A lot of things have happened in the Giro d'Italia since we approached the last week of racing. When we left the Riviera in Savona, I learned that the riders from Orica-GreenEdge were warming-up on rollers and eating their gels prior to the start as if it were a time trial. Stage 13 was in theory a good one for an early attack, but Team Sky didn't let anyone go.
Sometimes it's hard to control the bunch on narrow roads but that day, we mostly had wide roads on the way to Cervere, so Mark Cavendish's team was able to discourage whoever wanted to attack. They just occupied all the first positions of the peloton. Sometimes, in this kind of situation, it's just useless to try and get any other outcome but a bunch gallop. In fact, the world champion won his first stage that day.
Team Sky has done a good job so far. Their two Colombians are high on the GC and occupy the first two positions in the best young riders' category. It's no surprise for Rigoberto Uran. We've known him for years [he started with Italian team Tenax six years ago at the age of 19], but Sergio Henao is new in the game. Prior to the Giro, I identified him as the possible surprise, similar to Richie Porte two years ago. He's not only a typical Colombian climber. He's a good time triallist, too. I can imagine his enthusiasm, riding his first Giro and being up there with the white jersey.
We've been very wet since we left the Mediterranean coast! During stage 14, some bad memories bounced back to my mind, as we experienced bad weather conditions again in the same region - Piedmonte - where I badly crashed last year en route to Mucagnaga. We've been again exposed to the difficulties caused by the construction of speed bumps, poles and curbs.
I had more bad luck during stage 15. I was in a breakaway group, and I slipped on a wet road on the downhill of the Valcava. I thought it was because of some oil on the road, but I realized a bit too late that my front tire was deflated. The neutral service car had passed me, and the team cars weren't allowed to move up because the gaps were too tight. So I was alone in between groups for 10 kilometers with my deflated tyre. I passed the feed zone where nobody had a wheel for me to change.
I thank the Ag2r-La Mondiale team for its help. It gave me a new wheel as they were behind Guillaume Bonnafond, who got dropped from the very front of the race after breaking away early with eventual stage winner Matteo Rabottini.
During the rest day, it was so rainy again that I didn't go out. I rode on rollers for an hour. I would have liked to do more, outside.
The following night, I slept for 10 hours consecutively, and I only woke up only because I was hungry. At the start of stage 16, I clarified something with the officials of the neutral service. I had been quoted as blaming them but I didn't. I know that they follow the instructions of the judges. It was just unfortunate that no neutral car was behind me at that time; it's nobody's fault.
I tried to catch the breakaway on stage 16. We all knew that it would work that day. But my legs weren't as good as in the previous days, probably as a consequence of my crash. I hope to come back to my normal condition, just like my teammate Taylor Phinney, who has suffered a lot after crashing in Denmark. In the past few days, he has improved drastically. Now he follows the rhythm in the climbs with no problem. Let's bet on him: I think he's the hot favorite for the closing time trial in Milan.
We’ve passed three days of medium mountains since my last blog. This is how the geography of Italy makes the Giro a hard race no matter what. Even without looking for the big climbs and even though the competitiveness of those stages is limited to the last hour of racing, it’s very demanding. We’ve done six hours daily on the bike. Our legs can feel the fatigue of a grand tour.
The main event of the U-turn in the south of Italy has been the stage victory of Domenico Pozzovivo at Lago Laceno. It wasn’t a surprise. Before the Giro d’Italia, he won the Giro del Trentino. That day, he only confirmed what we’ve seen last month: he’s the Colombian from Italy! This is his great opportunity to win the Giro d’Italia. When he stands on his pedals in steep climbs, it’s impossible to follow him. Nobody moved behind him in the Mollela because nobody could do it. He’s been a protagonist of the Giro d’Italia before. He has often done well in the hills but he also struggled downhill in the past. I spoke with him about that at the Giro del Trentino.
In April this year, it was pretty much the first time we spoke. I know that he’s a professor in economics. We both have completed our studies during our time as professional riders. We’re both Italians but we don’t know each other really, possibly because he’s on a relatively small Italian team [Colnago-CSF] while I’ve been on a more international program these past few years with T-Mobile, HTC-Highroad and now BMC. Pozzovivo looks to me like a shy guy like me. He doesn’t look for the media even though he’s got interesting things to say, not only about cycling. I appreciate that he has expressed his opinions about Italian politics. I agree with him that the kind of government we have these days with economist Mario Monti at the helm rather than the usual politicians who serve themselves more than they serve the country is the best medicine for the economical crisis that we’re facing nowadays.
Back to the Giro, we’re in a transition between the nervous start and the mountainous third week. At Lago Laceno, I’ve lost a bit more than I’d have liked. But I’m still not far down on the top 20. I’ll have a clearer picture of the situation at Cervinia. That will be a hard stage, after which I’ll decide whether I ride for GC or for a stage win during the last week. The real hierarchy of this Giro d’Italia is yet to be seen.
In our BMC team, Taylor Phinney is getting better after a couple of hard days. Some of my teammates are keen to catch breakaways during this transitional week. We also have Johann Tschopp who goes very well in the big climbs. He might be able to repeat at the Stelvio his exploit from the Passo Tonale two years ago.
Stay tuned for the third week, it’s going to be intense! Let’s see what the Colombian from Italy can do again…
American's bad luck affected BMC in team time trial
Ciao from Pesaro on the East coast, watching the Adriatic Sea from the hotel room I share with my team-mate Mathias Frank. Let’s talk about another team-mate of mine: Taylor Phinney. In the past five days, the world has discovered a phenomenal person. He’s the kind of champion that cycling needs. Without the most damaging of his three crashes, he would still be in the maglia rosa now.
For months, he’s had the prologue of the Giro d’Italia in mind and he started with the weight of being the hot favourite. Two days before the race, we had a press conference in the evening. As soon as it was over, it was time for dinner but Taylor jumped on his bike once again because he wanted to ride the course at approximately the same time as he was scheduled to race on Saturday. It wasn’t a necessity but he wanted his body to get used to this particular effort at this particular time of the day. It shows that he has a strong desire to make the most of his talent.
Taylor’s crash on stage 3 changed the scenario of the Giro. He was racing too much at the front and he was too close to the danger, people said. But he was right to be there because if there had been a gap on one second between two riders, he could have easily lost the pink jersey to Geraint Thomas. For instance, on stage 5 the time keepers applied a five-second gap, which is a lot compared to the differences created in prologues.
I’ve read that Taylor didn’t have to be up there because of the rule that neutralizes the last three kilometres. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Only in the event of a crash or a puncture or a mechanical, can a rider be classified with the same time as the group he was in. If the world of cycling wants better safety for GC riders and sprinters, I think that the last three kilometres should be neutralized in case of a bunch sprint on a flat road.
I know the arguments against this proposal. What if a rider attacks in the last kilometre and wins solo against the whole peloton? I return the question: when has that happened in the past twenty years? Not often on the flat for sure… Would there be less of a spectacle if everyone was crossing the line quietly behind the fifteen or twenty sprinters in contention? I don’t think so. The sprint on TV would remain the same and the crowd on site would see the other riders better.
Back to Taylor, he has impressed me a lot because of his maturity for a 22-year-old. He’s calm and he has a positive attitude. Even when he’s been unlucky, he keeps his morale high. He takes lessons from the difficult moments. He’s very well educated. It’s touching to see his mother following him at the Giro.
Had he been the real Taylor Phinney on Wednesday, we would have won the team time trial. But he had no strength in his legs. It’s surely the consequence of his crash. It happened at 70km/h because my SRM showed 60km/h further back. He went to two hospitals in Verona after the transfer by plane and then went to bed at 1.30am. On the rest day, he was only able to ride for fifteen minutes. On the morning of the TTT, he did nothing, he just came with us to recce the course.
Once the race started, at the first turn he took, I realized that he was the shadow of the real Taylor Phinney. Nobody can recover just like that from such a bad crash. At full capacity, he’d be the strongest of our team for a TTT. He’s the one able to make the whole team stronger. We lost a lot and we could have done better. Taylor was very disappointed for the team but he kept a smile on his face. He’s a good guy.
I personally have a hint of regret that things didn’t go better for us in the team time trial. I could have been closer to the pink jersey but it doesn’t bother me. My condition is good. There’s still a lot to do at the Giro and it’s a great pleasure to accompany Taylor in his discovery of the good and bad aspects of riding a Grand Tour.
Pinotti hoping to settle a score in this year's final time trial
Hello from Denmark. I always enjoy the start of the Giro abroad like in Amsterdam two years ago. It's more interesting. The first part in a different country is like another race in itself.
I'm back to "my" national Tour after leaving on a sad note last year when I crashed badly with two days to go. I quit the race with an open account: my appetite for winning was intact prior to the final time trial in Milan. It was like walking out of a restaurant with hunger and the feeling of having forgotten something.
I've had to work very hard to come back to the level I had the day of my accident. I had a broken hip. Only at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco one month ago, I felt myself competitive again, but the delay was normal: three months off the bike means nine months for the recovery.
Here we are. I resume the Giro with the goal I couldn't reach last year: the closing individual time trial in Milan in three weeks time. I'd like to put a stamp on my bid for London. I want to represent Italy at the Olympic Games. I haven't spoken yet with the Technical Commissary Paolo Bettini but I guess that the final stage in Milan is crucial in his mind.
We also start with a time trial. It's 8.7km with thirteen curves on the menu in Herning, Denmark. One of my teammates, Taylor Phinney, is a favorite together with Alex Rasmussen from Garmin-Barracuda and Geraint Thomas from Team Sky. He's done 4.15 in the individual pursuit and he brings this ability to do well on longer distances as well. This is a double individual pursuit.
We love time trials at BMC. We've just won the team time trial at the Giro del Trentino. It has been a great confidence booster for us prior to the equivalent effort in Verona on stage 4. But it doesn't guarantee us to win again at the Giro. The distance is different and the participants as well. With all respect I have for all the contenders of the Giro del Trentino, the consistency of the teams at the Giro d'Italia is of a higher level. On paper, besides us, Sky, GreenEdge, Omega Pharma-Quick Step and Garmin-Barracuda are the strongest for the team time trial.
This design of the route reminds me so much of the 2010 Giro d'Italia that started from the Netherlands. It's like a tracing paper: prologue to start and team time trial after transferring to Italy. I went well two years ago [ninth overall]. During the final week of the Giro, I'd like to try and get a spot in the top ten again. It's going to be a test over my come-back from injury. Overall rankings come naturally. I wasn't part of the breakaway to L'Aquila on stage 11 two years ago. I want to come out of this Giro with a good condition.
The first week of the Giro d'Italia started well for me and the team, and I was well placed overall for most of the first week.
Unfortunately my race fell apart after that and I lost any chance of the good overall result I'd hoped and trained hard for. I suffered on the last climb up Mount Etna and lost time in the GC. I could feel something was wrong and felt the first signs of bronchitis that night as we did the transfer to Termoli.
I hoped I'd get better quickly but it didn’t happen and I was forced to take antibiotics. They helped but it has affected my form and my legs. It's not easy to recover from a problem during the Giro and especially with a triple of mountain stages like we've faced this weekend. We've had three mountain finishes one after the other too, with 4000 metres of climbing on Saturday and then another 6000 metres of climbing on Sunday. Sometimes I ask myself just how difficult they need to make a stage. It's been hard for me and I can climb pretty well. It must have been terrible for some of the other riders who have had the courage to stay in the race instead of quitting.
I'm hoping I'll finally get back to my best after the second rest day because there are still some hard days to come in this Giro and I’d also like to target the final time trial in Milan. Winning it again would make up for all the suffering I've done in the last week.
We're happy at HTC-Highroad
Despite my problems HTC-Highroad has had a good Giro and we're happy with our results. We won the opening team time trial, I wore the pink jersey, Cavendish wore pink and he then won two other stages.
We were especially proud of how we did the lead out train in Ravenna for Cav's second win. Some of the riders in our Giro team are quite new to doing lead outs but Cav is great at getting everyone to raise their game and get it just right. He expects a lot but he gives a lot too. We notice when he's feeling good and is up for the sprint. The tension rises in the team but that makes us all give that little bit more and do things right. It's never easy but it's always worth it because Cav gives it everything to win and almost always does. Winning a race yourself is always special but when you work and a teammates wins, it's very satisfying and makes us even more united.
Cutting the Crostis
Sunday's stage was overshadowed by the polemics about the cutting of the Crostis climb. I personally think it was the right decision. The riders who saw the Crostis before the Giro said it was crazy to race on it and it was at the very limit of what is acceptable in a professional bike race.
I'm sorry for all the people who worked to make the descent safe and the tifosi who went up there to watch the race but racing can't be allowed to become a circus. We're not clowns. It's about the racing and the racing conditions have to be fair for everyone in the race. We all deserved to have sufficient mechanical support on the Crostis and if that wasn't possible, then we shouldn't have to race.
After all the racing in the mountains, I can't wait for the second rest day. It'll be good to give the legs a rest and switch off for a day. I'll still ride on the road, or on the rollers if its rains, but we'll finally get a chance to catch our breathes, lick our wounds and get ready for the final week of the Giro. Contador looks pretty much unbeatable but there's still a lot of racing to enjoy.
The Giro started as well as I could have hoped, when we did a great team time trial and my HTC-Highroad teammates put me into the pink jersey, just like we had planned. But then Wouter Weylandt’s death on Monday has conditioned everything since. It has changed the state of mind of the race.
It’s a difficult thing to be involved with, and unfortunately I had already experienced a similar incident in 1999, when Manuel Sanroma was killed in the Volta a Catalunya. In a sense, both his accident and Wouter’s were workplace accidents, like those that can happen in any other walk of life, and I suppose we have to find the strength to go ahead. But I don’t feel it’s really my place to speak about something like this in front of a microphone or in public.
The day after was nice, we obviously couldn’t go ahead as normal on a day like that and it was fitting to pay tribute and to reflect. But now the best thing to do is to go ahead with the race, even if it seems hard. We riders are well aware of the difficulties and the dangers we face, and if you’re not able to stay concentrated then it’s probably best to go home. Everybody copes with a situation like this in his own individual way, and it’s certainly not up to me to judge what is the best way to respond.
Getting back to racing
On Wednesday, we returned to racing with a testing stage over the dirt roads to Orvieto. I’d done well last year at Montalcino and I’ve done the Strade Bianche enough times too, so I had an idea of what I was facing.
There were already people in difficulty on the climb, but the descent was probably even harder, as it was very steep, and there were sharp bends. A few times, we really had to take a lot of care. It was a stage that posed a lot of dangers but in the end, I was happy personally as I came through it well.
I felt pretty good, I was always looking to stay in front and find my own line through the corners. Everybody has a different perception of what is safe on a stage like the one to Orvieto. Some riders are more able over that kind of technical terrain but others are far less sure of themselves. So the best thing to do is to get out in front so that you can take on those corners and rough roads by yourself, and see what is ahead.
Missing out on the jersey
At the end, I knew that David Millar was in difficulty, although I didn’t really hold out too much hope of taking the jersey as there were a lot of riders up there capable of taking the time bonuses. Le Mevel, in particular, was a real danger, he’s going well.
As it turned out, Weening took the stage and the jersey, but I had confirmation that my condition is good. From a purely racing point of view, it’s been a good Giro for me so far. The weather has been nice too and hopefully the sun stays out as we move into southern Italy. It doesn’t rain too often down here, but when it does, the combination of rain and dust means that the roads become really treacherous.
Montevergine and Etna
The first part of the Giro is now ending and we’re moving onto the first difficult stage. Between now and Etna, I think Rabobank are going to look to try and control everything, defend the jersey.
My roommate Kanstantin Sivtsov is up there with me too, so we’ll try and stay at the front. It’s true that we’re both very close to the jersey, but there are so many bonus seconds on offer at the top of the climb to Montevergine that it will be tough for one of us to move into the lead.
Somebody who is sixth or seventh overall could win the stage and move ahead of all of us. I also think that Weening is a solid climber and he won’t be dropped easily. Montevergine isn’t really that kind of stage so I’d expect a decent sized group to finish together up there. If he loses the jersey, it will be because of time bonuses or a small gap opening in the group, but I don’t expect him to be dropped.
In my opinion, Sunday will be the first day that one of the overall contenders will make a statement of intent. The final climb to Etna isn’t the most difficult, but there are a lot of kilometres of climbing on the stage, so we’ll certainly see bigger gaps there.
Of the big guns, Contador and Scarponi have probably impressed me the most so far. I’d also pick out Kreuziger as a guy who is looking very sharp too. But looking at the stage to Orvieto, it was clear that all the favourites are in good shape and ready to race.
Having fractured his hip at the Giro d'Italia last year, Marco Pinotti is back. A new team, in BMC, and a new set of goals, the likeable and respected Italian returns to Cyclingnews' army of bloggers and you can follow his thoughts and experiences right here in this exclusive blog.