Sunday, May 13, 2007

Giro d'Italia 2007

Ok, so I know this is day two of the Giro and I am therefore getting a late start on things... I had planned to do a daily Giro recap this year, like I do with the Tour DAY France. I haven't talked to the Cub Reporter to see if she wants to join me for some olive oil and pasta slinging fun (Kittie?), nor have I checked with Senor Roll to see if he'd do a cameo (but if he should happen by this little corner of the blogosphere, I'd happily take a few words from him any day he has a few to spare... hint, hint...).

Anywho... on with the show, even if a little late. And, yes, I might be forced to miss a day/ stage or two during the race due to schedule stuff, so please feel free to get in-depth coverage each day at either VeloNews or CyclingNews (especially since I am just rehashing their coverage in the first place, adding my own zany BS commentary).

So as I was saying, the Giro started Saturday with a cool team time trial (TTT) for the first time I am aware of. Heck, this is the 90th edition of the race, so I have missed a few... but this is the first time I can think of a TTT starting the race. And man, what a race. The field was treated to a very difficult course that many riders said was far more suited to an individual test against the clock, versus a TTT. Due to the very technical nature of the course and the seaside roads causing lots of difficulty from the winds, it was not an easy course at all. The winner wasn't quite a surprise, but not exactly the odds-on favorite either: Liquigas. Team leader Danilo DiLuca has made no secret of his desire to truly contest the race for the win, so it is not too shocking that the team pulled off the win, even without being specialists at the event like CSC and T-Mobile. The "surprise" was in the minor controversy over the stage winner from within the team- Enrico Gasparotto. Enrico, in a bit of a slip in the heat of competition, rode across the line first for the team... taking the Maglia Rosa (pink leader's jersey... ain't it ironic) instead of team leader DiLuca. A bit of a story was made of the incident, with Gasparotto taking a lot of heat from the Italian press. It was pretty funny actually; (from CyclingNews) Despite Di Luca later conceding that it was "a great team win" and saying "I was not upset, it is important that we as a team win," the media continued to try to make a drama out of the issue, much to the chagrin of the 25 year-old former Italian champion. "So, you have put me on a cross, right?" Gasparotto asked.

Outside of that and a few crashes that bruised a few riders, including Discovery team leader Yaroslav Popovych, there were not too many surprises. Astana took second, CSC took third, Lampre-Fondital took fourth and Discovery fifth. T-Mobile was the possible lone exception in the "surprise" category, finishing sixteenth out of the 22 teams. The Magenta Machine rode the race on standard spoked wheels, rather than traditional TT wheels- gambling on the technical course and winds... and they apparently lost.

Now on to the second stage of racing on the island of Sardinia... a regular road stage with a finish that promised to be less than totally sprinter friendly. On paper, the course map read fairly flat, but seeing as to how the race was on the island of Sardinia, "flat" is a relative term. The stage consisted of many undulations, many of the worst ones being near the finish... meaning the sprinters would have their work cut out for them. Team Tinkoff, riding without the controversy-plagued Tyler Hamilton, was anxious to get in the mix for the day and sent young Russian rider Pavel Brutt on the hunt for TV time. As team director Dimitri Konyshev stated, "Because it's Sunday today. Haven't you noticed how many more viewers there are on Sunday in the TV ratings?" Don't you just love that logic? Dimitri is a very accomplished former racer himself, having won a few Giro stages and Paris-Roubaix during his very lengthy career, so he has a keen understanding of the game. (Editor's correction- Andrei Tchmil won Paris-Roubaix, not Konyshev... sorry.)Pavel's long day lasted about 187km, mostly accompanied by a group of four other riders. However, sensing the end of the break was near, Brutt went alone for a while before being caught just a few kilometers before the finish.

Now that things were back together, grouppo compatto, it was time for the sprinter's teams to organize... except most of the sprinters had already been blown out the back of the pack over the many rolling hills of the day. In the end, it was really down to just Alessandro Petacchi of Milram and Robbie McEwen of Predictor-Lotto. Robbie, ever the exploiter of other sprinter team leadouts, managed to pull off his 12th career Giro win. The semi-surprise on the finish was that second place fell to none other than Paolo- the Cricket- Bettini. The current World and Olympic champion is no slouch in the sprints, especially ones preceded by tough climbs, but he's not always one for the mass gallups to the line with the pure sprinters. Since the herd had been thinned considerably, Paolo was in it to win it in the final meters of the race. Though Robbie proclaimed afterwards that he had no difficulties with the sprint, you have to know he was trying his hardest to keep the Cricket from taking the stage. Poor Petachi managed third on the stage after his team gave him an ideal leadout. However, as has happened to him far too often, he was overrun by the incredibly clever and opportunistic McEwen. The Ale Jet was downed by Robbie the Rocket... again... and now the stage has been set for another thrilling battle of the sprinters.

Based on his performance for the day, DiLuca took over the pink jersey from teammate Gasparotto, keeping the ever-so-manly jersey safely in the hands of Liquigas. Certainly the team will not defend the jersey all the way to the finish, but at least, early in the race, Liquigas has been able to have ownership of the pretty tunic. We'll see how their strategy unfolds over the coming days and weeks.

Tomorrow promises to be a bit easier on the legs, so expect a bit more of a full field at the finish line. My money is on McEwen again, since he certainly looks to have the legs. However, Petacchi is on a mission to prove that he can once again be the King of the Sprints. It wasn't all that long ago that Petacchi shocked the world by taking multiple stage wins at all three of the Grand Tours in the same year. He clearly hasn't been the same rider since, suffering from injuries and symptoms similar to depression. The big Italian powerhouse is still a rider to watch when he unleashes his sprint from 300-400 meters from the line for a very long and terribly fast finish (similar to former Italian super hero Mario Cippolini). If the Ale Jet gets his head in the game, gets his team to deliver him to his favorite spot and he gets his legs going... he will be the man of the day again. Scarier to guys like McEwen is the fact that once Petacchi gets that first win and regains his confidence, he can be damned near impossible to beat. Needless to say, tomorrow should be an interesting stage to watch (or read about).

Oh yeah, I guess I'm supposed to predict a winner... well... I really would like to see DiLuca win this thing. He came very close two years ago and then sort of crushed under the strain last year. He would be a worthy winner. I don't think Popo has the legs yet and he is already dealing with bruises to his legs, body and ego. Simoni is getting a touch long in the tooth and is out of his best shape, and is already thinking of his next career as a pro MTB rider, with eyes on the Olympics. Savoldelli is now with Astana and looks strong... quietly strong. He could be a dark horse, even though he's already won the race twice, so he wouldn't be a surprise at all. His team is somewhat unproven in the longer races, so that is really the big question. Former winner Damiano Cunego has to be considered, but the young phenom of a few years ago- when he beat then-teammate Simoni to win the Giro- is a different rider now. And you can't forget that Stefano Garzelli won back in 2000. However, he's never been the same rider as then, when he was guided to victory by teammate and mentor Marco Pantani. On top of it, his small Aqua & Sapone team is not exactly on the same level as the other, bigger teams. All of that said, I can't put my finger on a clear contender. Without Ivan Basso, embroiled in the Puerto controversy, this year's event is a bit more wide open than previous editions. All that means to John Q Public (or Gianni Q Pubblico) is that this race should be a hell of a lot of fun to watch... so long as nobody gets popped for doping.

There you go, two stages covered in one very long post. Enjoy this one because the others won't likely be this lengthy.

Tim

1 comment:

Valeria Maltoni said...

Tim:

Italians can do drama so well. This post of yours brings me back to when my uncle (father's side) used to ride semi-pro. He had stories to tell.