Giro d’Italia review: Round-table (part 1)

An eventful, exciting and exhilirating Giro d’Italia left us with many talking points to chew over and discuss at VeloVoices Towers. Over a rather excellent bottle of chablis this evening, we’ve been taking a misty-eyed look back over the last three weeks of one of the most exciting races any of us can remember.

Here’s part one of our discussion – part two follows tomorrow.

So, Ryder Hesjedal: a worthy winner?

A worthy new champion (image courtesy of Giro website)

Kathi: Absolutely. The entire podium was worthy, each animated the final stages in an amazing way and it stayed suspenseful to the very end. No spitting the dummy, no gifts, no back-chat to the press. Just belief and riding with heart and soul.

Sheree: Anyone who wins a Grand Tour is a worthy winner. Actually, in my book, anyone who finishes is a winner. However, it’s hard not to be particularly delighted with this win and I loved that, on the podium, Hesjedal looked as if he really couldn’t quite believe what he’d achieved. The others proved to be worthy opponents but, in the end, the more complete rider prevailed. Though if I’m honest in my heart of hearts I was pulling for Purito who, it has to be said, pulled out all the stops in the individual time trial.

Jack: Of course. Grand Tours are such mammoth efforts that in the end the winner is always worthy. After his heroics at the Tour de France a couple of years ago, I thought he would disappear from view for ever more. How wrong I was! It was a superb effort and Garmin-Barracuda will be delighted – especially as they are a team without any true Grand Tour contenders.

Tim: I can only echo what you’ve all said. I dismissed Ryder’s credentials as a genuine contender mid-race, and I’m delighted to have been proven wrong. He comes across as a lovely guy, and he couldn’t have had a stronger or more modest wing-man in Christian Vande Velde. His pull on the front for the first 15km of the Stelvio on the penultimate stage was magnificent.

Which rider or team surprised and delighted you during the race?

Sheree: Firstly, did anyone correctly predict the composition of the podium? I don’t think so and that’s possibly the biggest and nicest surprise: unpredictability. We also had a lot of riders recording their maiden Giro wins. Always good to see new talent emerge. Of course, we’ve all fallen a little in love with Taylor Phinney who’s going to be a huge star and just what cycling needs: an American who’s the complete antithesis of Lance.

Taylor Phinney proved a hit with the VeloVoices ladies (image courtesy of BMC)

Kathi: I also loved Taylor Phinney – his enthusiasm and good humour really sprinkled some stardust over the first week in particular, but his tweeting throughout the race was always fun and positive. Really looking forward to following this guy’s career – he’s going to be a mega-watt superstar – and, if this Giro is anything to go by, an open, good-natured, fun, mega-watt superstar. (Can I add him as a rider to watch? Please???) [Oh, alright then. Anything to stop the squealing – Ed.]

Jack: I loved Colnago-CSF! They’re a small team but really did animate the race. Domenico Pozzovivo did extraordinarily well to take eighth in the GC, and Stefano Pirazzi’s mountainous breakaway antics were very exciting to watch. Aside from them, Thomas De Gendt’s finish to the race was superb, and at only 25 he could become a serious Grand Tour contender in the coming years, especially with his time trialling ability. Becoming the first Belgian to finish on a Grand Tour podium since Johan Bruyneel in the 1995 Vuelta is no mean feat, especially coming from such a cycling mad nation.

Tim: It’s another small Italian team for me: Farnese Vini-Selle Italia. For starters, they literally stood out from the pack with their dayglo kit. But they also earned two fantastic wins. There was Matteo Rabottini‘s solo ride on stage 15, where he had to recover from being passed by Joaquim Rodriguez in the closing metres before coming back around him. And then there was Andrea Guardini‘s sprint victory on his Grand Tour debut, to prove that he can do much more than just win a fistful of stages at the Tour de Langkawi. Both stages were significant in deciding jerseys too: Rabottini took the mountains jersey and never relinquished it, while in the final analysis Guardini’s defeat of Mark Cavendish effectively denied the world champion the points classification.

And who disappointed?

Jack: Roman Kreuziger was relatively poor, although he made up for his lowly GC placing with a superb stage win.

Tim: Indeed. He paid a heavy price for one bad day in the mountains which cost him a high GC placing, but even so he never really looked on the same level as the big guns. In many ways he’s a similar style of rider to Hesjedal – powerful but not explosive – but where the Canadian brought his ‘A’ game to the Giro, the Czech was just a little off his best.

Basso rode a steady race, but lacked that final kick (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Kathi: I was disappointed for Ivan Basso more than by him. His team rode their guts out for him but he just didn’t have the jump on the final two mountain stages. I really wanted him to do well – if he couldn’t win, at least be on the podium, as I think he’s a classy rider. People were whingeing about him being ‘boring’ but he was really riding with some power – it was just steady power and unfortunately it was a bit short.

Jack: I agree with Kitty, as a big Basso fan from the CSC days. I love his calm style of grinding his way up climbs, but it seems a lack of explosiveness has cost him here. When Hesjedal, Rodriguez or Scarponi made sudden moves, it seemed to immediately send Basso backwards. A disappointing Giro and, at 34, his last chance to win a Grand Tour may have gone.

Sheree: Maybe some riders didn’t finish on GC where we anticipated, but you can’t say that their performances were disappointing. They and their teams might be disappointed with their result but we shouldn’t be since everyone gave of their best and, sadly, sometimes one’s best isn’t enough to win.

This year’s race was markedly less brutal than last year’s, more of a slow-burn building up to a big climax between the final two weekends. Do we think it was a success?

Jack: Definitely. While the huge mountainous tours look spectacular on paper, there’s little evidence to prove that they produce the racing they promise. This Giro has provided evidence to the contrary, with riders not afraid to attack, knowing that it’s do-or-die on the limited number of huge summit finishes. It was a spectacular race.

Bak finally made a late attack stick on stage 12 (image courtesy of Lotto-Belisol)

Tim: I think the final nine days worked out exactly how the organisers hoped, providing spectacular racing and some particularly memorable finishes. But there were so many great stories in the first two weeks too: Taylor Phinney, Pozzovivo’s aggressive climbing, a spectacular uphill finish in Assisi, Lars Bak‘s swashbuckling late solo break. There was even a good spread of sprint wins, with only Mark Cavendish winning more than one.

Kathi:  This was one of the best Grand Tours I’ve seen – it was so up in the air the whole time. The sprint stages were a bit boring after a while (for me) but there was enough strangeness in each stage to make it worth watching. I suspect the Tour de France is going to pale in comparison this year. I’ve always thought the Giro is the Grand Tour with the most imagination. Sometimes I think that, with it being overshadowed by the Tour, it’s like a little secret that only real cycling fans love.

Sheree: Absolutely, the race achieved what the organisers intended and the fans have had an edge-of-the-seat final week. I loved it!

Which were our favourite stages, and why?

Tim: After the initial sparring, the race finally came to life for me on stage 14. After a brave and at times terrifying descent, Andrey Amador completed virtually the entire Cervinia climb on his own, only to be overtaken by Jan Barta within sight of the line – but he dug deep and came back to win anyway. And behind him Hesjedal lit a fire under the favourites’ group to announce himself as a serious contender. The stage had everything: brave descending, tough climbing and a thrilling finish.

Kathi: Stages 19 and 20. It just doesn’t get more epic and heroic than that.

Jack: Definitely the last three stages. Superb racing, with even the time trial providing some great tension near the end when Rodriguez pulled off the TT of his life.

Tim: I don’t think there’s any doubt that the last two mountain stages plus the time trial provided us with the perfect trifecta to bring the race to a climax.

Sheree: Sadly, due to other commitments I didn’t get to see the last three stages. So I’d have to plump for stage 16 where I correctly predicted the winner, Jon Izagirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi), from the group of ten escapees. But then I did have an inside edge.

Link: Official website

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