Friday, 18 May 2012

The Giro: It's all kicking off...

So, tomorrow it really kicks off. Not that it hasn't been lively already. The sprints have been frantic and crash strewn, the 'medium mountain' stages have been built around the loosest possible use of the word 'medium', and the TTT performances of the three favourite's teams, Liquigas, Lampre and Katusha, bucked the trends of the last three Grand Tours by seeing Katusha not only beating their main rivals, but finishing second only to TTT specialists Garmin.

So much for my prediction that Joaquim Rodriguez would be the first of the favourites to fall out of contention. That dubious honour appears to have gone to Frank Schleck, who was so busy looking forlornly for his absent brother that he ran into the back of Alex Rasmussen and blew an extra 46 seconds at a time when he was already a minute and a half off the lead.

If Schleck is the race's goat, Ferrari is its villain, and Cav is it's best sprinter, crasher, supermodel impregnator and photographer shover. Its hero is Miguel Rubiano, who rode a 50k solo over some of the least 'medium' medium mountains anyone has ever seen whilst the whole of Twitter saw an Androni Giocatelli jersey and a phonetically similar surname and insisted he was Jose Rujano despite all evidence to the contrary. He's lucky they didn't give the prize to his Venezualan team mate.

Still, that's all preliminaries. Tomorrow we get the first honest-to-goodness mountain summit finish. This is where we'll really see who's got the legs and the lungs. The final climb to Cervinia is an interesting one as well. It doesn't have the monstrous pitches that will show up later in the race: a momentary high of 12% isn't enough to bring the average above 5.9% - enough to bother us mortals, but not what a pro would call steep.

The climb's modest gradient stands in contrast to it's length: 28K. That's a looooong time to spend climbing, even with the mild compensation of a 2K stretch of flat shortly before the final kilometre of ascending. That sort of length will suit Ivan Basso's diesel powered tenacity, and might suit Schleck if he's looking to haul back some of his deficit. The absence of truly vicious ramps combined with long, steady spells of minimal variation might even suit that particular breed of Time Triallist who likes to show what carefully managed power output can do on a climb. Not that there are many Alex Zulles or Jan Ullrichs around these days.

It seems less likely to suit Rodriguez, who has the explosive climber's penchant for launching himself on the steepest of slopes just when his rivals are hurting the most.

My pick for the overall remains Basso. I've seen Rodriguez blow six minutes in a forty K time trial before now, so the 30K at the end of the Giro could still be enough to scupper him unless he can absolutely smash it on the proper mountains. Schleck has over two minutes to make up already, and he's another one who can blow comical quantities of time against the clock on the last day. Dark horses Kreuziger and Pozzovivo are both looking good, but Kreuziger rarely stays strong for a full three weeks and while Pozzovivo is one of the most exciting riders of the moment, he's got no Grand Tour pedigree yet.

That pretty much leaves Basso and Scarponi, two men who's teams have maintained a strong and well drilled presence on the front, two men with superb lieutenants in the form of Sylvester Szmyd and Damiano Cunego, two men who are past their prime and have shown no real form all season. Oh, er...well, I've seen Basso ride himself into form after rubbish preparation before (lets face it, he had a rubbish 2011 and still managed a top ten placing at the Tour), and hell, Gilberto Simoni can tell Scarponi that it doesn't do to count on Cunego to be there when you need him, so I'd say things fall in Basso's favour.

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