Talking Tactics: Giro d’Italia – how the jerseys were won

The dust – or should that be snow? – has finally settled on this year’s Giro, so I’m devoting this week’s Talking Tactics to an examination of how each of the four major jerseys – overall, points, mountains and best young rider – were won.

Click on any of the graphs to enlarge.

General classification (maglia rosa)

1. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)

2. Rigoberto Uran (Sky) +4:43

3. Cadel Evans (BMC) +5:52

4. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) +6:48

5. Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale) +7:28

Image: Davide Calabresi

Image: Davide Calabresi

It’s virtually impossible to fault Vincenzo Nibali‘s performance. He was dominant on the road, he was dominant against the clock. His winning margin of 4:43 tells no lies – he was the best rider in this year’s Giro by a distance.

General classification by stage: Nibali vs Uran vs Evans vs Scarponi

General classification by stage: Nibali vs Uran vs Evans vs Scarponi

The graph above compares the time gaps to the race leader stage by stage. It shows that, once Nibali took control of the pink jersey after the stage eight time trial, the gap between him and his three closest rivals only ever widened.

The Sicilian must like Saturdays. The foundations of his victory were laid on four days – two road stages plus two time trials – three of which took place on a Saturday. On each of these he put significant time into the men who would eventually finish second, third and fourth – Rigoberto Uran, Cadel Evans and Michele Scarponi.

Let’s start with the time trials. In the first, where Nibali finished fourth, he put 1:27 into Uran and a useful 18 and 32 seconds into Evans and Scarponi. On the second, uphill time trial he put the Giro beyond all reasonable doubt, winning the stage, putting 2:36 into then second-placed man Evans and taking around 1½ minutes each out of the other two. Over the two TTs, Nibali gained 2:54 on Evans, 2:53 on Uran and 1:53 on Scarponi. Big time.

On the road stages Scarponi lost out on the big climbs, dropping 3:14 on the two key stages where Nibali attacked decisively: stage 14, where he was second behind Mauro Santambrogio, and then his win on the penultimate stage. The maglia rosa also gained 1:13 on Uran and 2:35 on Evans in those two stages.

Combining Nibali’s big days, he gained between 4-5½ minutes on his three nearest opponents on those four stages alone. Elsewhere he was so solid that he rarely lost any time. Uran made early gains in the team time trial and clawed back 45 seconds in winning stage ten. Evans gained a 12-second boost from the time bonus for finishing second on stage three, but no more. And Scarponi fared worst of all, losing time to Nibali on seven separate occasions and never once turning the tables, underlining his negligible impact on the GC battle.

All told, this was a complete and dominating performance by the new champion. And while a fully fit Bradley Wiggins and Ryder Hesjedal would have increased the competition within the top five, I doubt either could have matched Nibali over the full three weeks. Nibali was that good.

Points classification (maglia rossa)

1. Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) 158 pts

2. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) 128

3. Cadel Evans (BMC) 111

4. Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale) 108

5. Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) 105

Image: Giro d'Italia

Image: Giro d’Italia

Unlike the Tour de France, the Giro awards equal points for flat and mountainous stages. In recent years, the balance in this classification has tipped in favour of the GC contenders, with the last four winners being Denis Menchov, Cadel Evans, Michele Scarponi and Joaquim Rodriguez. Last year J-Rod denied Mark Cavendish by a single point.

This year’s course again appeared to favour the GC men over the fast-twitchers. So how did Cavendish come to win the maglia rossa at last?

Despite the sprinter’s final 30-point margin, victory was not confirmed until the conclusion of Sunday’s final stage. Indeed, Vincenzo Nibali‘s win on the penultimate stage left Cavendish 11 points behind. But with the overall winner not chasing points on the final day, Cavendish picked up eight at each of the two intermediate sprints and then a further 25 by winning the bunch sprint to seal the deal.

Points classification by stage: Cavendish vs Nibali vs Evans

Points classification by stage: Cavendish vs Nibali vs Evans

Cavendish’s plan to win the jersey was reliant on building a big advantage in the first two weeks and then clinging on in the high mountains spread between the final two weekends. However, as the chart above shows, things didn’t go entirely to plan.

Cavendish did his bit, winning stages one, six, 12 and 13. However, a combination of wet weather and stages which featured late climbs and descents meant the GC contenders were unexpectedly active throughout the first two weeks, with Cadel Evans his main rival. A sequence of six top-seven finishes in the first ten stages moved him into the lead on stage nine, and even though Cavendish built a 35-point lead, with four summit finishes and an uphill TT to come that advantage was not as big as he would have liked.

Nibali did not begin to feature until the first summit finish on stage ten, where he was third. And it was his performances on other big stages – second on stage 14, seventh on stage 15 and then his two wins – which pushed him into the lead with one stage remaining.

Ultimately, though, the most significant moment was the cancellation of stage 19. Had Nibali won here, Cavendish would have faced a 36-point deficit on the final stage, with only 41 available. But that scenario never came to pass, and it’s hard to begrudge him that turn of good fortune after falling short by such a small margin last year.

The scale of Cavendish’s achievement should not be underestimated. It took five stage wins – no other sprinter had more than one – and the removal of one stage and a number of big climbs for him to secure the jersey. Look down the standings and it is not until you reach eighth place that you find another sprinter – Cannondale’s Elia Viviani – with just 88 points. That’s how hard it is for a sprinter to win the points classification at the Giro.

Mountains classification (maglia azzurra)

1. Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox) 82 pts

2. Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) 45

3. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) 45

4. Jackson Rodriguez (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela) 41

5. Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale) 37

Image: Stefano Pirazzi Facebook

Image: Stefano Pirazzi Facebook

The King of the Mountains competition was the first and least suspenseful of the four jerseys to be decided, after the cancellation of stage 19 confirmed Stefano Pirazzi’s lead as unassailable.

Unlike the other jerseys, the mountains classification rewards opportunism rather than consistency. Often it is more about a rider who gets into the right moves on the right stages – typically those with several medium mountains and no summit finish – than it is about being the best climber. Recent winners include Matthew Lloyd, Stefano Garzelli and Matteo Rabottini – all decent climbers, but none could claim to be the best out-and-out climber in the field.

Mountains classification by stage: Pirazzi vs Visconti

Mountains classification by stage: Pirazzi vs Visconti

Pirazzi recorded only two top-ten finishes and, as the graph shows, accumulated his points in big chunks, with 58 of his 82 points coming from just three stages (nine, 15 and 16), only one of which was a big summit finish. In truth only Giovanni Visconti – who held the jersey for seven of the first eight stages – provided a meaningful threat into the final week. But Visconti’s agenda was different – whereas Pirazzi was targeting the jersey, Visconti’s focus was on stage wins (which he duly achieved, twice).

In reality, the moment Pirazzi assumed the classification lead on stage nine the jersey was his to lose, with other contenders such as Jackson Rodriguez unable to accumulate points as consistently. Vincenzo Nibali and Carlos Betancur ended up third and fifth, but more by accident than design as their objectives lay elsewhere.

Young rider classification (maglia bianca)

1. Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale)

2. Rafal Majka (Saxo-Tinkoff) +0:41

3. Wilco Kelderman (Blanco) +12:50

4. Darwin Atapuma (Colombia) +21:28

5. Diego Rosa (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela) +32:55

Carlos Betancur (right) racing against Sky's Sergio Henao

Carlos Betancur (right) racing against Sky’s Sergio Henao

The white jersey for the best young rider (aged 25 or under) bounced around during the first week, with five different riders having the lead, but once the serious climbing started it soon became a head-to-head battle between Rafal Majka and Carlos Betancur.

Best young rider classification by stage: Betancur vs Majka

Best young rider classification by stage: Betancur vs Majka

Majka had briefly held the jersey after stage seven before regaining it again after the summit finish of stage ten. Meanwhile Betancur had fallen 1:59 behind the Pole – the largest gap between the two throughout the race – after a mediocre effort in the first time trial.

However, the Colombian then hit a rich seam of form, recording three second places and a third between stages nine and 15 to chip away at his deficit. Majka lost nearly a minute on the Jafferau summit finish of stage 14. And although the pair finished in the same group the following day, the 12-second bonus Betancur gained for finishing second allowed him to seize the jersey by five seconds.

The pair remained evenly matched throughout the final week. Majka edged out Betancur in the second time trial to retake the lead by just two seconds. But on the concluding climb of the Giro to Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Majka could not hold on as Betancur followed the coat-tails of compatriots Fabio Duarte and Rigoberto Uran, losing 43 seconds as the jersey changed hands one final time.

Not every competition in every Giro can remain in doubt right to the very end. But with the GC not as competitive as we might have hoped, we were at least treated to two classifications – points and best young rider – which kept us guessing right down to the wire. Chapeau to all four jersey winners – each victory thoroughly deserved.

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