Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard)
The final outcome rests with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but Contador seems certain to wear the pink jersey into Milan on Sunday. Even though he stretched his overall lead beyond four minutes during the Giro’s long weekend in the Dolomites, he exuded the air of a man who could double that advantage if the mood takes him.
He effectively sealed (provisional) Giro victory atop the Grossglockner, feathering the pedals as he pulled away before gifting the win to José Rujano. Since then, he’s done no more than the necessary, easing clear of Nibali as and when it pleased him on the Zoncolan, and turning on the turbo briefly in the final haul up the Gardeccia.
Contador bore the brunt of the tifosi’s frustration at the cancellation of the Crostis, but he’s been far more concerned with making friends closer to home. Euskaltel-Euskadi’s stint on the front on Friday meant that Contador was not exactly chomping at the bit to reel in Anton when he ground clear on the Zoncolan, while David Arroyo seemed more than happy to lend a hand on the epic to Gardeccia.
On such an exacting Giro route, Contador’s flagging Saxo Bank squad will be glad of the main man’s diplomacy in keeping the Spanish Armada onside.
Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD)
For all his bravado before the RAI microphones, the canny Scarponi is aware that he is no longer competing with Contador for first place, but instead battling against Vincenzo Nibali for second. Stung after trying to match Contador on Etna, Scarponi processed the lesson in time for the last of week two’s triptych of summit finishes. On the Giau and Marmolada, Scarponi wisely let Nibali burn himself up and then put a minute and half into the Sicilian when he was dislodged on the final climb.
Overall, Scarponi is now 51 seconds clear of Nibali, and much of the drama of the final week will come from their private duel. The phoney war between the Italian pair has been waged since Tirreno-Adriatico, but the gloves will be off between here and Milan. And depending on the outcome of Contador’s CAS hearing, the stakes might well be higher than they seem.
José Rujano (Androni Giocattoli)
On Etna and again on the Grossglockner, Rujano was the only man able to withstand the ferocity of Contador’s pressing and he was duly rewarded with the stage win atop the Austrian pass. After six listless years of underachievement, the Venezuelan has returned to the big time at this Giro, with Gianni Savio claiming much of the credit.
Not that some of his old eccentricities aren’t still on show – Rujano suffered from the knock on the Zoncolan, apparently because he simply doesn’t like energy gels. Still, he was back in the mix on the Gardeccia, and is on course to finish in the top 5. He should enjoy Saturday’s penultimate stage to Sestriere – he won there in 2005.
A successful three days in the mountains for the Basque outfit as they captured their first-ever Giro stages. On Friday, the men in orange massed at the front to help Contador control the race ahead of the Grossglockner, and lo and behold, they captured back-to-back stage wins in the days that followed, through Igor Anton and Mikel Nieve. It always helps to keep in with the boss.
However, while Anton will be delighted with the win on the Zoncolan, a lot of his good work was undone with a disastrous showing on the road to Gardeccia, as his podium dream went up in smoke.
John Gadret (Ag2r-La Mondiale)
His Giro was already a success after his win at Castelfidardo, and Gadret rode with noticeable freedom in the mountain stages that followed. A plucky attack on the Grossglockner in the company of teammate Hubert Dupont was a foretaste of what was to come. While others in the lead group have tired, Gadret is holding firm.
Matt Wilson (Garmin-Cervélo)
A crash victim at the end of week one, Wilson has been one of many riders fighting to stay in touch as the hyperactive speed at the front end of the race takes its toll in the mountains. Over eight hours in the saddle on Sunday, the Australian is hanging in there as maglia nera of this Giro, already three hours behind Contador.
Amid all the polemics over sprinters holding onto cars and the rights and wrongs of Angelo Zomegnan’s almost sadistic thirst for spettacolo, the efforts of Wilson and the many others who are battling just to stay in this Giro should not be overlooked.
Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale)
When faced with an irresistible force such as Contador, a certain degree of invention is required and the Shark of the Strait was rightly lauded for baring his teeth on the descent of the Giau. Coming on the back of a gritty showing on the Zoncolan, Nibali appeared to be setting himself up as Contador’s rival-in-chief, to the delight of the home fans.
Once he was swallowed up like plankton at the foot of the Fedaia, however, Nibali began to suffer. Although his descending brought him back into contention again ahead of the Gardeccia, the Sicilian ultimately coughed up over a minute and a half to Scarponi.
It’s perhaps little harsh to describe him as a loser, but Nibali can’t be happy to have handed the initiative to Scarponi in the race for “second first place,” especially given that he seemed to have the upper hand for much of the opening fortnight.
Roman Kreuziger (Astana)
Kreuziger had scarcely put a foot wrong in the opening week, as he recognised earlier than most that it would have been folly to try and match Contador in his favoured terrain. Racing intelligence alone does not suffice in a race as tough as this Giro, however, and the three big days in the Dolomites have taken their toll. The podium seems to slip further and further from view every time the road climbs.
Beforehand, Kreuziger was optimistic about going on the attack at the Giro, but instead he is now emphatically on the defensive. While he should take the white jersey, he needs a big third week in a race that is supposed to mark a pivotal stage in his transition from young hope to bona fide leader.
Kanstantsin Sivtsov (HTC-Highroad)
Bubbling under for the first half of the Giro, the showpiece mountain stages have seen Sivtsov steadily slide out of the top ten. His teammate Marco Pinotti, suffering from bronchitis, has already dropped out of contention for a high overall finish, and all in all, HTC-Highroad will be glad that Mark Cavendish produced the goods before leaving the race.
Last week we lamented that the sprinters hadn’t been given a fair chance to show off their talents on this Giro. They had two more opportunities in week two, which Mark Cavendish gleefully accepted, but the accusation and counter-accusation (not to mention photographs) of who took a tow from what car on Etna was all rather unsavoury.
Though it did at least give us one of the quotations of the Giro, courtesy of Cavendish: “If I stop to piss, if I stop to change my wheel, if I crash - I have a commissaire with me every time, I have a television camera with me every time, I have a f***ing ice cream truck with me the whole time.”
After their mass exodus in Ravenna, the sprinters have plenty of time for a Cornetto or two before resuming hostilities.
“The Giro has to be hard,” Zomegnan told Cyclingnews when the route was announced last October, and one of the rough diamonds in his percorso was the Crostis. After a delegation of team managers flexed their muscles over the dangerous descent and the lack of support available to riders, the UCI acquiesced, and a chunk of Zomegnan’s hefty helping of spettacolo was unceremoniously dumped from the race.
The Giro race director pulled no punches in his criticism of the managers and understandably wondered if the Crostis had fallen victim to the power struggle between the managers and the UCI. Nonetheless, the response to the removal of the climb in Italy was melodramatic to say the least and fans’ blocking of the Tualis an overreaction.
Amid all the anger and veiled accusations, the voice of reason turned out to be Gilberto Simoni, who reminded everyone that it was the death of Wouter Weylandt that had – very understandably – sparked the initial fears about the safety of the Crostis.
And of course, for all of Zomegnan’s anger at the “cowards and ineptitude” that saw the Crostis taken off the route, the most farcical element of this Giro is the fact that the eventual winner will only be confirmed in a court room in Switzerland in June.