Am I on track?

Am I on track?

Monday, 13 May 2013

Giro d'Italia 2013 - Rest Day Review 1

After 9 tough stages, the Giro has reached its first rest day.  There has been some sensational racing in difficult weather conditions, and I have no doubt the superstars of our sport will be grateful to have a day off from competition.

A lot has happened, some of it not what I expected.  Here is a quick look at who is going well, and who will be looking to improve over the next couple of weeks.

The Winners & Grinners

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)

One of the two big pre-race favourites - Nibali is looking in great shape.  He reaches the first rest day in first place, wearing the race leader's maglia rosa (pink jersey).  He has a decent lead over all his major rivals, and really its his race to lose from here on in.

Barring any bad days or unlucky mishaps, I'd expect 'Nibbles' to be wearing pink all the way to the final stage into Brescia.  But it won't be an armchair ride - the toughest stages of the race are yet to come, and the likes of Wiggins and the Team Sky Armada won't die wondering when it comes to challenging for the race lead.

Cadel Evans (BMC)

Well, Cadel Evans, what have you done?! People were already writing your competitive obituary, and even some of your biggest fans were hoping, rather than expecting, for you to at least not embarrass yourself in this Giro.  Many won't be eating humble pie yet - but they've at least taken it out of the pantry and started serving it up on dessert plates...

Cadel is sitting in second place (only 29 seconds behind Nibali), which is arguably the best position in terms of long-term race strategy for a Grand Tour.  All the leadership pressure is on the Astana team, while Cadel's BMC team can relatively relax.

The riding style of 'Cuddles' has been reminiscent of the way he rode during his 2011 Tour de France win. His Stage 8 ITT result was also impressive - a solid top 10 result, plus the fastest time up the final 3km climb.  Can he win from here? Who knows - but he can be very satisfied to be in an ideal position on the 1st rest day.

The Losers

Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp)

The defending champion always carries a heavy expectation on his shoulders, especially when he's talked himself up leading into the race.  Unfortunately for Ryder Hesjedal, this has not been a great start for him.

Ryder finds himself back in 11th place, more than 3 minutes behind race leader Nibali. An ordinary ITT, and then cracking in the latter stages of stage 9, he has had two bad days in a row.

While the Canadian rider may ride well for the remaining two weeks, its very hard to see him climbing back onto the podium in any position.  I think he has already lost this Giro.

Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky)

Wiggo sits in 4th place, 1min 16sec behind the race leader.  This may not sound bad on paper, but things have really gone pear-shaped for the British Tour de France champion.

Things first fell apart on the wet, rainy descents of Stage 7.  Wiggins totally lost his nerve in the slippery conditions, and the rest of the favourites rode away from him as he sat on his brakes on each downhill stint.  This put him a couple of minutes down on his rivals leading into the ITT.

A strong 2nd-place finish in the stage 8 ITT was hampered by an untimely puncture. But even so, the 3-4 minutes everyone expected him to put into the rest of the field simply didn't eventuate.

It was expected that Wiggins would have a solid 2 minute lead by the first rest day, and the rest of the race would see Team Sky trying to lock down the peloton and defend the pink jersey. Instead, Wiggins now needs to attack to try and make up time and position.  Can he do it?  He obviously has the ability, but mentally he's taken a battering and may not be able to push himself into the red-zone and climb onto the podium's top step.

The Surprises

Robert Gesink (Blanco)

The Dutch under-achiever - I've always thought he had great potential, but he's so often disappointed in Grand Tours.  Finally he's looking good, sitting in 3rd place overall, 1min 15sec behind Nibali (and just 1 second in front of Wiggins).

Its still unknown what he can do from here, but a good showing in the mountains sets Gesink up for a very solid Top 5 finish come the finale in Brescia.

Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida)

Blessed with undoubted climbing talent (whether or not its 'artificially assisted' in any way), the Italian was expected to lose out heavily in the ITT. Instead, he performed better than expected and sits in 5th place overall, less than 90 seconds behind Nibali.

Scarponi is well positioned with the toughest two weeks to go, heading into terrain much more suited to his talents.  He is a genuine contender for a podium finish overall.

In Summary...

I was expecting the Giro to reach the first rest day with Bradley Wiggins as the clear leader, with the rest of the race seeing suffocatingly defensive riding by his Team Sky colleagues as they locked up the leaders jersey.

I was also expecting to feel a tinge of sadness as Cadel Evans, one of my favourite riders, fell off the pace and wouldn't be a genuine title contender.

Instead - the race is still wide open, tactics are far from clear, and it looks like being a very exciting final two weeks. Even better, I'll be cheering hard for a Cadel Evans as he builds his good form into, hopefully, Giro-winning form.

The Giro has always been a brilliant race, and so far it has lived up to its billing amongst cycling fans as the most exciting Grand Tour of the year. Hopefully the racing will continue at this level for the remaining 12 stages!

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