Mezgec’s sprint was timed to perfection in what was a real free-for-all of a finish. And isn’t that Giant jersey livery just so effective? – there was no doubt about which kind of bike had just won as Big Luka crossed the line. Nacer Bouhanni (F des J & France) didn’t seem his usual desperate self, he said later he was too concerned about crossing the line upright and preserving his red points jersey.
That final horrible grind up the mountain didn’t affect the GC much at all but Michael Rogers’ (Tinkoff & Australia) ride was wonderful to watch. It looked very much like he had the better of fellow breakaway survivor Francesco Manuel Bongiorno (Bardiani & Italy) anyway, but we were denied their duel going any further by the moron who gave the man in green a push.
Today, the race started at 123 metres above sea level and finished at 1,712 metres above sea level – that’s an elevation of 1,589 metres. The climbing part of the race went on for some 12.5 miles with Quintana’s average speed – but with four/five miles of flat road in there which the 'Bigs' were covering at around 27 mph – an average 16.5 miles per hour. Last finisher was Jeffry Johan Corredor (Colombia & Colombia) @ 18:00 minutes. Enough said, I think?
Is it me or is Quintana just TOO pink; he looks like something from Toy Story gone feral – but when you can climb like he can then you can get away with pretty much anything, I guess? It looks like the Giro is won; even if he has an off day in the mountain test or Zoncolan it’s unlikely the little chap will concede 1:41 to Uran and even less likely he’ll drop 3:29 to Rolland & Co. It’s been a great race and even though it’s now pretty much certain that the small gentleman from Tunja on the Pan American Highway in Colombia will win and Uran will be second, the battle for the third spot on the podium – and just maybe the second one, too – rages on.
The other day we had the score down as 2:0 in the Bardiani v. Sky match – well, it’s now 3:0 as the versatile Stefano Pirazzi demonstrated the desire, desperation and grinta you need to be a Giro stage winner. As well as being a former Tirreno and Giro King of the Mountains, he’s been a medallist in the Italian TT Championships. This is his fifth full pro season – initially with Colnago and remaining with the team as it morphed into Bardiani.
Stage 16 will enter legend – Quintana’s long distance attack to take pink was straight out of the top drawer. There is a big ‘but,’ however; the confusion created by the Giro organisation with their much debated radio announcement to the teams regarding the dangerous descent of the Stelvio Pass.
I first heard of Fabio Aru (Astana & Italy) when he won the 2011 Giro della Val d’Aosta U23 stage race in Italy from US rider Joe Dombrowski – who’s now professional with Sky. Aosta along with the Tour de l’Avenir and the U23 Worlds are the big shop windows for the professional talent scouts. Aru had been fourth in Aosta the year previous and would win it again in 2012.
There can only be one winner and that was Enrico Battaglin; but there were other men who were outstanding on the day.
Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R & Italy) is looking more dangerous by the day, his team is committed and strong and he looks the least stressed of the ‘Bigs’ - and that mountain time trial must have a big red ring around it on his programme.
There are two ways to look at this stage. If you’re the best and the rest know that then you just have to get on with it – I can remember HTC setting Bert Grabsch to work with 100 K to go in a Tour stage to keep the break in check so as to set up Cav for the sprint some two-and-half hours later.
Time tests, love them or hate them – but this one was a cracker. I had Evans down as winner after it became apparent that Adriano Malori was ‘just getting round’ after his crash the day before. I had it in my mind that Ulissi might do something but thought his stage 11 crash would put a lid on his ambitions. Far from it and Lampre's new star lead for a large part of the afternoon until Rigoberto Uran jarred all of our eyes open – including Ulissi’s as he sat in the ‘hot seat.’
Mick Rogers, a ride-and-a-half – especially given the Giro is only his second race back from the ‘clebuterol carry on.’ He must have looked after himself really well during his hiatus. If you count the 2000 season when he was a stagier with Mapei, this is his 15th pro season, he was with Mapei ’01 and ’03; QuickStep ’03, ‘04 and ’05; T-Mobile ’06 and ’07; the various incarnations of High Road/Columbia/HTC ’08, ’09 and 10; Sky ’11 and ’12 and Saxo/Tinkoff last year and this.
Bouhanni is impressive; he was on the limit to get over the little rise on the run in – where Sky did a lot of damage to a lot of people, unfortunately including their own sprinter, Ben Swift who just scraped in to the top ten – but the wiry French fast man was right where he had to be for the finale.
Boring this Giro is not - Pieter Weening won ORICA-GreenEDGE's third stage of the race in a two-up sprint against Davide Malacarne (Team Europcar) both having survived from the break of the day. It took an hour of savage racing before a big break of 14 was finally allowed to go - once the correct recipe passed the test of the ‘Bigs’ dipping their finger in the mixing bowl. But there were just two left come the mountain top tactical finish where Weening was too strong for Malacarne – I did enjoy the high altitude track stand...
Diego Ulissi (Lampre & Italy); if the broader world of cycling didn’t really know who he was before this Giro – they do now. His first win on Stage Five wasn’t a surprise if you were aware of his terrific end to last season - Milano-Torino, the Coppa Sabatini and the Giro dell’Emilia. Three Italian semi-classics - all very desirable and hard fought – ‘tough and hilly’ is right up his street. But Saturday was different, the real deal, first and second cat. montagnes; and just look at who he beat – Evans, Uran, Quintana, Pozzovivo... As Kris said, it restores your faith in bike racing.
'Desperate' is defined as; ‘having a great need or desire for something.’ It was Vik who used the word when describing Bouhanni’s win in Bari in that ‘semi-neutralised’ slippery Stage Four. Bouhanni had to change a wheel with 13 K to go and rain slick roads or not, the Frenchman and his domestiques rode like madmen to get him where he had to be. The man was desperate to win. He was the same today; F des J put the most savagery into the chasing down of the five escapees – for a long time I thought they’d stay clear. But F des J more than any other team wanted them back – and Bouhanni didn’t disappoint.
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.
It took six days but we got there in the end – the Giro has finally started; no gimmick locations, horrible transfers or rider protests. Simply hard racing in the beautiful Italian countryside and sunshine at the finish – that’s more like it. But before we look at Stage Five we have last words on the Stage Four debacle from our resident sage and prophet, Vik. He couldn’t be contacted after the stage, retreating to his cave high in the Pentland Hills to ponder the ‘semi-neutralisation’ of the Stage Four due to rain.
A few years ago in that much missed part of Scottish cycling history which was the Girvan Three Day - old timers like me still want to say; ‘Grants of Girvan,’ the race originally sponsored by that purveyor of the water of life – a stage was curtailed because of snow. The journos did the rounds of riders such as Nacer Bouhanni, management and officials who all said broadly the same thing, that given the conditions it was a wise decision.
Today’s stage Stage Three was a re-run of Saturday’s with Marcel Kittel proving again that he’s not just quick but very, very strong. Again he was out of position but with the strength of a bull he came over everyone from well back to win. The press always want to attach labels; ‘fastest man in the world’ to sprinters – and whilst it’s never as simple as that, the big German is certainly impressive. His manner is good too with a smile never far away.
Cannondale, F des J, Giant, Greenedge, Sky, Trek - they all tried to take control in the finale in Belfast in Stage Two on Saturday. But none could. It's not until you see a situation like we did in Belfast that you realise just how good Mario Cipollini's Acqua Sapone and Cav's HTC trains really were. In the event, it was irrelevant; Kittel was in a different league. He was way back and would usually have been out of it but turned left, found clear road, turned on the boosters and left the others scrabbling for the placings.
‘Sorry, I fell asleep, I need my afternoon nap after one of Flavio’s training sessions – a 90 minute chain gang then six laps of a circuit with a steep ‘kicker’ in it.’ That was Hamish Strachan explaining to us why he’d missed our call – good to hear that the young man is back in the groove after a difficult start to his year.
It was 2019 when we last spoke to Iain Macleod - he was with Aberdeen Wheelers then but is now with Kelpie Racing - he’d just won the SC 50 mile championships and the man is making the headlines again; a couple of weeks ago he took the Scottish Cycling Olympic Time Trial title and before that recorded the fastest 100 mile time trial ever ridden on Scottish roads.
It was ironic that Chris Anker Sørensen’s life should end doing what he had become known for after his career as a professional cyclist was over – preparing meticulously for his role as a TV race commentator, out riding the parcours of Sunday’s World Individual Time Trial Championship in Flanders.
We liked our jaunt to the Tour of the Campsies last year and feel at home among the rolling countryside and green hills there so we headed west, first of all paying our respects to the Robert Millar mural at the foot of the Crow Road; when you watch Roglič take the Lagos di Covadonga stage in the Vuelta it’s difficult to imagine the wee fella from Glasgow winning that stage – but win it he did.
We had a look around Hawick as the 2021 Tour of Britain race carnival hit town, we caught up with friends then headed out on the course, hiding from the wind on Wanside Rig to see the peloton as it headed towards Gifford...
With victories already this season in various time trial distances ranging from 25 to 100 miles (with a two mile hill climb win too), Iain Macleod (Kelpie Racing) added the Scottish Cycling Olympic Time Trial 2021 title to his growing palmarès.
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