The Fifth Battle of Monte Cassino proved to be as hard fought and politically charged as the first one, some 70 years ago.
In 1944 the German Army had stated that it would not use Cassino as part of the defensive line it had thrown up across Italy to thwart the Allies northwards advance.
But the Allies believed that the Germans were not as good as their word and bombed the Abbey to rubble – thereby negating any agreement on the Abbey’s neutrality and creating an excellent defensive position for the crack enemy paratroops who moved in to defend it against the advancing US and Commonwealth forces.
After the war it was confirmed that Germans had in fact kept their word and the Allied decision to bomb had been a colossal blunder.
And already the ‘Forum Sitters’ are telling us that it was ‘unsporting’ of Evans and Matthews to take advantage of the mayhem which again reigned on the slopes of Cassino as two simultaneous crashes brought down droves of riders when they braked into a roundabout and left a group of eight clear at the front at the very foot of the ascent to the Abbey.
Evans and Matthews both had two team mates with them who rode themselves into the ground to build an advantage.
I can’t subscribe to the ‘unsporting’ argument; if the Australians and their team mates burned the watts at the head of the peloton to avoid incidents such as this then good luck to them.
If you hide in the peloton, the risk of crashing is ever-present, especially in this Giro.
Vik’s remarks about races degenerating into ‘Sportives’ become ever more relevant in light of the comments many are making that the Aussies should not have driven home their advantage.
You never want to see riders on the deck – and especially not injuring themselves but crashes are just part of bike racing.
If we look at all the Giro and Tour ‘Bigs,’ you’ll recall that very few every hid in the bunch – if you’re a champion then the head of the peloton is your rightful domain.
But back to Cassino and historic references.
We had expected and hoped that the Poles would honour their forebears in the first four battles on the slopes of Cassino; but they too were victims of the crash and the Aussie Offensive – conflicts have a nasty habit of never going the way you think they will.
But Tinkoff’s skinny man from Krakow, Rafal Majka confirmed that he has every chance of improving on last year’s seventh spot @ 8:09 in the Giro – he now lies 1:04 behind Evans and just seven seconds behind third placed Uran in fourth spot.
Poland’s other big hope – who was sixth last year @ 7:43 – Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre) is already @ 3:20 on Evans in 33rd spot.
The Giro’s hectic and wet start did for Bradley Wiggins last year and has done the same for Rodriguez this year – he’s over nine minutes down, and according to his masseur may have a broken finger and not take the start tomorrow. If he does, it’s about stage wins for Joaquim, now.
And slide Nico Roche’s biog. sheet into that ‘going for stage wins’ file, too – quarter of an hour is his deficit; but at least it means there will be no doubts in the Tinkoff hierarchy about who’s the ‘Daddy,’ of the squad, it’s ‘all for Rafal,’ now.
Perhaps Uran and Quintana are confident of their ability to overhaul ‘old man’ Evans come the high mountains – but they do look dull against the sharpness which the Aussie former Tour winner and his big henchmen in red and black are displaying.
Oss and Morabito were hugely impressive, Uran is wearing his usual ‘cloak of invisibility’ – and was on the deck in the mega pile up – but Quintana looks like he’s not quite on top of his form – perhaps he’ll ride into it for that third week?
And there’s major respect for Michael Matthews and GreenEdge from VeloVeritas – their Giro was a success by supper time on Friday but since then they’ve honoured the race, hung on to pink for dear life and today Matthews was outstanding.
It’s guaranteed to end horribly as Matthews cracks on one of the killer climbs to still come – but you can have nothing but admiration for how the good looking Aussie and his team have ridden.
Tomorrow is a ‘flat’ stage despite having a third and fourth category ascents – a break could stick – but those GreenEdge boys will know it’s their last day of glory with Saturday’s stage the first to venture into the high peaks.
We can’t say it’s been a boring Giro, that’s for sure.