Giro analysis: Phinney in pink, early winners and losers

After three incident-packed days in Denmark, the Giro circus has packed up to return to Italy in preparation for a marathon 12-stage middle ‘week’. Some riders will be reflecting on a job well done so far, while others will be licking their wounds. And a certain Italian sprinter will be steering clear of the team hotels of Sky and BMC for the foreseeable future. Here’s part one of my analysis of the first three days of action in the 2012 Giro d’Italia.

Taylor Phinney: Pretty in pink

Phinney powered his way into pink (image courtesy of BMC)

It’s been an eventful three days for Taylor Phinney. I’ve been hugely impressed by the young American – in terms of both his performance and demeanour.

The 21-year old is a sporting thoroughbred, being the son of pro cyclist Davis Phinney and Olympic cyclist and speed skater Connie Carpenter-Phinney. Even so, few Giro debutants have ever been feted with such stratospheric expectations. And with good reason. In his first pro season last year, Phinney demonstrated exceptional time-trialing ability. He claimed the prologue at the Eneco Tour – in which he finished fourth overall – and went from there to the Vuelta, where he finished fifth in the individual time trial. The four men who beat him in Salamanca? World time trial champions Tony Martin and Fabian Cancellara, and Vuelta podium finishers Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins. Rarefied company for a neo-pro!

In Saturday’s opening 8.7km ITT, Phinney showed the composure to convert expectation into end-product and the coveted pink jersey. His winning margin of nine seconds over Sky’s Geraint Thomas was eye-catching, and only two others were within 20 seconds of his benchmark time.

Better still came the following day, as Phinney found himself riding another 8km time trial after a mechanical problem dropped him off the back of a peloton which was revving up for the bunch sprint. He showed great composure and strength in pacing himself back – as did his BMC team, who calmly despatched first Danilo Wyss and then a couple of others to chaperone him.

Perhaps most impressively of all, when he became an innocent victim yesterday of the crash caused by Roberto Ferrari, which left him sitting dazed on the road for several minutes, there were no histrionics despite suffering a puncture wound to his ankle – just a steely determination to step on to the podium:

I wanted to show the fans and the public and my family watching at home that I was OK. I felt like it was important to do that.

You don’t see a lot of crashes like that in the last kilometre, especially the last 200 metres. I hit the ground really hard and also must have had something hit me, because I have a little stab wound in my ankle.

Thankfully Phinney has today’s rest day to recover. If he is fit to continue, he has a perfect opportunity to really see what he can do in a Grand Tour. He won’t contend for a high overall finish – at 85kg, he is not built for the high mountains – but he will learn a lot and possibly even surprise himself. I’ll be watching and cheering him on, for sure.

Time trial winners and losers

The Giro isn’t won and lost on its opening day over the space of just 8.7km. But even for those for whom races against the watch are anathema, a sub-par individual time trial is rarely a good sign, and usually an indication of deeper form issues.

The quickest general classification rider in the opening ITT was Garmin-Barracuda’s Ryder Hesjedal, who clocked 10:55, 29 seconds behind Taylor Phinney. If we take the Canadian’s time as the benchmark, the ‘virtual GC’ of contenders would have looked like this:

Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda)

Roman Kreuziger (Astana) +0:07

Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) +0:10

Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +0:14

Rigoberto Uran (Sky) +0:17

Domenico Pozzovivo (Colnago-CSF Bardiani) +0:26

Frank Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) +0:30

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) +0:34

Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) +0:37

Jose Rujano (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela) +0:38

Kreuziger will have been pleased with his ITT result (image courtesy of Astana)

Even down to Jose Rujano, 142nd overall, the time gaps weren’t enormous, but some will have been more pleased than others. Roman Kreuziger underlined his all-round credentials, finishing ahead of all but Hesjedal. But both the supposedly out of form Ivan Basso and the usually abysmal Joaquim Rodriguez will have been delighted to finish high up the order and eke out 20 seconds on several of their rivals. Michele Scarponi, however, will be desperately disappointed to have started his title defence in such subdued fashion.

Of course, these small differentials can be wiped out in one fell swoop on a single climb. Equally, small cracks in a short time trial can become gaping chasms in the longer 30km test which brings the Giro to a conclusion. But to dismiss the results of the opening stage as a footnote in the greater scheme would be a mistake. In the battle of the ‘home’ favourites, Basso has scored early points over Scarponi, and the latter’s rivals will be watching closely ready to pounce on any signs of vulnerability as the race hits the medium mountains later this week.

More in-depth Giro analysis to follow later today.

Link: Official website

4 thoughts on “Giro analysis: Phinney in pink, early winners and losers

  1. Kreuziger’s result was kind of disappointing when you consider his results in previous prologues (e.g. 2010 tour de suisse), just wondering whether that indicates a loss in form or a transformation into a better climber? Food for thought!

    • I know what you mean, Rob, but I think it’s just about striking the right balance. The effort required to gain 5 seconds in a short TT is more than offset by an extra 1% in climbing form, which could easily be worth 1-2 minutes over the three weeks.

      For me, Kreuziger’s form looks strong. The ITT result was not so much about time as it was about relative finishing positions, to make a statement. Lance used to be a master of putting in a big prologue performance – he might only put a few seconds into Ullrich et al, but the psychological impact was enormous. “I’m here. I’m as good as ever. Catch me if you can.”

      Roman will be delighted to have put a few seconds into most of the big men, and his climbing form this spring – both in the Classics and in the stage races – has been as good as anyone’s. I still suspect the win’s beyond him, but I’m confident about my each-way bet.

  2. I’m curious about Hesjedal. He’s not shown much aptitude for TTs in the past, but that was an impressive ride. I think Garmin can put big chunks of time into the serious GC opposition tomorrow, so this would put him in a great position for the rest of the race. Bring on tomorrow.

    • I’ve never really noted Hesjedal in a TT before, but sometimes with these shorter ones it’s all about a rider hitting a good rhythm, or the course just suiting a particular style. With 5 of the top 17 on the stage 1 TT, Garmin should start as favourites for the TTT tomorrow, although of course it would most likely be Alex Rasmussen (3rd at +0:13) in pink. Sky, of course, are a strong TT team too, so they will target the rosa for Geraint Thomas. And I wouldn’t count out BMC either, as they have some powerful men in there to support Phinney too. I can’t see anyone else getting a look-in, but it should be exciting.

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