From Val Martello to Trieste
Stage 16 to Val Martello
The stage that everyone was waiting for and justifiably so: Epic, historic, fabulous, the superlatives were flowing even before it had started but then the Giro awoke to find it was snowing. That ought to have changed everything, except it didn't and that's when it all went wrong for most. It will take more words than I'm allowed here so I'll serve up those judgements in a few days time. Suffice to say the ride of the day was Nairo Quintana's who went on to win the stage, take the race lead and put four minutes into Uran. Ably assisted by Gorka Izzaguirre and a Pierre Rolland who also had Romain Sicard to sacrifice along the valley to Val Martello the young Colombian seized his chance. That Ryder Hesjedal did as much hanging on as possible in the lead group shows he's experienced enough to not get sucked into a fight which wasn't his. Sky's Dario Cataldo who had been alone after the Stelvio was condemned the moment the GC battle exploded behind him.
In the chasing group squabbling amongst Uran, Aru, Majka and Kelderman saw them lose minutes when it could have been seconds but then it was more a day of survival than a day of racing and if you had recovered even slightly from the cold you were lucky. Cadel Evans fell apart again which was surprising as he normally copes better than most in crap conditions so this was the sign his form was getting worse. In dubious circumstances Quintana may have taken the race lead from his compatriot Uran but the recriminations had started before the jersey presentations had even begun.
Stage 17 to Vittoria Veneto
The picture of the day was of the team managers discussing the time they wanted back from Movistar after the Stelvio incident. They wanted 55 seconds. They all agreed as did the organisers, apparently even Eusebio Unzue agreed but then he would because the UCI rules said there would be no penalties or changes. That was the talking point, and never mind le bras d'honneur of Stefano Pirazzi as a victory salute. We know he is as crazy as a box of frogs anyway.
At least the sun was out, too late, and Bardiani got win number three after last year’s best climber outsmarted his breakaway companions with a well timed move at the 1km to marker. It was probably best to be in the 25 man escape and not to be pre-occupied with who did what or if they heard something or nothing about the Stelvio descent.
Maybe that was what Pirazzi's gesture was all about? Maybe he had had enough of the speculation overtaking the racing. If that was his intent then he's not that crazy after all.
Stage 18 to Rifugio Panarotta
At last Julian Arredondo got his tactics right. Often in the break and then launching his attack much too early he did the opposite and played, as Sean Kelly says, the waiting game. For someone riding his first Grand Tour he has learned very quickly, letting Duarte, Deignan and De Gendt beat each other up and then with 4km to go the blue jersey wearer left them all behind for a well deserved win.
Further down the climb Pierre Rolland let rip with an attack that saw off Cadel Evans and his podium hopes but he eventually paid the price for too much exuberance and Aru blasted past him to sneak a few seconds in the last 200m. At the end of this transitional day twenty odd seconds covered from third to sixth so the mountain time trial was looking like deciding who would be where on GC.
Stage 19 to Cima Grappa
Any doubts about who was the strongest rider were dismissed when the Maglia Rosa blasted up the Cima Grappa to take the stage win and another minute and a half from Rigoberto Uran. The big surprise was Fabio Aru who produced a fantastic ride and moved into the final podium position with Pierre Rolland beating Pozzovivo and a resurgent Franco Pellizotti making the top six of the stage. Majka lost over three and a half minutes but comparatively he trounced Evans, Kelderman, Kiserlovski and a tiring Hesjedal.
The GC podium places were looking decided but behind the top ten was still a fight that could go either way. Other notable rides: 20-year-old Sebastien Henao rode very well to an eighth place and Tim Wellens and Dario Cataldo obviously weren't worn out from their time in the previous day’s escapes because they still managed to make ninth and tenth respectively.
This mountain TT provided some interesting options in how to ride the course with some guys choosing full TT bikes and then a bike change after roughly 12 km on the first slopes of the climb itself or for those not wanting to risk a disruption to their rhythm the normal road bike with or without TT extensions on the bars. In the battle of the mechanics, OPQS and Uran showed how to do the bike swap smoothly and neatly whilst Movistar and Quintana wearing some rather dodgy long pink overshoes looked jerky and nervous. Not that it changed the result mind.
Stage 20 to Monte Zoncolan
This was always going to be the perfect stage for an escape with the GC locked down but then saying that only the strong would survive. From a 20 man break Mick Rogers proved his win at Savona was no fluke by grinding up Monte Zoncolan for a hard earned victory.
Bardiani's Francesco Bongiorno had been shadowing the Australian until 3km to go but then some nut case, dressed in a rainbow top no less, decided to help the Italian and promptly pushed him off. I despair of these idiots who think it's fun to get involved in the bike race by running alongside, in costumes or in some case with very little to hide their dignity. And it wasn't like this self elected world champion learned anything about his dumb involvement because four minutes later he was running in the road again. No wonder Rogers thumped a few of the over enthusiastic idiots as riding up a goat track is hard enough without having to deal with blokes in tutus screaming in your ear.
Note I say riding and not racing because when it's too steep like the Zoncolan you don't really race you just do what you can not to stop.
For the GC Quintana survived a scare of his own with a wobbly fan but still controlled Uran all the way to the top. Fabio Aru was hoping to challenge the Colombians but paid for his TT efforts and was looking vulnerable on the back of the GC group until he finally he got dropped with Rolland, Majka and Pozzovivo inside the last 2km.
Kelderman did enough to move up one place on GC to the detriment of Evans, whilst Hesjedal and Kiserlovski held their position despite the Canadian also having a torrid time. Only the spectators had a nice day out.
Stage 21 to Trieste
Giant-Shimano top and tail their Giro with Luka Mezgec doing what Marcel Kittel did way back in Ireland by winning a hectic bunch sprint. Even some bumping and barging from his contemporaries inside the last kilometer couldn't stop the Slovenian producing an impressive acceleration along the barriers to beat Nizzolo and Tyler Farrar by a bike length. Pre-stage favourite Nacer Bouhanni might have hoped for another win but he would have to be content with cementing his points jersey, in fourth place.
Luckily it didn't rain until the race was over though the circuit wasn't as technical as some of the other finishing laps had been it still wouldn't have been pleasant with water involved.
Predictably Movistar kept the race leader Nairo Quintana safe and sound all day even if GC hostilities were over and done with there is still reason to be attentive. So after three weeks of toil, drama and controversy finally it was Colombia celebrating one of theirs winning a Giro d'Italia and another, Arredondo, winning the King of the Mountains. There will be hysteria in the streets back in Bogotá that's for sure.
- 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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