Tag Archives: Giro d’Italia 2016

Giro look back

Shark attack…the rise of Dutch cycling…new Luxembourger on the block…predictions review…plus other lists and thoughts

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

Prediction review

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)

Lanterne Rouge:
156. Jack Bobridge (Trek-Segafredo)

Points classification:
1. Giancomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo)
2. Matteo Trentin (Etixx – Quick Step)
3. Sasha Modolo (Lampre)

Mountains classification:
1. Mikel Nieve (Sky)
2. Damiano Cunego (Nippo – Vini Fantini)
3. John Atapuma (BMC)

Young rider classification:
1. Bob Jungels (Etixx – Quick Step)
2. Sebastian Henao (Sky)
3. Valerio Conti (Lampre)

Team classification:
1. Astana Pro Team
2. Cannondale Pro Cycling Team
3. Movistar Team

in 86h32’49”

@ 52″

@ 1’17”

@ 1’50”

@ 4’37”

@ 8’31”

@ 11’47”

@ 13’21”

@ 14’9″

@ 16’20”

@ 5h8’51”

209 pts
184 pts
163 pts

152 pts
134 pts
118 pts

86h41’20”
@ 29’38”
@ 1h 10’7″

260h2’35”
@ 6’57”
@ 21’00”

Awards

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.

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Controversial sprint to end fantastic Giro won by Nibali

The Giro rolled into Turin today, the final act of the three week show piece. No threats to the pink jersey today, this one was for stage hunters, or sprinters more like…what’s left of them. Gone are the Kittels and Greipels and so it was over to the secondary men to step out from their shadow and grab a little glory on the final day. Call it a watered down version of the final day of the Tour de France in Paris if you like. Some might say the Giro as a whole is a watered down version of the Tour, and that might be true in the sense that there was no Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, Nairo Quintana, Peter Sagan or Mark Cavendish, but it certainly isn’t the case with regards to entertainment, good racing and edge of the seat action.

That isn’t to say the Tour isn’t all of that too, but the Giro certainly offers a race of its own that is just as worthy. It’s for no reason beyond that of sponsor obligations, name status and perhaps prize money that some of those names I’ve just mentioned prefer to focus on the Tour more often than not (Contador and Quintana, the past two winners of the Giro respectively, being a slight exception).

Anyway, I digress. The stage indeed came down to a sprint with Giancomo Nizzolo finally getting his way, or so he thought. About half an hour after crossing the line with his arms aloft and yelling out in relief, the Italian was disqualified for changing his line and his victory handed to German Nikias Arndt.

All that was left was the pomp and ceremony and the presentation of that beautiful trophy to Nibali. An Italian winner…they certainly love that, and given how he went about fighting back in the Alps when it might have been easier for him to say he wasn’t feeling right and abandon the race earlier in the week, you have to admire him. Some will maintain that Steven Kruijwijk deserved this Giro victory, but in a three week Grand Tour, the man who wears the race leaders jersey over the line on the final stage, tends to be the deserving winner.  It’s not always the strongest who wins, but the one that negotiates the course the fastest. And that was Vincenzo Nibali.

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)

in 86h 32′ 49″

@ 52″

@ 1′ 17″

@ 1′ 50″

@ 4′ 37″

@ 8′ 31″

Nibali cracks Chaves, grabs pink and wins the Giro

Vincenzo Nibali has won the Giro d’Italia. 4th place and almost five minutes behind overall on Saturday morning, he goes to bed on Sunday night with the pink jersey hanging in his hotel room closet and a lead over Esteban Chaves of almost a minute. Steven Kruijswijk, the man who looked nailed on to win this race as they rode towards the Alps, comes out of them two days later, off the podium. Shades of fellow countryman Tom Dumoulin’s late collapse at the Vuelta last year, also at the hands of an Italian on the Astana team.

Let’s get the niceties of the stage result out of the way first: Rein Taaramae took the victory. He got into the early break before shedding his fellow contenders and rode in alone, 52sec ahead of Colombian John Atapuma and 1min 17sec up on American Joe Dombrowski. A day for so nears yet so fars for the Colombians.

And it was the so near yet so far of Esteban Chaves that stood out the most. Stage 20 was the final mountain stage of this Giro and the Colle Della Lombarda its final major climb and for Chaves it proved a day too many; a ridge too far.

For Nibali the timing of his return to form couldn’t have been better played as he finished off what will certainly go down as one of the great comebacks in recent grand tour history. The pace was steady throughout the early parts of the stage, a likely reaction to how brutal the racing had been the day before, but Nibali clearly felt confident in what he could do late by comparison to his fading rivals. And so it was on that final long climb that he turned on the jets and rode away once again. Not to the stage win this time but into the pink jersey once and for all. And once more he had a man in the break up ahead who could wait for him and help set the pace for a while before he took over himself.

Kruijswijk, riding on with a broken rib was no longer a threat and soon dropped back and off the final podium placings, and Valverde fought valiantly to contain Nibali’s lead, pulling it back to just 13sec on the short final ramp up to the finish. But neither of them really mattered much to the Italian anymore so long as they were somewhere behind him. Second overall coming into the stage it was Chaves he had to break. Sadly yesterday proved that Chaves was nearing the limits of his form and so it proved that he couldn’t recover in time for today. He was unable to react when Nibali went and came over the finishing line 1min 23sec behind Nibali, and 7sec behind the banged up Kruijswijk.

It was a splendid ride by Nibali. A fine comeback story that had you enjoying its achievement even if it was by the pre-race favourite at the hands of the likable Esteban Chaves and Steven Kruijswijk. The Dutch will certainly felt hard done by in the final days of the most recent two Grand Tours, but make no mistake about it, a wave of talent is coming out of that nation that suggests they may not have to wait too long for someone to finally see it through.

The result of Nibali’s effort, of course, brought out skeptics and cynics. The former understandable, the later typical. And yet, while this was an epic comeback, it was by no means a Floyd Landis style turnaround from the 2006 Tour. It was far more believable than that when you dig deeper under the surface of the simple timing sheets. Enough to allay the fears of those skeptical, though nothing will change the hearts of the conspiratorial or cynical.

Thought that won’t matter much to Nibali and nor should it those who watched what was a couple of brilliant stages to end a very enjoyable Giro. Nibali will ride into Turin tomorrow to win his second Giro and 4th Grand Tour and go onto the record books as the winner whom beforehand we all expected to win. The only thing being the manor in which he won…having to reel it in after a handful of others came so close to winning it themselves while he struggled before soaring.

General classification after stage 20:

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)

in 82h 44′ 31″

@ 52″

@ 1′ 17″

@ 1′ 50″

@ 4′ 37″

@ 8′ 31″

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the Alps…

We should all know by now never to concede the outcome of a Grand Tour when there are mountain passes still to come. Not when there’s a Shark in the peloton itching to find his form and take a bite out of this race. He is leaving it late, but Vincenzo Nibali has waited until the highest mountains of this years race to find his form and launch his attack. He went into the Alps with a place on the podium in question; he now has one day to find 44sec and pull off an incredible come back victory.

So what happened? How on earth did Steven Kruijswijk not see it through considering he had a 3min lead on second place Esteban Chaves and 4min 43sec on Nibali? Can the Colombian, Chaves, with the feel of the pink jersey upon his shoulders really pull it off? Today was into the climbs with high altitude, made for a man like Chaves; it is also the long climbs that surely Kruijswijk could defend on and see it out?

But cometh the hour, cometh the shark. It was a day of high drama, massive excitement and brilliant bike racing in every sense of the word. And there’s more tomrrow.

This morning I tuned in expecting action, and perhaps it’s easy to say now, but deep down I did feel the Italian had something within him still. Throughout this Giro, Nibali had been obviously lacking form or something. He claimed his numbers were good but couldn’t figure out what it was. He underwent tests to see if he had an underlying illness and said that if it proved to be so, he would withdraw from the Giro. Back on that uphill time-trial stage, made for a man like Nibali, he lost huge time to his rivals. As recently as stage 16 to Andolo, the last time they were in serious mountains, Nibali coughed up 1min 47sec to Kruijswijk and slipped back to 4th place overall.

The GC then was much as it was this morning coming into the Alps with Kruijswijk leading Chaves by 3min and Valverde by 3min 23sec with the Spaniard on the podium by 1min 23sec to Nibali. It was looking for all sensible betting that the Dutch would have their first Grand Tour winner since Joop Zoetemelk in 1980.

But then the racing started and the signing off on this Giro as being won and done, stopped. On the first major climb, the Pinorolo, Nibali was clearly feeling good. Those test results must have come back negative and perhaps the sight of that in itself gave him a boost. He attacked hard near the top and the race was split to bits. Only Kruijswijk in a marking roll and Chaves in an opportunists roll could go with him and soon they were over the top and onto a fast descent with Valverde more than a minute down. The podium was on for Nibali and for the other two it was becoming a safe bet.

Then…disaster.

On a sweeping left hand corner, Nibali kept the pressure on and, not wanting to lose contact, Kruijswijk — not known for his descending — ran wide and hard into a snow bank. He fliped over and was left on the deck as Nibali and Chaves sped on down the mountain. By the time the Dutchman got back on a new bike he was already half a minute down. By the time he reached the bottom his deficit was over a minute.

Obviously the plan by Nibali once he felt that he couldn’t distance Kruijswijk on that first climb was to try put him under pressure on the descent. This was how Eddy Merckx played it in the 1971 Tour de France when he overcame a 7min 23sec deficit to Luis Ocana by attacking relentlessly, including on the descents and finally forcing the Spaniard into an error. That error caused a crash that cost Ocana his place in the race and Merckx went on to win, but Kruijswijk was at least able to continue albeit with a much slender lead than seven some minutes and Nibali still had a lot to do to even think about winning this race yet.

The only problem was that Kruijswijk was now isolated whereas Nibali had wisely placed team-mate Michele Scarponi in the early break who now sat up to help pace him through the long valley roads before the final climb. The gap only grew and Kruijswijk grew desperate. He could feel his lead slipping away as Chaves sensed his own shot at glory. He stood to benefit the most and also had a man, Ruben Plaza, with him to help Astana with the pace setting. The Valverde group had also passed Kruijswijk and came close to rejoining Nibali and Chaves but the help they had from their respective team-mates ensured the elastic snapped and by the time they began the final climb to Risoul he was a minute behind with the pink jersey over two and a half minutes in arrears.

Bob Jungels had caught Kruijswijk and was helping with some pace setting but it soon became evidently clear what the chance, and perhaps the crash itself, had done to the Dutchman. As the road started to go up, he cracked. Even Jungels rode away from him. Before long Chaves was the new pink jersey on the road.

Not that the Orica GreenEdge rider was having it easy by any means. When Nibali launched his first attack he was able to close, but only just. The Italian was merely testing him and he clearly liked what he seen for when he kicked again the Colombian had no response and Nibali was free to fly. He was leading the stage and he was clawing his way back into this Giro d’Italia at the most crucial time.

The gaps were huge.

Chaves clearly cracked when Nibali went…the searing pace on this the19th day of racing in this Giro was clearly too much for his legs and by the time he hit the line he had conceded a whopping 53sec to Nibali, though had the joy of moving into the pink jersey when Kruijswijk trailed in 16th, 4min 54sec behind.

Another huge loser on the day was poor Ilnur Zakarin. 5th overall he too crashed on the descent of the Pinorolo, though he got it much worse than Kruijswijk. A broken collarbone ended his race and his bid for a high finish overall. At first his crash caused a lot of worry given had bad it was, so while a broken collarbone is never good, it’s worth considering that on a descent like that, it could have been even worse.

The term turning a race on its head is thrown around a lot in cycling, but this stage was the very definition of that. Valverde, who lost 2min 14sec to Nibali, is off the podium positions now; Kruijswijk is down to third tonight at 1min 5sec; Nibali up to second and Chaves in pink by 44sec.

So what now? Tomorrow’s stage is a brute too. Three major climbs before a short but steep little ramp up to the finish. Nibali is is form at long last, of that there no doubt. I suppose in a three week Grand Tour this is when you want to peak, though perhaps not with such a deficit to overcome. Kruijswijk was looking so good until today, unflappable and able to answer every move and even counter them with moves of his own. Indeed without the crash he might well have matched Nibali wheel for wheel…we’ll never know. Chaves, the man in pink? Well, he has everything to race for tomorrow but losing 53sec to Nibali over a matter of a few kilometres clearly showed he is on his limit now and the little Colombian, looking to win Orica their first Grand Tour, has just one mountain stage to survive and a 44sec lead to play with in trying to contain the Italian tomorrow.

The Shark is back to his best and senses the blood of his rivals in the water. Tomorrow should be epic.

2016 Giro d’Italia, stage 19 result:

1. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)

2. Mikel Nieve (Sky)

3. Esteban Chaves (Orica GreenEdge)

4. Diego Ulissi (Lampre)

5. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff)

6. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)


16. Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo)

in 4h 19′ 54″

@ 51″

@ 53″

@ 1′ 02″

@ 2′ 14″

s.t.


@ 4′ 54″

General classification after stage 19:

1. Esteban Chaves (Orica GreenEdge)

2. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)

3. Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo)

4. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)

5. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff)

6. Bob Jungels (Etixx – Quick Step)

in 78 h 14′ 20″

@ 44″

@ 1′ 05″

@ 1′ 48″

@ 3′ 59″

@ 7′ 53″

Transition to the Alps: Silver lining for IAM…Mugging by Etixx

Two transitional stages as they are better known did little to affect the general classification except to stir them up with every turn of the pedals taking them closer to the Alps and the final two big mountain stages of this Giro that will once and for all confirm whether Steven Kruijswijk can indeed become and Grand Tour winner.

Both stages though were quite exciting in their own right. Stage 17 was a sprinters day and as such the early part of the day held nothing to write about except for the break that went clear and which was eventually swept up, albeit a lot closer to the line than the chasing pack might have hoped. And yet, a sprinter didn’t win. Perhaps the difficulty with which the early escape was brought back served to remind us that not many pure sprinters were left and of those that where, they were riding for teams full of men with tired legs. The upshot to that was Filippo Pozzato darting out of the pack in a bid for glory with a kilometre to go only for Roger Kluge to respond by jumping across and then past the veteran Italian to hold off the sprinters by a handful of lengths for the win.

You wait years for someone to try one of them final flying-kilo efforts to upset the sprinters only for two to come along at once.

And how fitting for Kluge and his IAM cycling team. Just twenty-four hours earlier the team announced that they were disbanding at the end of the season and yet here they were reacting to the news by winning their first ever Grand Tour stage. I suppose it was seen by Kluge as an incentive to put himself into the shop window. In the world of cycling cynicism on social media, it’s a wonder more people didn’t strap on their tinfoil hats for this one!

A further twenty-four hours on and it was back to reality as one of the sports power house teams got back to winning ways for the first time since stage 8 when Etixx Quick-Step seen Matteo Trentin win in superb style ahead of Moreno Moser and team-mate Gianulca Brambilla (who had taken that stage 8 victory).

If stage 17 was a day made for the sprinters then stage 18 was made for the escape artists. A huge group went away and were allowed to go. A stiff climb within the final 20km of the finish was enough to deter the sprinters teams and with the Alps a day away, the general classification contenders held on interest in stopping the domestiques from having their day in the sun. That climb of the Pinerolo sorted the wheat from the chaff and appeared to leave us with Moser and Brambilla. The former looking to make it a 20th Giro stage win for the family name (after his uncle Francesco’s 19 Giro stage wins), the later looking to win his second stage of this years race.

They survived over a short but very steep and narrow cobbled climb in the finishing city of Pinerolo, but with Moser leading out the sprint and slowing his effort in anticipation of Brambilla opening it up, the Etixx rider glanced over his shoulder and noticed his team-mate Matteo Trentin bearing down on them. Perhaps Brambilla didn’t fancy his chances in the sprint and so he hung tight with Moser seemingly unaware of the approaching danger. Then suddenly, before Moser could get out of the saddle to react, Trentin blew past and away for the stage win. Moser did indeed win the sprint against Brambilla, but it was only for second. Sacha Modolo rolled home 20sec later to make it an all-Italian top four as they took 7 of the first 11 places.

All in all thus far it’s been a good Giro for the home nation. Five stage wins from 18, two men in the top 10 (five in the top 20, ahead of Colombian with four), the leader of the points competition (Giacomo Nizzolo, and indeed a sweep of the top five) and the leader of the mountains classification (Damiano Cunego). You get the feeling come Le Tour in July that the French would be quite delighted with that kind of return from their own race.

No major change in the GC…roll on the Alps…

Kruijswijk gets stronger…Nibali cracks…Valverde marks an anniversary

It was a long weekend here in Canada and as such I spent a lot of time out on my bike than near a computer writing about the Giro. I did however get to watch most of the two stages either side of the rest day, both of which served to change the pattern of the race a lot since I last wrote on Saturday.

Even then we were looking at a three horse race between the leader Steven Kruijswijk, his nearest rival Vincenzo Nibali and the Colombian Esteban Chaves. The likes of Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde and Andrey Amador, as well as Rafal Majka of Tinkoff were more than three minutes adrift with their hopes fading fast. The big question was whether Kruijswijk could hold his superb form over a couple of difficult days, with Niblai surely set to step up his game, and how the rest might go about trying to wear him down?

Today, with Sunday’s mountain time-trial and a leg busting short-mountain stage to shake the riders awake after a day off, completed, Kruijswijk appears a man in complete control, leading Chaves by 3min. Nibali on the other hand has capitulated and now sits a distant 4th at 4min 43sec behind the Dutchman.

So what changed?

Well, in many ways nothing. Kruijswijk has not faded, in fact he has only gotten stronger. He blew away his rivals on the mountain time-trial, albeit finishing second to the relatively unknown Alexander Foliforov but putting 23sec into Valverde in 3rd with Nibali having a nightmare climb that seen him having to change bikes after a mechanical incident before getting upset with fans encroaching on his suffering on the later part of the climb. The Ironic that it would be the Italian hopeful that would have issues with the fans; long gone then are the day when Laurent Fignon or Stephen Roche would find the fans trying to hamper their progress towards beating the respective Italian hero of the time. Nibali came in 25th, 2min 10sec behind Kruijswijk. A staggering loss over a 10.8km time-trial, of which the first two kilometres were flat.

The belief then was that Nibali, down to third overall but still within three minutes (with Chaves at 2min 12sec) would go on a serious offensive after the rest day. The five men behind Kruijswijk and all within two and a half minutes of him, would take turns attacking and try to loosen the Dutchmans thus far firm grip on the pink jersey before worrying about racing one another. And yesterday’s short 132km stage 16 from Bressanone to Brixen-Andalo looked the ideal setting to start.

These short mountain stages have proven brilliant to watch in recent years. The racing goes from the gun, the attacks come early and, when it happens off the back of a rest day, there’s so much scope for unpredictability.

And everything started off going to plan. The attacks came early on the first big climb of the Passo Della Mendola: Kruijswijk was quickly isolated from his LottoNL-Jumbo team, Chaves missed the split over the top and the GC group was soon down to a dozen men with more than 60km still to race. Nibali and Valverde were in discussion with one another, plotting their next move, and licking their chops at blowing this race wide open.

But no sooner had we begun to anticipate what damage might be done on the penultimate climb, when Nibali himself began to look fragile. Kruisjwijk was the man reacting best to attacks and on one such move, Nibali lost the wheel and the gap began to open. Soon, he was gone; the Shark’s Giro was hanging by a hook.

One man who was enjoying this kind of stage was Valverde. Kruijswijk wasn’t cracking, but Chaves was 30sec off the back and Nibali was going further back and the Spaniard was sensing a move into a podium position. Ilnur Zakarin had gone with them and the three forged ahead up the final ramp to the finish, working either one another to put time into the rest and then fight out the bonus seconds on the line.

The big loser was Nibali. He limped home 1min 47sec down with fellow Italian Domenico Pozzovivo. Chaves limited his losses well coming in at 42sec. After the stage the Orica-GreenEdge rider confirmed that it wasn’t his legs that cost him, but rather his bad positioning as he missed that early move. This was born out by the times taken up the hard Fal Della Paganella climb when Chaves was chasing; he was quickest by some margin.

As for the winner…that was Valverde. He always would on that kind of stage, though did so with Kruijswijk glued to his wheel.

For years Valverde avoided racing on Italian soil after Italian investigators got hold of blood bags they believed belonged to him from the Operation Puerto scandal in 2006. That was until the 2008 Tour de France crossed into Italy. Despite rumours that he might climb off his bike at the border, the Spaniard went with the race and at last the Italians had a sample from their man with which to make case. In time they did and he was issued a ban from which he has since served and returned to winning ways; better than ever some might say.

So here he was yesterday, ten years to the very day since the story of the Operation Puerto investigation in Spain broke to the cycling world for the first time, leading Valverde to stay away from the Giro for so long before the Italians, of all people, brought him down, with his arms in the air winning his first ever stage of the Giro.

Cycling is a funny old sport sometimes.

General classification after stage 16:

1. Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo)

2. Esteban Chaves (Orica GreenEdge)

3. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)

4. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)

5. Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha)

6. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff)

7. Bob Jungels (Etixx – Quick Step)

8. Andrey Amador (Movistar)

9. Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondiale)

10. Kanstantsin Siutsou (Dimension Data)

in 63h 40′ 10″

@ 3′ 00″

@ 3′ 23″

@ 4′ 43″

@ 4′ 50″

@ 5′ 34″

@ 7′ 57″

@ 8′ 53″

@ 10′ 05″

@ 11′ 03″

 

Rider of the week:
Bob Jungels was on to win this about halfway through the week but I couldn’t overlook the performance of Steven Kruijswijk in the hills, especially that mountain time-trial as he destroyed his rivals and moved comfortably into the overall lead with a week to go.

A Dutchman back in pink as a Colombian contender takes the stage

Day-by day, climb-by-climb, one-by-one the contenders for this Giro d’Italia have fallen by the wayside as the number with the potential to win dropped from double figures, to half a dozen to five, four and today perhaps just three as the race entered the Dolomites and the general classification was turned upon its head.

It was a 210km epic from Alpago to Corvara, crossing six climbs in total, five of which had an altitude of more than 2,000 metres for a collective 5,000 plus metres of total altitude gain by the riders who spent upward of six hours in the saddle.

And by the time all was said and done we had a Colombian stage winner in Esteban Chaves, another Dutchman in the pink jersey in Steven Kruijswijk, an Italian hanging on for grim death in Vincenzo Nibali, and the likes of Alejandro Valverde, Andrey Amador, Rafal Majka, Ilnur Zakarin and Rigoberto Uran all in real trouble.

It was the kind of stage made for action and drama and while there is always the fear that such a stage might be too hard for the favourites, and without a summit finish, that they simply mark one another out of the game, that certainly wasn’t the case here. A huge break of stage hunters went clear early and build a large lead. At first it was Ruben Plaza who took up the challenge from that group, going clear and summiting the third and fourth climbs of the day before being caught and dropped by John Atampuma and Kanstansin Siutsou.

Behind the pink jersey group was reducing in number by the kilometre and soon the pink jersey of Amador was himself in trouble. Fighting to keep in contact the elastic snapped on the crippling Passo Giau and Amador was left watching his overall ambitions disappear up the road. But not so fast. The Costa Rican with an entire nation behind him as the first ever leader of the Giro from his country, turned to his descending skills for a second straight day and pulled back almost a minute on those in front, joining up before the final categorized climb. It was an incredible effort, but it always felt like it would be in vain once the road turned upwards again on the Passo Valparola, and so it proved to be.

It was also proving to be trouble for a lot of other men in the top ten overall too. At first Nibali stretched his legs before the two quiet men of the top ten thus far, Kruijswijk and Chaves attacked. Content to have spent the first 13 stages hanging tight, keeping out of trouble and monitoring their rivals; ensuring they remained close for when this key stage arrived, it was the Dutchman who made the first move and the Colombian who reacted. Nibali lost the wheel and was in trouble; Valverde and the rest were blown away.

By the top of the Passo Valparola we had stage hunter Atapuma off alone but his time coming down rapidly to the two pink jersey hunters riding hard behind, with Nibali doing his level best to limit his loses. The gap appeared to be hovering around 30sec between each group, but by the top of a short-sharp little climb near the finish that wasn’t categoriesd, Kruijswijk, Chaves and Georg Preidler — another remnant from the days early break — had Atapuma in their sites, and with just a few clicks to ride, he was caught. The Colombian from the BMC team must have felt dismayed though all it served to do was hand the stage glory from one Colombian to another as Chaves out sprinted the other three to take the stage win and the small time bonus as Kruijswijk rolled in second and into the pink jersey.

All eyes were on the stopwatch now and it was Nibali who came in next, 37sec down. Further back was Zakarin and Majka at 2min 29sec; Uran at 2min 50sec; and Valverde in a small group at a staggering 3min. The pink jersey of Andrey Amador finished 3min 52sec down and, if you’re still counting, Bob Jungles rolled home at 6min 21sec.

Coming into this Giro if you’d been told after this queen stage, with 13 days of racing completed, that a Dutchman was in the race lead, you’d have assumed it would be Dumoulin given his Vuelta last year, given the expectations on him, and certainly given how he started the first few days. But Dumoulin is back home now, long since abandoned and Dutch dreams are now very much on the shoulders of Kruijswijk. It’s been a long time since the Dutch had any viable GC contender, never mind one taking over from another in the same Giro. Indeed it has been 36 years since the last Dutchman won a Grand Tour: Joop Zootemelk at the 1980 Tour de France. They’ve never had a winner of the Giro.

But while Kruijswijk contending to this degree is a bit of a surprise, it’s not as if he’s someone without pedigree. He’s had two top ten finished at this race in the past and in reality his odds should probably have been shorter than Dumoulin’s. A top 5 was always a possibility; all the LottoNL-Jumbo rider has done here is take it up a notch; rider smarter than in the past and put himself in the right place at the right time.

Only two men are now within a minute of Kruijswijk: Nibali at 41sec, who despite looking vulnerable today, is still very much in the reckoning ahead of tomorrow’s uphill time-trial and will remain confident in the knowledge that the longest climbs are still to come and those should still play into his favour; and Chaves at 1min 32sec. Valverde is 4th at a distant 3min 6sec.

There’s a long way to go, but now, at last, we truly have our small handful of real contenders to win here. The winner should come from one of three men, baring something spectacular. Everyone else has either abandoned or fallen by the wayside as the intensity, climbing and grind has been ramped up.

It’s only going to get harder.

Giro d’Italian 2016, stage 14 result:

1. Esteban Chaves (Orica GreenEdge)

2. Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo)

3. Georg Prediger (Giant-Alpecin)

4. John Atapuma (BMC)

5. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)

6. Kanstantsin Siutsou (Dimension Data)

in 6h 06′ 16″

all s.t.

@ 6″

@ 37″

s.t.

General classification after stage 14:

1. Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo)

2. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)

3. Esteban Chaves (Orica GreenEdge)

4. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)

5. Andrey Amador (Movistar)

6. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff)

in 60h 12′ 43″

@ 41″

@ 1′ 32″

@ 3′  06″

@ 3′ 15″

@ 3′ 29″

 

Over at the Tour of California…
Following Julian Alaphilippe’s victory in the queen stage a few days ago that gave him the race leader overall, Peter Sagan took another stage win, Toms Skujins won a stage in the mountains, Rohan Dennis took the individual time-trial stage, and Alexander Kristoff pipped Peter Sagan for first today. Overall Alaphilippe maintains his GC lead ahead of Dennis by 16sec with Brent Bookwalter in third at 38sec.