300 metres past the finish line, Valerio Agnoli pulled over to the side of the road and wept openly. Last winter, the Roman had joined Vincenzo Nibali in making the switch from Liquigas to Astana, and after his master had put the final seal on his Giro d'Italia victory by winning in the snow at the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, the emotion of the occasion proved too much for Agnoli.
"I'm just so happy for Vincenzo. I'm ultra-happy for Vincenzo and he really deserved this victory," Agnoli said, wiping his eyes with his sodden gloves.
A television crew drew closer and excitedly asked Agnoli if his tears were caused by suffering through the frigid temperatures and swirling snow that had greeted the peloton on the final climb of the Giro. "No, these are tears of emotion. I'm happy for Vincenzo e basta," Agnoli said, his voice wavering.
Hyperbole is rarely lacking in moments such as these, and another reporter looked to compare Nibali's solo victory on the Tre Cime di Lavaredo with Eddy Merckx's famous impresa on the climb – also in the snow – in 1968. With three kilometres to go, Nibali had pressed his way clear of Rigoberto Uran (Sky) and Carlos Betancur (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and pedalled, at least as far as sections of the home media were concerned, into an almost archangelic realm.
"Dai, Vincenzo is unpredictable and there are no words to describe him," Agnoli said. "I think that Astana has shown great character in this Giro from the very first stages and I think this victory is one for the team too."
Agnoli has been Nibali's uomo di fiducia since he joined Liquigas in 2008, and was particularly prominent during the Giro's testing opening week in southern Italy when many of the rest of the Astana squad seemed to be misfiring.
Indeed, at Bardonecchia on stage 14, Nibali even needed help from allies of circumstance at Vini Fantini-Selle Italia (the since-expelled Danilo Di Luca, in particular), but the team presided over by the problematic figure of Alexandre Vinokourov and managed by Marco Pantani's former directeur sportif Giuseppe Martinelli has grown in strength in the final week.
That said, Nibali's support has tended to come from unexpected quarters. When he joined the squad last winter, Paolo Tiralongo and Fredrik Kessiakoff were ostensibly the men charged with being his sherpas in the high mountains at the Giro, but ultimately, neither man played the kind of role anticipated beforehand.
"This was a bit of a dramatic Giro for me," Tiralongo admitted outside an Astana team car at the top of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. "I've had a temperature, bronchitis, a crash… I had a bit of everything, really. But we're all happy and tomorrow we'll enjoy the victory. Vincenzo has been a real *grande* in this Giro."
Kangert and Aru
Instead, it was the hitherto unheralded Tanel Kangert who stepped up to the plate with a surprisingly strong showing in defence of Nibali's maglia rosa during the second half of the race. The Estonian champion, who returned to the amateur ranks for a year in 2010 after failing to make an impact at Ag2r-La Mondiale, has been a man transformed since resurfacing at Astana, and has made very noticeable strides in 2013.
As well as riding shotgun with Nibali in the high mountains, Kangert has also helped himself to 14th place overall and at one point near the summit of Tre Cime di Lavaredo, he threatened to do even more. As the gradient reared up to 18 percent, it even appeared as though Kangert and Nibali were simply going to ride away from the field, not unlike Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome at last year's Tour de France.
Soon afterwards, however, Nibali pulled away, while Kangert eventually slipped back through the splintered leading group and finished the stage in 15th place. "Ah, I couldn't pull long enough because Vincenzo was just too strong," Kangert said of his cameo. "It's the best thing that could happen today. We won another stage and the Giro. The climb was brutal but the snow didn't bother me."
The most startling performance of all, however, came from Fabio Aru. Still only 22 years of age and in his first full season as a professional, the Sardinian helped to set the tempo for Nibali at the foot of the climb and then withstood the arctic conditions to take 5th place on the stage, just 21 seconds down.
Indeed, Aru even came close to catching the three-man group of Uran, Betancur and Fabio Duarte (Colombia) in the finishing straight. The youngster's performance is all the more noteworthy given that he was suffering from illness in the second week of the race, but displayed remarkable powers of recovery in the third.
Dumoulin set for second overall and young rider classification
Tony Martin (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step) heads into Sunday's fifth and final stage of the Tour of Belgium with a 40 second lead over Tom Dumoulin (Argos - Shimano). Should the Belgian win, it will be his second overall victory of the season having won the Volta ao Algarve in February.
Martin's team led the chase for the seven-man breakaway from which stage winner Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana) emerged solo in the final kilometre.
"My teammates really had to work hard," Martin said after keeping the red leader's jersey which he's worn since taking out the individual time trial on Stage 3. "There was a break in front of seven guys and we really had to work hard to get them back. I really have to thank the team. They did incredible work today. The final was harder than I expected. We had three small climbs in the final lap, and with having to bring the small group back the team was really at the limit. Tomorrow will be tough again, as teams will try to go on the attack in the final stage. But we will do our best just like we did today."
Dumoulin will be satisfied if he can defend his second overall, which should guarantee victory in the young rider classification, in which he holds a 34 second advantage over Alexey Tsatevich (Katusha).
The Dutchman's teammate Reinardt Janse van Rensburg sprinted to seventh place on Stage 4.
"It was our goal today to consolidate our GC standing with Tom Dumoulin and to get a good result with Reinardt at the finish," said Aike Visbeek. "The boys did a solid race on the hard course and worked to get the break back and to get Reinardt in a good position at the finish. He made it to the top 10 despite being boxed in, so they've done a good job."
After several years of coming close to reaping the spoils of success at the US professional road race championship, Ted King is zeroed-in on the this year's Memorial Day race in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The 30-year-old Cannondale rider helped launch friend and former teammate Timmy Duggan into the stars-and-stripes jersey last year after making it onto the podium himself in 2011, and now King's got his own red-white-and-blue ambitions.
“I'm in it to win it. Period,” he told Cyclingnews on Friday. “That's my goal. Third place was nice. I imagine being in second place would be nice, but the person on the top step is the only person who's really, truly leaving the race happy.”
All King has to do is overcome 87 other guys who want to do exactly the same thing. The Cannondale rider will be without teammates on the brand-new 165km route in a field that will have multiple Continental and Pro Continental teams packing a full punch. The odds can be daunting, but the 6-foot-2-inch WorldTour domestique from Brentwood, New Hampshire, may have history on his side.
No rider outside of a WorldTour team has won the championship since Chris Wherry did it while riding for HealthNet-Maxxis in 2005. Although the trend has recently been changing, US-based WorldTour riders have dominated the podiums since foreigners were prohibited from the championship in 2006.
King will be one of only eight WorldTour riders contesting the championship on Monday. He'll join Duggan (Saxo-Tinkoff), Matthew Busche (RadioShack-Leopard), Brent Bookwalter (BMC) and Garmin-Sharp's four-man squad of Tyler Farrar, Caleb Fairly, Alex Howes and Jacob Rathe. Those riders will face full squads from UCI Pro Continental team UnitedHealthcare and nearly all of the US domestic Continental teams.
“Without any teammates it's always going to be a crapshoot,” King said. “But for sure in a more aggressive race with more attrition, then a strong ride is going to favor me.”
King compared the new course in Chatanooga to the previous championship course in Greenville, South Carolina. The new route features three laps on an 8.2km circuit in town, followed by four loops of larger 26.1km circuit with the day's significant climb, and then back to town for three more trips around the shorter circuit and the finish. The technical circuits and multiple trips up the Ochs Highway climb could easily whittle the field down to a select group, or possibly even blow the race completely apart.
“You look at the half-dozen years it was at Greenville and virtually anything can happen, from a breakaway sticking, to a massive breakaway or a short breakaway, or from a sprint to a solo finish,” King said. “Honestly, anything can happen. You can make the case that because no one knows how it's going to go, everyone will just want to throw down.”
With sprinters like Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp), Ken Hanson (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies), 2012 runner-up Frank Pipp (Bissell Pro Cycling) and Jelly Belly's Brad Huff and Freddie Rodriguez, a three-time US pro road race champion, lining up at the start, the rouleurs and breakaway specialists will have to make the race hard enough to leave the sprinters out of the finale completely or to sap the snap from their legs on the way there.
“There are a lot of people in a similar boat,” King said. “There are a lot of strong individuals from European teams, like Matthew Busche, Brent Bookwalter, so there's plenty of talent. There's no shortage of talent and horsepower. If the race ends up being a crapshoot, Darwin and the strongest riders will be there in the end.”
King shows every outward appearance of being ready to put in a strong ride if the race turns into his hoped-for battle of attrition. He is reportedly leaner than ever this year and is coming off a sturdy build up that started in February at the Tour de San Luis in Argentina. He followed that race with Paris-Nice and then took in a main course of the Belgian spring classics, including the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
King is currently coming off a week of yeoman's work at the Amgen Tour of California helping Cannondale teammate Peter Sagan add two more stages to his career total of 10 in the race. Sagan won bunch sprints in Santa Clarita and again on the final day in Santa Rosa after his Cannondale teammates and the field pulled back all-day breakaways just kilometers from the line.
Although his job in California was to try and make sure every opportunity for a bunch sprint materialized for his team leader; on Monday in Chattanooga King will be hoping to prevent such a finish so he can capitalize on the “crapshoot” that ensues and ride from the race in his own winner's jersey. That would make him really, truly happy.
The cancellation of stage 19 of the Giro d'Italia meant that Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox) had already sealed the mountains classification by the time the race tackled its final climbs on Saturday, but as has been the case throughout the race, the Italian was still on the offensive as soon as the road went uphill.
Although Pirazzi held an unassailable 34-point lead over Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) coming into the stage, he opted to show off his blue jersey by attacking out of the maglia rosa group on the penultimate climb of the Passo Tre Croci and picking up the points for third place behind the early break.
"It was only right that I honoured this jersey on the last stage, so I think I did well to go on the attack and show that my condition was still good and that I deserved this jersey even though they cut the stage on Friday," Pirazzi told Cyclingnews.
As well as the elimination of stage 19 and the climbs of the Gavia, Stelvio and Val Martello, the extreme weather at this Giro also saw Sestriere removed from stage 14 and the climbs of the Passo Costalunga, Passo San Pellegrino and Passo Giau cut from stage 20. Pirazzi insisted that their absence took nothing away from his achievement.
"No, certainly not because if they'd left the route as it was supposed to be, I would have attacked on the Gavia anyway, and I think I still would have brought this jersey to Brescia," he said.
Pirazzi's aggression has been a feature of this Giro – along with the "Tutti Pazzi per Pirazzi" banners feting the Lazio native on the roadside – but his instincts were out of kilter with those of much of the rest of the peloton on stage 15.
In frigid conditions on the Mont Cenis, a go-slow was loosely agreed among the bunch's senators, to the chagrin of Bardiani directeur Roberto Reverberi, who drove to the front of the peloton to admonish the men he felt to be the ringleaders.
In the end, Pirazzi was allowed to break the détente near the summit and claim the mountains points on offer, but the polemica rumbled on into the rest day, as the newspapers picked up on allegations that Reverberi had allegedly labelled Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida) and Luca Paolini (Katusha) as Mafiosi.
"We're a Pro Continental team and we're only at the Giro because we got an invitation, so it's only right than Bardiani and all the Bardiani riders honour all of the stages of the Giro d'Italia," Pirazzi said diplomatically. "There was a bit of annoyance last Sunday but it's in the past now and we're all just happy to be getting to Brescia."
Pirazzi finishes the Giro in 44th place overall, and admitted that he had sacrificed all other ambitions in order to chase the blue jersey. "This year, I put everything into the maglia azzurra and prioritised that over the GC or anything else," he said. "Next year, the next step would be to come to the Giro and win a stage."
Understandably, perhaps, given that a mechanical problem left him over-geared on the steep final ramps of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo on Saturday, Cadel Evans’ first act on emerging from the BMC bus ahead of the final stage of the Giro d’Italia was to check his bike thoroughly.
Evans lost second place overall to Rigoberto Uran (Sky) in the snowbound finale of stage 20 and his frustration with his equipment malfunction was palpable at the finish, as he investigated the damage and then shut himself in a BMC team car rather than speak to the press.
Twenty-four hours later, and with that initial disappointed digested, Evans was keen to look at his Giro from a different perspective and focus on the bigger picture. The Australian’s decision to enter the race was a late one, and given that his stated aim was to build towards the Tour de France, his place on the final podium in Brescia exceeded expectations.
“I came here, like I said from the first day, to recover the days of racing that I lost last year because of the illness and so on and get back to my best and yesterday I was really coming back close to that,” Evans said. “If you look at things in terms of the objective I set out to do here, it was actually really successful. Of course I would have preferred to have been second than third but to be on the podium in what was really in some ways a training ride – well, that’s something.”
When the race began in Naples, Evans was widely viewed as being among the second tier of contenders, a step behind Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp). While Nibali ultimately proved untouchable, Evans’ robust challenge outlasted that of both Wiggins and Hesjedal, who abandoned in the second week.
“This Giro has been tough. Every day when you think it’s going to be easy, it’s just been a disaster with crosswinds or thunderstorms or whatever,” Evans said. “But it was interesting for me to see what an experienced rider could do with no preparation. My main thing was to give my maximum and I did that. I made a couple of little errors and mistakes and had a few things that I couldn’t anticipate but that happens.”
Tour de France
Evans’ focus will now begin shifting towards the Tour de France, although he is aware that balancing the demands of the Giro and the Grande Boucle in the same season has proved an increasingly tough conundrum for general classification contenders in recent years.
“When you do the Giro and Tour, there’s less time to recover and less time to build up because of course you have to rest up before the Tour,” said Evans, who last rode both races three seasons ago, finishing 5th in Italy and 26th in France after fracturing his elbow in week two. “In 2010, I really had to dig deep as I was pretty ill and that’s what cost me a lot then.”
Evans will not race again before the Tour’s Grand Départ in Corsica on June 29, although he joked that his final programme still needs some tweaking. “Before I decided to go to the Giro, I already had a Tour programme. I think I was supposed to be going to Mont Ventoux tomorrow to do a course reconnaissance, but obviously we’ve had to move those things around,” said Evans.
“The first thing I have to do is recover for the Tour and then start training but the training requirement is not going to be very much because after the block of work I’ve had here, there’s not much more that I can do.”
BMC have already moved to dismiss any speculation that Tour of California winner Tejay van Garderen might lead the team in July and Evans’ solid showing at the Giro has doubtless helped to confirm the hierarchy. Accompanied by his son Robel on the podium in Brescia and on the post-race Processo alla Tappa show, however, Evans admitted that thoughts of the Tour could wait.
“I just want to go home and have some time to myself and not have my shirt pulled off me everywhere I want to go and just be a human being for a day or two,” he said. “Then I’ll start thinking about the Tour.”
Manxman joins elite club of Grand Tour points jersey winners
Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma QuickStep) completed a perfect Giro d'Italia and became only the fifth rider in history to win the points competition in all three Grand Tours with yet another perfectly executed sprint in Brescia.
The Cannondale team and Sacha Modolo (Bardiani Valvole) tired to take on the Manxman in the final kilometre but he let the Cannondale riders burn themselves out and then accelerated to win from the front.
Modolo could only follow in his slipstream to take second, with Elia Viviani (Cannondale) third.
Cavendish scored 25 points for his win. He had already picked up enough points in intermediate sprints to retake the lead in the competition and so won with a total of 158 points, 30 more than Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
"I'm so happy to have won. I tried to win the red jersey last year but missed it by a point. This time I got it. It's always difficult to win the red jersey but we got the stages we wanted and the jersey we wanted," he said, again happy to share his success with his teammates.
"The team did an incredible job, I couldn't have done it without them.
Every stage we contested, we won. They helped me in the sprints and in the mountains, they were always there to help me. It's difficult not to win with this team.
Cavendish joined Eddy Merckx, Laurent Jalabert, Djamolidine Abdoujaparov and Alessandro Petacchi as the only riders to win the points jersey in all three Grand Tours.
"The Giro points jersey is the most difficult to win for the simple fact that there are less sprint stages and more uphill finishes," he said.
"Last year I went full gas for three weeks and lost for one point.
There's nothing you can do about it, at the Giro the points classification is more suited to climbers."
Of his five stage wins at this year's Giro d'Italia, Cavendish picked number four to Cherasco as the best.
"I think it was the best of them all. It was such a hard day and a hilly stage. It was one of my best wins and one of my best sprints of my career," he explained.
Addicted to winning
Cavendish has now won 102 races during his career and is only 28 years old. His motivation is simple.
"I'm addicted to winning," he said.
"Ever since I was a child, it wasn't enough to be the best I could, I had to be the best of all. When you have a team, you have to deliver 100 per cent and that's what I try to do."
"I could try to be a classics rider but I'm given good opportunities to win and paid good money, so I try and win bike races whenever I can. If some one comes along who is faster than me, I'll go home, work harder in the winter and come back faster the year after."
He is close to achieving his career ambitions but will then find something else to aim at.
"When I turned professional, I set down a list of the things that I wanted to achieve. This was missing but now it's ticked off," he explained.
"There's only one thing left now and that's Gent-Wevelgem. But I’ll still keep finding things to do and I'll keep pushing it further and see how far I can get in my career."
The best party in the world
Cavendish will head home and start thinking about the Tour de France after a party in Italy with his Omega Pharma-Quick Step teammates. He criticised them after a mix up in the finale of the Scheldeprijs race in mid-Aril but the success at the Giro d'Italia has created a special team spirit and friendship, that is another vital source of inspiration and motivation for Cavendish.
“This team at the Giro is incredibly special, we haven't only grown as a team, we're a group of friends. I can't remember when my teammates last gathered in a rider's room for a couple of hours every night. That shows that we’re good friends and that this more than just a job. I'm really excited about the future," he said.
"I always say that when 9 guys give 100 per cent you come out on top. That's what we did. We're going to celebrate tonight. It'll be one of the best parties in the world with these guys."
"I thought there was a chance I could get on the podium," said Busche about the time trial. "I think I was pretty close, but I knew Zirbel was the favorite, and I knew Brent would be in there probably for second or first, and then a tight race for third, and I just came up a tiny bit short there." Busche finished in seventh place 12 seconds down from third place finisher Nathan Brown.
Busche will be racing Monday's road race without any teammate, like several European riders in both the men's and women's races. But several riders with few or no teammates, like Timmy Duggan (Team Saxo-Tinkoff) last year, have managed to win the championships in the past, thanks to courses that favored power over tactics.
Busche will have to survive attacks from one of the strongest US peloton's in years. "I'm part of the now-known team 'No Team' with Timmy Duggan, and Ted King (Cannondale-Liquigas)," said Busche. "It's not like we are racing like a team as far as tactics in the race, but we are helping each other with the support. We've organized a little support crew for ourselves."
Lacking a team to help control the race Busche, a strong climber, was looking forward to seeing how Lookout Mountain would impact the race. "It's a new course and people are not going to know what to expect. I've heard the climb is maybe harder than Paris [Mountain, in Greenville], I'd be excited for that." Busche said. “As far as general race tactics I plan to be present. I assume similar to Greenville, the most pivotal moment will be last time up Lookout Mountain. "
Busche will be moving onto the Criterium du Dauphine after the national championships, and will then shift his focus to the Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado.