As usual, the Giro d'Italia didn't disappoint. The 2012 version saw history being made and a number of firsts, and produced drama and excitement in equal measure. But what were the lessons that we learned from it? Cyclingnews editor Daniel Benson takes you through his ten conclusions from the race.
1 Grand tours are won through consistency and if nothing else, Ryder Hesjedal was consistent throughout the Giro d’Italia. From the second he rolled down the start ramp in Herning to the moment he crossed the line in Milan, the Canadian did everything needed of him: navigating the tricky Danish roads, making use of the TTT and being among the best on the climbs. In fact he outperformed Joaquim Rodriguez on a number of uphill finishes with the results from stages 14 and 19 negating most of the advantage the Spaniard held over him. The so called ‘bad day’ never came and like Cadel Evans at last year’s Tour, Hesjedal barely put of a foot wrong. Jonathan Vaughters admitted that he never envisaged Hesjedal would win a Grand Tour when he signed him from Healthnet in 2007 but the Canadian personifies many of Garmin’s credentials and what they lack in glamour they make up for in graft and an unselfish acceptance of a team philosophy. Stetina and Vande Velde (they were the ones we saw on the television) stand out as key performers but all 8 of Hesjedal’s men did their part.
2 As for Garmin, they’ve moved from plucky underdogs to one of the best three teams in the world. It’s quite a remarkable feat when you consider that their budget leaves them in the lower echelons of the WorldTour ranks yet Vaughters keeps finding unheralded riders - at stage race level - and turning them into Grand Tour riders; first with Vande Velde in 2008, then with Wiggins, Hesjedal and Danielson. Credit also goes to Peiper and Wegelius, two of the most crucial signings in the off-season.
3 Michele Acquarone wanted an open race with an international flavour but most of all he wanted the world of cycling and the peloton to re-engage with the Giro d’Italia. In every sense it was mission accomplished for the Italian and his RCS colleagues. Hesjedal’s win had Canada gripped with Giro fever, and the climax was served on a plate with three back-to-back stages of unadulterated entertainment. The wild card choices also paid dividends with Farnese, Androni, Colnago all winning stages and with Pozzovivo pushing into the top ten. And although Netapp faded in the mountains they were one of Acquarone’s best choices, with the German team picking up a number of placings. But for Contador’s 2011 title being stripped, every has turned to gold for Acquarone in the last twelve months with fans, the media and the riders complementing him.
4 Where now for Italy’s most successful stage racer since Marco Pantani? In truth and perhaps most worrying for both Ivan Basso and his team was that fact the Gallarate rider was never really in contention for the Giro and at every key moment he was found wanting. Against a more competitive field with a Cadel Evans or Alberto Contador he would have completely crumbled, and at the age of 34 it’s hard to see how Basso can bounce back. While that’s a tough question he will have to face over the coming days and weeks it’s an altogether different problem for his employers. By all accounts Nibali will leave for Astana at the end of the season, win or lose at the Tour, leaving Italy’s biggest team without a genuine team leader for next year. Next up is the Tour where Nibali will look to salvage Italian stage racing. Basso may still ride in support and frankly it would be the safest option as he continues his slow decline. An August encounter with Contador at the Vuelta would be an annihilation. Fair play to Basso in one sense though because at the top of the Stelvio it would have been very easy for him to turn his back on the journalists waiting for him. Instead he answered questions, admitted he was off the pace and praised the competition.
5 The 16 seconds that separated Hesjedal and Rodriguez marked the fourth closest Giro in history but while it may not have been the closest or most star-studded it was certainly one of the most tactical. The strongest team – Liquigas – lacked the strongest leader but it was their grunt work which dictated who lead the race during the intermediate stages. Coupled with time bonuses, and the cagey first two weeks, the Giro was mental slog for peloton as much as it was physical. Hesjedal, Rodriguez and De Gendt had never reached the podium in a Grand Tour before, while the ailing Basso and Scarponi had the experience but not the legs.
6 This was supposed to be the year Roman Kreuziger came of age. The team looked strong; the Czech appeared in form and after 4 top 15s in Grand Tours the Giro landscape was the perfect battle ground for his coronation. However as early Rocca di Cambio on stage 7 cracks were begging to appear and at Cervinia, Lecco, and finally Cortina d'Ampezzo it was made abundantly clear that Astana had a dud on their hands. The open confrontation with Paolo Tiralongo – a domestique who hasn’t said boo in the last decade of service – provided all you needed to know that Kreuziger’s crown was slipping. There was of course a face-saving stage win but with his contract up, Kreuziger is running out of time if he’s to prove to a WorldTour team that he can lead over three-weeks.
7 Just what is going on at RadioShack? For the briefest of moment they appeared to be getting their act together as Frank Schleck posted a reasonable prologue and looked interested when he countered Scarponi on the stage to Rocca di Cambio. But again, like they’ve done so many times this season, they fell apart. A crash for Schleck was followed by accusations from Bruyneel that the rider could have continued. Schleck’s attempt at positive PR – in which he gave an ‘interview’ to his own press officer looked ludicrous – before Bruyneel blurted out that only Cancellara had a guaranteed place on the Tour. Granted much of this happened away from the Giro but it was a welcome distraction amidst the racing. As for a conclusion: Either the Schlecks or Bruyneel have to go because even a professional working relationship seems impossible.
8 At the 2012 race’s presentation last year Alberto Contador announced on live television that his chances of riding the race were slim. It was supposed to be about the Tour in 2012 for the Spaniard. As Contador spoke, off camera the heads at RCS huddled together, each of them with an expression that said ‘what are we going to do now? They needn’t have worried. The absence of Contador turned the event from a procession back into a race and proved having the strongest act on the billboard means nothing if they’re the only ones playing for three weeks straight.
9 If Hesjedal was the success story of this year’s Giro then De Gendt was the revelation. In only his second Grand Tour the Vacansoleil rider tore up almost twenty years of achievements by his Belgium countrymen by finishing on the podium. Not since Johan Bruyneel and the days of ONCE’s yellow peril has a Belgian rider stood so high at a Grand Tour. His attack on the Mortirolo was both bold and risky but whereas as many contenders seemed willing to leave everything until the final kilometres of each mountain stage De Gendt took a chance, and it paid off handsomely.
10 Rujano, Hushovd, Ballan, Chicchi, Rabobank: it’s time to go back to the drawing board and start again.