Wednesday, May 20, 2009
DiLuca's Pink Slip?
There seems to be some debate as to who the “favorite” is for the Giro. You have to declare someone the favorite, of course. Otherwise, how would people on internet message boards know who to love or hate? The bookies are leaning Danilo DiLuca’s (LPR) way recently, some pundits are waiting to see what Ivan Basso (Liquigas) really has in the tank these days, most people are ignoring Denis Menchov (Rabobank) as usual, the American cycling press favors Levi Leipheimer (Astana), and the American general interest media is probably still waiting for Armstrong to make his move.
What that all means, as I see it, is that nobody really knows, and that’s largely due to tomorrow’s wildcard stage. The 60 kilometer time trial is so unlike anything we’ve seen in a grand tour since any of these guys have been racing professionally, it’s anyone’s guess who will win. And then, how decisive will the time gaps be? The Giro organizers have had a few missteps of late, but they have managed to come up with a stage that is the perfect format to keep people guessing. It’s about half again as long as the average grand tour TT these days, so that alone creates the potential for some unexpected results – who knows who the best time trialist over 60k is? Last anyone checked, it was probably Bernard Hinault, but I think he’s lost a step by now.
But it’s not even a normal, ridiculously long TT. Apparently, it’s also hilly and technical. So much so that there’s lots of talk of riders forgoing TT bikes – a sign that the course may not be suited to the talents of the die-hard TT specialists like Brad Wiggins (Garmin) and Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank). In fact, Cancellara’s already hedging his bets by calling the course “a bit crazy,” and following up that comment by calling it a whole lot of crazy. All that said, it’s still a TT, and some folks just don’t do well against the clock, no matter how long, short, hilly, or flat the TT may be.
Picking a winner for tomorrow’s show may be too tough a task, but the over/under bet seems to be whether DiLuca will manage to keep his pink jersey. For some reason, I hope so, even if only because I have a feeling he probably won’t. I’ve gone on record in the past saying that DiLuca should focus on the classics, but after the first week of this Giro, I’m sure glad he hasn’t. Mike Barry put it best when he called the Giro more of a “collection of stages” than the Tour de France is, and as more of a puncher than most of the GC riders, the Giro’s grab bag format has played to DiLuca’s strengths. At the Giro, there’s no three-days-in-the-mountains, roll around awhile, three-more-days-in-the-mountains for the climbers to dig their teeth into their own terrain and rhythm, and no billiard-table-flat 40k TT that the usual clockers can do blindfolded.
Instead of the Tour’s predictable roadmap of killing opportunities writ large, the Giro has provided a bunch of little opportunities – deceptive little climbs, a tricky descent, finishes that favors smaller groups – that DiLuca’s been able to take advantage of. Unlike the standard GC riders, DiLuca doesn’t seem to be thinking of whether he can gain a minute on the next mountain top finish or pull a minute and a half back in the TT. Instead, he’s picking out those little chances – like that last descent in Tuesday’s stage to Pinerolo – where he can grab a few seconds at a time. And while people weren't really looking, those seconds started to add up. That scrappiness has been made more evident by DiLuca’s necessary focus on stage wins. More than the true climbers and true time trialists, DiLuca needs the time bonuses on offer to have any hope in the overall, and at this point those bonus seconds account for a significant portion of his 1:20 advantage. All told, his constant fight for seconds, bonus and otherwise, has made for some great riding in the waning kilometers.
In his two stage wins so far, it’s hard to deny that DiLuca has looked very much like a classics rider trying to win a grand tour – something I think is pretty refreshing in a time where specialties seem to be getting so narrowly defined as to border on the ridiculous. While he’s doing as well as any true all-rounder could hope so far, keeping control of the race through whatever tomorrow brings could be a bigger challenge than he’s faced so far. But if he can make it through Cinque Terre intact, he may just get enough respite to hold on as the race settles down a bit and teams without anything to show (i.e., most everyone besides Columbia and LPR) take a bit of the heat off the GC battle.
Some followup on Monday's kvetching about the media's use of Twitter quotes. Today, VeloNews’ Andrew Hood writes of complaints amongst the Giro press corps that Lance Armstrong (Astana) is inaccessible. Quelle surprise! Clinical question – if people can’t remember things that happened three years ago, is that short-term or long-term memory loss? I mean, it wasn’t yesterday, but it wasn’t 20 years ago, either. Anyway, the article notes that Armstrong has been giving the media the slip for several days now, but has been busy posting material to his Twitter page. Writes Hood: “That’s what Armstrong did following Tuesday’s electrifying 10th stage. He crossed the finish line and turned around to go directly to the team hotel, leaving journalists to pull reactions off the Twitter site.”
In a related note, in his Explainer column today, VeloNews’ Charles Pelkey answers a question received during their Live Update coverage, which simply asked, “Where’s Lance?” Part of Pelkey’s answer was that the coverage basically mentions the riders making the moves or otherwise doing something notable, and that “it’s safe to assume that if you don’t hear about Armstrong, Leipheimer, Di Luca, Sastre, Menchov or other top riders, they’re probably doing okay and riding with the peloton.”
Now, can’t we take this same attitude when it comes to post race quotes? As in, if riders want to stew in their juices and not talk to the media, can’t we all just assume they have nothing to say? It would beat the hell out of having to chase people all over the internet, journalistic dignity-wise at least. But, like rider protests, doping, and other messy issues, it would have to be one of those things where everyone agreed not to do it, lest one entity be able to claim an advantage over their rivals by breaking the pact. And we see how well those little agreements tend to turn out.
- A few different perspectives on the whole Giro-Milan protest brouhaha are floating in. A great collection of rider quotes and insanely over the top Italian editorial writing on the subject are available on ProCycling’s Dan Friebe’s BikeRadar blog. Why, oh why, will nobody pay me to write like the Italians? It seems like so much more fun. Bicycling’s Joe Lindsey gives his take on his Boulder Report blog, while Mike Barry (Columbia) uses his diary entry to give us some insight as to how a rider mulls these things over. And while Barry makes his case, Ivan Basso (Liquigas), on the other hand, has put forth a weak-kneed recant.
- Mark Cavendish (Columbia) must be happy to have bagged a full, competitive sprint stage today, just so everyone will stop jawing about his win in the trainwreck Milan stage. But really, can someone besides Columbia and LPR catch a break in this race? If Mick Rogers (Columbia) somehow pulls it together to get himself into pink tomorrow, other teams are going to start going home.
- This isn’t Giro related, save that he competed in it during his time on the road with Motorola, but our hearts go out to the family of Steve Larsen, who passed away way too young today at the age of 39. Here’s to a guy who could ride a bike – any bike – damn fast.
He was my pick to take the maglia rosa ahead of the Giro based on this crazy TT course. I didn't think he would win it, only that it would solify his position.
I find it even more incredible that he gets the results he does with very little team support. it is typically just him following the right wheels in the mountains and staying consistent.
Uffda: If you want to see the genesis of Italian-style cycling writing, check out Gino Buzzati's book, "The Giro d'Italia: Coppi vs. Bartali at the 1949 Tour of Italy." A bit more florid than the typical race coverage.
Mindtron: Yeah, Menchov doesn't get any respect, does he? I think it has something to do with his very understated style -- both on the bike and in the press. But it seems like, more and more, he's there at the key moments and making an impact. As far as the team, Rabobank's always seemed to lack a bit of focus -- not really a classics team, not really a stage race team. So what is it?