs, far too common, though we do include Audi R8 Spyders.

With lunchtime almost over, we stopped at a small Italian roadside restaurant in Eze, where we could leave the bikes in the courtyard garden, and enjoyed a magnificent spaghetti with clams, followed by that Italian classic “Tiramisu”, which was deliciously light. Seriously fortified, we pedalled home strongly to catch the action on the Monte Zoncolan.

As anticipated the man who saved his legs yesterday, Ivan Basso, distanced everyone on that 11.9% average climb to the finish. He was followed in by (in order) Evans, Scarponi, Cunego, Vino, Sastre and Nibali. David Arroyo is still sitting pretty in pink, ahead of Ritchie Porte in white, followed by Basso, Sastre, Evans, Vino ( looking good in the red point’s jersey), Nibali and Scarponi.  I’m sure they’re all looking forward to tomorrow’s rest day, I know I am.

Normal service resumed

Today, I set off down the Var valley towards Castagniers for my Power Tap test. I was looking forward to seeing what, if any, progress I’d made since my first test. My coach promises a 5% improvement. Now, if I were an elite athlete, 5% improvement would sound like a good deal. However, since I’m not, I’m looking for around 20% improvement over 6 months.

I’m pleased to report that I’m on target with a 10% improvement over the last 3 months. I rode for 20 minutes along the D2202, easily one of my least favourite roads, on account of the very fast moving traffic and the amount of gravel and glass along its verges. The test was supposed to have taken place at the velodrome in La Bocca but it’s closed on account of this being a holiday week end. My trainer told me to stay at an average of 200 watts for the first 10 minutes and then give it my all. However, I barely managed to exceed 170 for the first 10 minutes. I did, fortunately, fare very much better on the way back. Though, I think it’s fair to say, Spartacus won’t be quaking in his Sidis any time soon.

I popped in to my LBS on the way back to say hello to the owner as, most unusually,  I’ve not been in for a couple of weeks. Then it was back home, shower, change into the fleecy tracksuit, lunch and onto the sofa for today’s stage of the Giro.

What did I say about buses? Yet another Italian win: third in a row. This time Vicenzo Nibali, largely thanks to some kamikaze descending off the Monte Grappa en route to Asolo. Today, it was the turn of the dethroned favourites to put the hurt on the rest of the peloton. Liquigas laid down a punishing pace on the ascent of the Monte Grappa, scattering GC contenders all over its steep slopes.

Finishing behind Nibali were (in order) Basso, Scarponi and Evans, with a gap to Vino, who now leads the points classification. David Arroyo is now in pink, 39 seconds ahead of former maglia rosa wearer, Ritchie Porte, with Tondo in 3rd place. Nibali is now 8th on GC, while Vino is 9th. I think we can expect further fireworks on tomorrow’s stage which includes the Monte Zoncolan: 10.1km with an average gradient of 11.9%. That’s going to hurt.

Bouleversement

I got caught in the rain this morning as I went out for a quick training ride ahead of tomorrow’s marathon: 175km and 2,713m of climbing.  I then rushed around, like the mad woman that I am, fulfilling my long list of must do chores for today. I arrived back home in time to watch today’s stage of the Giro, a fairy innocuous (or so I thought), long (262km) stage to L’Aquila.

I switched on the tv to discover one-third of the peloton (56 riders) were having a Perreiro moment. They’d gone away in the 20th kilometer and had built up an advantage of 17 minutes in the pouring rain. Yes, after yesterday’s sunshine, the weather gods are once more displeased.

Most of those occupying the top 15 spots on GC, including the maglia rosa, were in Group 2. Those who we were all (wrongly) figuring might be out of contention, were in Group 1. How they were allowed to build up such an advantage remains a mystery but, is bound to be a talking point at the dinner table this evening. By the time the favourites started taking their turn on the front of Group 2, having exhausted their troops, it was definitely a case of far too little, too late.

The stage was won by Evgeni Petrov (Katusha) ahead of Dario Cataldo (Quick Step) and Carlos Sastre (Cervelo); so, still no Italian stage win.  Ritchie Porte (Saxo Bank) now has both the pink and white jerseys.  David Arroyo (Casse d’Epargne) is in 2nd place while Robert Kiserlovski (Liquigas) is 3rd.

Group 2 containing Vinokourov, Basso, Nibali, Evans, Garzelli, Scarponi, Pozzato, Karpets, Cunego and Pinotti (among others) came in over 12 minutes and 46 seconds down and they are now way back on GC. This is turning into one hell of a Giro, I can hardly wait for tomorrow’s stage. What better incentive to finish tomorrow’s ride in a reasonable time so that I can watch the highlights. What, you thought I’d be back in time to watch it live?  Sadly, no way, but I’m hoping to break 10 hours.