Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Well, il Giro is over. What was billed to be the most dramatic Giro d’Italia in years failed to dazzle as much as could be expected, but don’t blame Ivan Basso: the man simply dominated the field. ‘Nuff said. There were a lot of expectations coming into the race, and a number of surprises at the end. Anyone who CORRECTLY predicted the podium could have won a lot of money, mostly on account of Jose Guiterrez Cataluna of Phonak, but also the absence of Di Luca, Cunego, and Savoldelli from the top 3. Thinking about hype versus results, who impressed, and who let us down?

Exceeded Expectations:

1 ) CSC : Crushing Victory

Heavy favorites going into the Giro, they were the only team that could be said to have “performed as expected” if they WON the whole thing. But Basso took the thing out by almost TEN MINUTES. Riis’s boys simply crushed all opposition; despite gifting away stage wins, and never looked like the race was out of their hands. They won the Team Time Trial, showcasing their performance as a squad, and Basso had to try pretty hard not to pull an Eddy and take out ALL of the classifications. Ivan Basso had to be a tired, tired man on the podium in the last week, pulling on not only the Maglia Rosa, but the points jersey and the mountains jersey as well, in addition to leading the non-jerseyed combativity and Azzurri d’Italia categories.

2 ) Saunier Duval : Little Budget, Big Results

This team is the Little Fire Engine That Could. With a tiny budget for a protour team, they pulled a major coup in signing Gilberto Simoni. Second place, plus two stage wins by a still-fiery Piepoli, is pretty impressive. I don’t recall reading his name once in all of the pre-race hype, but watching him being the only man to hold Basso’s wheel on a miserably wet Stage 13 was impressive. I think I can!

3 ) Gerolsteiner: German Upstarts Come Good

With their baby-blue kits against the other German team’s pink (magenta, whatever,) it looks like a nation of cyclists spent a little too much time at “Babys R Us.” Though they didn’t contest the major mountain stages, the water boys came good with three stage wins: two by an impressive Stefan Schumacher, and Forster shaking it up on the streets of Milano. Held the Maglia Rosa for a few days, too. They should’ve given Ullrich a blue jersey those days, just for balance.

4 ) Phonak : Taste the Rainbow

Seriously, these guys are a Skittles commercial. Have you seen them at time trials? They’ve got green, white, and yellow kits, red aero booties, and black and red bikes. Well, at least it’s not blue or pink.

José Gutierrez Cataluna, though, was pretty impressive. It was a little bit of a Francisco Mancebo move, but nonetheless, watching this unsung hero hang tough with the best was exciting. Mancebo move? Well, he didn’t win a stage, and didn’t start any of the action, he just stayed in the fight with very solid time trial performances and clinging like a limpet to Basso and the rest in the mountains. Still, it’s quite a feather in the rainbow-coloured caps of the Phonak squad.

This is a good thing, because with Phonak’s sponsorship ending this season, the team that would be needs to prove themselves.

And maybe they’ll earn some better colours.

5 ) Quick*Step : Breakfast of Champions

In the classics, listening to Phil Ligget describe the Quick Step train went something like this: “There’s the world champion on the wheel of the Olympic champion, being lead by the Belgian champion.” Better known as a classics force, the Belgian team didn’t come into the Giro with a lot of pressure as a team. Paolo Bettini, on the other hand, had a bone to pick. Though he’s a bit of a, shall we say, “personality,” raising his arms in pretend victory once, disgust on other occasions, after much trying, he came good with a stage win. Their “other champion,” Spain’s Juan Manuel Garate, had an impressive performance, mixing it up day after day in the breakaways, coming good with a stage win memorable for Jen’s Voigt’s gesture as much as anything. Bettini walked away with the Maglia Ciclamino points jersey, Garate with the green mountains jersey.

Fell Short :

1 ) Lampre-Fondital : Nothing to Show for it

The biggest positive thing that came out of Lampre’s Giro was Damiano Cunego’s final week, which showed that last year’s general sucking really was the result of mononucleosis, and the guy’s still got a lot of years ahead of him. But for a tiny super-climber, Cunego was p0sitively pWned by bA$ … I mean, by Basso, and without even a podium in Milano or a stage win, they top the losers list, along with the other team that’s made the Giro the focus of their season:

2 ) Liquigas: Di Luca Doesn’t Deliver

“The Killer” wasn’t scaring anyone with his shark-faced saddle this year, ending up 23rd, almost an hour in arrears. No good. The only thing that saved them from topping the losers list was Franco Pellizotti, whose stage win and top-10 spot were as unexpected as they were impressive. Maybe they should’ve worked for him? For Di Luca, winner of last year’s (what does this do?) UCI ProTour, it leaves the feeling of “what next?” He cut down his classics campaign to focus on the Giro, and ended up with nothing.

3 ) T-Mobile : No Cigar for You

Since I’m from Portland, Oregon, I have a special place in my heart for T-mobile. Wait, what does this have to do with anything? Portland houses Paul Allen’s infamous Trail Blazers basketball team, which has consistently had the highest budget in the league, but failed to deliver. Sure, they have an impressive performance now and then, and they ought to with the kind of cash they’re putting down.

Yes, Jan Ullrich took on all comers in winning the individual time trial.

Apart from that, though, t-mobile’s Giro was a collection of “almosts.” They ALMOST one the Team Time Trial, losing by a single second when one Mattias Kessler couldn’t hold the wheel coming to the line. Olaf Pollack ALMOST won every flat stage, but came up with a goose egg of wins and a lot of pounded handlebars. Ullrich ALMOST made it all the way to Milano.

Come to think of it, they’ve ALMOST won the Tour de France about a zillion times, too.

4 ) Milram : The Headless Centipede

You know, the old arcade game? Instead of racking up stage wins, Alessandro Petacchi was the victim of an unfortunate early crash that left him racking up hospital time. Without their raison d’etre, the rest of the Milram team couldn’t figure out what they ought to do, so settled on becoming the leadout train for Paolo Bettini. Helpful, since he hadn’t brought one of his own.

5 ) Selle Italia : I don’t Have to Take This Anymore.

I’m going home.

With Rujano pulling a Steve Urkel by suddenly abandoning, the wildcard couldn’t do anything with the big boys. They were generally upstaged by Ceramica Panaria-Navigare, the other non-Protour team in the race, and didn’t manage to bring home anything from three weeks around their home country. Maybe next year they’ll have a team leader who’s not off the team at the end of the month.

Other notes : People may say Discovery Channel disappointed, but I don’t really think so. A top-5 finish, a stage win, two days in the Maglia Rosa, and the admittedly confusing Blue Jersey for Paolo Savoldelli is a decent result for the Falcon. Though he got a lot of attention by winning last year’s edition, this year’s parcours didn’t really suit his talents, and terrible weather prevented Savoldelli from taking advantage of some of the technical descents. I’m not even going to touch the Tom Danielson issue.

Euskaltel-Euskadi : WHY is this team in the Protour again? They’re forced to come out to every race in the thing, and clearly don’t have the depth necessary to do it. Would’ve been better off home.


  • At 7:04 PM , Blogger Al Maviva said...

    Hey, take a look at the altimetria for the TdF. The classics/time trialing teams you kinda hammer on here - Liquigas and Quick Step - may be in good shape given the generally flat nature of this year's course. If Ulrich is anything near form, he should be a force, as will a Salvodeli or Hincapie-led Discovery. Keep your eyes peeled for Jens Voigt also. There are only perhaps three true climbing stages of the sort that favors true sprinters - an unspectacular but strong TT'er on a strong team (Ullrich, Boonen, Hincapie, Floyd Landis!, Voigt) could score big in the flats, and just hang on in the three tough hill stages. It's a long shot, as much as Basso has improved his TT'ing, but it's what I'm looking for.

  • At 7:04 PM , Blogger Al Maviva said...

    true climbers. true climbers. I'm a moron.

  • At 8:11 PM , Blogger Argentius said...

    If you ever frequent the forums, you'll know that sort of move gets you called "moreon."

    Or, occasionally, "your a idiot."

    I agree, the parcours looks like it suits the "power-climbers;" mostly, though, I think it will encourage a more aggressive race. Like Dario Cioni of Liquigas talked about in his interview with Pezcycling, a slightly easier profile may encourage more attacking.

    If Savoldelli has the motivation, I think he could tear it up; personally I think/hope we'll see a super-motivated Hincapie get both
    Popo and Falco working for him.

    Quickstep, though? Who have they got for a TdF GC?

  • At 9:05 AM , Blogger Al Maviva said...

    Weeeelll... That's the hard thing to figure. Classics riders tend to be good power climbers. So Boonen could maybe do something here. Or Pozzato. Or Nuyens. Unlike the other teams that seem to have clear divisions between their grand tour riders and their specialists (making the pool small) I think you could see any one of a number of Quick Step riders challenge, but it would probably take a team effort to get one of these guys up over the couple tough mountains. Of course they may set up for the tour thinking Bettini is going to carry them, which would be silly, considering he will probably be only the 5th or 7th best climber in the race, and he's not that hot at the other disciplines. Were I their Director, I'd make Boonen the captain, form a sort of "A" team out of Nuyens and Pozzato and Bettini, direct them to break away on the flat stages and gentler climbs, then hope to not get gapped too badly on the 2-3 real climbing days, make Bettini pull the big boys up the hills. Those days too, could be made easier by staging hustling breakaways up to the mountains (with Boonen or Nuyens leading), then trying to not lose too much time going uphill. This would press the other teams' climbers rather badly, if Quick Step could pull off a stage win early with the strategy. Call this the "Jens Voigt Strategy." Peleton and intra-team politics might make it too tough to pull this off, however, especially considering the mental makeup of climbers. I'm not sure how cool Bettini would be pulling big-@ss Tom Boonen up the Alpe d'Huez.


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