What a difference a day can make in the Giro d’Italia, let alone seven. This time last week we were singing the praises of Tom Dumoulin but a handful of climbs, saddle sores and two race leaders later, the Dutchman has left the race. Then there was Mikel Landa who, in the turn of a day, went from race favourite to six minutes off the pace after barely 50km of racing; falling sick on the rest day his Giro hopes were dashed overnight. He too abandoned.
Maybe Tom had been telling the truth; he really hadn’t been considering the GC and he wasn’t fit to climb with the best. His departure from the race mid-way through Stage 11 looked a sad state of affairs and even brought back memories of his cruel fall from the top of the leaderboard at last year’s Vuelta. In truth the two are highly incomparable. Nothing went to form at the Vuelta with Dumoulin and company tearing up the rule book whilst playing parts in one of my favourite Grand Tours in recent memory. The Dutchman found a taste for Tour leadership and was truly unlucky not to hold on for victory. By contrast, this year’s Giro may have gone exactly to plan – that is until rain washed away Dumoulin’s chances of a second time-trial win last Sunday. That could have been his last mark on the race; rolling over the hills of Chianti to once again take top spot. That aside, things did go well for Dumoulin and he’ll remember his days in pink fondly. The race goes on without him and he’ll get back to preparing for a run at an Olympic title.
Landa’s departure brought more Giro misery to Team Sky. They’ve rarely seen success in Italy with Bradley Wiggins finding trouble when poised to challenge in 2013 and everything falling apart for Richie Porte last time around. Mikel Landa, however, can count himself genuinely unlucky with what seems to be stomach problems picked up on the rest day. He had looked much improved in Sunday’s ITT and leaves behind a host of what-ifs and maybes.
Away from departures, last week saw the rise and fall of Gianluca Brambilla and the rise and rise of team-mate Bob Jungels. The two Etixx riders have held the jersey since Saturday with the Rosa being passed from Brambilla to our current race leader almost seamlessly on Stage 10. Back on Saturday, Brambilla found himself in the break and feeling good. With the favourites surfacing behind him ready to pick off his fellow escapees, Brambilla pushed on for a victory to the tune of one minute and six seconds, taking the lead. By the time he arrived 17th in Sunday’s time trial, a handful of seconds clear of Nibali and Valverde, he looked likely of a long defence. However, he cracked early on Tuesday, recovering brilliantly on a descent, before cracking again, after possibly working for Jungels, on the summit finale. It all came together for Etixx and Jungels took over the race lead.
Along with his boyish manner and spiked hair, Jungels has been a calm and quite outstanding leader of the Giro. His ride throughout the opening week was impressive and now, going into the high mountains, Jungels has been largely untroubled. In my preview I predicted him to challenge for the top 20, and bet on him to win the young riders competition, but a performance of this level was unforeseen. I’ll leave it there, not wanting to jinx him in the same way I did Dumoulin.
On Thursday Diego Ulissi took the sixth Giro win of his career after joining Jungels and the equally impressive Andrey Amador on a late surge. With the GC’s top two watching eachother, and quietly confident in his sprint, Ulissi sat off and waited for the finale before accelerating away for victory. He’s looked so strong this race a hat-trick isn’t out of the question.
Today we start a trio of serious days in the mountains. At first glance the stage doesn’t stand up against mammoth Grand Tour profiles but all four major climbs pack nasty gradients. The first comes after 50km and could cut the peloton in half. The downhill is broken up with another spike and the riders will roll straight on to a category two climb. In the latter half of the stage we have another double-header starting with category one Cima Porzus. The presence of climbing all day will be a new test to high placed riders such as Jungels and Ulissi and by the end of the day the top ten could belong to the favourites. A lot of this depends on if Astana decide to tear the race up with their super-strong team.
With tomorrow’s stage just as tough, Nibali and his friends might just hold off. If this happens we could be in for another breakaway win; I’m looking towards Igor Anton, KoM wearer Damiano Cunego and Sky’s trio of Mikel Nieve, Sebastian Henao and Nicholas Roche. If the GC boys chase hard, Domenico Pozzovivo and Ilnur Zakarin may have just enough freedom to jump away in the closing kilometres.
The Weekend: Stages 14 & 15
Saturday’s stage takes us to greater heights (literally) and the riders will haul themselves over six major peaks. The mid-stage climbs are short but packed close together and the hardest climb arrives with just over 40km to go – the Passo Gieu. After that there’s yet another climb before a fast descent and gentle slope to the line. I expect tomorrow’s stage to be won by a GC rider, though there is the possibility for a long-range break. The race is in Astana’s hands now with the thinking being that Vincenzo Nibali will out-climb Alejandro Valverde over the next week. Steven Kruijswijk may end up the hardest rider to dislodge but his team pales in comparison to the rest. I’m still interested to see what Cannondale can do. They’ve taken the race slowly so far but they have a team capable of animating the race in the mountains. It looks as though Rigoberto Uran will keep the GC as his goal but Davide Formolo is far enough down to chase a second Giro stage win. He isn’t climbing badly at all and Stage 14 could provide an opportunity to show his talent.
Next up is the mountain time trial on the Alpe di Siusi and this has the potential to be great. In 2014 Quintana danced up the Cima Grappa in a fantastic TT taking over a minute from all his rivals, bar Fabio Aru. The Colombian dealt serious damage that day – Rodolfo Torres, who placed 20th, was over five minutes back. Sunday’s stage is shorter – perhaps to reduce the influence of the TT – but Nibali will look to take a tight grip on the Maglia Rosa. He is the best climber in the race and, for what it’s worth, the best natural time-trialler amongst his rivals. The 10.8km stage is almost entirely sloped upwards and this does give a chance to the likes of Esteban Chaves and Zakarin should Nibali falter. Pozzovivo is a pure climber who went well in 2014 – he could go top five on the stage and pull himself back into podium contention. It’s hard to see the stage winner not being one of the big names.
Any Other Business
Winning last Friday and again yesterday, Andre Greipel completed a trio of surging sprints before promptly leaving the race. He has looked super quick recently powering to the line in spite of a number of teams disrupting his Lotto-Soudal train. All three of his wins have come with Marcel Kittel absent. In fact, despite being arguably the most complete sprinter in the last three years, his record against his compatriot is poor. He was never on terms on Stages 2 & 3 nor at Scheldeprijs in April. Going back to the Tour de France 2014, he came sixth behind Kittel on Stage 4 and was fourth on the Champs Elysees. He has looked so dominant this past week that I still believe he can go toe-to-toe with Kittel and hope this happens in July.