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Saturday, May 28, 2005

The Stage, the Winner

Saturday's climb up to Sestriere was probably the greatest stage of a grand tour I have ever witnessed. With it all on the line, with the Giro pretty much done once they reached the summit, the protagonists played their cards one by one. As the drama shifted back and forth with victory to be claimed by only the slimmest margin, you'd be forgiven for harkening back to LeMond's 8 second win over Fignon in the 1989 Tour. Watching in Italian, with the announcers jabbering excitedly in a manner that makes Phil Liggett sound like he's mailing it in, I was pretty much glued to the screen with that pit-in-the-stomach feeling you don't get often watching a three week race.

[And yes, it's heresy, but Phil Liggett sounds like he's mailing it in. Maybe he's prejudiced against Italians.]

Anyway, the grand tours offer plenty of drama, stages where in retrospect you can look and see the pivotal moves. But it's pretty rare for it all to be unfolding in the manner of Saturday's penultimate Giro stage: where everyone -- riders, coaches, announcers, tifosi -- all knew the stakes, before, during and after the race, and you see people putting it all on the line on a single 9km stretch of "road" for the overall win. In the Tour we often know who needs to attack Armstrong and when, or we know when Postal/Discovery is teeing Lance up to make his final push, but it lacks the same drama because, well, with Lance around the Tour is about as suspenseful as wolves circling a wounded calf. On the road to Sestriere, we all knew Simoni and Rujano would try a move on the Finestere climb... but would it work? Would Savoldelli try to follow, or stick to his pace? Would the challengers be able to gain the time they needed without blowing themselves up before the long gradual climb to Sestriere?

The fact that the big escape had to happen on the second-to-last climb, as opposed to the final one, was sublime, not to mention lucky for the Falcon. Had the route ended on the Finestere, it would have necessitated a single lunge to victory (or not) for Simoni. Instead, Simoni had to play his card, then manage the descent and last semi-climb, where Savoldelli would be able to counter. How far to push, how much time would be needed at the Finestere to hold on to a 2'09 advantage? Rather than Simoni throwing one big punch and seeing if Savoldelli could stand it, the battle played out as several rounds of punches and counterpunches, over about an hour's time.

In the end the best calculator won. Savoldelli's disciplined approach was still enough to limit his losses on the Finestere and recover afterwards, while Simoni pushed too hard and blew his engine. I would liken this to their respective time-trialling skills: Savoldelli knows how to manage his strength for maximum effect, while Simoni is either weaker or can't mete out his power efficiently. On Saturday, Salvoldelli found himself largely alone and chose to bide his time and strength, with unimaginable patience under unbearable pressure. And won.

What a stage. Savoldelli isn't a natural champion, but on guts and discipline and time trialling ability (if that's not redundant) he has become one.

Some sidelights:

* Some credit has to go to the Discovery Team management. I'm a huge Johan fan, and suspect Demol is in on this too, and maybe Savoldelli is so disciplined that crediting management isn't on point. But for a rider to watch his closest competition ride away from him into a virtual lead on the road, and not panic, there has to be some good coaching around. It's one thing to look at the people involved and tell the Falcon to stick to his race even if he has to let Simoni go. But it's something else to actually do it. I suspect w/o knowing that the whole Discovery team did a good job keeping to the plan.

* OK, just to show you I haven't lost all objectivity, I'll ask: where in the evolution of the race did Discovery/Tailwind Sports acquire a controlling interest in the Davitamon-Lotto squad? Someone please explain what Gonchar and co. were riding for, if not Savoldelli.

* The course designs in the Giro are interesting. On several occasions the key stretch of road is well before the finish, be it last weekend's downhill after a short climb after the Stelvio, or today's big-ring ascent up to Sestriere after the deadly Finestere. Apparently they know how to keep the crowds around til the last day.

The Mystery Man, Part I

I have no idea what to make of Ivan Basso. Was he the strongest rider all around, who should have won the jersey but for one cold drink too many? Clearly he suffered when his stomach was bad, but he gave back another 21 minutes today. What's his excuse now?

It has to be acknowledged that if he held it together, he would have dominated the race, just as he had planned. Basso alone showed the form to time trial and climb at the highest level. Had he dominated, this alone could have justified the risk to his July form, and at least from a distance it seems like pretty awful luck.

Still, those stage wins... was it worth it? I'm sure the sponsors think so, given the exposure you get from supporting an immensely popular Italian rider in the Giro. But looking at those stage wins, I see a guy on a personal mission, one which doesn't have much to do with staying fresh for the Tour. I see very little team tactics here, and very little sense to what he did sticking around. I guess those stage wins are palmares, and no doubt he wanted to assure his native fans that he is the one to look for next year. And I can't believe Riis let him risk his Tour form for such crumbs.

The Mystery Man, II

Rujano deserved his third spot, a true climber who seemed to be on the attack enough to be respected. Actually, I paid almost no attention to him at all. But be that as it may, it bears mentioning that today was probably the biggest day in the history of Venezuelan cycling. At least, going back a while. [Phil just mentioned that a Venezuelan won a stage at the Giro in 1990, though he conspicuously failed to mention any name. Whoever can fill in this blank will have their subscription price refunded.]

The Pretender

Too harsh? I had been trying to compare Gilberto Simoni to Salieri, although there's no evidence that he had Cunego poisoned. Still, although he's a solid rider and a top climber, I just can't think of a single reason why he deserved to win this Giro. That he's a two-time champion? Yah, those victories over Garzelli were priceless. It's not easy to take down someone as consistently mediocre as that.

That he's a great climber? I've watched just enough cycling to know that the truly great climbers don't get dropped by the time trial guys in the opening mountain stage. Simoni couldn't follow Basso and Savoldelli in the Dolomites. Today he latched on to DiLuca's wheel and got towed into the maglia rosa virtuale, until DiLuca dropped off, whereupon Simoni immediately gave back half his advantage and the overall win. Am I supposed to be impressed by this? Supposedly he had cramps too. Maybe he should have limited his losses on the Finestere and saved it for the final climb, like some 2005 Giro d'Italia champs we know.

That he really lost the race in the time trials? Race of truth, baby. Never more true than now. Simoni is not a hero, or a champion. He's a fine rider, nothing more.

The Provocateur

Danilo DiLuca is the perfect heroic figure here: the guy who gives it all, wages an impossibly aggressive campaign in a format that isn't his specialty, and almost succeeds, until at the last moment his body says "no mas". Oh, and he's also a champion in other disciplines. What's not to like?

Apparently DiLuca's arrival was anticipated a few years back, and I can't tell you what delayed his arrival, assuming anyone knows. But he'd earned the forgiveness and patience of his tifosi with his double in the Ardennes last month, and his Giro participation was supposed to be something like gravy, or service to the Liquigas nominal GC guy Stefano Garzelli (don't get me started). To see him powering the winning break over the Colle delle Finistere, the second-most terrifying climb in the race, on the eve of Milan, grasping at a podium spot, is freakin inspiring. I gather his purpose wasn't to gift the Giro to Simoni as much as to crack Rujano and grab his third step on the finishing stand. Watching live on RAI, it was a memorable moment to see him suddenly grabbing his thigh while the announcer yelled "un crampo! DiLuca ha un crampo!"

One wonders what his goals will be from now on. As yet he's neither climber nor time trialist enough to win a grand tour, but if he trained a bit differently, well, you never know.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Big Finish

Don't forget, you can watch tomorrow's penultimate stage live on RAI (click here). It's in Italian, but it's the only live stream. OLN won't stream tomorrow's stage because they want you parked in front of the tube later in the day. Sorry, but 2pm on a beautiful Saturday, after five months or so of rain? Not happening. Besides, you don't need English, OLN's been using the RAI feed and graphics all along, so it's familiar enough. And I have a theory that you can get on the server on weekends, when Italians are home in front of the TV rather than trying to log in from work.

Cycle Sport Revisited

You'll recall that not too long ago Digital Peloton reported that Cycle Sport Magazine was in fact the worst publication on the planet. This report was confirmed by the arrival of their Spring Classics preview the day after Liege-Bastogne-Liege. However, in a startling development, this report was retracted shortly after, when it was discovered that their report on Flemish cycling was in fact the most informative magazine feature on this rather significant subculture ever.

Well, I wrote them a letter basically telling them so, partly because every month they give a $100 gift cert to whoever sucks up to them best, and partly because for once they deserved the high praise. That Belgian mag will be required reading if/when I get to the Ronde next year (to watch, not to compete). And I am now a $100 gift certificate richer, as of yesterday, when I came home to my latest Cycle Sport -- the preview of the Tour of Italy. Oh, not to ruin the suspense, but they predict Cunego will easily beat Basso in the head to head. Technically speaking, I guess they're right.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Big Time

I missed this morning's stage to the Lemon of Piedmont, having been away for work, and was feeling pretty blase about it. Surely a 30km gentle climb wouldn't produce much separation... but that's the assessment of someone 9,000 miles away from any real firsthand information. There were seconds to gain, and the mountain goats didn't miss their chance exactly.

It's funny though how this race isn't really being won in any sort of head-to-head manner. This is the second consecutive mountain stage where Savoldelli responded to attacks as if he wasn't really paying attention. Rather, il Falco seems resigned to his isolation from a team and thus any real tactics, instead just sticking to his best tempo and managing the clock. I didn't see today, but I did see Sunday, when he didn't really react at all to Simoni's attack, he just stuck to his guns and seemed to figure his losses wouldn't be severe.

No doubt Friday's stage is constantly on his mind: why should he see his gap as 58 seconds with a time trial in his back pocket? As Digital Peloton uncovered earlier in the week, the upcoming time trial is essentially a slightly shrunken version of the first, down from 45 km to 32, with a single hump in the low-altitude profile that rises about 350 meters (down from a 450 meter rise). No doubt there are subtler differences, but let's assume for a moment they all come out in the wash, and this is in fact the same ride reduced by 25%.

Well, Savoldelli's third place ride in the previous time trial enabled him to put 2:08 into Simoni and 4:20 into now-contender Rujano. 75% of these gaps is approximately an eternity two days before Milan. And that's before adding back Savoldelli's minute in hand.

So will Friday be any different, or will Savoldelli succeed in inflating his advantage and running out the clock Saturday? Fortunately almost nobody will read this sentence before we actually get an answer, but here are a few thoughts. Did Rujano race like a contender in the earlier time trial? Surely he can't be that awful this time, and lose some three minutes in 32km? The same cannot be said for Simoni, and his prior performance is about what one would expect from him... he's as much a proven mediocrity in these events as Savoldelli is a proven asset.

Then there is the question of who has what in the tank on day 19 of the world's #2 stage race. Well, the two challengers have been on the attack, and their efforts will have at least partly risked taking something from their form tomorrow. As for the maglia rosa, as DP previously reported, he's been keeping to his pace, trying not to blow a gasket. I haven't seen him do anything that looks like he's overextended.

No doubt Basso will win the stage and maybe a share of redemption after previously losing an hour, ten pounds, and his standing among the Italian people, all for a nice cold drink. Not that I can't understand: it was in the 80s in Portland this week, and after a two-hour ride last night with only a bottle of Poland Springs in my jersey, I would have given all my real estate interests for a venti sweetened passionfruit iced tea, if it weren't available for considerably less. Anyway, the real action doesn't involve Basso, or even the Spider or Ruyano (as Phil would say). Until someone overtakes him, all that matters today, tomorrow and even Saturday is Paolo Savoldelli and the clock.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Rest day... Live Coverage Now On!!

13:04 CSC riders are seen returning from morning team-building exercises, including building a pontoon bridge and setting a VCR to automatically record.

13:08 As a gesture of respect, Gilberto Simoni stops by Paolo Savoldelli's hotel room to offer him a pitcher of ice water.

13:15 Ivan Parra, sensing a lull in the peloton, breaks away from the hotel lobby to reach the salad bar first.

13:24 Danilo DiLuca stops by Savoldelli's hotel room to offer him a pitcher of ice water.

13:31 Digital Peloton caught up with Henk Vogels before the start of today's rest stage. "Yeah mate, the climbs have been bloody difficult, there's fuck-all for the sprinter blokes to do about it. I reckon I went through four tins of vegemite on the Stelvio alone, and I still got nackered."

13:38 Damiano Cunego, now assuming the role of chief lieutenant to Simoni, stops by Savoldelli's room to see if he needs any more ice water.

You get the picture.

Monday, May 23, 2005


So what are the challengers' chances? Check out the remaining stages.

After tomorrow's rest day, there is an easy ride across the Po Valley to the Riviera, and other than some repeats of Milan-San Remo, there is little riding to do. Stage 17 leaves the coast and climbs up to 1700 meters atop Limone Piemonte (lemon piedmont)... but the only steep section is 7km long before the finish, and I can't imagine any big shakeups on the long, modest-grade 30km rise to the finish. Stage 18 is the time trial, which Savoldelli should place high in. Only stage 19, with its two courses around the ski road to Sestriere, looks like a place where the Falcon could crack.

IMHO, he needs to nurse his lead, not leave it all on the road in the TT, and have excellent legs in Sestriere. Maybe, just maybe, one of his teammates will rise from the autobus to help him.

The Cooler

What is it about Paolo Savoldelli? He has very little to his resume, considering where he is right now. I had no idea he hadn't even won a Giro stage before last week... no wonder that was his putative goal. Not too cool to have one Maglia Rosa in the closet and another on order, without a stage win.

Anyway, in 2002 he was the best man at the end... but only after Garzelli and Simoni were tossed out on somewhat illusory doping grounds. This year he comes in finally back on form, or close enough, to take part in the most challenging Giro course and field in years. What happens? The clear favorite drinks too much cold water and winds up in the infirmary; the presumed co-favorite mysteriously blows up, apparently from the pressure, and all that are left to challenge are a Classics rider on a hot streak, and the aging if still combative Simoni, plus the possibility of a mysterious Latin party crasher (Garate, Rujano, etc).

As Drew from Liege (not to be confused with Drieuw from Flanders) would say, Danilo DiLuca's second-place is incredible but not to be believed until Sestriere. There are a lot of uphills left before he can claim a podium spot. Simoni, meanwhile, has a legitimate shot at any of the three podium spots, and is virtually guaranteed to be on one of those steps given his track record as a serious stage-race climber. But to resume the top step, he'll have to do something much better in the last time trial. He lost 2:50 in the 45km ride to Florence, including 2:10 to Savoldelli, and the profile this time isn't a whole lot different, except for 11km less flat riding at the end. At best Simoni should expect to lose a minute to the Falcon here... depending on what's at stake.

Basso, meanwhile, is insane to keep going, and Riis should be ordering his mechanics to disassemble his bike to be packed off to Copenhagen as we speak. This is a guy who was about to own the Giro, and therefore someone who would have a shot at any of the three podium steps in Paris (OK, two unless something happens to Lance), as long as he doesn't leave his legs in Italy or drink too much cold water. Down 40 minutes, his determination to hang around to steal a stage is bizarre. Cool heads will prevail on the rest day, I would bet.

Cunego... is he the best lieutenant left? He's sitting 13th, not horrible unless you're a defending champ. But Savoldelli's biggest disadvantage is his lack of protection, and Simoni has probably the best ace to play with the former World #1, unbound by the pressure that cracked him in week two. But I still like Savoldelli -- there's something solid about his character. He closed out Hamilton with icy efficiency in 2002, and he's responded to the pressure better than anyone else (save Simoni, who wasn't actually expected to win). I think he will tough it out, but it's nice to know that nothing, NOTHING, is settled yet, as we head into the final showdown.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Fantastic Finishes

As this Giro heads toward an unexpectedly close and unpredictable finish, there's a lot to discuss.

* First, I watched the Giro live Saturday (slept in Sunday). The RAI website ( live wecast worked brilliantly Saturday, and I got to see Simoni and Savoldelli leave Basso behind as it happened. Granted it's in Italian, but it doesn't take a genius, or an Italian, to figure out what's going on. As you know, the races tend to finish up around 11:30 eastern, not necessarily the best time to be hogging your server's bandwith with a video stream. But if that's not a problem, I can't recommend it enough.

* Poor Ivan Basso. Lance Armstrong won six straight tours without ever losing ten minutes because of a bad stomach. Basso enters his first Giro (as a contender), blows up the peloton on a mega stage, chugs some cold water, and loses the pink jersey for good. Incredible... bizarre...

* So Basso goes backward, Cunego has been defrocked. Savoldelli is having a nice comeback, Simoni is sticking around by default, and the story of the day is the strong challenge by Danilo DiLuca. The key questions:

Did Savoldelli pay the price Sunday for Saturday's brilliant ride? Or can Simoni really get away from him? Savoldelli needs at least one more great day in the mountains, his lead is hardly enough to have his challengers fly away from him on the final slopes. His statements haven't sounded overly confident... but Savoldelli is a former winner, so presumably he knows how to handle some pressure.

Can Simoni keep chipping away, and not lose any significant time in the last time trial? He's definitely still in this.

Did anyone peg DiLuca as a GC man? Did his own team even think so?

Friday, May 20, 2005

Insanity Rules

There's a note on that the World Anti-Doping Agency is considering placing caffeine on a list of banned substances because it has been determined to be "performance-enhancing."

Caffeine! OK, I understand that they are suggesting a limit on the amount of caffeine as opposed to a total ban, and there are some people taking caffeine use to some absurd extremes. And I'm a world-recognized expert on neither doping nor professional cycling.

But jeezus, the point of eliminating doping is so that nobody gets an unfair, chemical-related advantage, and that athletes not be transformed into super-robot humans who have heart failure at age 45. Right? Well, caffeine isn't my favorite drug (OK, it is, but let's move on), but as peppy as I feel after my double latte, I don't think it makes me feel all that strong, messes with my heart rate in unwelcomed ways as well, and leaves me a bit jittery as it wears off. Oh, and one other word: diuretic. Not good. I feel better off with a gel shot than a caffeine shot. But that's me. Maybe some people can climb Alpe d'Huez 45 seconds faster with an espresso than without.

But even if that's so... are we supposed to ban everything that increases performance? I mean, a rider at that level is going to get a far greater performance interval from eating the right food. Should we have rules about who eats what and when? Should all musettes include a peanut butter sandwich and a banana? Should everyone have breakfast in the race cafeteria and be given exactly 8 ounces of hot cereal and a bagel? I know, the slippery slope argument gets abused a lot when people are trying to make hysterics out of otherwise reasonable ideas, but in my mind controlling caffeine -- a substance only slightly less germane to European culture than pride, wine, and antipathy toward our wonderboy-Prezident -- is getting way off target.


Enough with these sprinter's stages. Just when things get interesting, we take a day off. Probably for the best, at least for Savoldelli, who will need very fresh legs to follow Basso tomorrow up the crushing 9km last climb. Of course, there's about 30km of mostly descending beforehand, so it will be interesting to see if Savoldelli does the same thing he did yesterday: attack on the descent and get a gap so he can start the climb at a comfortable pace. This fact and Sunday's finishing descent give Savoldelli his best chance. But if he can't climb with Basso this weekend, it could be game over by the next rest day.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Snowing on the Giro

My prior post about the forecast of snow on the Stelvio Pass talked about Stage 11 -- so my command of either Italian language or geography sucks. The Stelvio is part of Sunday's race. But the forecast of snow is still very real, and a problem for Savoldelli in particular, since Sunday represents the stage best suited to his descending abilities... which clearly blow away the competition.

The Cream Rises

What a great stage! This is getting really interesting, even though it's essentially a two-man battle. Here's where we stand:

1. Basso
He's got the maglia rosa because he put 30 seconds into the Falcon in the TT, and his climbing today, where he controlled the final 5km, shows he's got no superiors in that discipline either, or not yet anyway. Like I said, he's the smart choice, even if he isn't my choice. Also, today was just one day; it will be interesting to see who recovers, who feels it, and who gets gassed on the subsequent four or five big climbing days left.

2. Savoldelli
The stage winner... but it's hard to tell who had a better day? Il Falcone made things very interesting with his trademark descending attack, and when he couldn't hold Basso off on the incline, he certainly showed he had no difficulty matching his pace. There's no evidence though that he can accelerate on a climb and leave Basso behind, not yet anyway. Like I said, we'll see who can recover. Perhaps his best chance to get in pink this week, if he can hang on Saturday, will be Sunday's epic ride, which finishes with a steep downhill run.

3. Simoni
Since theoretically there are other people still participating in the race, we may as well take a moment to talk about them. Simoni couldn't match Basso or Savoldelli in his specialty, begging the question whether he has a specialty. So limiting his losses for a spot on the podium is his best hope. There are plenty of climbs left, and the other podium contenders are worse than Simoni, which is saying something.

4. Cunego
The Darling of Italian Cycling will be lucky if he's anywhere near the podium after today. He's gotten smoked in both disciplines now, demonstrating that his victory last year had a lot to do with the fact that teams like CSC and Discovery wouldn't show up. Granted, Basso was determined to do the Giro anyway, and Savoldelli probably would have signed with a domestic team rather than skipping the Giro, but given the renewed impact of foreign teams on the Giro, can anyone seriously complain about the Pro Cycling Tour now?

5. Di Luca
The Hero of the Giro so far, sort of the Voeckler character, except that Di Luca is in fact a very serious cyclist, a champion even... in the Classics. If he can win Amstel, La Fleche, and a podium spot at the Giro, this will be one of the more significant runs of success in recent pro cycling.

6. Garzelli
Seriously, there oughta be a law against discussing Garzelli as a favorite for the GC. If you concede steady time gaps in every big stage, albeit not enough to completely disappear back to the watercarriers, you nevertheless are not a contender! This is my pet peeve of the year.

I wasn't able to watch the Giro on the dish; although RAI is available, it requires a change of dishes and another $50. F that. BUT! I discovered (sorta) that you can watch the race live online through the RAI website. Try here or if that doesn't work try here instead and click on the top box, which should say processo alla tappa or something about in vivo (live). But do it early -- I didn't discover this until there were 20 minutes left in the stage, and the server was too clogged to get on.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Stage 11 in Limbo?

According to my rudimentary understanding of the Italian language, the Gazzetta dello Sport is predicting 30cm (about a foot) of snow on the Stelvio Pass tomorrow, which would no doubt cause some rerouting of the day's climbs, if not outright cancellation. The latter seems extreme, especially given the anticipation of the first big climber's stage, but if they're getting a foot on the Stelvio, can the other nearby ascents be dry? Honestly, I know nothing about Dolomitian weather patterns, just that this sounds like trouble.

Incidentally, if they do ride, the question of the day in my mind is, does the snow eliminate Savoldelli's advantages on the descents, or make them that much more significant?

The Future of Cycling...

And you thought invasive Asian plants were a bad thing. Not anymore.


OK, so as we head into the mountains we're down to the Final Four, as it were: Basso, Cunego and Savoldelli all bunched together, with Simoni lurking a minute back. [Don't talk to me about Garzelli, who is consistent -- as in, consistently failing to make any decisive move other than to barely hang on to his position in every climb and time trial.] Basso is in the driver's seat, with a minute in hand on Cunego and half that on Savoldelli, but those differences essentially say that this race will be won on the road in the coming days. I.e., nothing has been settled.

We've seen Cunego climb nicely but time trial poorly, Basso stomp in the TT but get a little shaky in the early climbs, and Savoldelli within striking distance of the leaders in both disciplines. Basso, according to VeloNews, was intending to come in a bit off peak and race into form over the final ten days, so if Riis is to be believed, his best is yet to come. Cunego is the darling, but everyone seems to think this Giro is new ground for him, containing more flat TTs and more summit finishes than he had to contend with last year. Nobody thinks this year's parcours suits Cunego. The man it probably does suit is the Spider, Simoni, at least until we start talking about flat TTs... but then, he sorta survived the worst of it, only two minutes back of Basso, and is no doubt itching to start the mega-climbs. Savoldelli is the wild card, in my mind -- he's never been tested like he's about to be, having won a tough 2002 Giro against limited competition, and done little else since. But he's got a powerful team, good form, and no weakness in either of the two major disciplines.

I'm going with the upset special:
1. Savoldelli
2. Basso
3. Simoni
4. Cunego

What say ye?

Monday, May 16, 2005

OLN So Far

Except for their lack of any coverage as the race reached its apex on the slopes of Fontecchio, I am pleasantly surprised and content with OLN's coverage of the Giro. Four hours per weekend is about as much television as I can stand anyway, and though they raced through the earlier stages and gave us basic same-day coverage this weekend, I suspect that they will spend more time on the earlier stages in the next two weeks, when those weekdays start to include the critical climbs. If this were France, nothing less than same day coverage would do, but it's not, and I still haven't had time to watch what I recorded last weekend. And that doesn't even include the return of the Lance Chronicles, in which Lance talks about himself in the third person after spending a weekend sailing with Latrell Sprewell and Barry Bonds.

Forget About Jan

Today word is leaking out that Ullrich and his girlfriend of forever are splitting up... less than a year after the birth of their daughter. So, OK, I know all parental experiences are different, and maybe somewhere in this episode is something that will propel him to greater heights. But I can't imagine anything more emotionally trying, so if nothing else I think we can say that the odds of seeing Jan Ullrich at his best at this year's Tour are growing longer and longer.

Then again, Lance defended after his divorce, so what do I know? Except that in Lance's case, it all went down in the offseason, not seven weeks before the prologue.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Catching up on the Giro

* Nice to see some star power in the first week: DiLuca and Bettini sharing the Maglia Rosa and half the stages, some predictable moments with the sprinters... and the cream rising at the first serious time trial. The first week hasn't seen much in the way of real challenges, just appetizers like the rolling slopes of Abbruzzo or the little 8% climb toward the finish Saturday. Standard fare for a grand tour, but usually those first weeks can be hijacked by obscure riders who get in a break or win a silly prologue. So in a Giro that is almost certain to come down to 2 or 3 Italians in the end, it's cool to have some pomp and dignity in the first week.

* Did I say dignity? Including Bettini running Baden Cooke into the barriers, and then dumping out his spumante in protest during the Maglia Rosa presentation? Hey, welcome to southern Italy.

* Basso's toast job on Cunego is an ominous sign for the youngster. Granted, Cunego won last year by controlling or winning all of the climbs, not the races of truth. But can he shake loose from Basso in the mountains? This is the guy who hung on to Lance's wheel in last year's Tour, and if Lance couldn't dump Basso, there's little reason to think Cunego can. So if they neutralize each other in the Alps, this mano-a-mano will come down to the TTs, which don't look to be much of a contest at all.

* As for the rest, few if any have shown much. Savoldelli had a nice performance, but lost some time on the climb, which suggests he won't be there with Basso and Cunego at the mountaintop finishes. Stefano Garzelli clung desperately to relevance with his top five finish, while the Spider, Simoni, puttered along at his own acceptable if unimpressive rate. I suppose he rates as a challenger for real in the hills, but there's no reason to believe he will fly away from the main two men. No, the story from here out will likely be, IMHO, whether Cunego can place Basso under enough pressure in the mountains to win back some lost time from the TTs. Right now I'm guessing no.

* Speaking of Basso, his easy result today makes me think that but for his nationality, he is wasting his time here in Italy. In truth, he has to be there because he's Italian. How many other podium finishers in Paris make a concerted effort at the Giro? My guess is, hardly anyone anymore, and perhaps for a good reason. Will Basso accomplish as much by winning the Giro versus his third place on the Tour, in terms of his development as a rider? Nope, but he's Italian, and the Giro is a palmare he needs, if for no other reason than so he can stop hearing people ask him what he thinks of that little Golden Boy Cunego.

* What's with the giant dome helmets in the TT? A lot of guys use them, so I don't doubt there's a reason, but even Pete's squash doesn't look that large.

Monday, May 09, 2005


I'm probably offline til Thursday night, at a work retreat. Mmm, treat...

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Andiamo a Fontecchio!

And so the countdown begins... four days and 197 KM til the Giro passes through the town of Fontecchio, in Abruzzi. Check out the stage profile... Fontecchio is in a hilly section but not exactly at the foot of the Madonna di Campiglio. On the other hand, it's one of the last ascents of the day, and a great place to launch the winning move.

So, to repeat, the slopes of Fontecchio hold the key to the Giro in 2005.

Giro Day 2

There's something really cool about seeing Paolo Bettini in the Maglia Rosa. His attack at the foot of the day's finishing climb was perfect, a well-timed move for il Grillo to upstage the printers at the outset of the Giro. He's also a hero of Italian cycling who looks awfully good in that jersey. Bettini is hardly a favorite for the GC, but he strikes me as sort of the Italian Vinokourov, a guy who can take over any single stage, other than maybe the mega climbs. So on a day when everyone expected one Italian hero to show his stuff, they got another one instead. Makes for a much more lively event, and we can all wait another day for Petacchi's winning streak to take flight.

BTW, what on Earth is the point of a 1.5 KM prologue? How does a rider prepare for a 90 second ride... is a three minute warmup enough? Anyway, I didn't see the course, so maybe it had some some technical challenges, and otherwise made for a nice high-speed parade. Good for the tifosi. So where were all the prologue specialists? I had Fabien Cancellara tabbed for this one, but apparently he only specializes in the TdF prologue. Anyway, unlike the Tour, the Giro doesn't snooze along with sprint finishes for too long. Stage 5 winds over the Fontecchio homelands of Abruzzi to l'Aquila, and the mega-climbs kick off on Stage 7.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

It's Giro Time!!

The second or third-best cycling month of the year is upon us, depending on your perspective. Spanish wine is less bitter than Italian, and nobody in western Europe has worse politics than Italy... and yet, my vote still goes to the Giro for runner-up. So it is with great pleasure that I will order RAI for the month (as soon as we get back in town next week) and watch the Giro in our native tongue. A few preview items...

* The points jersey has already been awarded to Alessandro Petacchi, and a law has been passed in the Italian Parliament that no mountain stage can finish until he makes it across the line, so not much drama for the Dark Pink Jersey. As for the Maglia Rosa, whoever wins the internal struggle for control of the Lampre team is expected to duke it out with Ivan Basso for the overall, and the millions of tifosi will have no tolerance for anyone who interferes with this storyline. One thing you can say about Italians: they don't share the French people's affection for the lovable loser.

* That all said, there are undoubtedly a considerable number of podium contenders, and although my hunch is that Cunego will be under tremendous pressure to go all out to defend his title, Basso could be persuaded to reel it in at the first sign of difficulty and save himself for the Tour. That plus Simoni's generally enigmatic ways means that as many as two podium spots could be up for grabs. The question is, for whom? Conventional wisdom would have us point to retreads like Garzelli or mention past champs/challengers like Savoldelli and Washington Capitols defenseman Sergei Gonchar. Fair enough, they're all hanging around. But the Giro has given us plenty of flashes in the pan, and if the race comes down to something other than Basso-Cunego, it'll be wide open. One hopes.

* That said as well, I'm pretty psyched for Cunego-Basso. Two young but proven stars, head to head, supposedly going all out for the Giro and throwing their Tour chances to the wind for the time being. The Giro has been starved for top GC talent making the Maglia Rosa their priority, and here are two brilliant hometown boys ready to do battle. Doesn't get too much better than that.

And now, as a service to our Italian readers, today's post will be offered in two languages.

Il secondo o mese ciclante terzo-migliore dell'anno è su noi, secondo la vostra prospettiva. Il vino spagnolo è meno amaro che l'italiano e nessuno in Europa occidentale ha politica più difettosa che l'Italia... ed ancora, il mio voto ancora va al postagiro per il secondo. Così è con piacere grande che ordinerò RAI per il mese (presto come otteniamo indietro in città la settimana prossima) e guarderò il postagiro in nostra linguetta natale. Alcuni vedono in anteprima gli articoli...

* I punti Jersey già ha ricevuto a Alessandro Petacchi e una legge è stata approvata nel Parlamento italiano che nessuna fase
della montagna può rifinire fino a che non la facesse attraverso la riga, così non molto dramma per la Jersey dentellare scura. Per quanto riguarda il Maglia Rosa, chiunque vince la lotta interna per controllo della squadra di Lampre è previsto al duca esso fuori con il basso di Ivan per il camice e milioni tifosi non avranno tolleranza per chiunque che interferisca con questo storyline. Una cosa che potete dire circa gli italiani: non ripartiscono l'affetto della gente francese per il perdente amicante.

* Che tutti hanno detto indubbiamente, là è un numero considerevole di concorrenti del podium ed anche se il mio hunch è che Cunego sarà sotto pressione tremenda andare tutti fuori per difendere il suo titolo, il basso potrebbe essere persuaso di annaspare esso dentro al primo segno della difficoltà e di salvarsi per il giro. Quello più i modi generalmente enigmatic del Simoni significa che tanto quanto due punti del podium potrebbero essere in su per le gru a benna. La domanda è, per quale? La saggezza convenzionale ci farebbe indicare a ripercorre come Garzelli o menzione oltre champs/challengers come
Savoldelli ed i capitols de Washington defenseman Sergei Gonchar. Abbastanza correttamente, sono tutti che appendono intorno. Ma il postagiro ci ha dato l'abbondanza dei flash nella vaschetta e se la corsa scende a qualcosa tranne il basso-Cunego-Cunego, sarà spalancato. Si spera.

* Che detto pure, sono abbastanza psyched per il Cunego-cunego-Basso. Due giovani ma stelle provate, testa alla testa, presunto andante tutti fuori per il postagiro e gettante le loro probabilità di giro al vento per il tempo che è. Il postagiro starved per il talento superiore di GASCROMATOGRAFIA che rende al Maglia Rosa la loro priorità e qui è due ragazzi brillanti de hometown aspetta per fare la battaglia. Non e ottiene troppo molto più meglio di quello.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Cycle Sport Sucks

So last week I got my Cycle Sport special Belgian preview issue. I'm totally serious, how can Phil Liggett put his name on a magazine that previews the Spring Freakin Classics at the end of April? It's not that the magazine is utterly worthless. They have in-depth interviews, nice photos, and good graphics. It's just that they are so goddam late about everything!

Update! No it doesn't suck! Only in its functioning as bringer of news is CS a lame-ass disappointment. As I was writing this, I held in my hands the best cycling feature mag ever -- the special on Belgian cycling culture. So this much, they do VERY well. It's just in race reports where they are as worthless as tits on a boar, as Drew would say.

Of course, this is what the Cycling community is willing to accept, otherwise they wouldn't be in business. Back in the day, John Wilcockson ran Winning Magazine, the bimonthly chronicle of international cycling as of sixty days ago. I would get my Tour wrapup in September. No joke. Velo News was made on newsprint back then, and extremely hard to find, so Winning could get away with this behavior.

What is it? Are the staff out riding all day? Are they just born slackers? How can Phil continue to be so closely associated with this nonsense? It's an outrage. When my new two-year subscription runs out, I'm gone!

PVP On Botero

Santiago Botero is an enigma. No, not because he's a blonde haired blue eyed Columbian. He is the last man not named Jan to beat Lance in an ITT at the tour, and he has also won the Polka Dot jersey competition. He is that rare combination of TT'er and climber that should strike fear in the hearts of the pro peleton, yet he has only shown very brief flashes of brilliance in his spotty career.

During his year with Telekom he trained in solitude and was a major dissapointment but perhaps he found the right team with Phonak. His recent win at the Tour of Romandie demonstrates that he's on form, but can he avoid his typical 45 minute deficit in a long alpine stage in France? Is it time to consider him a podium threat for Paris yet, or should we just crack each others skulls open and feast on the goo inside? Only time will tell.

Disgruntled Goat adds: Have you ever seen Santi Botero and Joey Harrington in the same place, at the same time? Neither have I.

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