Giro d'Italia: Analysing the GC contenders after week two

The third rest-day of the 2016 Giro d’Italia comes after a brace of critical stages in the mountains over the weekend. Saturday’s expedition through the Dolomites was dubbed as the ‘queen stage’ and saw a significant shift in the general classification complexion, while the overall contenders had to back it up on Sunday’s tough 10.8km time trial up the Alpe di Siusi. With a new maglia rosa, a pre-race favourite in disarray, and plenty more besides, Cyclingnews takes a look at where it has left the GC contenders ahead of the final week.

Rider: Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo)
GC position: Leader
Weekend performance: When Vincenzo Nibali attacked on the Valparola, Kruijswijk was alive to it and was almost immediately up to the Italian – a reaction that oozed confidence and strength. His subsequent attack, which dropped Nibali and briefly Chaves, was proof that the Dutchman is feeling really strong and, while the Colombian took stage honours, he took pink, putting over half a minute into pre-race favourite Nibali and much more into the rest. Save for missing out on the stage win by a fraction of a second, the time trial could not have gone better for Kruijswijk. The steady, and not horrendously steep, climb suited his style and he made his way up the Alpe di Siusi with poise, his square shoulders barely moving. Putting 40 seconds into Chaves was satisfying enough, but 2:10 into Nibali was above and beyond, taking him from underdog to firm occupier of the driving seat.

Bidon half-full or half-empty? Full to the brim. The Dutchman has not put a foot wrong so far in this Giro and, though he had high hopes for this race, he can’t have imagined it would be unfolding this well. Not only is he in pink; he’s in pink by over two minutes. Attacks can be expected – not least from the collective might of Astana – and the depth of LottoNL-Jumbo’s resources, and Kruijswijk’s resilience will be tested to the full, but still, this Giro is now his to lose.  

Rider: Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge)
GC Position: 2nd at 2:12
Weekend performance: Chaves has looked impressive throughout the second week of racing as the race hit his favoured terrain. The other GC contenders have been unable to shake the smiling Colombian, even on the descents. Comfortable in his position as an underdog, Chaves turned defence into attack on the queen stage from Alpago to Corvara when he followed a move from Kruisjwijk on the Passo Valparola. Another dig from the Colombian further up the climb distanced pre-race favourite Nibali, who had also followed Kruijswijk’s attack. He looked calm and collected as he and his companion rode away from those who had been given a bigger billing ahead of the Giro. A strong finish sealed the day with a stage win and pushed him up into a podium placing. Chaves’ position in the GC in the GC was by no means secure, with the time trial still to come on Sunday. He lost time on the flatter starting section but put in yet another impressive performance to finish just 40 seconds down on the stage winner. Nibali’s mechanical problems allowed Chaves to step up into second place, too.

Bidon half-full or half-empty? No matter what the status quo, Chaves is always a half-full sort of guy. With two big mountain stages to come and no more time trials, Chaves’ bidon is probably close to over-flowing. He’ll face some tough challenges en-route to Torino but there is little to lose for the little kangaroo as he aims for his best Grand Tour finish to date.

Rider: Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)
GC Position: 3rd at 2:51
Weekend performance: Nibali’s status as favourite for the Giro, which he has held since well before the race began, was cracked to pieces. Saturday was no disaster – he did, after all, cause Valverde and most of the other contenders to lose close to three minutes – but his pride was dented by two second-tier favourites. If losing 37 seconds to Kruijswijk and Chaves in the Dolomites wasn’t the end of the world, his hopes of a fourth Grand Tour title were dealt a major blow in the time trial. He was already losing a considerable chunk of time to Kruijswijk when his chain slipped and his rear mech broke, leaving him over two minutes back. Not only did a gulf open up in front of him on GC, but Valvede – who he’d worked so hard to dispose of on Saturday – came back to within 40 seconds.

Bidon half-full or half-empty? Certainly not a good weekend for the confidence. As Astana powered up the Valparola, as they have done almost every mountain so far, setting Nibali up for his attack, it looked like the moment the Italian would take control of the Giro. Just over 24 hours later, however, he found himself nearly three minutes in arrears. What’s more, he has done little to convince he’s at full strength, and that’s worrying when tasked with recouping such a chunk of time on a rival clearly at the top of his game. Optimism comes in the form of the sky blue Astana jerseys around him – comfortably the strongest squad in the race. They’ll have to really take the fight to the Kruijswijk and Chaves and their respective teams now. 

Rider: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
GC position: 4th at 3:29
Weekend performance: Valverde’s weekend was very much one of two halves. After looking so strong towards the end of the first week, the Spaniard was found out as the third and final rest day approached. He went into Saturday's queen stage within touching distance of the podium but it begin to slip from his grasp when he lost three minutes to Chaves. He fought back with third in the time trial, which saw him gain vital seconds on all but Kruijswijk, leaving him just 38 seconds off the podium.

Bidon half-full or half-empty? Valverde’s confidence will have been knocked by his drubbing on Saturday but the rest day will give him a chance to regroup. The bidon is a little emptier than it was at this time last week but he’s not out of the game yet.

Rider: Rafal Majka (Tinkoff)
GC position: 5th at 4:38
Weekend performance: Majka’s Giro d’Italia has been consistent without being outstanding. He has moved up a few places in the overall standings since the last rest day but that was predominantly down to the departures of Tom Dumoulin and Mikel Landa. Majka lost some time on the road to Corvara but fared better than riders such as Valverde and a solid TT performance allowed him to replace Andre Amador in fifth place overall.

Bidon half-full or half-empty? Majka is moving in the right direction in terms of the GC, so he can take a half-full approach to this final weekend. There is still a lot to come in the next days, however, and the Polish rider will have to be more aggressive should he want to improve on his position.

Rider: Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha)
Position on GC: 6th at 4:40
Weekend performance: Solid enough from the Russian. Nibali’s attack on the Valporola created a selection, and while Kruijskwijk and Chaves rose to the top and Valverde and Amador cracked, Zakarin and a couple of others emerged somewhere in the middle – though Valverde did claw his way back by the finish. Zakarin stormed up the first half of the time trial course, but faded on the upper slopes. His spasmodic style, all gangly limbs and rocking shoulders, was in stark contrast to the still, metronomic Kruijswijk, but was efficient nonetheless and saw him gain a valuable 22 seconds on Majka.

Bidon half-full or half-empty? A week ago Zakarin was at a particularly low ebb, having seen a chance to take the race lead slip through his fingers on a disastrous stage 9 time trial. While that might have signalled an end to the growing suspicion he could be a contender for the overall win, he has since consolidated his top 10 position with every pedal stroke. In fact, the top 5 is a tangible prospect and even the podium is doable – both would be fine achievements for a second Grand Tour.

Rider: Andrey Amador (Movistar)
GC Position: 7th at 5:27
Weekend performance: Started the weekend in pink, ended it over five minutes down. Not a good weekend for the Costa Rican as whispers about his potential to win the whole thing were swiftly silenced. He suffered in the high mountains on Saturday after Nibali’s attack, yo-yoing off the chase group and eventually losing 3:52. He suffered again on a time trial you might have thought would have suited him better, and was dumped out of the top five.

Bidon half-full or half-empty? Whatever happens between now and Turin, this Giro has already been a success story for the 29-year-old after his spell in pink. This weekend indicated that he’s a fading force and he has a real fight on his hands to keep himself in the top 10, not least because Valverde – with the Movistar hierarchy restored – will want the tank to be emptied for him.

Rider: Bob Jungels (Etixx-QuickStep)
GC position: 8th at 7:14
Weekend performance: Started Saturday’s expedition through the Dolomites second on GC, but ended the day 12th, over six minutes down. Chinks of weakness had been exposed when he lost his pink jersey on stage 13, but the 23-year-old properly cracked on the Passo Giau. The Luxembourg rider didn’t do fantastically in the time trial, but recovered admirably from the previous day to put in a solid display that catapulted him back into the top 10 overall.

Bidon half-full or half-empty? Jungels has already surpassed expectations in this Giro, and there is no shame in him falling away from the podium in the high mountains. His race would now seem to represent a fight to hang in the top 10, while the white jersey of best young rider looks safe barring a real capitulation in the remaining mountains.

Rider: Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale)
GC position: 11th at 8:12
Weekend performance: Losing ground after a crash on stage 11 had left Pozzovivo with time to make up, and where better for a pint-sized climber to do so than in the high mountains? The Italian, however, failed to make it happen and finished three minutes back with Valverde on Saturday – the worst performers of the pre-race favourites. The time trial course was maybe geared towards the power climbers over the pure climbers but Pozzovivo’s display – over two minutes down on Kruijswijk and level with a Niabli who had dropped his chain – was a disappointment.

Bidon half-full or half-empty? The Italian’s pre-race goal of a top-five overall finish now seems a long way off. He should rise into the top 10 if he holds his own in the mountains of the final week, but there has been little to suggest it’ll get much better than that.

Rider: Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale)
GC position: 12th at 8:19
Weekend performance: Despite moving up to eighth overall after stage 14, Uran continued to lose time in the mountains over the weekend. The time trial, however, should have been an opportunity to turn his fortunes around. He finished third in the Monte Grappa time trial in 2014 but Alpe de Siusi was no repeat performance. Apparently suffering from bronchitis, the Colombian was more than three minutes slower than the stage winner and slumped right out of the top 10.

Bidon half-full or half-empty: This year’s Giro d’Italia has represented a series of setbacks for Uran. If he can shake his illness then he could salvage a top 10 placing but he could be better off saving himself and aiming for a stage win instead.

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