It was a good Giro, though when again, most of them are. The organisation clearly hoped that the race would come down to the Alps in the final few days, and so it proved to be. But they were a little lucky too for going into those Alpine stages the Giro seemed won and done by Steven Kruijswijk only for his crash to throw the whole thing wide open again. With so many key stages packed into the later part of the race it meant for wide open results in the early going but with the acceptance that there may not be any major shake ups. Indeed, it took about half of the race to whittle the GC contention down to a handful of riders and even that was due to the likes of Tom Dumoulin, Ryder Hesjedal and Mikel Landa abandoning the race. Still, the pink jersey changed hands eight different times among eight different riders and with 17 different stage winners over the 21 stages, we can’t say we didn’t have variety. Throw all that in with the story of Nibali and what was wrong with him before the story of his superb comeback and there was plenty to talk about and discuss across the three weeks.
I’m not going to sit and review the race in depth here. I wrote about it almost every day and those articles will stand up as my review of each stage as it is. I tended to write in the hours after each stage, sometimes a day later, and my memory was fresher then than it is now and so more details were covered. What follows here is a generic overview of the race, some thoughts on Nibali’s achievement and the usual reaction to it on the likes of social media, a word on Kruijswijk, a look at how the other jersey’s played out, how the Italians done, where each man to wear pink finished up, and a dreaded review of my predictions!\
The Giro is a beautiful race in a beautiful country. Each July I go on about wishing I was on the streets of France, be it on a mountain side or even outside a cafe in the square of a small country town as the race rolls past, and no doubt I’ll lament about that again in a few weeks time, but the Giro is a must visit race. I’ve been to Italy a few times, most recently just a few years ago and it’s a wonderful country. To go there when the Giro is on and to see it in all its glory is something I really must do sometime.
Still, it’s not worth getting too sentimental over, that can wait until next years preview, nor is it not worth getting too despondent over it ending either: There’s some fantastic cycling coming up, but before I start to turn towards thoughts on Le Tour, here’s some final thoughts on this years Giro, starting of course on its winner: The Shark…Vincenzo Nibali.
A comeback for the ages and the reaction that brings with it these days
In this day and age, winning any Grand Tour brings with it a certain type of question…you know, the ‘what’s your stance on doping?’ question to the rider directly, and then indirectly in the courtroom of social media, the skepticism that often spills into cynicism on his performance. Chris Froome knows it all too well and so too does Vincenzo Nibali.
The main sticking point for some was the fact that Vincenzo Nibali recovered from a poor Giro to overhaul his deficit in the Alps and over the course of just two stages go from a man losing a podium placing to winning the Giro. A remarkable recovery some observed…to remarkable for others.
It doesn’t help that Nibali rides for the Astana team that is managed by the infamous Alexander Vinokourov, but if anything should have changed by 2016 it should be the suspicions of a rider just because of the team that employs him. It’s fairly safe to say that while some riders will always cheat, the days of team sanctioned doping programs are over. Whatever the teams history or that of its management, I don’t think Nibali should come under suspicion just because of the team he rides for. But don’t expect any end in sight to this kind of judgment by a noisy minority…you only need look at the attitude of some towards anyone who rides for Sky, mostly because of the manor of their success (and dare I say it, nationality! Yes…nationality still plays a big part).
But what about Nibali’s performance over the final couple of days? While it was a superb comeback that was fascinating to watch, it was far from mind blowing in the sense that you felt something was off. This was no Floyd Landis on stage 17 of the 2006 Tour, not even close. Let’s address it piece by piece.
1. This ain’t no nobody. If anyone in the professional peloton knows how to ride a Grand Tour to perfection, it’s Nibali. He has finished on the podium of 8 of his last 11 Grand Tours, winning four of them and he’s one of only a handful of men to have won all three Grand Tours. He knows how to get the job done and he’s is alwasy in the mix. He was after all the big favourite to win this Giro before it begun.
2. Assessing the field. There was no Contador, no Froome and no Quintana here. With all due respect to Esteban Chaves, Steven Kruijswijk and Alejandro Valverde, none of them are in that league. Chaves is a 26 year old who has finished just four Grand Tours, none of which were the Tour de France, and had just one top 40 finish (5th at last years Vuelta) before this race. Kruijswijk has had a couple of top 10 Giro finishes and has shown a climbing ability, but has never come that close. Valverde is 36 years of age now and while a Grand Tour winner 7 years ago and with eight podium finishes to his name, he did finish almost ten minutes behind Nibali at the Italians all conquering 2014 Tour victory.
3. Return to form. Nibali never had an awful day in which he shed stacks of time. His worst day was that uphill time-trial when he lost 2min 10sec to Kruijswijk and which taken out of the picture would have left the Italian only 2min 33sec down on the pink jersey going into the Alps. So over 18 stages (6 of them in the mountains) he wasn’t that bad in relation to the Dutchaman’s dominance. And it could be suggested that Nibali peaked at the right time. His form came good at the back end of the race, on the two biggest stages, whereas others peaked in the second week before having their own ‘bad’ days. By the time the Alps hit, Chaves had just run out of gas…he was there for the taking.
4. Kruijswijk’s crash. Had the Dutchman not come off on the descent of the Colle Dell’Agnello (pressured into the error or otherwise) would he have won this Giro? He only cracked due to the intensity of the chase that followed but without that he may well have clung on. He was showing no signs of tiring and only the day before did he put his rivals under a little pressure on a short-sharp climb near the finish. Nibali would have attacked, but without his crash Kruijswijk would likely have been able to follow.
So while Nibali’s turnaround was fantastic, there is a little context here. But you can only beat what is in front of you and when it came down to the nitty-gritty, Niabli found a way deep inside himself to pull the rabbit out of the hat and save his Giro, just in time, and that has to be admired. It’s what champions do. It’s four Grand Tour victories for him now and while his age suggests he could yet win more, he’ll certainly have to go about it better over the full three weeks if he’s to keep winning them, especially if the fields are stronger still.
The rise of Steven Kruijswijk
First of all, Steven Kruijswijk didn’t appear out of nowhere. Heck even I predicted he’d finish in the top ten overall on this Giro. In 2011 he finished 8th overall and last year he came in 7th. And last years effort came after he lost some big time in the early going before finishing strong in the third week. I heard somewhere that in the second half of last years Giro, he was the second fastest man.
Still, for all his top ten potential, I don’t think anyone believed he could contend for the pink jersey and come within two days and a crash of winning the whole thing. At least, nobody outside the Kruijswijk household and perhaps the LottoNL-Jumbo team, and even that might be stretching it.
The ‘what would have happened had he not crashed on stage 19?’ question will linger for a long time and be debated among cycling fans on club rides and at coffee shops all over. But he did crash and he failed to win, slipping to 4th overall come Turin. 4th seems harsh given how close he came and so it reminds us to always look beyond the results sheets when looking at how a race turned out. The same stands for Nibali in many ways…he was the favourite to win and he did win. That’s what the results sheet confirms, but it fails to tell you how he won. Likewise it fails to tell you how Kruijswijk came 4th, or better put, why he came 4th.
Today, so close to it all unfolding, we all know why and we remember it well. How epic it was, if you’re an Italian. How awful it must be if you’re Dutch, especially coming off the back of Tom Dumoulin’s late collapse at the Vuelta late last season.
And talking about Kruijswijk surprising many on his ability to contend so deep into a Grand Tour and prove his undoubted potential to one day win one…his fellow professionals were no doubt high on the list of those surprised. As a result, he’ll be a marked man. The same goes for Esteban Chaves in many ways. Where Kruijswijk shows up to race next remains to be seen, but anytime he accelerates at the front, there will be a reaction. Sadly for him his weakness on the descents is now clear too and in future Grand Tour you will see rivals forcing the issue on the drop off mountains. Of course, it’s not as though he’s awful at the art, he did get off several mountains without issue before Friday, and he can improve further.
But Kruijswijk will now believe in himself more than ever, and so will his team. At 28 years of age he’s right at the peak age to start winning these kind of races and no doubt he’ll want another crack as soon as possible. I’d imagine we’ll see him at the Vuelta eager to win, and remember back to just twelve months ago: Fabio Aru was beaten to the pink jersey by the experienced Alberto Contador at the Giro only to show up at the Vuelta later in the season and take his first Grand Tour victory. The Dutchman will look to do the same.
The other jerseys
Points: Won by Giacomo Nizzolo without winning a stage (albeit disqualified for his win on the final stage for altering his line), the contest was slightly watered down when both Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel abandoned, the later doing so while in the red jersey. Still, Nizzolo will take it and add it to his resume.
Mountains: Poor Damiano Cunego. He won this race back in 2004 but since then we’ve heard very little from him. So it was a bit of a throw back and certainly refreshing to see ‘The Little Price’ in the thick of a jersey contest once again at the Giro, this time in the mountains classification. He lead the contest from stage 10 and amassed what looked like a formidable lead that would see him win it outright, but there were a lot of points on offer in the Alps and with their GC contender gone, Sky turned to the competition for consolation via Mikel Nieve who swept up most of the Alpine points while Cunego trudged round in the grupetto. By the time the Alps were done, so was his time in the blue jersey.
Youth: Bob Jungels won this at a canter with only one other rider finishing within an hour of him. This was the breakout race for Jungels who spent time in pink and was very visible in a number of mountain stages. With a little tweaking to his training to fully prepare him for a three week Grand Tour, there’s every belief the 23 year old can take the next step and challenge all the way through. His ability against the clock as well as persistence in the mountains reminds me of a Dumoulin, or dare I say it, an Indurain. The only thing that will count against him now is that he’ll be a marked man, much as Dumoulin was at this Giro after his Vuelta performance in 2015. Still, Luxembourg appear to have found a man to carry their torch from the hands of the Schleck brothers. Andy Schleck won the white jersey competition at the Giro once too. It may not seem like it was that long ago, but for perspective: Jungels was 14 years old at the time (2007).
Teams: Astana, with three riders in the top 16 overall (Nibali, Jakob Fuglsang and Michele Scarponi), won with ease ahead of Cannondale and Movistar. One team you might have expected to be more in the mix was Sky but when Mikel Landa abandoned they never really had a plan B. They scrambled about for a little before Mikel Nieve stepped up with a stage win and the mountains classification. Sky have a wealth of talent that could well have finished in the top 5 of this Giro had they put a few of them in alongside Landa, but it seems the British team are intent on maximum focus on the Tour in support of Chris Froome where should anything go wrong there’s about five men who could be willing to step up!
How did the home nation do?
The Italians had an excellent Giro. They had the overall winner in Vincenzo Nibali (including five others in the top 20); they had six stage winners from five different riders (Diego Ulissi x2, Gianluca Brambilla, Giulio Ciccone, Matteo Trentin and Nibali); they swept the top five in the points competition with Giacomo Nizzolo winning; they seen Damiano Cunego finish second in the mountains competition despite leading it for the majority of the race; and had two in the top four of the young riders classification. The French will be delighted if they can pull anything like that off in their own Tour next month.
Eight different men in pink
Eight different riders wore the pink jersey over the course of this Giro. High by normal levels in a typical Grand Tour. Below is each of them and where they eventually finished overall:
Tom Dumoulin – Abandoned after stage 11
Marcel Kittel – Abandoned after stage 8
Gianluca Brambilla – 22nd @ 57’08” behind
Bob Jungels – 6th @ 8’31” behind
Andrey Amador – 8th @ 13’21” behind
Steven Kruijswijk – 4th @ 1’50” behind
Esteban Chaves – 2nd @ 52″ behind
Vincenzo Nibali – Winner
At the start of the Giro, as at the start of most grand tours, I give a list of what I believe will be the top five or ten overall and then go back to see how badly I done after all is said and done. If I had any sense I’d simply remove that prediction from the earlier preview and have done with it. It’s not as though anyone has checked back since the race ended to see how off I was…only I indulge in that kind of finger pointing…at myself! So here we go. The top ten as I thought it might be and where they actually finished.
1. Vincenzo Nibali: 1st overall
2. Mikel Landa: DNF
3. Alejandro Valverde: 3rd
4. Rigoberto Uran: 7th
5. Rafal Majka: 5th
6. Tom Dumoulin: DNF
7. Esteban Chaves: 2nd
8. Ryder Hesjedal: DNF
9. Andrey Amador: 8th
10. Steven Kruijswijk: 4th
Actually I didn’t do too bad. I got three of the top five exactly right and was close with Uran and Amador. Chaves and Kruijswijk did much better than I expected but at least I had them in the top 10. Indeed nobody I predicted to finish in the top ten finished outside of it, except those that didn’t finish at all. And I tend to give myself a free pass on those because who really picks contenders not to finish.
Spare a thought for…
…South African Johan Van Zyl who who was just 30km of the 3463.15 total kilometres away from finishing his debut Giro d’Italia (or 99.1% complete) when he crashed and broke his elbow forcing his abandonment. That’s unfortunate. 156 of the 198 starters (or 79%) did however make it to the finish line in Turin with just 23 (15%) finishing within an hour of Nibali. Below is how some of them fared…
Final Giro standings once more, for the record…
2016 Giro d’Italia, final general classification:
|1. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)
2. Esteban Chaves (Orica GreenEdge)
3. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
4. Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo)
5. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff)
6. Bob Jungels (Etixx – Quick Step)
7. Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale)
8. Andrey Amador (Movistar)
9. John Atapuma (BMC)
10. Kanstanstin Siutsou (Dimension Data)
Young rider classification:
Rider of the week:
Given the week ended with Vincenzo Nibali overturning a more than four minute deficit through two days in the Alps to win the Giro d’Italia, I have to go with the Astana rider.
Rider of the month of May:
Vincenzo Nibali won the Giro in May but I had to go with Steven Kruijswijk. He held the pink jersey for so long before a crash on a descent in the Alps put him on the back foot and cost him his race lead when his case in an attempt to recover saw him crack. We’ll never know whether Kruijswijk could have held on to win this Giro without his crash but descending is a part of racing and so is crashing. Still, May saw the Dutchman thrust himself into the upper echelons of grand tour riders and he won’t go so under the radar anymore.