It’s perhaps only fitting that on the Giro’s rest day I quickly reflect on the 3 day festival of pain and suffering the riders have just endured. Frankly, it was pretty exhausting just watching, let alone riding: long days in the saddle, lots and lots of tough climbs and dramatically different climatic conditions from start to finish. Despite some spirited opposition, Contador has a lock on the maglia rosa which only TAS can retrospectively wrest from his grasp. However, the other two podium places are still up for grabs and will be hotly contested in the coming days starting in tomorrow’s uphill time-trial.
Contador’s not the only Spaniard, or should that be Spanish speaker, with a smile on his face. Together for 17 years, 5 participations in the Giro and no wins summed up Euskaltel-Euskadi’s record before Anton’s ascent of the Zoncolan. Mind you, only a very small rider was going to be able to squeeze through those crowds. The place was positively heaving. Of course, it might easily have been Rujano, who is showing signs of a return to his 2005 form, but he was fatigued after his (gifted) win on stage 13. Fortunately, he had recovered sufficiently by Sunday to repay the favour and give Alberto a bit of a helping hand. Then, just like buses, along comes another win for Euskaltel with Mikel Nieve in the queen stage (15) atop Val di Fassa. Oh, weren’t they the team that shared the work load with Saxobank on Friday? What goes around, comes around.
Honourable mentions, IMHO, should also go to:-
Stefano Garzelli who won the Cima Coppi (first over highest point) and a shed load of mountain points.
Johnny Hoogerland for another of his seemingly fruitless, but nonetheless entertaining, solo escapes.
Robert Kiserlovski for grinning and baring broken teeth to follow Martinelli’s orders, to the letter.
John Gadret, the best placed Frenchman, in 4th place.
Michele Scarponi for daring to attack.
Vicenzo Nibali for his virtuoso, dare-devil descending.
Finally, I was saddened to learn of Xavier Tondo’s demise in what’s been reported as a bizarre accident with his garage door. My condolences to his family, friends and team mates.
Unfortunately, due to more pressing commitments, I’ve only caught bits of the last few day’s of the Giro. Even worse, I have fallen asleep during transmission of the Tour of California. Why is it that when I watch transmission of the former I am entranced by the countryside, the honeyed stone-walled towns, the sense of history, the wide swathes of sandy coastline while in the latter I wonder why anyone would want to visit, let alone live there? I’m thinking, there’s a lesson to be learnt here. One of the aims of any Tour is to promote the region in which it’s taking place. The Americans haven’t quite got to grips with the concept. Of course, they’ve not been helped by the weather. Meanwhile, over in the Giro, and in stark contrast to last year, the weather has been fabulous. Those pallid, concave, pigeon chests are rapidly getting as tanned as their arms and legs.
The last couple of day’s has seen heroic French efforts sandwiched by two Cavendish wins. These wins were not without controversy as the winner allegedly had an assisted ride up Mount Etna on Sunday, thereby avoiding the cut. Cavendish has hotly denied the accusations but my friends in the peloton tell me that not only does Cavendish get a ride from the team car but he’s often pushed over hills by his team mates. No wonder he thanks them profusely after every win. As we bade a fondish farewell to the sprinters, particularly Ale-jet, who are speedily exiting the Giro before the really big climbs, let’s return to the French.
Christophe Le Mevel (Garvelo) tried to seize the opportunity and the pink jersey yesterday. His team had been assured that Bert wasn’t fussed about defending it and decided to give it a go. Personally, I was willing Christophe into pink but had to leave before the end of the stage for my English class. It was only on my return I learnt that he’d sadly been unsuccessful. While SaxoBank would have been happy to let the jersey go, other teams wanted to preserve the position on GC of their riders and took up the chase. Thanks to a split in the peloton, Christophe lost time and dropped a place on GC. However, it was great to see him try. Too many riders ride just to defend their position, not to better it. Chapeau Christophe.
The win instead went to a diminutive grimpeur (another one who’ll never belong to that select sub-set who weigh more than me) John Gadret (AG2R-La Mondiale) who has a definite empathy with the climbs of the Giro and, with his bald head, a more than passing resemblance to Pantani. Fittingly, he dedicated his win to the late Wouter Weylandt, who’s funeral was held yesterday.
As tomorrow’s stage heads into Austria, can I suggest that the teams’ chefs prepare the boys a spot of post-race Kaiser’schmarrn which has to be one of the best things to eat after significant exertion. This dish is made from a rich pancake batter where the egg whites are whipped and folded into the batter to lighten it before cooking it in a frying pan. Once cooked it is shredded, sprinkled with icing sugar (and in my case, rum-soaked raisins) and served with a fruit compote, generally apple or plum – enjoy.
The past few days have followed a similar pattern. I have risen early, done my household chores and then gone for a short ride to turn the legs over. Afternoons have been spent watching the Giro, baking, ironing and completing tasks on my Kivilev “to do” list. Not for nothing am I the mistress of multi-tasking. As ever, I find it easier to achieve more in my beloved’s absence. He’s due back this evening from an exhibition in Montpelier. Weather permitting, tomorrow we’ll ride the shorter course of La Vencoise.
I thought Tuesday’s annulled stage, and the demeanor of both the fans and riders, was a fitting tribute to the late Wouter Weylandt. I’m sure I wasn’t the only fan with a lump in her throat as his team mates with his best mate, Tyler Farrar, crossed the finishing line. More importantly, the Giro organisers are treating seriously the riders’ concerns and re-checking the descent of the Monte Crosis.
Wednesday’s stretches of strade bianchi were not well received by some riders. Others, like Vincenzo Nibali, seemed to revel in it. The Shark treated us to a master class in descending although, if he was hoping to rattle Alberto, he was sorely disappointed. Indeed, the favourites have been eyeing one another all week while remaining close to the head of the peloton, uber-protected by their team. This has given a number of riders an opportunity to shine, particularly in the breakaways. Rabobank’s Peter Weening, launching a late attack, time-trialled into the maillot rose on Wednesday, taking it from the shoulders of Scotland’s David Millar. Yesterday, Lampre’s Ale-jet’s rocket blasters died just before the line, allowing Movistar’s Ventoso to cross the line first. Today neo-pro, and tour virgin, Omega’s Bart de Clercq launched an audacious attack on the final climb and just managed to hang on to bag his first big win. Tomorrow’s one for the sprinters before the action erupts on Etna on Sunday.
This week end sees the Monster Energy French Moto GP from Le Mans. I have been keeping tabs on the practice and qualifying sessions. Casey Stoner has broken Valentino Rossi’s circuit record, twice. Second fastest to date is Marco Simoncelli with Dani Pedrosa in third spot. Moto2’s top threesome are Bradl, Luthi and Corsi while in 125cc class Nico Terol is leading (yet again), from Efren Vasquez and Sandro Cortese. But it could all change tomorrow.
I had originally intended to head down to Rapallo for a couple of days to ride and watch the finish of Monday’s Giro stage, and the start of Tuesday’s. I changed those plans because the club scheduled the 175km ride for the Kivilev volunteers for yesterday. It’s a route I rarely get an opportunity to ride largely because it heads into the deserted Nicois hinterland where it’s inadvisable to ride alone; there’s no mobile phone signal and little passing traffic. The route’s not particularly difficult, but it does include over 2500m of climbing, just what I needed ahead of Saturday’s La Vencoise.
The “boys” were setting off from the club at 06:30am and mindful of the need to try and stay ahead of them, I set off at the crack of dawn in my yellow fluorescent gilet. All the better to be seen by what little traffic was around. It’s chilly at that time in the morning so I was wearing my armwarmers and 3/4 bib shorts. I parked the car in St Jeannet and rode to Bouyon largely untroubled by traffic, just a few early commuters heading in the opposite direction. The descent to Roquesteron was a little chilly and so I popped into the town bar for a coffee and comfort break.
I set off again climbing up towards Sigale which was where the boys overhauled me last year. I had calculated that if I made it onto the plateau without being overtaken, I would reach the picnic ground before them. It was turning into a gorgeous day; sunny with a hint of a breeze. My only companions were a few animals in the fields alongside the road. I was enjoying the peace and quiet but more importantly, the solitude. I was still profoundly upset by events the day before at the Giro. I am always saddened to learn of the death of a fellow cyclist and it’s not just a case of “there for the grace of God………” If I ever meet my maker on my bike it’ll be because I’ve been knocked off it by a careless motorist. Professional cyclists take far more risks almost wholly because of the speed at which they travel on the bike, they are always testing its limits. Accident wise it’s not been a good couple of weeks for the club, apart from my friend who had been knocked off his bike on Sunday (cracked forehead, cracked vertebrae, massive bruising to right collar and shoulder bones, plus contusions to thighs) one of our promising youngsters, while on his bike, had been attacked by a motorist and left unconscious. Both were now recovering, but had been understandably shaken up by those events.
It also made me think about Andrei Kivilev in whose memory we hold our event. He too died in a cycling accident, albeit before the advent of helmets, in Paris-Nice 2003. Each year his widow attends the prize giving with Andrei’s son, who was born after his father’s death, he’s the spitting image of his late father. Andrei’s parents make regular pilgrimages to visit their grandson and Andrei’s grave, he’s buried here. The club with whom Andrei first started his cycling career in France, and who also participate at the Kivilev, hold a sportif each year in October, again in Andrei’s memory in which our club takes part. Andrei’s family, our local Kazakh community, The Kazakh embassy in France and the Kazakh cycling Federation are grateful to us for keeping Andrei’s memory alive. I’m sure someone will do something similar for Wouter. It’s the least they deserve.
I finished the long slog up to Collongues, still no sign of my pursuers. I was starting to feel confident and enjoying the open roads. You could count on the fingers of one hand the number of cars I’d seen since Roquesteron. The road flattens before the climb to St Auban and the plateau. Still no sign of my team mates although I had seen the club car containing the all important picnic which had overtaken me at Brianconnet. I was starting to believe I might make it. Foolishly, and most unlike me, I hadn’t thought to bring my route map and on reaching a set of cross roads was uncertain which way to go. I opted for Thorenc, the location of the picnic though I had a nagging feeling it was straight on. My nagging feeling was right. My route took me over the testing Col de Bleyne however it also cut 8km off the route.
Had I been able to find the lake, I would have gotten there first: scant consolation. I couldn’t contact my team mates, no signal. So I descended to Greolieres, gave them a call to assure them I wasn’t lost, and stopped at a cafe for lunch. I’d not been here before but had passed by a number of times and it was always busy. The couple seated behind me were waxing lyrical about their lunch. I ordered a coke (necessary sugar hit), herb omelette and salad. The waitress enquired whether I wanted it runny or well-cooked, I requested the former. I sat back, drained my coke and contemplated the arrival of my soft, golden mound of quivering egg and mixed herbs.
I was rudely disappointed. The omelette was nut brown on the exterior and certainly overcooked on the interior, I couldn’t eat it. The proprietor was a little put out, but after offering to enter his kitchen to show his chef how to cook an omelette correctly, he agreed not to charge me anything. I continued on my way. I rode up to Coursegoules, by way of St Pons with my stomach rumbling loudly, but I was almost there, the road was now pretty much downhill all the way back to my car which was parked outside of a particularly fine bakery. That thought kept me going. My reward was a cup of coffee and a coffee eclair – bliss. Coffee eclairs would be my perfect riding snack were it not for the mess they would inevitably make in my jersey pocket.
There was no time to waste if I were to get back to the club in time for this evening’s meeting. I drove home, showered, changed, grabbed my pre-packed bag and headed to the club. I encountered a bit of ribbing about getting lost and missing the bountiful picnic but, in truth, I didn’t care. I had enjoyed my solitary ride. I had been alone, but not lonely.
Five, four, three, two, one and they’re away. It’s Omega Pharma-Lotto who kick off this year’s Giro. The team descends the starting ramp, rides out the gate of the Castello della Venaria Reale, 9km north of Turin, and speeds away in line along a road thronged with enthusiastic spectators, enjoying both the fine weather and the spectacle. The pan-flat route is more technical at the start, challenging the team’s ability to establish a rhythm, followed by wide straight tree-lined avenues with some 90 degree bends around the old town before ending up on the cobbles.
The key to team time trialling is consistency. Invariably you’ll have riders of differing strengths however you need to maintain a speed which everyone can follow. The more able members of the team take longer pulls on the front. Some teams opt for finishing with as many of the original nine as possible, while others progressively spit out riders, crossing the line with the bare minimum (5). Liquigas employed one rider to ride at the back of the paceline to shepherd rotating team members back into line in front of him – neat trick.
Italian television showcased the delights of Turin, home to Fiat cars, and its beautiful, old town, which I found quite reminiscent of Nice. Well, they were both part of the House of Savoy. The centre of Turin is the large quadrangular area lying between Corso Vittoro Emanuele, Corso Galileo Ferraris (shouldn’t that be Fiat?), Corso Regina Margherita, Corso San Maurizio and the Po river. Roughly bisecting this area is the fashionable via Roma, lined with wide arcades, which connects the main railway station with Piazzo Castello. It’s skyline is dominated by extraordinarily shaped Mole Antonelliana designed by Piedmontese architect Alessandro Antonelli. It started life in 1863 as a synagogue and was completed in 1897 as a monument of Italian unity. As to be expected there’s a via Garibaldi, pedestrianised and lined with 18th century palaces. The via Po, to the east of the centre, is full of funky shops, including many bookshops where you would have expected me to pick up a few cycling books and enjoy an espresso in one of the many fashionable cafes.
Alas, I never made it to Turin and am beginning to feel that all my Giro trips are jinxed. It started to go downhill on Thursday afternoon at our Commission Kivilev meeting where I raised a number of as yet unresolved issues. Accordingly, I was given the job of sorting these out. I set to with gusto on Thursday evening with a view to leaving early for Turin the following morning. Inevitably, there were people with whom I needed to speak that I couldn’t reach until the following day. By lunchtime, I was still working away. I made an executive decision, I would cancel my hotel room and drive to Turin early on Saturday morning. I’d missed the team presentation, and wouldn’t have so much time to look around Turin, but I would still see the team time-trial. However, without my parking spot in the hotel garage, handily placed for a quick getaway, it was unlikely I would be home in time to collect my beloved from the airport.
The weather was fabulous on Friday so I nipped out for a quick ride over lunch, my path crossing that of Amael Moinard. He was descending fast (ergo I was ascending, more slowly) so we only had time to exchange greetings. I returned home refreshed by my ride and continued with my work. In addition, I was trying to organise a celebratory lunch for our friend who’s just signed a contract with a Pro-tour cycling team. The limiting factor in all such arrangements is the availability of my beloved. I had circulated dates, basically a few Friday, Saturday or Sunday evenings over the coming weeks. I had qualified this by saying, he was also available Sunday lunchtime. Later that afternoon, I received a call to say that everyone could make this Sunday lunchtime. A few rapid calculations and I realised that something would have to give and it was going to be my trip to Turin.
I planned the menu and wrote out my shopping list. Our friend would be riding the Vuelta, so I went with a Spanish theme: tapas, paella, finishing with the ubiquitous orange-flavoured “flan” with strawberries. We would all be riding on Sunday morning, and our friend’s eldest son was racing, so I went for things which could either be prepared in advance, or thrown together once everyone had arrived. I shopped early on Saturday morning, preparing in advance as many of the dishes as possible, before settling down to watch the time-trial on the television. I looked enviously at the crowds thronging the route in the sunshine and the hordes of Alpini in their jaunty feathered hats, I should have been there: one day.
Needless to say it was the well-drilled teams who held sway. HTC-High Road were fastest and contrived to put Marco Pinotti, the Italian time-trial champion and hugely popular rider, into the pink jersey. RadioShack, another disciplined team, were second, with Liquigas securing third place. While the gaps were not, for the most part, significant, it’s still time that has to be won back at some stage. Of the leading contenders, Nibali is the best placed with Scarponi, hot on his heels, at just 2 seconds behind. Lampre arrived into Turin a day early specifically to practise the team time-trial. It paid off. Contador is 8 secs off Nibali, with Menchov and Sastre at 31 secs and Joaquim Rodriguez at 42 seconds. Euskaltel-Euskadi were the team maglia nera, but team leader Igor Anton has revealed that he’s at the Giro just to hunt for stage wins and not the pink jersey.
Having garnered a large number of brownie points in Saturday’s time-trail, HTC-High Road might have hoped to cash these in on Sunday when Mark Cavendish was pipped on the line into Parma by an in-form Alessandro Petacchi whom they adjudged to have sprinted off his line, not once but thrice. In vain, two stages, two Italian wins: the Giro’s off to a great start.
We watched the action unfold on the screen television in the company of our friend who’s ridden the Giro himself and twice been on winning teams: with Marco Pantani (2002) and with Alberto Contador (2008). It was interesting to hear his observations on the riders, the parcours and the race. As is the case with television commentary, the most brilliantly observed remarks are those from past (or even current) riders who understand intimately the ways and language of the peloton. They add colour, insight and comprehension for the observer. Thus it was with us all gathered around the television after a relaxing and enjoyable lunch.
However, we’re going to have to do it all over again as one couple were missing from the celebration. The husband had been knocked off his bike early on Sunday morning and was under observation in the local hospital for facial and cranial injuries. It’s not serious, just painful, and we all wish him a speedy recovery.
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.