This Giro-Tour double thing is going to be mighty fun, right up until Contador loses... and that might be in the Giro
This would qualify as unexpected. Yes, Alberto Contador is audaciously attempting to win the Giro and the Tour in the same year and nobody has done it since 1998. And Contador's presence makes the Giro more interesting as without him the GC field here would look like 2012, when Ryder Hesjedal won this race of Joaquin Rodriguez in one of the least accomplished GC battles in recent times (the race was entertaining all the way though). Still, the way this has been raced so far, the trials to come and the apparent strength of two rivals means this Giro is going to take far more effort than previously thought. Needless to say, Contador will not accomplish the double. Heck, he might not win either race given he is not nearly the time trial rider he was earlier in his career and there is a very long time trial in this race. And even if Contador wins the Giro, the effort is going to take too much out of him to win the Tour, same as it was in 2011.
We have a 3 man race (maybe 4 if lucky)
|Aru, Contador and Porte at the Stage 5 finish (h/t cyclingnews)|
Despite my skepticism over the chance of Contador to win the double, he is the race leader after the Stage 5 summit finish at Abetone. Worryingly for Contador, he was unable to drop everyone. Richie Porte and Fabio Aru both stayed with Contador all the way up the mountain whereas everyone else fell off the pace. Aru even stole a few bonus seconds. Contador only leads at this point because his team put in the best team time trial performance on stage 1.
Still, there might as well be crickets after the top three. Nobody else could stay with the top three (the stage was won by a single rider from the breakaway) and most of the outsiders are way off the pace. In fact fourth and fifth place overall are domestiques supporting their leaders higher up the standings (Roman Krueziger supporting Contador and Dario Cataldo supporting Aru). Of the rest, only Rigoberto Uran (2nd the last two years) has any hope remaining and only because the time trial is similar to the long time trial he won at last year's Giro and there is some hope he can find form over the next couple of flat days before the climbing begins again. Everyone else? Done for. The list of accomplishments on GC for men who are leaders but now done is absurd (listed below).
Ryder Hesjedal (won 2012 Giro, top 10 2014 Giro, two Tour de France top-10s) - 6:11 behind
Jurgen Van Den Broeck (two Tour de France top 5s) - 2:27 behind
Przemyslaw Niemiec (top 5 in 2013 Giro) - 5:10 behind
Benat Intxausti (tio 10 and a stage win in 2013 Giro) - 18:10 behind
Igor Anton (crashed out while leading 2010 Vuelta in week 3, won Zoncolan stage in 2011 Giro) - 14:52 behind
Carlos Betancur (top 5 in 2013 Giro) - 15:06 behind
Ilnur Zakarin (won Tour of Romandie two weeks ago) - 25:26 behind
That many in this crew still have a legitimate shot at the top 10 should say something about how dead this race is beyond the top three considering we have raced only five stages.
There might actually be a future in Italian cycling
In recent years, the talk of Italy's cycling future has been doom and gloom. Yes, Vincenzo Nibali is an excellent standard bearer having won all three Grand Tours and Fabio Aru announced his arrival last year and seems poised to finish at least on the podium this year. Still, the classics have gone awful for Italy in recent years as have the World Championships (with Nibali's 4th on home roads in 2013 the only credible victory threat in some time) and double stage winnner a year ago Diego Ulissi tested positive, served a shortened ban and has been awful since his March return to racing.. Further, there is now only one World Tour team left in Italy and the Italian spine that Garmin inherited in the Cannondale merger has seemingly torpedoed all positive results for that team. Needless to say, things have looked bleak in Italy.
Enter the youngsters. For as long as Elia Viviani has been around (his double stage wins at the US Pro Challenge that announced him to American audiences were all the back in 2011), he is still only 26. He finally won his first Grand Tour stage on stage two after years of trying and coming up short (with a succession of seconds and thirds last year in the Giro).
While there has been some expectation on Viviani for some time, the young winner on stage 4 is different. Davide Formolo is just 22 and has zero expectation this season, especially as he is on the horribly underachieving Cannondale-Garmin team. His solo win on stage 4 was impressive. More impressive, following that win by not losing metric tons of time like the outside GC contenders on stage 5. While Formolo did lose 2:32 on the stage, he bested Van Den Broeck, Anton and quite a few others while still recovering from his huge effort to win the day before. He has a bright future.
Orica GreenEdge are doing things right
As someone that writes about cycling and reads a ton about it, one of the big storylines every offseason is will Orica GreenEdge sign a GC leader. The team has never had a credible GC threat since its creation in 2012, but the plan has always been to develop one, not sign one. While working on the development (the Yates brothers have lots of potential), GreenEdge set itself some attainable targets and those expectations have been wildly exceeded.
For the Giro, Orica came with a simple goal: win the Team Time Trial to take the pink jersey and then win while wearing the jersey. If it sounds familiar, it is exactly what happened last year when the team won the Team Time Trial and then won a stage in the pink jersey with Michael Mathews. This year, it is much the same. Orica won the TTT, then got Mathews in position to win Stage 3 in the leaders jersey, which he did. Mission accomplished.
For those who are unaware, Krueziger is currently facing discipline for possible doping during the 2012 Giro. He has been cleared to race by his national federation and is here as a domestique to Alberto Contador. He also sits 4th on GC and is one of the more accomplished GC riders at the race. When he infiltrated the break on stage 4, alarm bells should have been going off. Give Kreuziger six minutes and this race might be as good as over if he is truly in form. At the very least, it makes Contador's life much easier when dealing with Aru and Porte. Instead the team that chased Krueziger (and the other 23 men in that breakaway) was his own, Tinkov-Saxo. Why would his own team chase? A couple of theories:
- The team is worried about Krueziger's upcoming appearance before the Court of Arbitration for Sport in June. It would be embarrassing to have another Grand Tour wiped off the record books after the fact just as Contador's 2010 Tour de France and 2011 Giro victories were. Krueziger gaining a big chunk of time in an early breakaway makes him a major contender to win the race outright.
- The team is all in for Contador and given the Giro-Tour double goal, having teammate Krueziger steal the Giro, no matter how unlikely is a bad thing for team unity, especially when Peter Sagan will need to be supported at the Tour as well. Having Krueziger out front by minutes might also lead to the situation of having teammates attacking each other in the mountains, not something any team wants to have.
- Krueziger doesn't have the form to do anything significant in the long run. This is the least likely as if he really has no form, leaving him in the break does nothing to hurt you when he blows up in the mountains (and despite the summit finish, there still haven't been any real mountains yet).