Tag Archives: Giro d’Italia 2014

Quintana seals the deal; wins his first Giro … the first of many

Yesterday I finished the stages report by saying that Nairo Quintana would amble over the line today into Trieste and win his first, but surely not his last grand tour. And he did just that on a stage won in a bunch sprint by Luka Mezgec, but what I should have said, was that Quintana would win his first but probably not his last grand tour — this season.

Quintana has lit up this Giro with his talent. Falling behind the leaders in the first week, he turned on the style come the high mountains clawing his lead back on a controversial stage over the Stelvio but then cementing his domination over the rest on stage 19. Quintana is 24 years of age and so much lies ahead of him. He isn’t slated to ride this years Tour de France, but a run at the Vuelta is likely and who would bet against him winning it? Indeed, should his team change their minds and put him into the Tour, Quintana looks like one of those rare birds who might have a shot at doing that famous Giro-Tour double. We’ll see.

And what in particular reminds us of Quintana’s youth is the fact he was still eligible for the young riders competition which, of course, he won. And it’s the youth — this new generation of talent — that this Giro will truely be remembered for.

Quintana, Aru, Majka, Kelderman … all under 24 … the top four in the young riders competition, and all four in the top ten over the general classification. All four sure to contend grand tours in the years that follow and who could rule out all four of them winning at least one along the way?

Cadel Evans came in looking to win the Giro aged 37, believing it possible after what the 41 year old Chris Horner had done the year before at the Vuelta. Evans took the Pink jersey for a while and things looked good, but aging legs eventually caught up with him when this collection of young riders turned on the jets in the high mountains. Ryder Hesjedal, now 33, won the Giro two years ago and while we seen shades of his best stuff on stage 16 when he finished second just behind Quintana, he too often struggled against the young ones. In the end Evans and Hesjedal finished 8th and 9th respectively, but behind Quintana, Aru, Majaka and Kelderman.

In all five men wore the race leaders pink jersey. The Canadian Svein Tuft following the team-time-trial in Belfast, his Orica Green Edge team-mate Michael Matthews a day later and for six days, his fellow countryman, Cadel Evans for four stages, Colombian Rigoberto Uran for four more stages, and finally another Colombian, Nairo Quintana for the final six stages. Quintana of course wore it when it truly mattered — on stage 21 — while Uran finished second to him. Evans settled for 8th while Matthews, injured, failed to finish. Tuft on the other hand slid right down to the opposite end of the standings finishing second last in 155th, over 5 hours behind Quintana and 10 minutes ahead of the Lanterne Rouge of Jetse Bol, but finish it he did. 42 did not make it the full 3,445.5 kilometres from Belfast to Trieste.

It seems a long time ago now since that start in Belfast, but it has been an epic journey. A saga of many twists and turns from Australian dominance in the first week, to a neutralized/non-neutralized stage, to attacks from all comers looking to grab the title in what quickly became the most wide open Grand Tour in years, in a race that started in the rain, traveled through the snow and came out bathed in sunshine by the finish. A true passageway into the summer season of cycling.

Result:

1. Luka Mezgec (Giant-Shimano) in 4-23-58

2. Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek) + s.t.

3. Tyler Farrar (Garmin Sharp) + s.t.

4. Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr) + s.t.

5. Roberto Ferrari (Lampre) + s.t.

6. Leonardo Duque (Colombia) + s.t.

Final overall: 

1. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in 88-14-32

2. Rigoberto Uran (OPQS) + 2-58

3. Fabio Aru (Astana) + 4-04

4. Pierre Rolland (Europcar) + 5-46

5. Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R) + 6-32

6. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) + 7-04

7. Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) + 11-00

8. Cadel Evans (BMC) + 11-51

9. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin Sharp) + 13-35

10. Robert Kiserlovski (Trek) + 15-49

Lanterne Rouge:

156. Jetse Bol (Belkin) + 5-15-19

Points classification: 

1. Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr) 391 pts

2. Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek) 265 pts

3. Roberto Ferrari (Lampre) 186 pts

Mountains classification: 

1. Julian Arredondo (Trek) 173 pts

2. Dario Cataldo (Sky) 132 pts

3. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) 88 pts

Young rider classification:

1. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in 88-14-32

2. Fabio Aru (Astana) + 4-04

3. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) +7-04

Team classification:

1. AG2R La Mondiale in 264-30-55

2. Omega Pharma Quick-Step + 19-32

3. Tinkoff-Saxo + 27-12

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One more touch of glory for Australia and Mick Rogers

This Giro started out Australian in the first week, turned very Colombian in the middle and then today, just as we’re getting ready to see it finish, went back the way of Australia. Fortunately for Colombia it is still their name written all over the general classification, but Mick Rogers, who already had one stage win in this years Giro to his name, took another and did so again solo to the top of the famous Zoncolan.

An unfortunate mix up with a fan by Francesco Bongiorno just as Rogers was accelerating through the enormous crowds packing the climb from buttom to summit, gave the Aussie the gap he needed to push on to glory. When it became apparent to Bongiorno that his dream victory was alluding him, the Italian’s energy dropped out of him and allowed Franco Pellizotti, who he and Rodgers had previously dropped, back onto him and ahead for second place. The demoralised Bongiorno came home 49 seconds behind Rogers.

Those three were the leading three from what was left of a large group that had gone up the road earlier in the day and had stayed clear building a large lead over an uninterested peloton. For the favorites in GC none of those ahead mattered and so the stage was reduced to two races within one. That one won by Rogers and the one between the favorites looking to take a little time out of one another. For Nairo Quintana the lead was all but secure — he could have almost walked the Zoncolan and retained his pink jersey — but the battle for who stood in second and third below him on the final podium was still very much up for grabs.

Coming in it was Rigoberto Uran who held second, 41 seconds up on Fabio Aru who was growing stronger as this race went on. His phenomenal mountain time-trial the day before had thrust him suddenly into podium contention and now he had designs on second overall. But tired legs prevailed and when Uran attacked only Quintana could go with him. The pair crossed the line 16 seconds up on Aru and Uran’s second place was secure. So too was Aru’s third for Pierre Rolland and Domenico Pozzovivo lost a handful of seconds and Rafal Majka only gained a few seconds on him.

Tomorrow is the traditional final day processional stage … this year into Trieste and is sure to finish in a bunch gallop. Baring a disaster such as a crash, Quintana will amble over the line and win his first every grand tour. His first, but certainly not his last.

Result:

1. Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo) in 4-41-55

2. Franco Pellizotti (Androni) + 38 sec

3. Francesco Bongiorno (Bardiani) + 49 sec

4. Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo) + 1-35

5. Brent Bookwalter (BMC) + 1-37

6. Robinson Chalapud (Colombia) + 1-46

Overall:

1. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in 83-50-25

2. Rigoberto Uran (OPQS) + 3-07

3. Fabio Aru (Astana) + 4-04

4. Pierre Rolland (Europcar) + 5-46

5. Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R) + 6-41

6. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) + 7-13

Quintana wins the Giro on the Cima Grappa

Baring some unforeseen disaster, the 2014 Giro d’Italia as a general classification battle, is over. Nairo Quintana has won and has done so by picking up two stage victories in superb fashion. The first a few days ago a bold attack shrouded in controversy in which he stripped minutes out of most of his rivals, the second a solo charge up the Cima Grappa in today’s 26.8km individual mountain time-trial to destroy all around him except Fabio Aru who in a superb ride himself managed to limit his loss to Quintana to 17 seconds.

Indeed, today’s result has put to bed any lingering debate over that stage 16 attack on the descent of the Stelvio and whether it was or was not neutralized. The 90 seconds some believe he gained because of it means little when you consider he now leads Rigoberto Uran in second place by 3 minutes, 7 seconds with a single mountain stage still to go.

Quintana put 1 minute, 26 seconds into Uran on today’s stage, while Pierre Rolland, a man who has lit up the mountain stages of this Giro, lost just under 2 minutes. Domenico Pozzovivo, who looked to be on a big day when he caught his 3 minute man, Ryder Hesjedal, still lost 2-24 to Quintana while Rafal Majka lost 3-28, Evans 4-26 and Hesjedal 5-39. If there was any doubt as to who the best climber is in this years Giro, then the race of truth up the side of this mountain, ended the debate.

The result shook up the top 10 overall and the battle for the final podium spot has turned into a battle for where exactly Uran and Aru will stand in relation to Quintana on that podium thanks to Aru’s spectacular performance to finish just 17 seconds back of Quintana.

Quintana’s effort wasn’t surprising given what we know of his talent, but the 23 year old Aru has been one of the big break through riders of this Giro, winning stage 15 and taking a few seconds out of Quintana and Uran yesterday, but he confirmed all that today.

For a while it looked as though he might even beat Quintana. He was only 8 seconds back of him at the second time check after 19.3km having been further behind near the bottom of the climb. The first 7.5km was on the flat and many riders started on time-trial bikes electing to change bikes for the mountain, Quintana and Uran included. Uran led Quintana by 15 seconds going onto the mountain, but that deficit was quickly overturned halfway up when he dropped to 36 seconds behind. Evans came onto the climb ahead of Quintana, but also faded away, while Pierre Rolland, nowhere to be seen on the flat section made a lot up on the climb finishing fourth by the top.

Starting in reverse order of their GC standings, Aru naturally came up to the line before Quintana and when he set the fastest time, 2 minutes, 8 seconds up on Domenico Pozzovivo, it looked as though we’d seen the winning time. But no longer were we spitting out superlatives when Quintana came in and bettered it still.

Aru’s effort pushed him into the top three overall and tomorrow we can look forward to seeing if he has anything left in his legs to overhaul the 41 seconds he trails Uran by. As for everyone else, it’s a stage win at best. Pierre Rolland will doubtlessly be going for that, as perhaps will Evans and Hesjedal, but don’t count out Quintana who with two stage wins in the bank and looking stronger and stronger by the day, may want to go out in style and put on a show for the fans.

Result:

1. Nairo Quintana (MOV) in 1-05-37

2. Fabio Aru (AST) + 17sec

3. Rigoberto Uran (OPQ) + 1-26

4. Pierre Rolland (EUC) + 1-57

5. Domenico Pozzovivo (ALM) + 2-24

6. Franco Pellizotti (AND) + 3-22

Overall:

1. Nairo Quintana (MOV) in 79-03-45

2. Rigoberto Uran (OPQ) + 3-07

3. Fabio Aru (AST) + 3-48

4. Pierre Rolland (EUC) + 5-26

5. Domenico Pozzovivo (ALM) + 6-16

6. Rafal Majka (TCS) + 6-59

7. Cadel Evans (BMC) + 9-25

8. Wilco Kelderman (BEL) + 9-29

9. Ryder Hesjedal (GRS) + 10-11

10. Robert Kiserlovski (TFR) + 13-59

The mountain jersey wins in a 1-2 finish for what’s becoming the ‘Colombian-Giro’

It’s always nice at some point in a Grand Tour to see the King of the Mountains leader, decked out in his King of the Mountains jersey, win a mountain stage. Julian David Arredondo done that yesterday in fine style cresting all three of the days big climbs, the final of which he was alone to win in style. The victory all but seals the blue jersey classification in his favour and sets up the probability that Colombian riders will win both the mountains and overall titles.

Remember back to the first week of this Giro when I was talking about it being an ‘Aussie-Giro’ thanks to the team-time-trial won by Orica Greenedge and then Michael Matthews taking the pink jersey for several days before Cadel Evans grabbed it for a few more? Well all that has swung in the direction of a ‘Colombian-Giro’.

The top two positions overall are headed by the Colombians of Nairo Quintana and Rigoberto Uran while on today’s stage Arredondo was followed home by fellow countryman, Fabio Duarte. That’s three stage wins now for Colombians and their so called re-emergence back to the sharp end of cycling is all but complete and perhaps looking better than ever. People remember fondly the glory days in the 1980s of Luis Herrera and Fabio Parra but never before have they dominated in such numbers are they are right now. Even their 90s and 00s success via Oliverio Rincón, Santiago Botero and Mauricio Soler before his premature retirement, were fleeting by comparison.

One look at the age of these imerging Colombian talents says a lot as to how bright their future is: Quintana, 24 years of age; Uran, 27; Arredondo, 25; Duarte, 27, Jarlinson Pantano, 25; Sebastián Henao, 20; and (not in this Giro) Sergio Henao, 26. Their success is only beginning.

In terms of the GC battle today, the biggest loser was Cadel Evans who once again shipped time on his rivals and dropped from 3rd overall to 9th. It isn’t quite as dramatic as it looks given that only 28 seconds separated 3rd to 7th coming into the stage, but it’s still a big blow for the Australian who had to be thinking about winning this Giro just a week ago.

Only Fabio Aru out of the main GC boys took a little time back on Quintana — 3 seconds — while Quintana and Uran took a little more time out of the rest of their rivals as they edged ahead towards the line but a few seconds here and there was all that was conceded as 90 seconds now split 3rd and 9th.

This Giro is looking more and more likely to be a battle for the final podium spot than for the overall victory and that battle will be fought for fiercely tomorrow as they take to the roads alone for the mountain time-trial.

Result: 1. Julian David Arredondo (Trek Factory) in 4-49-51; 2. Fabio Duarte (Colombia) + 17sec; 3. Philip Deignan (Sky) + 37sec; 4. Franco Pellizotti (Androni) + 1-20; 5. Edoardo Zardini (Bardiani-CSF) + 1-24; 6. Thomas De Gendt (OPQS) + 1-38.

Overall: 1. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in 77-58-08; 2. Rigoberto Uran (OPQS) + 1-41; 3. Pierre Rolland (Europcar) + 3-29; 4. Fabio Aru (Astana) + 3-31; 5. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) + s.t.; 6. Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondiale) + 3-52; 7. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin Sharp) + 4-32; 8. Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) + 4-37; 9. Cadel Evans (BMC) + 4-59; 10. Robert Kiserlovski (Trek Factory) + 8-33.

Understandabe confusion reigned on all sides over ‘neutralization’ of Stelvio descent but the strongest rider is still in pink

“Attention: A communication to directeur sportives. The management of the organisation have planned to put ahead of the head of the riders, depending on the situation, of course, after the top, to place in front of various groups an organisation moto with a red flag. All to avoid having attacks on the descent and after this to ensure that the riders remain in their positions and to prevent taking big risks and, for all, to remain in this position until the security agents lower the red flag.”

That is a transcript of the message delivered in English, Italian and French to the teams as the race went up the Stelvio yesterday ahead of the now infamous descent that has thrown this Giro into controversy.

The word ‘neutralized’ is never mentioned but you can see why some riders may have thought they were all set to take it easy. The boss of RCS that organises the Giro, Mauro Vegni, has said the teams and riders misunderstood the message and that there was no neutralization of the descent, saying that “We decided to place the bikes to indicate the trajectory.”

The result however was confusion as several big name riders, as well as those from the earlier break, continued to press on down the mountain with Nairo Quintana, Ryder Hesjedal and Pierre Rolland, among others, eking out a 1 minute, 30 seconds (give or take) advantage over the pink jersey of Rigoberto Uran by the foot of the mountain. By then it was very much race on. The gap never came back and only increased as they went up the final climb, and by the top we had a new leader in this Giro.

None of what happened should be blamed on Quintana, Rolland or Hesjedal for going ahead however, just as Uran and the rest should not be blamed for being left behind. It’s clear that serious confusion reigned and I think if there is any blame it should fall towards the organisation whose communication was about as clear as the field of vision as the sleet fell on the Stelvio. And even at that, with no defined rules or regulations by the UCI, the organisation appeared to be winging it.

What is clear is that the UCI are going to have to look at how these messages are relayed and make clear what the exact course of action is. Do they use specific flags to denote what is going on, like in Motorsport? Or do they use officially agreed upon wording so everyone knows exactly what is expected? Should a red flag mean the stage has been temporarily stopped? Should a yellow flag mean go slow? Should a [insert colour here] mean the stage has been neutralized and as such a maximum speed of, say, 25 km/h is being enforced?

Of course, the problem yesterday was always going to be the fact that different riders were on different parts of the road when word went out and interpretation of those words began and without proper regulation for such a scenario it is hard to neutralize such a stage mid-race without everyone together. Dario Cataldo was up front alone, there were scatterings of riders behind him and there was likely even more small pockets of riders off the back of the main group also. Can they realistically place a motorbike in front of all of them? I doubt it. You come over the climb 1 minute down on the main pack, you’re going to descent hard to get back on, not ride down at the same pace of the main group and hit the valley floor having to start your chase.

And even if they could place motorbikes in front of every group, who dictates what speed each individual motorbike goes at? You can see where there’s more questions than answers and why perhaps in the moment, with the temperatures dropping, with visibility poor, sleet falling and time gaps between various groups unreliable, so much miscommunication and confusion reigned in the giving of the message by the race officials and receiving of that message by the riders.

To me unless the whole pack is together, it’s very hard to suddenly decide to neutralize a section of the course. Perhaps if they have some flag that denotes a maximum speed limit to be adopted by all riders, though how do you police that? Maybe all they could have done was stop the race, get the riders to the bottom of the hill and then set those that were ahead of the peloton off again with the time time gaps in which they crossed the summit.

Just a few ideas, though whether the UCI decide to change the method in which they relay information to the riders during dangerous sections of a course in the future remains to be seen. One things that has been suggested after the fact is that they strip time from Quintana, but how much time? Do they have exact gaps from the bottom of that descent? And where exactly would the end of the neutralized section have been … when Quintana had a 1-20 lead or at a point in which he lead by 1-40? Back tracking in this way to recover a mistake, if indeed it’s decided there was a mistake, would be like going back to a football game that had finished and scrubbing out the goal because they later found out it had been scored by the number 9 in an offside position.

As it is though, I still think the strongest man is in pink today. Quintana came off that descent with a 1-30 gap over Uran but put another 2-40 into him on the final climb. His deficit to Uran coming into yesterday’s stage was 2-40 and Quintana got the time bonus on top of that for the win. Had he stuck with a ‘go-slow’ group down that mountain instead of pressing on, he may have been even fresher to attack that climb. Tactics would have shifted, of course, and he may not have attacked from the bottom of the final climb to get such a gap, but I still think we’re seeing the man in Pink that was headed that way anyway.

People might complain that Quintana has moved into Pink in a hollow kind of way, but I disagree. Had he took 5 minutes out of Uran on the descent and then clung on to retain 2-40 of that lead at the finish, then yes, but Quintana put in one of the great riders in the history of the Giro yesterday, neutralization or not. Forget what he gained coming down the hill, it was how he increased his lead on the final climb with conditions improving and Hesjedal and Rolland taking minimal pulls on the front that was truly inspirational. It’s a shame about the shambles, but it was still an epic stage to watch and nobody will say they turned off their televisions, or even moved off the edge of their seats, because they felt Uran and those taking it slowly were hard done by.

In the long run, this saga will only remain a problem and a talking point beyond that of fond historical memories if Uran starts taking back time on Quintana in the next few days and loses this Giro by less than 90 seconds. Nothing against Uran, but maybe it would be best now if Quintana went and put another two or three minutes onto his current advantage and left this incident as a non-factor in the big picture of this years Giro, which otherwise has been superb.

Quintana does one of the great rides in the most brutal of conditions to win the stage and move into the Pink jersey

Nairo Quintana, pre-Giro favorite who looked to be in a little trouble just a few days ago, pulled out what will surely go down as one of the great rides in the history of this great race to win stage 16 and turn a 2 minutes, 40 seconds deficit to fellow Colombian Rigoberto Uran into a 1 minute, 41 seconds lead in this race in one of the most difficult, yet brilliant, stages of cycling you’re ever likely to see.

The 139 kilometres they raced may not have sounded extremely challenging but when faced with the three climbs they had to go over — the Passo di Gavia, the Stelvio and Val Martello — there was no doubt today was always going to be one of the hardest stages. But only when the weather was factored in did the stage go from tough to brutal and left many debating whether they should just cancel the stage as the snow fell and the temperatures plummeted.

There was talk for a while that the descent of the Stelvio had been neutralized by race officials, though that was later denied, yet confusion reigned and is likely to reign into the night as to how it was supposed to be raced. Naturally therefore the stage was blown wide open on that Stelvio descent with Nairo Quintana, Pierre Rolland and Ryder Hesjedal going on the attack in tricky conditions while their rivals felt the need to exercise caution. It’s not yet known whether those left behind thought racing had ceased — though no doubt many of them will claim they did — while those who took advantage will claim it was game on for an epic encounter.

While the weather may have played a big part in the staggering fact that only 36 men finished within half an hour of Quintana, there is little doubt that it was his pure ability to also go uphill in these conditions that truly swung the balance of this Giro.

When himself, Hesjedal and Rolland hit the bottom of the Stelvio they carried a two minute advantage over the rest … a lead so great on a descent that it has fueled the argument that the race had been neutralized but left me arguing that upon seeing these three contenders head on down the hill why wouldn’t you go with them and debate the neutralization later? If indeed there was any agreement to ‘take it easy’ which given the official results would suggest that officially, there was not.

It mattered not however, because once they all got off the descent and the charge up to Val Martello began, Uran, devoid of team support, followed the Tinkoff-Saxo team as they tried to haul back, without success, the deficit to the three up the road, who were quickly reigning in the loan survivor of an earlier attack, Dario Cataldo, and gunning towards stage glory. Rolland and Hesjedal have been fine opportunists in this Giro, using every chance they can get to take back time and it was no great shock that in the midst of this confusion they would be seeking the advantage. And why not Quintana too, who has hooked up with Rolland on a few occasions now in this Giro, to get in on the act and take back from Uran what he had lost in the individual time-trial last week?

If their lead was two minutes going onto the climb, then it says something to Quintana’s form as this race progresses that he only increased that with pedal stroke, coming home more than four minutes ahead of Uran. That Quintana put two minutes into Uran alone on the climb when he came into the stage 2-40 off his lead, suggests that had he waited on the descent, further conserving his energy, he might well have overturned that 2-40 on the climb to Val Martello alone anyway.

I find it hard to argue that the best man isn’t tonight in the pink jersey. Especially when you go about acquiring it in such fashion.

And make no mistake about it, Quintana didn’t ride the coat tails of his fellow escapees here, the lions share of work was done by the Colombian as Hesjedal and Rolland fought to hang on. On several occasions Hesjedal was dropped when the gradient percentage ramped up into double figure only to claw, in true diesel fashion, his way back on when it leveled off a little. It looked for a while as though Rolland would take the tow to the top and out sprint Quintana for the stage, but surprisingly it was he that fell away first as Hesjedal continue to go mind over body to keep on the flying Quintana’s wheel.

Into the final kilometre and things kicked up again and this time Quintana shedded Hesjedal for good, winning solo, though only 8 seconds up on the Canadian. Rolland rolled in 1-13 behind with Wilco Kelderman the first of the chasing pack to come home 3-32 down. He was followed in by Domenico Pozzovivo at 3-37, Fabio Aru at 3-40, Rafal Majka at 4-08 and Uran on the wheel of Sebastian Henao at 4-11. Struggling more still in the conditions was Cadel Evans who finished at 4-48 but has done just about enough to maintain a podium position in the general classification.

Quintana now leads that classification over Uran by 1-41 with Evans at 3-21. Rolland has jumped into fourth, five seconds behind Evans and should continue to move up, while Majka sits fifth at 3-28 and Aru in sixth at 3-34.

And following his inspired ride to stay as close to the wheel of Quintana as possible, Ryder Hesjedal moved into the top ten overall in 9th place, 4-16 down though I can’t help think what might have been had stage 1 not gone so badly for his Garmin team?

That wet day in Belfast, Garmin lost 2-31 to Movistar when Dan Martin slipped on a manhole and brought down the majority of his team forcing the likes of Hesjedal to wait until the minimum compliment of riders could get themselves together and finish as a team.

But had Garmin remained upright, they were on pace to set one of the better times and Quintana’s Movistar team finished 55 seconds behind the winning time posted by Orica Greenedge, as such, Garmin might well have put 30 seconds into Movistar. A lot of if’s and but’s here that mean nothing because crashes are a part of cycling and the times all count, but without that stage 1 nightmare that also took Dan Martin out of the Giro, Hesjedal might have been going to bed tonight a single minute off the race lead with five days to go.

And one minute that includes the 41 seconds lost to Quintana in the individual time-trial, though that was a straight up battle in which the time swings went fair and square.

Of course, what is still to come in this Giro favours Quintana so a one minute deficit to the young Colombian may not have changed the direction in which this race is headed anyway, but it’s nice for Canadian cycling fans to speculate what might have been. That said, the potential podium is still a very realistic possibility, stage 1 crash or not, because Hesejdal today sits only 55 seconds behind a tiring Cadel Evans in 3rd.

Six men abandoned the stage (including Thomas Dekker, Alessandro Petacchi and Michele Scarponi), which given the conditions and the 167 that started (Edvald Boasson Hagen did not take to the start) it’s surprising that it wasn’t more. I’m not exactly sure what the cut off time was, but I have to figure discretion will be shown by the race referees, especially given this whole ‘neutralized’ debate, not to mention the fact that if the cut off was 30 minutes, only 37 men would be taking to the start tomorrow.

It was one of the great rides today by Nairo Quintana … attacking on the descent in freezing conditions and blitzing the final climb as a chasing pack of high quality riders only continued to lose time to him. It was the stuff of Merckx and it was the stuff that very well could win him the 2014 Giro d’Italia.

Result:

1. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in 4-42-35

2. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin Sharp) in 8 sec

3. Pierre Rolland (Europcar) + 1-13

4. Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) + 3-32

5. Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondiale) + 3-37

6. Fabio Aru (Astana) + 3-40

7. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) + 4-08

8. Sebastian Henao (Sky) + 4-11

9. Rigoberto Uran (OPQS) + s.t.

10. Cadel Evans (BMC) + 4-48

Overall:

1. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in 68-11-44

2. Rigoberto Uran (OPQS) + 1-41

3. Cadel Evans (BMC) + 3-21

4. Pierre Rolland (Europcar) + 3-26

5. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) + 3-28

6. Fabio Aru (Astana) + 3-34

9. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin Sharp) + 4-16

Pierre Rolland’s Giro: If only he could time-trial

A rest day today and how they need it given the past couple of stages. Uran comes into it with the Pink jersey on his shoulders and while he’s look a little vulnerable on the climbs he has limited his losses to mere seconds which he will accept having taken minutes out of everyone else in the individual time-trial.

One man who has looked good on the climbs and if not a contender for the GC due to his 4 minutes, 47 defect to Uran, then certainly a stage winner, is Frenchman Pierre Rolland, who is looking every bit the rider the French thought they had found when he won that stage to L’Alpe d’Huez in the 2011 Tour de France and finished 10th overall and 1st in the young rider classification.

So how come Rolland is facing such a gap to Uran if he’s climbing so strong? He never lost any time to him in any of the crashes earlier on the Giro, always finishing in groups with the Colombian. Well, the answer lies against the clock.

In the team-time-trial to start this Giro back in Belfast Rolland’s Europcar team had a nightmare ride and the Frenchman lost a whopping 1 minute, 43 seconds. As I said back then, you cannot win the Giro on an opening stage team-time-trial, but you sure can lose it and it looked right away as though that time loss would be problematic to Rolland.

For all his climbing ability, Rolland has never been strong against the clock. He reminds me of a certain Richard Virenque in that regard — and only that regard, thankfully. Able to soar in the mountains and always willing to go off the front in search of a stage win or mountains classification points, but too weak against the clock to ever win a Grand Tour.

And so it is in this Giro for Rolland. On stage 8 he lost 16 seconds to Uran when his aggressive climbing caught up with him just before the line, but it was the individual time-trial were his Giro aspirations likely vanished when Uran took a devastating 3 minutes and 46 seconds out of him. That left him 5-45 behind Uran on GC and essentially left looking for stage victories.

On stages 14 and 15 he went about trying to do just that, getting in on the attack early and then riding with Ryder Hesjedal one day and Nairo Quintana the next after they had bridged across to him. Neither resulted in a stage victory — often the early break had gone far enough ahead to leave any gap impossible to close — but it did chip away a little at Uran’s lead. 38 seconds on stage 14 and 20 seconds on stage 15. Just under a single minute all in; still 4-47 behind with just four big mountain stages to go. Rolland is going to have to hope Uran falls apart in this final week but that would still leave six very good riders ahead of him to overcome to have any hope of winning this Giro.

It’s extremely unlikely, though I do admire his willingness to keep trying and I hope he wins a stage for it. No doubt French cycling fans everywhere are hoping that if only he could improve his time-trialing just a little he might one day contend to become the first French Grand Tour winner since Laurent Jalabert at the Vuelta in 1995, and before that Bernard Hinault at the Tour de France in 1985.