Re-cap of stages 10-15 from this year's race
Stage 10 to Salsomaggiore
A traditional sprinters day and here's the script: A couple of guys escape (in this case it's Marco Bandieri from Androni and Andrea Fedi of Neti Sottoli), they ride off the front most of the day, get some publicity for their sponsors and then the sprinters’ teams reel them in just before the finish and there's a bunch sprint. Occasionally there are disruptions to this scenario but it's rare.
As Dario Cataldo blasted up the final hill with 6kms to go I was reminded of the classic Michael Caine line from the Italian Job “I only told you to blow the bloody doors off”.
The Sky plan had obviously been to set a fierce uphill pace and see off the rival sprinters thus putting Ben Swift in with a better chance of the stage win. The problem was DC was going so fast that he was hurting his team mates too and their big lead-out was falling apart with every pedal stroke.
Team captain Bernie Eisel tried to stop the man from Abruzzo from overdoing it but couldn't shout loud enough and when Boasson Hagen took over the lead-out on the descent poor Ben Swift never recovered enough to do any kind of sprint. Against a Nacer Bouhanni who had managed his resources more in keeping with his abilities by sliding back on the hill then returning to the front when it didn't kill him they'll have to come up with something more original than just throwing excess power at the problem.
The little Frenchman looks unbeatable though Nizzolo is getting closer. It was also a close call for race leader Cadel Evans as he chose to get involved in the sprint and just avoided the last corner crash when Tyler Farrar lost the front under braking. Signs of desperation for both of them maybe but wouldn't it have been good to have been a fly on the wall of the Team Sky bus during the debrief?
Stage 11 to Savona
This ought to have been another traditional breakaway stage and thus a semi-rest for the GC guys before the time trial but when Androni missed putting someone in the 14 man escape their DS decided to punish them by making them ride and ride and ride. A tactic more often than not which condemns the break and the team doing the chasing in equal measures. I know the team directors say they are keeping their top man in the game but really it's to teach the inattentive a hard lesson.
It could have been a nice day out along the coast with a bit of Milan-San Remo scenery to end with but instead it turned into one of those days where everyone finishes with their ears flapping.
Julian Arredondo again proved his climbing prowess in the final and again went too early for his own good but strangely the other teams seem scared to let him go despite the large deficit he has accumulated. The ensuing battle was best survived by Michael Rogers who chose just the right moment to place his attack and hold on for the stage win. Saxo-Tinkoff had tried with Nicolas Roche earlier but the Irishman looks like he's still struggling to find some good legs after his crashes in the first week.
Talking of falls, of which there are way too many, one for Diego Ulissi put an end to his podium hopes as he lost five minutes and another provided the comedy moment of the day when Cadel Evans asked Androni to wait up for a delayed Steve Morabito.
The request was firmly denied to the race leader and probably not politely either. Memories and bandages from the day to Montecassino haven't healed just yet.
Stage 12 to Barolo
Just how unpredictable can this Giro get? On the day everyone expected Cadel Evans to extend his race lead he does the complete opposite and loses the maglia rosa to Rigoberto Uran. And it's not like Evans did a bad TT, he was third, rather Uran had one of those days where everything went right. An even bigger surprise was Ulissi almost winning after losing five minutes the day before.
Hopefully a hint of things to come in the big mountains of the third week was Pozzovivo being fastest on the uphill sections but what a dreadful position he has on his TT bike. You would think he would have some custom aero bars made to fit him into a better position for the flat and the descents as that was where he lost all his time compared to the other favourites.
All the guys who got under the hour for the 41.9 km did a ride, it was just that Uran was super strong. Rafal Majka confirmed his podium potential but Quintana was mildly disappointing, as was Aru, Hesjedal and Pierre Rolland. Wilco Kelderman quietly continued his climb up the GC with a good ride in amongst a trio of Omega Pharma team mates.
Stage 13 to Rivarolo Canavese
Friday the thirteenth proved unlucky for FDJ and Nacer Bouhanni's chance of win number four. It did however prove to be Bardiani's lucky day when Marco Canola out-sprinted his breakaway companions Jackson Rodriguez (Androni) and Angelo Tulik (Europcar) after being in the front for almost all the stage. Perhaps everyone was tired or worried about tiring out their troops before the weekend’s stages but no-one wanted to fully commit to chasing down the escape and when they finally did it was too late. Definitely a day of race politics between the sprinters teams and a day hiding for the GC guys though history was made with Uran being Colombia's first maglia rosa.
Stage 14 to Oropa
The first big day of penultimate weekend and with a mountain top finish after three other climbs a good indication of who was still to be considered a contender for the overall. Again it was the green men from Bardiani-CSF who would win the stage, this time Enrico Battaglin out-sprinting Dario Cataldo and Team Colombia's Jarlinson Pantano at the top of final climb to Oropa. Sky's Cataldo had looked the strongest of the guys who survived from the days escape but he died a death in the final sprint and Battaglin pulled round him in the last twenty metres to steal the show. Even going in the breaks didn't want to work out for the Sky riders.
In the GC battle further down the mountain OmegaPharma looked to be in control of the situation even though Pierre Rolland and Ryder Hesjedal had attacked on the previous climb and held just under a minute’s lead on the GC group. So all was well for Uran until Pozzovivo kicked hard at 4km to go and only Quintana could follow. With Evans, Aru, Majka and Kelderman all struggling with the pace the race leader looked to be in a spot of bother.
Fortunately Wout Poels was nearby and could pace the maglia rosa to the finish where he only conceded twenty odd seconds to Pozzovivo and Qunitana and though hardly decisive in the grand scheme of things Uran did look shaky and that vulnerability wouldn't have gone unnoticed.
Stage 15 to Montecampione
This ought to have been an ideal stage for Domenico Pozzovivo to take time back on his rivals but surprisingly after being so strong the day before he was nowhere to be seen on the climb to Montecampione. He talked the talk in the morning saying he was going to go for it but sadly for AG2R he didn't walk the walk. Neither did Cadel Evans for that matter. It was Fabio Aru's day to shine and to a lesser extent Nairo Quintana's and Pierre Rolland's.
The classy Europcar rider went on the attack again and would have pulled off the win but for two brutal attacks from Astana's Aru which first saw him play with race leader for a while and then with 2km to go leave everyone and the pink jersey behind. Quintana rode with a bit less panache than yesterday but still well enough to distance Uran in the final kilometre taking back a further twenty odd seconds on the GC score. Small gains they may be but they won't be enough unless Uran completely falls apart and he seems to be riding with enough intelligence not to panic when distanced.
Heading into the final week and with four more mountain top finishes nothing is certain, this Giro is far from over. Uran has a good lead but maybe the responsibility of race leadership is getting to him, like it got to Cadel Evans in the small ways: less recovery time, more expectations more internal and external pressure. I don't think Cadel's race is over for the win but it's looking more difficult when the road gets steep.
For Aru, Majka and Pozzovivo they have all had weaker moments but they aren't that far away, certainly not enough to discount their chances. Things will become a lot clearer after the mountain time trial on Friday but I think this Giro is coming down to a Colombian fight between Uran and Quintana on the Zoncolan.
- 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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