Rating the 2015 Giro d’Italia Stages

The Giro finished today with Alberto Contador overcoming aggressive Astana tactics to add another Grand Tour to his already impressive collection. The third week belonged to the boys in light blue however, with podium finishers Mikel Landa and Fabio Aru taking two stages each. This Giro received praise for its exciting and at times frenetic stages with the first week in particular exceeding all expectations. It was also a successful race for the early breakaways but just how good were each of the stages?


Stage 1: Orica win TTT, Sky lose out to Astana and Tinkoff.

Recap: Some people like team time trials but I’m not a big fan. The discipline itself deserves its own World Championships but in a Grand Tour it can create some pretty boring time gaps. I prefer a punchy and unpredictable prologue. I expected an Orica GreenEDGE victory and they delivered with Simon Gerrans taking the Maglia Rosa. Tinkoff-Saxo were just seven seconds back, five ahead of Astana. Sky disappointed in ninth, 27 seconds off the win.

Excitement: 3/10

The Stage Winner: 5/10


Stage 2: Viviani wins messy sprint.

Recap: At the time I’m sure the buzz of the Giro’s first stage ‘proper’ made this an exciting day but on reflection it didn’t set the race alight. Most of the sprinters were there, something that rarely happened in the race this year, but the finish was far from straight forward. Sasha Modolo lost his lead out, Andre Greipel went too early, Moreno Hofland got into a great position but Elia Viviani emerged late to take it on the line. The last 1km was pretty good, the rest not so much. Michael Matthews took the race lead.

Excitement: 4/10

The Stage Winner: 5.5/10


Stage 3- Matthews at his best, wins in pink once more.

Recap: Stage 3 was once again about Orica GreenEDGE and eventual winner Matthews. They had two riders in the enormous morning break which began to splinter with 40km remaining. Behind, on the main descent of the day, cycling held its breath as Domenico Pozzovivo suffered an incredibly nasty crash, sustaining bloody injuries to the right side of his face. The crash, thankfully, now appears to have looked worse than it was but the talented Italian climber was escorted to hospital and will rest up before making his return. Matthews fared better than his sprint rivals in the morning’s hills and took the reduced bunch sprint, powering past Fabio Felline for a narrow win.

Excitement: 6.5/10

The Stage Winner: 7/10


Stage 4: Formolo escapes as the peloton is decimated.

Recap: What a fantastic stage this turned out to be. The undulating terrain looked made for the Ardennes lovers but instead we were treated to a race so strung out it resembled no other in recent memory. The morning break looked super strong and with a gap of nine minutes most expected one lucky escapee to take the race lead. The group included Contador’s prime lieutenant Roman Kreuziger leaving the Spaniard light of assistance on the climbs. With 45km left the gap to the peloton was still around seven minutes and the climbs kept coming. Groups of riders were dotted along the snaking roads to La Spezia and positioning was key to not losing time. Up front there had also been a filtering of sorts with Davide Formolo looking the strongest climber. He launched a surprise attack on the flat before the final climb and no one could respond. The gap had reduced to under two minutes with 20km to go and the race between the Giro contenders picked up catching out anybody expecting an ordinary day in the saddle. Rigoberto Uran found himself the wrong side of a split, Ryder Hesjedal lost five minutes and LottoNL-Jumbo leader Steven Kruijswijk was a further three behind. Astana continued to whip up the pace before Aru attacked bringing nobody but Contador and Richie Porte with him- the pair ready for moves of their own. Formolo crested the final summit first but the rest of the break had merged with, or been dropped by, the race favourites. Suddenly the gap of nine minutes had become 30 seconds to one Italian leader, the sole survivor. Completing his superb day, Formolo descended bravely and held off the chasing pack for a massive win. Orica’s Simon Clarke had fought hard to catch the second group on the road and put himself in the Maglia Rosa. This La Spezia stage would have been enjoyable anywhere, anytime but for Week 1, Day 4 it was unbelievable.

Excitement: 9/10

The Stage Winner: 8.5/10

Giro d'Italia 2015


Stage 5: Polanc the best of the break.

Recap: The craziness of week 1 continued on the summit finish into Abetone. A group of five headed the field by ten minutes as the long climb began and when the gradients increased Lampre’s Jan Polanc left his weaker rivals behind. In the main bunch Clarke cracked putting Contador in prime position to take the Maglia Rosa. However, as was the tone of the first week, he was not content to take it quietly and launched an attack with only Aru and Porte able to respond. The long acceleration looked to almost crack the pair but both hung on. Later, with the remains of the break going backwards, we were treated to an exciting sprint between the three for the two bonus seconds on offer for third place. Aru looked the best sprinter and neither rival was able go round him, though both tried in vain. Polanc had finished over a minute previous for the biggest win of his career.

Excitement: 7/10

The Stage Winner: 7/10


Stage 6: Greipel takes his chance.

Recap: Stage 6 ended up being only the second chance for the sprinters and whilst it lacked excitement at least we got a fantastic lead out by Greipel’s Lotto Soudal. The German sat fourth in line with 2km to go but his team used riders from Trek and Lampre to delay his final launch. Greg Henderson finally hit the front and took a long turn before Greipel burst past on cue. Behind there was carnage as a horrible crash marred the finish. The race bid farewell to Daniele Colli who took a horrible fall due in large part to the stupidity of a cameraman. Contador also went down which started a ‘how bad is Contador’s shoulder’ debate.

Excitement: 5/10

The Stage Winner: 6/10


Stage 7: Ulissi the fastest uphill.

Recap: I personally enjoyed Stage 7, the longest Giro stage in over a decade. Anybody who had knowledge of the finishing stretch, a difficult uphill section, would have known this wasn’t one for the pure sprinters and it was hard to pick a winner. The uphill sprint is something I always enjoy and riders put themselves through fair amounts of pain. It was roles reversed at Orica with Matthews leading out former Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner Gerrans. On the left side of the road emerged Diego Ullisi who didn’t seem to be Lampre’s plan A. He gritted his teeth and pulled a length clear of Juan Jose Lobato and Enrico Battaglin before hanging on till the line. This was Ulissi’s third Giro stage in two years but should mean more this time having recently returned from a short ban.

Excitement: 7/10

The Stage Winner: 6/10


Stage 8: Intxausti shows his climbing legs as the favourites attack.

Recap: A strong break headed the race and they looked good value for their lead with 10km to go. Carlos Betancur looked to be finding his form at long last but it was Kruijswijk who usurped him with a stinging attack. However, behind the Dutchman, Sebastien Reichenbach and Benat Intxausti stayed in hot pursuit with the latter working his way past Kruijswijk half way up the climb and soloing to the summit for victory. Behind him a battle had ensued with Astana the instigators. Aru and Landa went first before they were joined by usual suspects Contador and Porte. Landa took advantage of his position and jumped away, chasing Intxausti home for second. Damiano Cunego was one of many who had joined the GC leaders and he attacked with 2km left, before final digs by Aru and Porte dragged a group of five 10 seconds clear of their rivals.

Excitement: 8/10

The Stage Winner: 7/10


Stage 9: Popular Tiralongo times it to perfection for Astana.

Recap: Not the greatest stage but a long way from boring. A strong looking group settled up the road including Paolo Tiralongo, Hesjedal, Kruijswijk, Betancur and Tom-Jelte Slagter. The last man on that list made his move a long way out but miscommunication behind helped him gain a useful advantage. However, Tiralongo looked strong and eventually broke his companions before chasing down Slagter impressively. The 37 year old Italian always looked to have the beating of Slagter and rode away for his third Giro success. Aru spoke fondly of Tiralongo in a post-race interview and he seems a popular figure in the Astana camp. The Kazakh team had refused to give Contador a day off, Aru once again trying to distance the Spaniard in the closing stages.

Excitement: 6/10

The Stage Winner: 6/10


 Stage 10: Boem and his compatriots stay away.

Recap: Stage 10 was set to be the pancake flat stage the pure sprinters had been dreaming about. Though the all-Italian break had been kept at bay, the peloton still found it within themselves to mess up, failing to chase down a two minute gap in the last 20km. Alan Maragoni led the group into the last kilometre but had gone too early and Nicola Boem powered past to win. Behind, Giacomo Nizzolo won the bunch sprint but off the back was Porte- who had suffered a mechanical and lost time. There was drama later as poor Richie was docked two minutes for taking the wheel of Orica’s Simon Clarke. The UCI threw the rule book at him in a decision that pretty much disappointed everybody.

Excitement: 6/10

The Stage Winner: 5/10


Stage 11: Zakarin shows his worth as the race hits Imola.

Recap: The stage was lumpy from the get go and the break grew in size until a gap was sustained. It is worth mentioning Betancur and Kruijswijk were present again, relentless in their quest for success. The peloton reduced in size and the sprinters were dropped, with them went much of the impetus to chase. Ilnur Zakarin’s move was decisive and he was a clear winner on the historic Formula 1 track. Aside from a few digs here and there, the stage wasn’t too exciting.

Excitement: 6/10

The Stage Winner: 6/10


Stage 12- Gilbert delivers for BMC.

Recap: After the Crosara climb where Astana, Tinkoff-Saxo and Movistar tussled for control a horrible wet descent split the pack. Most of the ‘GC guys’ headed the race with Astana again a strong presence. Franco Pellizotti escaped prior to the penultimate climb before being joined by Tanel Kangert. With 22 seconds lead and less than 2km to go the duo looked odds on for the stage and Kangert began to ride away from his rival. Astonishingly, the Estonian began to crack on the short sharp finishing stretch that rose up to 10.6%. With 500m to go the bunch loomed behind him and Philippe Gilbert, who had recovered to join the leaders, jumped away for a trademark win. Contador danced behind him into second place and rival Aru was timed eight seconds back.

Excitement: 7.5/10

The Stage Winner: 7/10


Stage 13- Modolo wins the sprint, crash shakes up the standings.

Recap: This relatively boring stage (at least by this year’s standards) came to life 3km from the finish in Lido di Jesolo, or to be exact, 3.1km- just outside of the neutralised time zone and safety net sanctioned for flat stages. The rule stops everybody worrying about time gaps in ferocious bunch sprints but also undoes the effects of late crashes and punctures. Stage 13’s crash, 100m or so from the mark, cost a whole host of riders time. Race leader Contador lost 40 seconds and with it the leader’s jersey for the first time in his career. Porte also went down and rolled in 2.08 back. In contrast to Contador’s fighting grimace, Porte looked a dejected and beaten man. He was now over five minutes down without ever really being dropped. Oh, the Stage win? The crash had left Lampre super strong and Sacha Modolo took their third win of the race after a lead out by Maximiliano Richeze.

Excitement: 6.5/10

The Stage Winner: 5/10


Stage 14- Kiryienka takes the time-trial, Contador takes the plaudits.

Recap: The previous day’s crash had made this stamina-zapping time trial a little more interesting. Aru was now last man out and had Contador’s splits to aim for. Sadly for the Sardinian, Contador’s best time trialling form returned and he blitzed to a two minute lead over his rivals by the first time check. Aru performed reasonably and it was the Spaniards brilliance, rather than his failings, which saw him drop to second in the GC. Porte was expected to do well here but was over four minutes behind winner and team mate Vasil Kiryienka and it was clear his race was coming to an end. Specialist Kiryienka looked a likely winner once he crossed the line but Contador’s fast finish placed him just 14 seconds back. Mikel Landa lost four minutes on the day without of which he could have won the Giro.

Excitement: 4/10

The Stage Winner: 6/10


Stage 15- Contador takes on Astana in the high mountains as Landa lands the stage.

Recap: Tinkoff-Saxo chased down the early break and the contenders were together as they crested the Passo Daone. However, Contador found himself alone as they approached the Madonna Di Campiglio with Astana five men strong. The group thinned out further on the climb with Andrey Amador and Leopold Konig hanging in there, then podium contenders following strong time trials. Landa looked strong and he was first to attack provoking a response from Contador who launched a counter. Aru was briefly distance before clawing his way across and putting in an attack of his own, followed by another by Landa. During the back-and-forth Yuri Trofimov had been hanging on, struggling to hold a wheel but determined to stay in contention. In a lull between attacks he reappeared in the picture and made a move round the lead trio in a brave attempt for victory. Agonisingly, Landa sprung one final attack passing Trofimov with the line in sight.

Excitement: 9/10

The Stage Winner: 7/10


Stage 16- Landa does the double but brilliant Contador cracks Aru.

Recap: Marco Pantani was known for his thrilling attacks and brilliant ascents and so it is fitting that Stage 16 and the ‘Montagna Pantani’ saw some of the best action of recent years. On the descent of the lesser Aprica the peloton fell apart. Leader Contador would have remained in the lead bunch had it not been for an ill-timed puncture not seen on camera. As the roads flattened out three Katusha riders jumped away and behind them Astana followed. Soon a strong group came together and Contador found himself over 40 seconds back as the riders reached the Mortirolo Pass. Astana set a fast tempo up the climb and soon Aru and Landa had just Kruijswijk for company. Behind, Contador had set off in the hottest of pursuits. Riding almost entirely out of his saddle he picked off riders one by one at frightening pace. The gap melted away and there was a fantastic shot of the leaders with Contador’s pink appearing for the first time in the background. He reached them and made an almost immediate move. Aru cracked, confirmed by the pain on his face, but Landa and Kruijswijk were able to follow. After the descent lay a shorter drag to the finish. Kruijswijk made a bold move 4km out but ignited a response from Landa who surged away for his second stage win. Contador looked tired for the first time that day but his ascent of the Mortirolo will be forever remembered.

Excitement: 9/10

The Stage Winner: 8/10


Stage 17- Modolo does the double.

Recap: Stage 17 into Switzerland was beautiful in scenery (Lake Como anybody?) but dull in terms of action. Luca Paolini was one of many who tried to steal the day from the sprinters before the bunch came together with under 2km to go. Trek’s resources looked spent as the race entered the final stretch leaving Nizzolo alone against Lampre’s three pronged lead out. Modolo was launched off the front and fended off moves from Nizzolo to his left and Luka Mezgec to his right. The Giro is a fantastically hilly race but this means the flat stages rarely see the most exciting sprints. Greipel had abandoned leaving the three Italians (Viviani not mentioned) as the favourites.

Excitement: 4/10

The Stage Winner: 5.5/10


Stage 18- Gilbert finds more Giro success as Contador extracts revenge.

Recap: Stage 18 was always going to be one of the hardest stages to predict. A large group opened up a gap of 12 minutes early in the day and they stayed well in advance throughout. On the day’s only climb- Monte Ologno- the best climbers came to the fore and Francesco Bongiorno tried to distance his rivals. A little further down the road was danger man Gilbert who fought hard to stay in touch. On the descent the Belgian rejoined the front and was simply too strong in the closing kilometres. He made his winning move at a time where nobody could respond and was almost a minute to the good at the finish. Over six minutes back there was action in the peloton. Contador attacked a struggling Aru and immediately opened a gap. Landa had suffered a mechanical and was off the back of the group, hearing of Contador’s attack he set off in response. The situation was the reverse of Astana’s pressure applied when Contador had suffered a mechanical two days earlier. The Astana pair both lost over a minute and the Giro looked decided.

Excitement: 6/10

The Stage Winner: 7/10


Stage 19- Aru recovers and silences critics, riding away for solo summit win.

Recap: A hugely difficult day for the riders with three back-to-back climbs ending the race. Visconti crested the hard penultimate climb alone completing a pair of top scoring mountain points. In doing so he became the leader of the KoM competition from team mate Intxausti. Visconti faded on the final climb of the day as the bunch drew close quickly. Contador and Landa were involved in the first move and were joined by Hesjedal and Konig. A small gap opened to Aru who waited a short while before jumping across with Kruijswijk. The relentless Hesjedal moved away from the leaders on the high slopes but his gap was not significant. A rejuvenated Aru launched himself off in pursuit and the rest failed to respond. He caught the Canadian but only briefly paused before launching a second attack. The face of Aru had been pained for much of the third week but Stage 19 was a much happier affair. He looked good, opened up a minutes lead and was overjoyed as he punched the air at the summit.

Excitement: 8/10

The Stage Winner: 8/10

Fabio Aru Giro


Stage 20- Aru and Astana win the day, Contador cracks on Finestre but holds on for race win.

Recap: Stage 20 was a superb. The action began on the Colle Delle Finestre with the main group chasing sole leader Zakarin. Italian Stefano Pirazzi lit up the early slopes but, sadly for him, was chased by a fearsome five-some of Contador, Landa, Aru, Kruijswijk and Hesjedal. The Bardiani rider stayed with the best for as long as he could before finally falling away. The chasers continued, joined by Uran and Kangert, up the difficult unpaved roads as leader Zakarin fought to hold his gap. The Finestre was the Cima Coppi of the race and is a climb like no other. It always seems to bring drama and the Eurosport commentators were quick to remind us of the race defining stage in 2005. Amongst the dust, Landa made a move and cracked the group. Contador tried to follow but burnt out and excitement spread through the pack as they began to ride away from the race leader. Landa impressively chased down Zakarin and was first to crest the highest summit of the race at 2178m. His gap to Contador grew to around 90 seconds but remained too small to win the Giro baring a Contador capitulation. On the descent he sat and waited for Aru and Astana had eyes fixed on another stage. The final climb featured noticeably gentler ramps. Aru launched his winning attack with 2km to go and Hesjedal followed him home for second. Aru’s gap to the race leader was over two minutes at the line and he had pulled away from team mate Landa in the GC. The stage also decided the King of the Mountains competition with Visconti hanging on from Kruijswijk, who could not get the points he needed on the Finestre climb.

Excitement: 9/10

The Stage Winner: 7/10


Stage 21- Sprinters miss out again as Keisse steals Milan.

Recap: Eurosport commentator Robert Hatch summed it up nicely line saying ‘this is the way this Giro had to finish’. He was referring to the fact that two escapees were to stay away from a disorganized and mismanaged chase behind. Nizzolo had been quietly going about his business in the points competition and his team were aware he did not need to win the sprint to take the jersey, providing Modolo did not. Team Giant-Alpecin tried to bring things back for Mezgec but the Slovakian had punctured and the German team were always on to a loser. Luke Durbridge worked well with Iljo Keisse to maintain their 30 seconds advantage but was no match for the fast sprinter when the cat and mouse began. The Belgian forced him into making the first move before bursting past him and weaving away for a much needed Etixx Quick-Step victory.

Excitement: 6/10

The Stage Winner: 5/10


 

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