May 19, 2014

Giro d'Italia Week 1 Review

So on what would normally be the first rest day (it is the second because of that rainy Irish detour in the beginning), we take stock of the Giro d'Italia so far.

Best Individual Performance: Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida)
Diego Ulissi celebrates his victory atop the Montecopiolo.
Thanks to Giro organizers La Gazzeta dello Sport for photo.
Ulissi is not known for his climbing. He is more of an uphill sprinter with the Ardennes races his likely big career targets. So his stage 5 win on a category 4 hill was no surprise. Much more surprising was his victory in stage 8, on a category 1 mountain. If nothing else, the win there forces a bit of a re-evaluation of what Ulissi might be capable of. He currently sits in 7th place, 1'43" behind leader Cadel Evans (BMC) and has established himself as his team's leader over Damiano Cunego and Prezmyslaw Niemiec.

Beat Team Performance: Orica GreenEdge
By a wide, wide margin, Orica GreenEdge has been the best team in the race so far. The team came into the Giro with two goals: win the team time trial to get the pink jersey and get Michael Mathews a stage win. Mission accomplished on both accounts. Orica won the TTT with ease, putting Canadian Svein Tuft into the pink jersey on his birthday, then passed it to Mathews who won a stage on a category 2 mountain finish from a reduced group while wearing the pink jersey. The third stage win poached by Peter Weening on Stage 9 just confirms what has been an excellent performance so far from a team with no GC threat in the race.

Best Stage: Stage 8
After the carnage of Stage 6 (more on that below) and a by the books sprint stage, stage 8 brought the first real mountains of the race. Yes, Stage 6 had finished on a category 2 climb, but stage 8 brought the first category 1 climbs and the first summit finish of the race. Early on, it looked like the GC group was going to do nothing but stare at each other until the final kilometer (something we have seen with increasing regularity over the past few years). Then Pierre Roland (Europcar) jumped out out of the group with 25 km to go. While Rolland is no favorite to win, he has a top 10 Tour de France and Tour de France King of the Mountains win to his credit along with two Alpine stage wins (including atop Alpe d'Huez during current Giro GC leader Cadel Evans 2011 Tour de France GC win). The bunch let him go. Riding into the final kms, Rolland finally caught Julian Arredondo (Trek), the last surviving man from the breakaway and then made a crucial mistake: he tried to work with him. Arredondo was spent and Rolland wasted time with that manuever, allowing the bunch to catch him and come around him in the final km and Ulissi to take the mountain sprint for the win.

Worst Luck: Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp)
There are a bunch of guys already out of this race because of the huge stage 6 crash. Still, they had a better Giro than Irishman Dan Martin who never got out of Northern Ireland before breaking his collarbone in the Stage 1 TTT. Considering that Martin was only riding the Giro because of the visit to Ireland, this is a bitter pill to swallow, especially if he missed the Tour de France as well because of his injuries.

Worst Stage: Stage 4
This stage had bore written all over as soon as the course was announced. It was short and had no categorized climbs and a circuit race at the end. When it then rained and turned the circuit into an ice skating rink, it got worse as the stage was neutralized. For the daredevil sprinters there was a final lap race to the line, where Giant-Shimano botched their tactics and there were multiple crashes. Just a bad day all around all around for everybody, except stage winner Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ)

Worst Team Performance: Team Sky
To start, Garmin-Sharp and Katusha are exempt as those teams were destroyed by crashes, Garmin in the team time trial and Katusha in the stage 6 megacrash. Team Sky though... That team has done nothing whatsoever thus far. Only Ben Swift sprinting in Ireland has been even decent. They haven't been in the breakaways and they haven't been active in the mountains. Just an all-around bad performance thus far. Of course with the Tour team all resting/training or winning the Tour of California right now, the Giro is an understandable afterthought.

Best Positioned GC Men
  • Cadel Evans (BMC) - A surprising race leader after a strong team time trial and an opportunistic gaining of time on the crash marred stage 6. Some say he should have waited after the crash, but crashes are part of racing and Evans himself once famously lost the Vuelta a Espana by a mechanical issue when his Spanish rivals hit the gas the moment his issue came about. Add the upcoming time trial that should favor him and Evans might lead by 2 minutes before we hit the really massive mountains. Currently leads GC by 57"
  • Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) - Surprisingly, given the past of this team hiring GC riders and giving them no support, Uran actually has some help in the race. They rode a good team time trial and Uran himself has had no missteps other than being caught behind the stage 6 crash. He is in excellent position to replicate his podium finish of a year ago. Currently 2nd, 57" behind Evans
  • Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) - Last year's top young rider is now in that position again, something unexpected with prerace favorite Nairo Quintana also eligible for that prize. Currently 3rd, 1'10" behind Evans. 
  • Dominico Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondiale) - An opportunistic move on stage 9 netted Pozzovivo 30 seconds on the other GC contenders and moved him into the top 5 overall. After finishing in the top 10 the last two years, he is well positioned to better those results. Currently 4th, 1'20" behind Evans
  • Fabio Aru (Astana) - In 6th place, the top lieutenant of Vincenzo Nibali's Giro winning team last season had done two things necessary for GC contention: he has positioned himself well on GC, and he has dispatched co-leader Michele Scarponi, who coulldn't keep up with the leader group on stage 8 after being involved in the stage 6 crash. Currently 6th, 1'39" behind Evans
OK Positioned GC Men
  • Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) - Just 23 years old, Kelderman is an excellent time trialer meaning he is likely to vault forward on the stage 12 time trial on Thursday. Still, life in the mountains will likely be difficult without top support man Steven Kruijwijk who left the race injured during stage 9. Currently 8th, 1'44" behind Evans
  • Nairo Quintana (Movistar) - The prerace favorite has shown some cracks thus far. He was caught in the stage 6 crash and may have injured his leg. Also, he may not have form having not raced since late March after his big Giro tuneup race was canceled in Spain due to a lack of funding. Currently 9th, 1'45" behind Evans
  • Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) - Covered a bit earlier, Ulissi is not known as a GC man, but he sits in 7th overall and won a category 1 summit finish. We will see after the time trial and the really high mountains. I suspect he will fall off the pace fairly early on the Gavia-Stelvio-Val Martello stage. Currently 7th, 1'43" behind Evans
Doomed GC Men
  • Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) - He just has too many people to jump in the standings. Still, that he has a legitimate shot at finishing in the top 10 after losing well over 3 minutes in the team time trial is a great accomplishment. Currently 17th, 4'30" behind Evans.
  • Ivan Basso (Cannondale) - He is ancient and has no explosiveness. Had stayed in contact with the leaders through guile and experience. That won't help for too much longer, especially when he drops minutes in the time trial on Thursday. Currently 11th, 2'01" behind Evans.
  • Daniel Moreno (Katusha) - Came to the Giro as the top mountain helper for Joaquin Rodriguez. Therefore it didn't matter when he lost some time in Ireland. Now Rodriguez is gone and Moreno, a former top five finisher in the Vuelta is way back. Currently 30th, 9'48" behind Evans.
  • Michele Scarponi (Astana) - After crashing in stage 6 and losing a bunch of time on stage 8, Scarponi is now a lieutenant for Aru for as long as he remains in the race. Currently 42nd, 18'37" behind Evans
  • Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo) - The Irishman was caught in the stage 6 crash and then had to wait 15 minutes for a new bike to replace his broken one. From there he became one part stage hunter and one part lieutenant for Rafal Majka. Currently 49th, 24'17" behind Evans.
  • Julian Arrendondo (Trek) - Had the smae thing happen to him that happened to Roche. Arrendondo then set new goals of win a stage and win the King of the Mountains. He was caught with under 3 km to go on stage 8 and now wears the blue jersey as King of the Mountains leader after gaining a ton of points that day. Currently 75th, 43'52" behind Evans.
Abandoned GC Men
  • Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) - Crashed out in the Team Time Trial with a broken collarbone.
  • Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) - Started with broken ribs suffered in a crash during the Amstel Gold Race, then re-injured himself in the stage 6 carnage. To his credit he finished the stage before not taking the start the next day for stage 7.
Points Competition Thus Far - With points doubled for flat days, this competition is sure to go to a sprinter, if any make it over the mountains the final week (the time cut is a very real possibility, especially on stage 16). At this point it is a four-man race: Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ), 166 pts; Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek), 150 pts; Elia Viviani (Cannondale), 139 pts; Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida), 121 pts. Beyond these men, the only hope is that all four of these men abandon the race as everyone else is still behind the number of points Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) had when he left the race after stage 3 with two stage wins.

King of the Mountains - The stage 6 crash shaped this competition. Crash victim Julian Arrendondo (Trek) shifted his focus from GC to this after losing 15 minutes that day. Beyond him, second place Diego Ulissi is too high on GC to go into the breakaways to target the earlier climbs if he even wants to contest this while third place Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani-CSF) will make his annual futile attempt to win a stage from somewhere and absorb enough mountain points along the way to be relevant in this competition. Early holder of the jersey Maarten Tjallingii (Belkin) isn't actually much of a climber, he just happened to be the man in the breakaways who wanted the jersey on the first two road stages in Ireland.

Young Rider Competition - This has already shaped up as a five man field. Majka owns the lead and the white jersey right now, Aru, Ulissi, Kelderman and Quintana are all eligible and all within 35 seconds of Majka. After Quintana, nobody else is within 10 minutes so these are the five who will contest this going forward.

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