Giro del Trentino: Astana trumps Sky again

Giro del Trentino logoVincenzo Nibali triumphed once more on Italian soil in the 37th edition of this race, which serves as an amuse-bouche for next month’s Giro d’Italia. Nibali’s Astana team nearly made a clean sweep of the final podium with Nibali taking both the overall and King of the Mountains, Astana was named best team and 2013 recruit Fabio Aru won the Best Young Rider competition. The wonderfully named Jarlinson Pantano  took the points jersey for Team Colombia.

The Shark sinks is teeth into stage and overall (image: Giro del Trentino site)

A man who’s accustomed to opening the bubbly, Vincenzo Nibali, Giro del Trentino winner 2013 (image: Giro del Trentino site)

Race summary

Maxime Bouet (Ag2r) outsprinted Josef Cerny (CCC Polsat) and Michael Rodriguez (Colombia) to claim victory as the day’s eight-man breakaway survived on Stage 1a’s 128km benign sortie around Lienz, Austria. Enrico Battaglin (Bardiani) led home the main bunch at 6:51 down, saving their legs for the afternoon’s 14.1km team time trial. This was the Frenchman’s first victory since 2010 when he won Stage 3 of the Tour de l’Ain. Bouet dedicated his victory to his unborn baby, due in August.

Ag2r are having a cracking season as Maxime Bouet wins stage 1a from a break! (image: Ag2r La Mondiale)

Ag2r are having a cracking season as Maxime Bouet wins stage 1a from a break (image: Ag2r La Mondiale)

However, Boeut wasn’t to wear the jersey for long. In the afternoon’s straightforward team time trial, his Ag2r team finished 15th and he ceded the jersey to Cerny. Sky won in a time of 15:20, with second-placed Astana 13 seconds back.

These boys get plenty of practice opening bottles of my favourite tipple! (image: Sky)

These boys get plenty of practice opening bottles of my favourite tipple! (image: Sky)

Illustrating the depth and strength of the Sky squad, Kanstantsin Siutsou resisted Mauro Santambrogio’s (Vini Fantini) late charge to win Stage 2 atop Vetriolo Terme after he’d counter-attacked off the front of the bunch with less than 10km to the summit. Initially, the Belarusian had the company of Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani) and Pierre Rolland (Europcar) but they were unable to resist as he ratcheted up the pace. Bouet moved back into the leader’s cyclamen jersey as Cerny lost time on the final climb. However it was the duel between Sky’s Bradley Wiggins and Vincenzo Nibali that was most keenly observed, with the pair matching one another’s moves and crossing the line together.

The Honey Baer is back! (image: Sky)

The Honey Bear is back! (Image: Sky)

Ivan Santaromita (BMC) beat his breakaway companions Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) and Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) to the line on a lumpy Stage 3 to Condino. The trio had been part of the day’s early 11-man break but had dropped the others, on Scarponi’s initiative, on the final climb of the Daone.

It was yet another day when the GC contenders were content to mark one another, all arriving together with race leader Bouet over a  minute down on the Italian, who recorded his first win since taking the overall in the 2010 Settimana Coppi e Bartali. Bouet retained his 3:19 advantage over Siutsou but the team lost defending champion Domenico Pozzovivo, who crashed out early in the stage.

Early birthday present for Ivan Santaromita (image: BMC)

Early birthday present for Ivan Santaromita, he’s 29 at the end of the month          (Image: BMC)

Stage 4 was supposed to be the eagerly awaited Clash of the Titans, with Giro hopefuls Nibali and Wiggins battling it out for supremacy. However, Nibali triumphed atop the final stage to take overall victory ahead of fellow Italian Santambrogio after Wiggins’s challenge was derailed by problems with his electronic gearing at the base of the final climb: cue Pinarello toss.

Astana set out their stall early on with Tiralongo and Aru setting a Sky-like tempo up the lower slopes to take back the remnants of the day’s 10-man break, distance race leader Bouet and whittle the leading group down to a dozen. Tantalisingly, just as Wiggins had almost worked his way back to the leading group, Nibali lit the turquoise-blue touchpaper, with only Santambrogio able to cling for dear life onto his rear wheel. Three kilometres later, The Shark kicked again, soloing across the finish line eight seconds clear of Santambrogio, 44 seconds up on Aru and Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida) and, crucially, 4:42 ahead of Bouet.

The Shark sinks is teeth into stage and overall (image: Giro del Trentino site)

The Shark sinks his teeth into Stage 4 and overall (Image: Giro del Trentino site)

After the race, Nibali commented:

Winning on a climb like this is for me the most important reward at this time. From here there is still time until the Giro, Wiggins is the main rival, but I have seen progress in both Evans and Basso. As for me, it’s comforting to know we can count on a very competitive team that here, as earlier in Tirreno-Adriatico, we’ve done nothing wrong tactically. We’ll have to see about Liege on Sunday, I made a major effort today,  the opponents are strong and numerous. We’ll see.

Analysis & opinion

This race has provided us with a snapshot of what it’s going to be like in next month’s Giro d’Italia. Think last year’s Vuelta, but with bells on it! Although we didn’t have an Astana v Sky showdown and Astana has already triumphed twice, at Sky’s expense, on Italian soil this year, May could be an entirely different story. Apart from today’s understandable tantrum, Wiggins has looked tranquillo all week, ridden well within himself and the team were dominant in the team time trial. Astana look to have taken a leaf out of Sky’s book but they also have Alexandre Vinokourov at the helm, which has intensified the team’s attacking instincts.

What of the other Giro contenders at the race? Cadel Evans (BMC) looks to be finding form while Ivan Basso still looked a bit off the pace, but there’s time. There’s probably not enough time for Pozzovivo to get back to form after broken ribs, however AG2R will be delighted with Maxime Bouet’s performance.

Elsewhere it was great to see riders who don’t often get an opportunity to win seizing the moment. Take a bow Messrs Bouet, Santaromito and Siutsou not, of course, forgetting the ProConti teams who animated the race, especially Messrs Santambrogio and Pirazzi.


1. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) 17:49:11

2. Mauro Santambrogio (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia) +00:21

3. Maxime Bouet (Ag2r La Mondiale) +00:55

4. Fabio Aru (Astana) +01:16

5. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) +01:40

6. Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida) +01:45

7. Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani Valvole CSF Inox) +02:15

8. Cadel Evans (BMC) +02:18

9. Stefano Locatelli(Bardiani Valvole CSF Inox) +03:05

10.Pierre Rolland (Europcar) +03:22

Links: Official website

Friday Feature: Five days in the sun at the Vuelta a España

Sheree has just returned from five days in the roasting sun at the Vuelta. Here she brings us her impressions and reflections from behind both the scenes and the barricades at the race.

When the lady in the Vuelta accreditation office asked me how long I wanted the accreditation for, I can’t tell you how tempted I was to say for the entire race. Sanity prevailed and I admitted it was only for five days – but what a five days! My husband and I had a most enjoyable and privileged stay, thanks once again to the kind hospitality of Eurosport.

Most of the major contenders held press conferences on Friday, either in the press centre or at their team hotels. Many downplayed their own chances while talking up the opposition, including Alberto Contador, whose return to the Vuelta was eagerly anticipated after his win in 2008 and who promised the assembled press corps that Saxo Bank would not be controlling the race a la Sky.

Alberto Contador’s Vuelta press conference (image courtesy of Susi Goetze)

The team presentations may have been more perfunctory than the Tour’s but actually no one really wanted to hang around in the stifling evening heat in historic Pamplona. The VIP stampede for seats in the shade to watch the proceedings in the Plaza del Castillo rivalled that of the town’s historic Fiesta de los Sanfermines, the famous running of the bulls.

We were back the following evening to watch the team time trial, which produced more than a few twists and turns than the route through the cobbled old town of Pamplona. The teams started in the Plaza del Castillo and finished in the Plaza de Toros, site of the town’s bull-fighting ring. Everyone was squashed into the seats in the shade as, once again, the mercury soared. Fortunately there were plenty of cold refreshments on hand. No one opted to sit in the sunshine.

Fans packed into the bullring like proverbial sardines for the Vuelta team time trial (image courtesy of RDW)

Caja Rural in local dress confront the red carpet first (image courtesy of RDW)

The teams were bookended by the two Navarran squads Caja Rural and Movistar. The former wore a special all-white time trial suit with red accents to mimic the outfits worn in the Fiesta. Thankfully no blood was spilled and they sat briefly in the hot seat before being swiftly dethroned. Mishaps to team time trial specialists Garmin-Sharp and world champion Tony Martin’s Omega Pharma-Quick Step left Rabobank cooling down in ice vests in the hot seat until the final denouement by local boys Movistar, whose Basque time trial specialist Jonathan Castroviejo crossed the line first to take the leader’s jersey. Everyone was happy!

Basque Jonathan Castroviejo is the Vuelta’s first leader, next to Miguel Indurain (image courtesy of Monike Prell)

Sunday’s second stage finished in another historic Navarran town, Viana, the last stop before the Camino de Santiago (pilgrim’s route) descends into the oven of La Rioja. There’s a surprising grave marker in front of Viana’s beautiful Inglesia de Santa Maria – that of the Machiavellian Cesare Borgia, who was placed under the protection of the King of Navarra. The race passed through town twice but it was clearly going to be one for the sprinters and Argonaut John Degenkolb didn’t disappoint. He looks rather fetching in that red scarf, doesn’t he?

John Degenkolb, lapping up the applause, lobs his bouquet into the crowd (image courtesy of Monika Prell)

For the first time this year, the Vuelta has introduced VIP villages du départ and arrivée aping those of the Tour de France, where there’s shelter from the sun, seating, toilets, refreshments, television screens and a sprinkling of former riders and very attractive leggy hostesses in short shorts. [Why didn’t you tell me this before?!? – Ed] I noted Abraham Olano, Pedro Delgado, Miguel Indurain and Oscar Pereiro but no doubt there were others. These villages are set up alongside the sign-on and adjacent to the finish line, providing welcome havens of hospitality for not only us but also the guests of the many sponsors and the press corps.

Everything at the Vuelta is slightly lower-key than the Tour, a point which is probably appreciated by the largely local fans who have greater access to the riders and by the riders themselves who have much less pressure and hassle. There’s also a caravan but it only numbers a dozen or so floats and is much more modest than that of the Tour, but it does feature a number of common sponsors which prompted the thought of whether ASO sold the two – the Tour and the Vuelta – as a package. However, the logistics and organisation of the Vuelta are no less impressive than the Tour, just on a smaller scale. Sadly one of the common sponsors isn’t Haribo, so no Gummy Bears, although my husband did collect an impressive assortment of caps, keyrings, books and scarves.

Alejandro Valverde wins stage three by a whisker (image courtesy of Susi Goetze)

Having departed from a well-known wine producer in Rioja [other alcoholic beverages are available – Ed], Monday’s stage three finished atop a hill with which my husband and I are quite familiar and where Samu Sanchez triumphed in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco.  We were grateful that our passes enabled us to scale Arrate by car but were impressed by the sheer number of fans who’d ridden or walked up to cheer on their Euskaltel team and who were enjoying leisurely roadside picnics in the shade. The stage had the required fireworks among the leading contenders, a Spanish victor (Alejandro Valverde) but sadly not a Basque one.

Tuesday’s stage four started just south of Bilbao in a suburb housing Bilbao’s Exhibition Centre before heading south once more to La Rioja via Burgos and Alava. As always at the start and finish there are plenty of kids, many clad in kit from local teams. Here’s Juan Mari chatting to a group of young cycling fans and, maybe, future Vuelta winners.

The future of Spanish cycling (image courtesy of RDW)

Colombian climbing star and 2012 revelation Nairo Quintano (image courtesy of RDW)

The immaculately coiffed Maxime Bouet (image courtesy of RDW)

Everyone wants Valverde’s autograph (image courtesy of RDW)

Bertie at the start in Barakaldo (image courtesy of RDW)

The stage was won from a breakaway and handed Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEDGE) his first professional win.

A very happy Simon Clarke gets ready to shower everyone with Cava (image courtesy of Susi Goetze)

More excitement in the form of echelons, falls, accusations, counter-accusations, confrontations at team buses, plenty of comment on social media and even more discussion. Should Sky have waited for the leader Alejandro Valverde when he fell? Opinion was divided. One of the leading Spanish newspapers canvassed eight ex-riders for their opinion. Only Pereiro, a former teammate of Valverde’s, felt that the peloton should have slowed to allow Valverde to get back on. Valverde’s loss was Joaquim Rodriguez‘s gain. He took the red leader’s shirt by a second over Sky’s Chris Froome.

Purito launches his bouquet into the crowd (image courtesy of Susi Goetze)

One of my VeloVoices’ colleagues Panache commented early on that the Vuelta looked unbalanced as it was being held almost wholly in the north. On reflection, I suspect that this merely reflects which areas can or cannot afford to stage the race in the current economic climate. The north is the industrial and agricultural heartland of Spain, plus they’re making a concerted effort to increase tourism in this area. I can attest to the sandiness of their beaches, the diversity of the landscape and the cultural heritage which will unfold on our screens as the race progresses. Oh, why didn’t I say I wanted accreditation for the whole race?

Link: Vuelta a Espana official website