May 10, 2014

Giro d'Italia Stage 2 Review - Kittel the Conqueror

The Stage: A jaunt around the countryside in Northern Ireland destined to end in a bunch sprint without any question whatsoever. Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) entered the overwhelming favorite, especially with fellow elite sprinters Mark Cavendish (at the Tour of California) and Andre Greipel (still recovering from his broken collarbone suffered in late March).

Who won today's stage? Kittel. Easily. He had time to sit up and celebrate before the line even.

When was the stage won? When Giant-Shimano's incredible sprint train got to the front just as the final member of the day's break was absorbed into the peloton with 5km to go. At that point it was all academic with nobody having the speed to freelance past Kittel after a lead out.

When was the stage lost? Elia Viviani (Cannondale) has emerged with great form recently. He beat Cavendish twice at the Presdiential Tour of Turkey a couple of weeks ago and has a decent lead out team. Of course that lead out team was deployed quite badly today. Fearful of the break staying away (it lead by over a minute with 12km to go and the general rule is that 10km is needed to peg back a minute), Cannondale moved to the front and chased the break, giving the Giant-Shimano sprint train an easy ride. at the end Cannondale, having used all its men had nobody left to support Viviani, who finished 4th in a freelanced solo sprint. Lesson of the day: You must be willing to lose the stage to win it, especially as an underdog.

What matters in the GC Race? Michael Mathews (OGE) inherited the pink jersey from his teammate Svein Tuft. As neither are threats for the final overall, this has no greater meaning beyond getting another man in the pink jersey. Beyond that nothing mattered. Nothing at all. Days like these are ones GC fans hate because nothing happens at all unless there is a crash or mechanical, something people don't like seeing men eliminated because of.

What matters in the other competitions?
Points: Kittel now leads though if he wants to win the final jersey he likely needs a lot of wins and some luck to survive the mountains (he is a possible time cut victim on stage 16 if he is still in the race at that point).
King of the Mountains: Maarten Tjallingii (Belkin) was in the days breakaway and won both King of the Mountain climbs (two cat 4 lumps just to get things started).
Young Rider: There is no real pecking order yet. Luke Durbridge (OGE) will be wearing the jersey as the holder of it is Mathews, the pink jersey holder.

Biggest Surprise: There were no crashes in the finale. Given the preponderance of road furniture leading to the end of the stage and the usual crazy Giro turn in the last km (seriously the Giro almost always has one of these stupid turns in the finale of flat sprint stages that is both dangerous and unnecessary), no crashes in the finale of the first bunch sprint stage is a welcome surprise. Maybe having had the TTT to eliminate a mad dash for the pink jersey helped as did some riders showing caution in the inclement weather.

Biggest disappointment: Nobody really challenged Kittel. Viviani's travails are detailed above and Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) just doesn't have the same top gear yet as the top sprinters (a repeat of last year when he was repeatedly near the front on sprint stages and got dusted each time by Cavendish). The rest need to go back to the drawing board as there is little chance of any of them beating an on form Kittel.

What's on the docket for tomorrow?
Another day for the sprinters, as the stage profiles below show. Kittel is the overwhelming favorite once again against this field.
Full Stage Profile - Nothing to trouble anyone
Final 5 km - Near pancake flat

Stage 3 Pick: Marcel Kittel. There is no reason not to pick him on a sprint stage until somebody in this group proves they can beat him or he's no longer in the race.

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