We are now just beyond the mid-point of this year’s Giro d’Italia, and although the race does not hit the first of the high mountains until this weekend, the general classification is beginning to take shape, with most of the key names establishing themselves in the top 20 on general classification. But who’s looking good so far, and whose chances are already slipping away to the point where they must attack to keep their receding hopes alive?
When I looked at my ‘virtual GC’ of ten top riders after the three Danish stages, a mere 38 seconds separated them – unsurprising as the peloton had yet to tackle a climb worthy of the name at that point, with the time gaps determined by the opening time trial. Since then, however, we have had the team time trial and four medium mountain stages (today makes five) to give us more of an indication of who is looking like a genuine contender.
Unlike last year, when Alberto Contador ‘won’ pretty much as he pleased in the mountains and was never put in the slightest trouble, there has been no single dominant climber so far this year. One day Paolo Tiralongo triumphs on the long grind up to Rocca di Cambio, the next Colnago’s Domenico Pozzovivo solos to victory on the punchier ascent of Lago Laceno. One day Joaquim Rodriguez looks marginally off the pace, then before you know it he’s dominating a select sprint at the top of the climb in Assisi.
From one day to the next, it’s difficult to get an accurate read as to the pecking order amongst the top riders. That’s no surprise, as these medium mountains tend to show up differences in climbers’ strengths and preferences more than the big mountains later in the race, where invariably it is all about form.
Anyway, here is the current ‘virtual GC’ after yesterday’s stage 11, with each rider’s overall position indicated:
1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha)
2. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) +0:17
3. Roman Kreuziger (Astana) +0:52
6. Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) +0:57
10. Rigoberto Uran (Sky) +1:10
11. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) +1:11
12. Domenico Pozzovivo (Colnago-CSF Bardiani) +1:12
14. Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) +1:37
23. Frank Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) +2:11
32. Jose Rujano (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela) +3:05
With the time gaps between the contenders now becoming quite serious for some, this is likely to shape the tactics of the race over the next few days, with some keen to claw back valuable time ahead of the final rest day, while others will be content to consolidate their positions and steel themselves for a challenging final week.
Katusha’s Rodriguez deservedly leads the race, having been the most aggressive and consistently visible of the major players so far, but it’s noticeable than Roman Kreuziger has unobtrusively moved himself up to fourth without ever looking like winning a stage. The strength of his Astana team in the mountains is underlined by the fact that Tiralongo is third overall, 20 seconds ahead of him thanks to his win on stage seven. The Czech rider is not one to bludgeon his rivals into submission with a devastating attack, but he can climb with all but the very best and is a better time-trialist than most. Before the race I tipped him for the podium, and he’s looking good so far.
Garmin’s Ryder Hesjedal was not surprised to lose the maglia rosa to Rodriguez on an Assisi climb which suited the Spaniard perfectly, but he will need more brave defensive rides such as the one he turned in that day if he is to preserve his podium position. As the big mountains start, the attacks will come thick and fast and I’m not yet convinced he can stand the pace, so don’t be surprised if he loses a chunk of time somewhere over the weekend which sees him slide down the top ten and possibly even out of it given the relative closeness of the order, with less than a minute separating second and 12th.
Pre-race favourites Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) have shown themselves to be there or thereabouts so far, and both should be pleased to be handily placed about a minute off the lead. However, the real test for them – as for everyone – will come on Saturday’s monstrous final climb to Cervinia. We’ll have a much clearer indication of their real form after that.
Sky’s Rigoberto Uran (1oth, a second ahead of Scarponi) has shown himself to be in good shape, being prominent in animating several climbs. With Mark Cavendish likely to depart by the weekend, the team’s focus will be squarely on him and fellow Colombian Sergio Henao (13th at +1:27). Sky’s tactics will be interesting to watch here. Will they hedge their bets, or will they ask Henao to support Uran and provide a tricky one-two punch to unsettle others? Neither is likely to trouble the top five, but they could end up being the catalyst which shakes up the favourites.
Similarly, Pozzovivo (12th, one second behind Scarponi) has carried over his Giro del Trentino-winning form into a Giro stage win, and the diminutive Italian climber will always be a genuine threat to take large chunks of time out of everyone on the steepest climbs. Whether he can sustain his form over the full three weeks is questionable, but if he has even a sniff of a podium place after Monday’s rest day, watch him attack hard on the big climbs in the final week and cause panic in the ranks. However, a stage win and a strong top ten finish is probably a more realistic objective for him.
We can expect something similar from Damiano Cunego in support of Scarponi. He is likely to attack for stage wins and act as a lightning conductor to take pressure off the defending champion, allowing him to ride his own race and time his own attacks.
Arguably the biggest casualty so far is Frank Schleck, who did not help himself by losing 46 seconds yesterday to increase his deficit to Rodriguez to 2:11. He is already in a position now where he will need to attack if he has any aspiration of a podium finish, as he cannot rely on making up time in the time trial, so watch out for some aggressive tactics from RadioShack-Nissan at some point in the next few days.
Finally, Androni Giocattoli’s Jose Rujano has slipped more than three minutes off the pace. He was never really a serious threat for overall victory, but if he has the legs last year’s double stage-winner will undoubtedly seek to attack before the rest day to improve his overall standing.
All this comes with a massive caveat, though. Although the gaps in the general classification are becoming significant in some cases, they are far from decisive, particularly given that we have yet to see a category one climb. One good or bad day in the high mountains for any of the contenders could drastically alter the shape of the race. The only thing that seems certain is that – unlike last year – the race will still be very much up for grabs entering the final week. The excitement is only just beginning.
Link: Official website