Giro Countdown: 3 days to Naples
The Dolce Vita three week touring holiday that Bradley Wiggins has apparently been planning since last year's Tour de France might not be the pleasant stress free alternative he envisaged after all. Not because he expects he'll get beaten up by Nibali and the home players or jeered at by the chauvinistic Italian fans and not because he doesn't know the crucial sections of the route either. The Sky Historic Department has those parts measured, evaluated and covered. Well they hope they do.
The first bits of grit threatening to make their way onto his ice cream won't be from the beaches. No, they'll be blowing in from the Kenyan savannah instead and that certainly wasn't part of the original concept. You see, by beginning the cold war with Chris Froome over the Tour leadership now rather than after the Giro, Sir Wiggo has opened himself up to the baying Italian press pack and they like a good squabble mixed with a dash of speculation.
Less media pressure at the Giro than the Tour? I don't think so. Not now. Not after kicking down Froomie's dream sand castle and stamping on it even before he had planted the flag on top. The Italians remember episodes like Roche versus Visentini or Hinault versus LeMond like they fondly remember mama's home-made cooking. They love a scandal, they cultivate them like no-one else can, and by doing a Suarez, metaphorically biting poor Froomie when he wasn't expecting it, Brad has brought a touch more teeth grinding to the job.
Even if the so called teammates kiss and make up, their respective WAG's will be provoked on Twitter or Facebook and Gazzetta dello Sport will be first at the morning press call with the gossip. It's all works molto bene for the Giro organisers on the promotion front.
It's molto bene for Nibali and Astana too, if as predicted Team Sky take the race leadership after the time trials. Vincenzo can sit back and watch the story develop until the mountains. He's already mugged Froome at Tirreno-Adriatico and Wiggins at the Giro del Trentino, so it's not like he's lacking the confidence to take the race to Wiggins when it goes uphill.
Those Giro mountains are a trickier proposition than you find at the Tour de France because there are more of them, the road surfaces are better and they are raced up faster as a result. Add to that the Italians throw themselves at any obstacles and you are having to deal with more attacks and accelerations. Great for the climbers but not so good for those who like a bit of a steady slog. I can understand why Wiggins has been working on his explosive abilities because he'll need them.
Scarponi may well cause plenty of worry
The dodgy finishes at the top of four kilometre-long climbs are another speciality of Italian racing and another opportunity for losing precious seconds here and there; the Giro is far from straight forward most days.
I wouldn't discount defending champion Ryder Hesjedal as just a podium contender behind Nibali and Wiggins. He won by racing smart last year and puts himself in good moves. His form has been getting better and better too.
Cadel Evans? There hasn't been much sparkle from him lately and I can't see that changing now, much like Ivan Basso in that respect. Good enough to influence the race on a stage or two but not happening when it's crunch time. Gesink may surprise as much as he may fall off.
Michele Scarponi on the other hand may well cause plenty of worry for Nibali and Wiggins. His time trialling isn't wonderful but his attacks hurt and if one of the big two can't follow, what happens next might well decide the final GC.
There'll be a lot more speculation going on as the Giro progresses, expect the usual accusations, recriminations and insults with most of them generated by the media looking for a scandal. Expect a new face to emerge just like Evans and Richie Porte did in the past too.
Just imagine the scene if a Scarponi acceleration sees Wiggins dropped, Nibali moving into the pink jersey and some enterprising journalist asking the Englishman if he thinks the Lampre rider ought to be there at all. Post Puerto, post Ferrari, post all the dumb questions on who said what, there may be trouble ahead.
One thing is for sure , entertainment of some sort is coming.
- Robert Millar
Robert Millar was one of the last pure climbers of the Tour de France, winning several stages in the mountain stages and finishing fourth overall in 1984. He is also the only English speaker to have ever won the prestigious polka-dot jersey climber's competition jersey. Millar retired in 1995 but has continued to follow the sport closely. He was often critical of the media and quickly cuts through the excuses and spin to understand why and how riders win and lose.
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