Monday, May 10, 2010

Regarding the Opening Stages of the Giro d'Italia

While Christian Vande Velde can't possibly have anything good to say about the opening road stages of the Giro, having crashed-out of the beautiful Italian Grand Tour on the same day for the second year running (stage 3, this time), and we lament his forced-abandonment ("crabandonment"?) the more sophisticated cycling fans are savoring two days of road racing in Holland that saw game-changing racing in week one of a GT.

No one likes to see riders like CVV abandon because of injuries sustained in a crash, but watching Brad Wiggins be all but eliminated from the GC when he couldn't get back to the first echelon, just as overnight leader Cadel Evans lost the leader's jersey because he, too, missed the split and was left isolated, without a single BMC teammate to help him chase...this was fiercely beautiful racing that evoked memories of the Merckx-era, when anyone with aspirations of winning a GT was expected to fight for supremacy from the first kilometers of the race if the conditions demanded it. Francois the Postman, a contributor to the CyclingNews.com forum, explained it best after today's stage (3) and we quote him here:

"Normally I am sorta lukewarm about the opening stages, but this was great viewing, and we certainly are hitting Italy with an almost perfect set-up for fireworks.

It's a shame some folk got really hurt on the road, but I totally disagree with the Eurosport commentators. To me the last two days highlighted what I really dislike in most stage races, that they are taking all risks out of racing by sticking to wide roads and perfect run-ins. Always felt they were neutering something that I think is part and parcel of a GT: endurance, trial, challenge.

Knowing that the end run ins are following the usual pattern, and cruising on great roads to it, it just breeds that calculated let's have an escape group dangling out there and then reel them comfortably in when it's "that time". A flat stage style that I hate, but have been forced to endure far far too often. Here, that really doesn't work as a race approach.

The only thing that would have worked, as pointed out, is to make the race on Dutch roads hard from the get-go, to make that big group smaller, and thus the road less risky. I know we have a long 3 weeks ahead of us. So what? Isn't it the point that no stage should be "comfortable, controllable and predictable? We got waaay to used to "the normal way" a 3 week GT rolls out. The last 2 days showed that that doesn't need to be the way. You don't even need tome bonuses to create interesting gaps artificially.

Everyone knew yard by yard where they would be racing. If they were so keen their main man really safe, teams were simply not deploying the right attack attitude: make the race a lot harder. They chose not to. And reaped the rewards for that attitude: Dutch lottery.

But why should only mountain stages run folk into the red in the last week and a bit?

It proved to me that the current crop of GT specialists, riders and directors, can learn a trick or two from the classic folk too: how to race here. We have started to specialize over the last decade and a bit. Well, please let that era come to end quickly if the stages can be this entertaining from the start.

As a group, they were bloody nervous, out of their comfort zone, and, ironically, too careful. And that was responsible for more crashes than anything the road threw at them.

And the main riders who actually have more all-round skills knew it. Even after yesterday's crash fest, the only thing I got from most interviews by the big names was that the nervousness was fingered more than the actual route taken.

So, to my delight, 2 great telly days. And we are having some great gaps, after the first 2 proper stages. And all we crossed was a pancake. Wow.

Glad they brought the Tour here too. Could keep me more awake than usual during the first days."


For Pappillon, the real treat is to see Vino in pink! We can't wait for Wednesday's TTT!

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