Eleven stages into the Giro d’Italia and the battle for the maglia rosa has begun to take shape with Australia’s Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) leading the charge from the overall contenders. The former Tour de France winner has ridden an astute race, picking the pockets of his rivals for every second he can and utilising his team’s energies to ram home his position as race leader. He’s been on the front foot since the race left Belfast employing a tactic of aggressive safety play that has left his rivals flat-footed.
The Australian currently leads the man who finished above him in last year’s race, Rigoberto Uran, by 57 seconds, with Tinkoff Saxo’s Rafal Majka at 1:10 and Domenico Pozzovivo flirting with a podium place at 1:20. Pozzovivo’s ride to Sestola aside, the GC contenders have sought to limit loses rather than expose weaknesses so far, a wise yet cautious choice given the terrain of the third week, but on the road to Barolo there will be no hiding place. We won’t see the GC standings take this final twist or turn but the 41.9 kilometre test will give the riders and the watching public a clearer sense of how this race will develop.
So is this a case of Evans snapping up more time and creating a healthier buffer before the third week? He currently leads Nairo Quintana 4-3 in time trial displays but once you strip out team efforts Evans leads 3-1 with his only defeat coming in the individual time trial to Chorges in last year’s Tour de France, when both riders were at polar opposites in terms of form and morale.
The course itself suits Evans more than Quintana too: it’s long straights, relatively shallow climbs allowing for the Australian to use his power against the clock to suffocate yet more life out of the Colombian’s overall challenge. It’s likely that any time gained though will be harmful rather than terminal to Quintana’s chances. If he loses in the region of two minutes to Evans he’ll likely head into the final week almost four minutes down. That’s not impossible to overcome but it would signal one of the greatest turn arounds in recent grand tour history.
Evans may face sterner competition from Rigoberto Uran in the time trial. The Colombian only beat Evans once against the clock before 2013 but has since beaten him twice. They drew one apiece against the clock last year with the Colombian stamping authority in the mountain time trial while Evans drew blood on the road to Saltara.
Pozzovivo could be the rider Evans, Quintana and Uran all have to watch. The Italian is vastly underrated against the clock but finished a superb third in last year’s individual time trial at the Vuelta. The only men to beat him were Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin, with the Italian putting time into the likes of Vincenzo Nibali, Nicolas Roche, Alejandro Valverde, Chris Horner, Joaquim Rodriguez, and Rafal Majka, as well as over a minute into Uran.
There are others to keep an eye on too. Young Wilco Kelderman has quietly gone about his business in this year’s race but is growing in confidence as well as stature. It’s impossible to predict how he may fare in a climbing-heavy third week and with the responsibility of leading a team on his shoulders but a strong ride to Barolo could see him move to within touching distance of the podium. He has form in long time trials, having beaten Chris Froome and Evans in the 53km test at the 2012 Dauphine stage between Villié-Morgon and Bourg-en-Bresse. He conceded just nine second to Uran in the long time trial in last year’s Giro and similar result on Thursday would be deemed a success.
As for Majka, Aru, Kiserlovski, Basso and Rolland they will be looking to limit their losses and anything under two minutes to Evans would bolster their positions.
Yet this time trial is more than just a slugfest between the top GC contenders. Within the peloton there are a handful of time trial specialists who have saved their powder specifically for the test against the clock. The best-of-the-best against the clock are not at the race, a statement that can be backed up by the fact that only two riders from the top dozen in last year’s Worlds TT are present.
Orica’s Svein Tuft is licking his wounds after a crash but Movistar’s Jonathan Castroviejo could feature. Maxime Monfort, stage 11 winner Michael Rogers and Kanstantsin Siutsou (10th in the Worlds last year) could also play a part. Adriano Malori would have made the list but a heavy crash on stage 11 will surely ruin his chances.
The course itself marries the necessity of technical skill with efforts in timing and of course power. The road gradually rises towards the first time check at Boscasso at 12.6 kilometres. A technical descent follows before the course opens up for the powerful chrono riders with flat seconds running towards the second time check at Alba at 26.2 kilometres. The road rises again between the 34 and 37 kilometre point before a final descent and then a final drag up to the finish at Barolo.
Key time trial start times
Svein Tuft (Orica-GreenEdge) 12:45 Adriano Malori (Movistar) 13:42 Jonathan Castroviejo (Movistar) 14:23 Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEdge) 14:41 Michele Scarponi (Astana) 14:46 Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo) 15:12 Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) 15:38 Pierre Rolland (Europcar) 15:50 Ivan Basso (Cannondale) 15:53 Robert Kiserlovski (Trek Factory Racing) 15:56 Nairo Quintana (Movistar) 15:59 Wilco Kelderman (Blanco) 16:02 Fabio Aru (Astana) 16:05 Steve Morabito (BMC) 16:08 Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondiale) 16:11 Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) 16:14 Rigoberto Urán (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) 16:17 Cadel Evans (BMC) 16:20